Her voice has been synonymous with Classic Rock in New York for four decades. Carol Miller, with a one-part powerful, one-part silky voice, has been a distinctly unique combination for the genre. DJs are taught to speak to their audiences individually, but Miller mastered that trait.
After a brief stint at WNEW-FM, she established herself in the mid-1970s at WPLJ. The 1980s, and through the 1990s, meant a return to the legendary WNEW. That led to her current run at Clear Channel’s WAXQ/Q104.3 since 2004.
Her radio journey began as a girl growing up on Long Island, hearing the WMCA Good Guys and WABC All Americans.
“I was one of those kids that listened to my transistor all the time …I really loved it, but I never thought of it as a career because it was not what a girl would do—be a fun Cousin Brucie type of person.” By the time Miller arrived at the University of Pennsylvania that all changed—sort of.
“I joined the school radio station, not so much originally to be on the air, but the whole Progressive Rock thing was starting,” Miller remembers. “I thought that I could get a job as a secretary to the rock director.”
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the steno pool. “Once I got to the school radio station… [I thought] maybe I can actually get on the air.” That led to Miller’s first job at WMMR in Philadelphia, while still in school.
Even though Miller was continuing her education, ultimately earning a law degree from Hofstra University, she sought a New York return on the air as well. In 1972, while working as the ‘MMR music director, she connected with the WNEW-FM music director. “Dennis Elsas…said, ‘Why don’t you come up to the Christmas concert and meet the staff?’” Miller recalls.
By July 1973, New Yorkers would hear Miller for the first time when she joined the ‘NEW-FM staff as a part-timer. During that time, she remained at WMMR in Philly. Her initial stint at ‘NEW lasted about one year. Miller would turn up next on the short-lived WQIV. (Ironically, it would be a frequency she’d call home later at WAXQ 104.3.)
At ‘NEW, she worked with the trailblazing “Nightbird,” Alison Steele. “The only woman on the radio that I’d heard in this country was [her] … She was a very glamorous person with an image and I was just a kid,” Miller admits. “I sort of had the idea of, ‘If guys can go on the air and be your friend, maybe I can just be a girl who’s your friend.’”
She took her “befriending” style to her biggest radio exposure to date at WPLJ. Miller was hired at the Album Oriented Rock station in 1975 and stayed until 1983 as the station transitioned to Contemporary Hit Radio.
Program director Larry Berger, who joined ‘PLJ in 1974, built an all-star jock lineup that featured, along with Miller, Jim Kerr, Pat St. John, and Tony Pigg.“That was really the best,” Miller says. “I really learned everything from Larry Berger.” With the format change, Berger did bounce her and most of the on-air staff. “He felt that I was too associated with …rock, which perhaps was true.”
So, Miller found a new home in an old one, returning to WNEW-FM. With it, she had the longest tenure of her career—16 years. While playing Progressive Rock (first at ‘MMR), at ‘NEW, Miller tried to differentiate herself from the other well-known jocks. “I tried to make it listener-oriented and I also tried to put little bits of information over the music, which is kind of pretty much what we do now in Classic Rock and what’s left of AOR.”
If Miller could to do an unfamiliar music format, she’d draw on what she’s famous for. “I would like to see Rock or Classic Rock being used as a Lifestyle format, rather than an Oldies format,” Miller says. “It would be my wish to play some more of the new and contemporary material.”
Miller says her favorite format to participate in was WPLJ (circa 1976). “We played Earth, Wind, and Fire and Led Zeppelin. We played everything,” Miller remembers. “You know something; it was a lot of fun.”
Along the way, as Miller became known for spinning 1970s Rock, she was even more associated with a pair of legendary acts. “When I met this guy in 1973 down there [WMMR], I thought he should have a half-hour [dedicated to him] every Saturday,” Miller says. “That was Bruce Springsteen.” Several years later, she participated in the campaign to make “Born to Run” the state song of Springsteen’s hometown.
