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UP CLOSE: The Mix’s Ethan Gawel talks shop

July 12, 2019
By ELIZABETH IZZO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - When he was younger, Ethan Gawel remembers hovering around the radio with his friends and turning the music up loud.

They made mix-tapes together with snippets from radio broadcasts. A funny line from a DJ or an ad, punchy sections of songs - they all went onto a cassette, one after another.

"Even back in the day, I can remember listening to the countdown shows and the talk shows," said Gawel, program director at The Mix radio station, based in Lake Placid.

Article Photos

Ethan Gawel, program director and morning radio host for The Mix, sits in the Lake Placid studio Monday, July 8.
(News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

"I've always enjoyed listening to the radio, listening to music," he said.

Since 2014, Gawel has been an on-air personality and the program director at WSLP 93.3-FM, now dubbed The Mix after the station merged with Tupper Lake's WRGR 102.1-FM on July 1.

Helping run a radio station isn't too far off what the 32-year-old saw himself doing in life. But doing this job in the heart of the Adirondacks was unexpected.


Adirondack journey

Gawel is a native of the city of Rochester. He went to St. John Fisher College there and got an internship at a radio station cluster his senior year.

"I've always been interested in radio because I'm kind of camera shy," he said.

As he spoke, Gawel sat in the radio station's studio - a small, dark enclave nestled in the back of The Pines Inn on Saranac Avenue - before a line of brightly lit monitors.

"I find it a lot easier to talk into a microphone without people seeing me," he said.

Gawel started in the radio world as a board operator in Rochester and from there moved into morning drive - the morning time slot when many people listen to the radio while commuting to work.

"I skipped a couple of steps," he said. "Normally you're a programming assistant, an assistant PD."

Gawel worked in radio in his western New York hometown for nearly six years before he decided it was time to move.

"I wanted to find a better opportunity for myself and branch out," he said. "I started applying for jobs all over the country. In 2013, I really started the push.

"You've got to make sure the opportunity is right if you're going to up and leave home."

The right opportunity soon came along. Gawel saw a vague ad from a Lake Placid radio station that piqued his interest.

"It said, 'Help program an award-winning radio station in the Adirondacks. Apply here.' I applied. I sent them my demo. I got a phone call probably two days later."

The station's sales manager and vice president, Jim Williams, told Gawel they wanted someone to run the morning slot and serve as a program director.

"They said, 'It's a lot, and oh by the way, we're in Lake Placid. The closest Walmart is an hour away,'" Gawel said.

Despite being in rural upstate New York, Gawel said he enjoyed the area when he came to visit.

"They seemed to like me. I liked it up here. The day after I got home, I got a phone call. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to go."


Building something new

On The Mix, Gawel plays - literally - a mix of genres, from alternative to pop music from the 1990s to now.

He likes the music the station plays, but he has a different playlist for when he's at home.

"I like more hard rock," he said. "I'm kind of a closet hip hop head. My favorite artist of all time is Eminem. If you read his lyrics, it makes your head spin."

Last May, the company started a new classic rock station, Adirondack 105. That's when Gawel really felt he could be in this industry for the rest of his life.

"I know I've always wanted to do this," he said. "I've always loved to talk, even when I was a small child, before I could talk. I tried to talk as much as I could. I'd say it really clicked with me, like, 'this is something that I could do absolutely until the day I die' was when we launched Adirondack 105 in May 2018.

"We built that station up from nothing. We purchased the station, did the logo design to the social media to the T-shirts to the music to the imaging. Every single thing, we did in house here. Seeing that process, it was motivating because I thought to myself, if I can start a station with this small crew, the stars are the limit.

"The opportunities I've had here, it's absolutely motivating and makes me want to look to the future."

Last week, the company underwent another change. Station owner Jonathan Becker purchased another frequency, expanding the radio station's reach. North Country Radio and Border Media merged WSLP and WRGR (Lake FM) and rebranded as "The Mix."

"We thought The Mix was a great way to kind of rebrand ourselves to the communities," he said. "We reach all the way up to Star Lake and Indian Lake now, and almost all the way up to Potsdam.

"It's WSLP with a little bit of a hotter twist. It's the same music. We're The Mix playing the best hits."

Gawel said The Mix is growing because radio is still important in people's lives.

"You've got people that listen from the time they get up, in their car and at work, to the time that they go to bed," he said.

And it's more than just music and contests. It's connecting the community with services they didn't know were available.

"It's exposing people to new music they haven't heard before, and exposing people to products right here in their backyard that they hadn't known were here," Gawel said.

"It's been very exciting to grow with this business and show everybody that radio is alive and well. It's all about how you grow it and how you build it."


Set the night to music

Since he started at WSLP, Gawel has helped craft the station's annual Fourth of July "Set the Night to Music," a program that synchronizes music to the village's fireworks display.

This year marked the 31st year of the program for the station.

"It was started by a guy named Dennis Ryan," he said.

A "Volunteer of the Year" award winner in 2010, Ryan was a beloved fixture in Lake Placid. He was the original owner of Adirondack Radio and served as the president and general manager of WIRD-AM and WLPW-FM in Lake Placid. During the 1980 Winter Olympics, he was a commentator and creator of the Olympic Radio Network.

Ryan died in 2012 at the age of 58.

"He had a brilliant idea that the fireworks should be set to a music soundtrack," Gawel said. "Why not play the soundtrack on a radio station?

"It's his idea that morphed into what the Fourth of July in Lake Placid is today. We're just here kind of carrying on his legacy."

Programming this community event is all about matching up crescendos - a burst of fireworks to a punchy chorus or a power note.

"The fireworks guys, they work very closely with us when we're creating the soundtrack," he said. "I think, if anything, we've kept up with what the original intention was."

Gawel said that the program, and everything he's accomplished at the station, was made possible by the listeners and the company's four-person crew.

"If people haven't listened to us, or if they think we only do one thing, you might not really know," he said. "Give us a chance and we'll try to play the best music. We love talking about community events.

"It's been a really great ride so far, and I'm excited to see where we go."



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