There is no doubt about it – I've lived a blessed and incredibly lucky life thus far.
I was born and raised in one of the most magical little towns known as St. Augustine, Florida. Our claim to fame is that we're the Nation's Oldest City. I didn't realize how special this place is until I moved away. More on that later.
I grew up loving computers. I fell in love with them as a young tyke. My Mom and Dad had this super old school floppy disk computer in their bedroom that I couldn't keep my hands off of. I remember playing this educational game where you had to climb up a mountain and complete certain challenges at each phase. I wish I could remember the name! I know it had something to do with wizards.
Being fully aware of my fascination with computers, at 10 years old "Santa Claus" brought me a shiny, new, loaded IBM PC.
If I remember right, the thing was an absolute tank. It literally weighed 30 pounds. That computer gave me endless hours of entertainment. Pagemaster: The Game was my jam. I remember playing it over and over and over again, even though I had never even seen the movie. My other favorite was Star Wars: Dark Forces, which remains my favorite Star Wars game to date. Somehow I ended up loving the world of Star Trek way more than Star Wars though.
The Hacker and Gamer
In 5th grade, I became a hacker. Yeah, you heard right. A hacker! I wasn't a hardcore, Blackhat type hacker however. I was more into trying to phish for other AOL users' passwords and downloading pirated movies and music from chat rooms. I even had this awesome hacker alias: CrAsH. The group I was a part of never really did anything malicious. I think it was more about calling ourselves hackers and feeling cool about it.
The whole hacker deal wore off pretty quickly and morphed into a love and passion for computer games. I remember staying up until the wee hours of the morning playing Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. The clan I joined, named FuJax, would all get on a voice chat program and talk each other through each competitive match. My parents would hold their ear to my door wondering what the heck was going on in my room and who I was talking to! Those were the good ole days.
Dad even took me on a trip out to one of our clan's LAN (Local Area Network) parties in Bakersfield, CA. He had no clue why I would want to go sit in somebody's garage (who I had never met in real life) and play video games for hours on end. Even though Dad didn't understand it, he still supported me and wanted to learn more about my passions. I think back to that moment in time and feel so much love for my Dad. He could have dismissed something like that as silly, stupid, or downright scary, but he knew I loved it, so he wanted to be a part of it.
A member of our Rainbow Six clan, named CreativeOne, just so happened to own a gaming news website called RadioGamer.net. At the time, I was a freshman or sophomore in high school and was starting to develop an interest in radio; RadioGamer presented the perfect opportunity for me to practice my new found skills in the real world.
After a little begging and pleading, CreativeOne allowed me to be a writer/broadcaster on the site. I would rush home each day, open up my gaming news feed, and start reading the day's news. It felt so cool to record something and have my voice be heard by hundreds of people on this little known commodity called the internet. I don't remember doing this, but I even blogged a little bit. I found this copy of my old blog on the Wayback Machine:
My plan for this month is to be a real part of Radiogamer. I havent been into it as much as i would have like to because of all that i have going on but now that Football is over i will have the time i need to be the lost link. HEH.
All the posts are generally pretty goofy and horribly written, but it's still enlightening to look back at my 15 year old self. It is amazing that as afraid as I've been to put up my own blog now, I wasn't afraid at all back then.
Oh, to be young and naive.
The Radio DJ
In 2003, my fervor for radio went from a passion project to a full blown job. I interned at our local radio station, 94.1 WSOS (which now exists on 99.5 FM), the summer after my senior year in high school. I credit my experience there for helping me understand the value of teamwork and dependability. Things started out a little rocky after I neglected to show up one morning because I was "too tired" to get up at 5:30 AM; I was essentially told that I would be "fired" if I ever did that again without letting them know where I was. Suffice it to say, I never made that mistake again.
A few weeks before my internship came to an end, they finally gave me a chance to host a shift on their AM station. I probably yucked it up majorly, but it was the most exciting experience of my life to that point. The rush I felt "opening up the mic" for the first time was indescribable; I was hooked and had to find a way to feel that rush again. At that moment, I became a radio "junkie".
The summer blew by that year and it was finally time to pack my things and go off to college. I attended Georgia Southern University, but left after one semester because I spent too much time at the radio station and not enough time studying. Apparently, studying is an important aspect of doing well in school. Who knew!
Over Christmas break, my Dad and Grandpa were able to get me a meeting with Mimi Roberson, the registrar at Flagler College. She indicated to me that if Flagler were to give me a chance to be a student that "I would need to earn it." I'd be allowed to attend, but nobody could save me if I treated this experience the same way that I treated my time at Georgia Southern.
I was determined to make it work and make it work I did.
I found a way to spend quite a bit of time in my favorite place in the world (the campus radio station), while maintaining a 3.4 GPA (which was the highest my GPA had ever been). I hosted a weekly show on the campus radio station, WFCF 88.5, called Mark After Dark.I literally acted like I was on a 100,000 watt radio station. I even bought my own professional imaging just so I could stand out.
After wrapping up my first semester at Flagler, I remember perusing the job postings at a few of the big time stations up in Jacksonville. It could be an awesome summer job; I'd get to hand out stickers at remotes and spend a little bit of time in the studio absorbing the knowledge of the jock.
My eyes froze on a posting looking for a Part-time Air Talent for 95.1 WAPE. Could I seriously have a chance to land this? I mean, I had been getting a ton of experience on the air on WFCF, but was I ready for the big time? Only one way to find out.
"Hi ... Is this Mark?" the voice on the other end of the phone said. "Yes," I said, apprehensively. "Mark, this is Tony Mann at WAPE 95.1. I received your resumé and I wanted to see if we could get you up here for an interview." My heart just about jumped out of my throat.
There began a 4 year stint at what I considered an opportunity of a lifetime job. I've included a copy of my last aircheck in case you want to take a listen to some of my best stuff.
I'm still working on the rest of my memoir. Details about the second half of my life so far, including my work at Glee, coming soon!