Denis McNamara on WLIR, Northport, the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame, NYM & more
When it comes to the history of music on Long Island, Billy Joel is likely the first name that will come to mind for most people. But if it weren't for the Garden City-based WLIR, the national musical landscape would probably be very different. WLIR was the first United States radio station to play U2, The Cure, The Smiths, Duran Duran, New Order, Madonna, George Michael, and Prince. The station also broadcasted concerts from plenty of artists -- many live from My Father's Place in Roslyn -- before they became stars (or that was a commonplace concept) like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, The Allman Brothers Band, and Dr. John.
Program director Denis McNamara helped WLIR change formats in the early 1980s -- he had joined the WLIR fold in the mid-1970s -- keeping things interesting for years. He eventually moved on to the record label world, heading up international A&R for Polydor Records in the 1990s. Denis never strayed far from radio, however, and continues to run NYM Inc., a radio consulting company. The Northport resident also works with the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame as an advisor.
No Place Like Long Island spoke with Denis about his past, present and future. The future interestingly meets the past with Denis, as WLIR is the subject of a documentary from Ellen Goldfarb called Dare To Be Different.
Is there a highlight from your WLIR tenure that you especially look back on fondly?
Denis McNamara: So many come to mind since I have been helping the film director Ellen Goldfarb complete her documentary on WLIR 1982-1987 called Dare To Be Different! She started this project six year ago. It's an amazing feat.
I guess what I will always treasure about programming WLIR was being able to work with so many talented artists and radio talent. The movie features appearances by so many great folk who reflect on the importance of WLIR in their individual careers as well as the overall WLIR music scene. That includes Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Midge Ure, Curt Smith of Tears For Fears, Thomas Dolby. Chris and Tina from The Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, and many more. It's really awe inspiring to see that kind of outpouring for a small radio station from Long Island.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts are recording the title track to the film called "Dare To Be Different." The film is being considered for premiere screening at some prestigious film festivals!
Are you still in touch with any former WLIR staffers?
Denis McNamara: Thanks to the film, many of us have been together for interview segments or public appearances shot over the six year production period. Also, Ellen went around the country to hook up and film with air talent like Ray White, "Long Tall" Andy Geller, Bob Waugh and John DeBella, as well as others important to the story. It was great hanging with Donna, Sue, Julie Price, Larry, Maxx and everyone else who came back into my life. We all know we were part of something very special at WLIR!
I hear you have a radio consulting company, NYM. What is it that you're working on?
Denis McNamara: NYM media allows me to work on special media or music related projects. I've had all kinds of interesting adventures doing this but the last few years have largely been spent on working with the Dare To Be Different production team. I have some cool things I want to do with music after we complete the documentary project.
Beyond radio, I know you worked in A&R. Who were some of the signings of yours that you're most proud of?
Denis McNamara: All of us who love music are always doing some form of A&R, so it was great to do it for worldwide music companies with great artists. Because I was involved in International A&R, I was dealing with a whole unique group of artists and projects. That included people like Van Morrison, Andrew Lloyd Webber, ABBA, The Wonder Stuff, the Bee Gees and catalogue initiatives like the multiplatinum trio of Pure Disco compilations. My most successful signing by far is the cast recording for the Broadway musical Wicked. I knew right away that it was very special.
What's coming up for the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame?
Denis McNamara: Well, the LIMHOF just had its latest induction in early November. So many legendary artists were celebrated and it was an amazing event. I love that they are focusing so much of their energy on musical education initiatives. I'm a pro-bono consultant to the group and offer my help whenever possible. They need volunteers, especially if you love music. Please help out!
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Denis McNamara: I'm a huge reader and I love books, libraries and the written word. Also, I am listening to much more music of late. Part of that is due to the WLIR documentary but also I have been reflective of the 10 to 15-year period of intense music varieties I absorbed in my college radio and early commercial progressive rock period. I have some ideas I'm working on related to that.
What was the last concert you attended?
Denis McNamara: Non Stop To Cairo at the Brooklyn Bowl in late December. Love these guys. The legendary Eppy from My Father's Place and my musical friend Seth Rudman played me some tracks from their new album which has just been released. Great material and live they are superb, funky and great players. In concert, they are big time entertainment. Just saw Newsday gave their CD a rave review. I dig these guys.
Do you have a favorite restaurant on Long Island?
Denis McNamara: Mascali in East Northport and Tim's Shipwreck Diner in Northport.
What is it that keeps you a Long Islander all these years later? You're still in East Northport these days?
Denis McNamara: I was a transplanted city kid when WLIR seeded my first Long Island roots all those years ago. Now there's a movie coming out about how those roots grew. My family is here and this is home. Thanks to all the people who make me feel welcome.
Finally, Denis, any last words for the kids?
Denis McNamara: Stay kids as much as possible. Question what is not right or uncomfortable. Enjoy the gift of music. Not as important as air, water, food or such, MUSIC is still a great gift from the Gods to help us in this thing called Life!