Craig Warvel: Someone You Ought to Know

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 at 9:03 PM
Craig Warvel: Someone You Ought to Know by Ben Speggen

Craig Warvel, a guy mainly known by his last name, opens the door to the Connoisseur Media reception area where I sit waiting to talk to him and says, “Hi, I’m Craig.” It’s a little before 1 in the afternoon and already Warvel’s been at work longer than I’ve been awake.

The co-host of Star 104’s morning show arrives a couple hours before his shift begins-- he hits the airwaves at 6 a.m.-- to read the paper, check e-mail, and prepare for the next four hours he’ll spend filling the space between today’s hit tracks. But after his show ends at 10 a.m., he doesn’t head home. Instead, he preps for the next day and works to set up shows the contemporary hit radio station will air over the weekend. He even works on a few jingles. So as it turns out, the guy who I only hear working four hours a day spends more time toiling away from the microphone than behind it.

But all that work is OK with him, because to Warvel, this business doesn’t seem like work.

“I can’t imagine a more fun job,” he says with a sharpness in his voice that sounds-- but isn’t-- rehearsed. “I can’t think of a job where you laugh more than in our business.”

But it’s a business that the Corning, N.Y. native got into by accident. But it’s a voice that resonates with a passion-- a passion that glows in his eyes that morning listeners never get to see as he speaks louder and sharper, and it’s clear: he means what he says about the fun.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” he chuckles since he already knows the punch line. “I entered college as an English major and thought maybe I’d be a writer. During orientation this guy talked about the student radio station and speech communication degree. I thought, ‘That sounds fun’, so I switched my major right there. And was fortunate to be able to get work and make a living at it.”

After completing his degree at SUNY Geneseo, Warvel found himself back in Corning—this time in front of the microphone. There, Warvel cut his teeth by broadcasting the news at what he calls a “thousand-watt day-timer,” a radio station that powered down at night. 

“Some stations had to sign off the air at sunset and that was us,” he explains. “I’d get to work in the morning and have to turn on the transmitter and warm it up because they had the big tubes in them back then.”

But just sitting around in the studio left him wanting more out of life, and with family overseas, Warvel spent his 20s backpacking across the country and around the globe. But something always brought him back.

“(At Corning), I would quit about after a year and go travel with whatever money I had, and then when I came back, they always seemed to hire me back, so I had four going-away parties,” he stops, briefly reliving them. “And at the last one, they gave me a mug and said: ‘This is it. Don’t come back.’ So then I came here.”

And ‘here’ happen to be Erie, a place Warvel’s since made his home for the last 30 years, and through the decades, the disc jockey has spent his time on either side of the “and.” From McBride to Ireland to Martin to Curry, Warvel has been piping into the homes, cars, and offices of Erieites for a while now.

“It’s one of the only two places I feel the most comfortable,” he says of being on the air. The other place is on his Honda VTX 1800—a motorcycle he claims is, “stupidly large.” He jokes that many cars get better gas mileage but takes pride in being a Honda rider: “I’ve ridden Hondas my whole life because they’re bulletproof.”

Being on the air and feeling the air against his face as he cruises to and from his house out near Lake City are where Warvel’s most comfortable: in front of thousands and alone. “I don’t know why, but both of them are relaxing to me, or come naturally to me,” he says, then pauses. “I can be pretty socially inept in a lot of circumstances.”

So where does a guy find the confidence to talk to people he can’t even see?

“Actually, Peter Jennings came to Erie years ago, had a news conference. I was there,” he’s good at building the suspense. “And when he got done, I went to call the tape back to the station, and Jennings came into the room and was frantic. He starts asking, ‘Have you seen these index cards?’ and he’s looking all over the place. And I was like, ‘No, are they your notes for your speech?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I got to find them’,” Warvel catches his breath without missing a beat. “And Jennings was nervous. So I asked him, ‘Does it make you nervous to talk in front of a couple hundred people?’ And he goes, ‘It scares me to death.’ And I say, ‘But you talk to millions of people every night’ and he responds, ‘I don’t have to look at them.’”

He pauses to relive the epiphany. “Ever since then, it’s helped me get over stage fright knowing that if it bothered Peter Jennings, for God’s sake, you know I was OK.”

But while he might ride back and forth to Waterford alone, he has a co-pilot on air. Maybe besides hiding behind the mic, having a strong partner beside him sets him at ease...

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