“It was a political year , so it only got as far as being the official rock theme of New Jersey. The House voted on it, I believe, in Trenton, but the Senate didn’t,” Miller recalls. “I went down for it. It was pretty funny.”
Miller has also built a strong bond behind powerhouse band Led Zeppelin (here with former front man Robert Plant). “They began, in my mind, to define, what the Rock format was … I sort of came to that very simple conclusion when I left ‘PLJ,” Miller says.
Given the tenuous business, even for an established star for years, Miller thought she’d never get the chance to play another Zeppelin song. Just weeks later, however, Miller was back on evenings at ‘NEW.
Thus, shortly after arriving, she started her signature segment “Get the Led Out” featuring the Zeppelin discography interspersed with tidbits from their history. She still does the show to this day at Q104.3, now syndicated daily through the United Stations Radio Network. Fans get a brief “This Day in Zeppelin History,” along with a one-hour program (heard Mondays at 8 p.m. on WAXQ).
Miller couldn’t confirm that she was the person who created “Get the Led Out.” But, the legendary broadcaster does “own” it in New York, complete with a service mark with her name in title. She logged many hours at rock concerts, primarily as part of live coverage at WNEW and WPLJ.
And it was at ‘PLJ, where one such highlight took place. Paul McCartney and Wings were playing their first show at Madison Square Garden in 1976. Jim Kerr [morning man] went to interview the group. Paul and his late wife Linda said, “We always listen to Carol Miller.” She was invited backstage for the next night’s performance.
“Apparently, I had been commenting on how many of the listeners had favorable reports of Wings …at Nassau Coliseum,” Miller recalls. Of course, her talent and longevity proves that Sir Paul is the rule when it comes to admiring Miller. But early on, she wasn’t a beacon for women looking to work in broadcasting.
“I didn’t start out with the idea that I was going to be a role model for anybody. I was just trying to get a job for myself,” Miller says. “I had this crack pot idea that I was going to do this.” With a different perspective today, Miller says she’s pleased her on-air work has affected so many people.
While on the topic of today, Miller says she is “obviously not” concerned about the demise of radio. “I think the new media and the people that write for the dot com elect would like to call it that, but radio, to best of my knowledge, still penetrates 97 percent of the American population every day,” Miller says.
Having said that, Miller says job opportunities are becoming scarcer. “I would say if somebody really wanted to be a jock, as of this moment, they might want to start in any capacity at a radio station or radio company, in the city of their choice,” Miller says.
Additionally, the iconic DJ discussed with her bosses in recent years about promoting and advertising radio more. “There is absolutely no reason why a little something with two earbuds, a few years ago, and wires, should be perceived as cool walking down the street [with] prerecorded music … It makes no sense.”
Miller, though, is part of the new wave of radio, doing shifts for Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. She doesn’t see satellite replacing terrestrial audiences.
“I think that it’s something special that people who can afford it will continue to enjoy,” Miller says.
Unlike at her terrestrial radio job, at Sirius/XM her jocking is all voicetracked.
“I’m going to be diplomatic here. I would much rather do whatever I do, live,” Miller admits. “…I’m hoping to stay live as long as I can on regular radio, and I certainly understand why I have to be voicetracked elsewhere.”
With her many years in broadcasting, Miller is working to complete her memoir for Ecco/HarperCollins. “It’s a story of a person, who happens to be me… What a person like me ran into, and who I ran into,” Miller laughed. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I actually am writing it myself.” The manuscript is now in the editing phase.
Waiting for the book to hit the shelves, Miller’s “old school” ways of radio are on display each weeknight on WAXQ. She recognizes that many listeners tune in more relaxed after a day of work.
“I’m just as enthusiastic about that role as I was a long time ago,” Miller says. “So many people have grown up with me over the years, and they still listen. We have a lot of teens now that are listening to Classic Rock, that’s very exciting for me too.”
Photo Credits: Carol Miller/Q1043.com