Tommy is the evening on-air personality for 99.5 WZPL, the leading Top 40 radio station in the Indianapolis market. He can be heard every weeknight from seven to midnight, and periodically throughout the weekend. He is releasing his debut book, Turbulence, in the summer of this year, which walks the reader through his rocky childhood, the many mistakes he made when he was young and the life lessons he gained from those experiences. Tommy is currently enrolled in the Falls School of Business at Anderson University studying marketing. His Instagram is @TOMMYONAIR_ and his Twitter is @TOMMYONAIR.
How did you become interested in radio?
In high school, I was attending a satellite school because I wasn’t doing well in high school at all. I was studying music production, because I thought I wanted to be a hip-hop singer. I was told I should try the radio program at the school, and I wasn’t interested at first, but then I fell in love with it. There was a love there that I didn’t even know I had, so it all began there.
What does your job at 99.5 WZPL entail, and what opportunities have you had because of it?
For the most part, my job consists of listening to tons of music, studying and talking about artists and pop culture. A normal day of work for me would be going in at six in the evening and prepping for my show, which starts at seven. From there, I talk during the instrumental of the song before the vocals start. Although I’m in the studio for five hours, I probably only talk for a combined five minutes, just because I basically talk 10 seconds at a time on average. Some days I schedule music, write blog posts and more.
However, every now and then I get awesome opportunities like going to concerts, interviewing artists and more. I always love doing interviews; it’s a way for me to connect with someone who I listen to on a daily basis. It never gets any less cool. A couple examples of people I’ve interviewed would be Ava Max, Why Don’t We, Dean Lewis, Shaed and Max. But I really love the day-to-day stuff. I love connecting with people. Whether it’s talking over the air or interacting with people on social media—that’s where the real passion lives.
How do you think AU has helped prepare you for your career?
Being in college has really helped me with time management. I used to be really bad at it. In high school, I would never get my homework done because I thought I didn’t have time. Now my plate’s a lot fuller, but I’ve learned to organize myself a lot better.
I saw that you are releasing a book titled Turbulence. Tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind writing that.
I had a buddy who wrote a murder mystery, and he actually worked at WZPL with me a while ago. I told him that I had this idea to write a little bit about my life because I have divorced parents and it was really bad for a while. He told me writing it was a lot easier than he thought it would be, so he taught me how to do it. I have the ability to tell a story, and even if 100 people read it and one person connects to it, that’s all that needs to happen. It’s not money-driven or anything—it’s just about helping people.
I noticed that you have a decent-sized following on social media. How did that happen, and how do you think that helps you in your career?
Honestly, I don’t know how it happened. Our radio station has been associating a lot with boybands, so we have a lot of fan armies that are coming in. It’s pretty awesome. It’s helped me a ton, because in radio the only connection is your voice. People only hear you when they’re driving in their cars, and 90 percent of the time, they’re not even listening. Being able to really connect with them on a different platform and showing more of my personality has really helped a lot.
At the end of the day, you’re trying to portray yourself and a message at the same time in radio. You can do that on social media as well but with a higher engagement rate, which is key.
You proposed to your fiancée in a very cool way. Could you talk a bit about how you did it?
It was literally perfect. Once a year, our radio station throws a big winter event called “Jingle Jam” at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. This past year we had Lizzo, Why Don’t We, Max and Bailey Bryan. Luckily, through working in the music industry, I’ve had the honor to meet Max a few times. Max has a song called “Lights Down Low” that my fiancée and I both have loved for a long time. Since I knew him a little bit, I thought it would be great to ask him if he could bring me out on stage before he performs that song to propose.
We planned it out, and it worked way better than what I could have ever expected. I had to do a stage announcement to introduce him, then I told my fiancée, “Let’s just hang out here at the side of the stage and watch him and see if we like it here, and if not we can find somewhere else.” We sat there until the time came, and I grabbed her hand. She is actually a fairly reserved person so I didn’t know what would happen when I dragged her in front of 15,000 people, but it went flawlessly. Definitely a time neither of us will forget.
Where do you see yourself in the future as a radio host?
My goal is to be doing radio in a major market, either New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. That’s just because it’s doing exactly what I would be doing now, but at a much higher level with much higher traffic.
Who are some role models in your career or life in general?
There’s a lot outside and inside of radio. David Goggins was a Navy SEAL, which is completely unrelated to radio, but he’s someone I look up to. His story is absolutely insane, and he’s actually from Indianapolis as well. As far as radio, I’ve had contact with Brady from Z100, which is the biggest radio station in New York, as well as some people in Chicago. They’re people who are doing what I do, but at a much higher level, so it’s really cool.