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Growing Up At RCA in NYC (Radio Corporation of America)
by Dan Manzano
Project Manager, Inventor, Artist, Actor, Acting Coach, Singer, Voice Over Artist, Comic, & Fitness Trainer, and… Break Diver!
My dad started working at RCA (Radio Corporation of America) shortly after I was born in 1955. This was a time before everyone had the ability to produce professional quality music recordings at home with computers and sophisticated software.
At the time, RCA was a pioneer in cutting edge technology and distribution of music. Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Roberta Flack, Billy Joel and countless others were privileged to record in one of the best studios in the world. When you stepped into one of RCA’s studios and closed the heavy sound proof door, you knew you had reached the big time.
I remember visiting my dad at work many time. I had free reign of any of the studios not currently being used. No engineer would bother me or ask me to leave, because they knew me since I was born, watched me grow up, and were like uncles to me. I got to play with every instrument and recorded myself numerous times singing and being foolish. When I was done recording, I would go back to the control room behind the glass partition and hear myself through playback. The clarity was unparalleled to anything I would have at home. Ear candy!
One day, my dad took me into studio B where there was this guy relaxing during a break, drinking coffee. His facial expression was one of annoyance when he saw me in the control room. My dad asked me if I knew who he was and I indicated that I didn’t. I believe he sang the famous calypso song “Day-O”.
There also was a group called the “Monkeys”, a group that was really big back in the 60’s. They were America’s answer to the UK group the “Beatles”. The engineers would not let any kid go into the studio with them. Why? Because the foul language was so bad and the pot smoke was everywhere. I had to sit in the lobby outside of studio C. But after some time, I got to see Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz come out of the studio. They were screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. It was great!
And there’s more! When I turned 21 years of age, I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, by my older brother’s invite. After a year of working there, I got a call from my dad. He indicated that there was an opening at RCA. My lifelong dream was about to finally come true! I always wanted to be an audio engineer for RCA, and here it was happening. I packed quicker than you can imagine and flew back to NYC.
It was a great time for me. I met famous people and got to eat lunch with my dad almost every day. I rubbed elbows with all the RCA producers and promoters. I would get great seats to concerts. All the big wigs that knew my dad would greet me. My dad had a reputation of being a talented, humble man who had done favors for everyone without accepting any payments. I allowed myself to be the recipient of all their gratitude. [Editor’s Note: like a good Break Diver should haha]. RCA parties were the best. The food and drinks were top notched.
Some famous people I met?
Let’s start with Roberta Flack, who was one of the hottest artists back in the 70’s and was recording on the 7th floor in studio C. RCA would rent a pinball game machine for Roberta, because she was in love with the game. During one of my breaks I visited the pinball game and played a few games. During one of my games, I noticed Roberta watching me. I was so embarrassed and excused myself, but she insisted she play a round against me. I was beating her till our last ball came out. Roberta started to sing a love song while caressing the sides where the flapper buttons were. Her last ball refused to leave the game. I stood back in amazement and listened to the ‘bing bing bing’. Time after time her ball was racking up points. Roberta had mercy on me and finally ended my pain. I bowed in defeat and declared her the “Pinball Queen”…
[Editor’s Note. Lesson Learned: Don’t be afraid to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong! You may end up playing a game with a star!]
Meeting Billy Joel: While working at RCA during during the summer of 1978, Billy Joel came to record at RCA. He walked in with two large bodyguards. I called out to him “Mr. Joel, I’m collecting hand shakes from famous people from around the world”. [Editor’s Note: AWESOME AND CLASSY!] He acknowledged me, smiled, leaving his entourage, and walked over. He thanked me, shook my hand, and walked back to his group. Can you imagine, Billy Joel was nice enough to walk over to me. I was flabbergasted… What a great guy!
[Editor’s Note. Lesson Learned: the more confident and classy you are, the more likely you will be treated the same in return. It’s all about salesmanship and networking. Additional lesson: when you become a huge star, remember all those who treated you like crap on the way up, and… don’t be like them!]
Meeting a legend: I heard a rumor that the famous James Cagney was coming to record a radio spot for a fancy retirement home. I didn’t believe it. I was on the 4th floor when a short stocky old man showed up in his 80’s with a tall huge old man in his 60’s next to him (probably his longtime bodyguard). Some folks at the station indicated that the older gentleman was Mr. Cagney. He wore a heavy overcoat and a derby hat, while sporting glasses and a handlebar mustache. I did not recognize him until a young lady yelled into his ear, “Are you hungry?”… He replied, “Oh no no no…” I know it immediately. It was him… the famous James Cagney… He walked by me and I froze. I have met many famous people in my day, but not a legend. I went back to work. 20 minutes later, I popped my head into studio D and watched his reading for a few minutes and left. That was as close as I was going to get. But then… a few hours later, I was heading down on the elevator, when guess who got on with his entourage? James Cagney! Here we were, face to face. He looked up at me and said “How ya doing there big fella?” My mouth remained open, but nothing came out. My brain was too busy playing all his movies at the same time. He smiled and looked away. He probably admired RCA for hiring the mentally challenged. [Editor’s Note: HA HA HA! Love it!] The elevator opened its doors in the lobby and I watched them walk away. I stood there until the elevator doors closed. When I woke up from my daze, I felt so disappointed. I had greatness in front of me, trying to communicate and all I could do was stare at him. I later found out that he had recently filmed his last movie “Ragtime”, ergo the handlebar mustache…
[Editor’s Note. Lesson Learned:If you only have 30 seconds to say what you have to say, you better start talking immediately! You may not get a second chance!]
Dan Manzano, author of this post, is a member of our Break Diving community. You too can join, for free! Just click on the link below. And if you have any great instructive stories to tell, let us know! We’d love to add your story to our blog too, to share with the world!