Archives For Times Square

Since leaving Niagara Falls, New York for Syracuse University in 2003, I haven’t spent Mother’s Day with my Mom often. The 2007 SU commencement was on that Sunday in May and I can remember at least one other time when my Mom visited me but otherwise, I’ve been away from the family. It was mostly a byproduct of the job; the only holiday you’re really guaranteed to have off in radio is Christmas. The fact that pretty much my entire family, sister included, are still back in Niagara Falls also factors in to it.

But on the flip side, it makes a Mother’s Day spent with Rachele that much more special because I certainly don’t take it for granted. And so you can imagine my joy that this year, as the Yankees readied to retire Derek Jeter’s number on May 14, my Mom floated the idea of coming to the city for it. While my Mom isn’t a huge baseball fan, she does root for the Yankees and likes getting to at least a game a year in the Bronx.

She, like many of us, also loves Derek. When we visited New York for my first time in 1998, my Mom was the one who overheard a worker at Niketown talking about Jeter. Minutes later I was standing in front of the shortstop and shortly thereafter, thanks to my Mom, this photo was taken.

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And so my Mom and sister Raquela flew down Saturday morning in to a rainy Manhattan where they shopped, napped and then met me for dinner at Dafni’s on 42nd. They love staying in Times Square (I’ve stopped fighting it) and have eaten at this Greek restaurant before; after our meal, I would sign up for a return visit.

That night, the two of them walked up a few blocks to see Josh Groban in “The Great Comet” (Rachele gave it high marks). The next day, we grabbed a nice early Italian dinner at Pomodoro Rosso on the Upper West Side. This quaint red-and-white tablecloth restaurant served generous portions for a moderate price. We left with full stomachs and walked to the C train so we could transfer to the D at 125 and end up at 161st and River.

Once we got inside the ballpark and made it to our seats, I ran back downstairs to spend too much money on hats, shirts, pins and programs marking Jeter’s (second) Day at Yankee Stadium. I made it back to our Jim Beam Suite seats in time for the start of the ceremony, which in typical Yankee fashion was a fantastic stroll down memory lane.

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Ironically the most forgettable part of the trip was the game itself; the Astros jumped out to an early 8-0 lead after the first few innings. But the score didn’t matter; my Mom enjoyed herself so to me, it was a winning weekend.

She started her career by teaming up with Semi Precious Weapons lead singer Justin Tranter and writing big hits for Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Hailee Steinfeld to name a few. But since deciding to keep the song “Issues” for herself and become an artist, Julia Michaels has gotten to experience a whole new side of the music industry.

On Monday morning, she had the chance to check another box off the list: live TV. Michaels’ first time in front of the camera without the safety net of a pre-tape came on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz revealed nominations for the 2017 Billboard Music Awards.

“A little nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie,” Michaels told me of the experience backstage at GMA’s Times Square studios. “I have really bad performance anxiety. Apparently I can’t even talk without getting nervous!”

Michaels was thankful to have Wentz there though, a seasoned-pro at these things, to help her along. Despite Tranter penning FOB’s “Centuries,” it was the first time the two artists had met.

“He’s really calm,” she noted. “Super nice guy!”

Speaking of the nominations, The Chainsmokers and Drake took home the most, ever. Both acts tied the single-show nod record at 22 apiece. Twenty One Pilots checked in next on the list with 17, followed by Rihanna’s 14.

As for the aforementioned Bieber, he grabbed 7 – an impressive number considering the “Purpose” album cycle is finished. Michaels contributed to that LP; most notably co-writing “Sorry.”

“It was awesome,” Michaels said of her experience working on the album. “Actually, one of my favorite songs that I’ve written is a song called ‘The Feeling.’

“I wrote that after a break-up and I was talking to one of my friends, and I was just hysterically crying. And he was like, ‘OK, were you actually in love with him or were you in love with the feeling of being in love with him?’”

Immediately, the light bulb went off for Michaels. The song was co-produced by Skrillex and features singer Halsey, who coincidentally also scored 7 BBMA nods.

As for Michaels’ solo project, the singer is still pretty happy she made the decision to release the super-personal song “Issues” with her own voice. Michaels recently released the music video for the single and tells me that while originally thinking it would be followed by an EP, she may now opt for a full-length album because of the amount of writing she has done.

And yes, she’ll be at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, which air Sunday night, May 21 at 8 pm live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To say I struggled with this article would be a bit of an understatement, but perhaps after I write this I’ll simply “let it go.”

Last Wednesday I found myself blinded by the lights of Times Square to cover a red carpet with “Frozen” star Idina Menzel. The songstress made a name for herself under those lights, rising to stardom thanks to her roles in the Broadway productions of “Rent” and “Wicked.” She took home a Tony Award for the latter.

Menzel returned to Gotham to promote the movie “Beaches,” a remake of the 1988 classic, which aired last Saturday night on Lifetime. The network held a screening for the film at the AMC Empire 25 Theater on 42nd Street. The reboot also starred Nia Long, who reprised the role of Hillary while Menzel took on Bette Midler’s character C.C.

When Menzel stepped on to the red carpet inside the building, she first spoke with E! News about the film and her fiancé. Lifetime’s social media crew followed up by recording a “tune-in” message from the actress. My spot on the carpet was next to theirs, but Menzel’s publicists herded the remaining members of the media in to a half-circle, where none of us would get one-on-ones and instead we’d be asking the singer questions press conference-style.

This isn’t my first rodeo so at this point I’m not the slightest bit annoyed, even after said-publicists tells us that we can only ask questions about the movie.

But we’re in New York. Menzel was born in Queens. So what was it like for her to be back in the city?

“I’m a New York girl, so it’s nice,” she responded. “I got my apartment here and there’s no food in the refrigerator. So I’m hungry but I’m happy.”

I followed up by inquiring what the first thing that came to her mind was when she returned to Broadway.

“OK, questions about the movie right here!” shouted Menzel’s publicist, who then gently scooted the singer away from me and towards the other members of the media, most of whom were probably awaiting with baited breath to ask the same, tired questions that Menzel has already answered a million times.

Here’s the ironic portion of the ordeal: Menzel is a Tony Award-winning performer who rose to prominence in part due to “Rent” and “Wicked.” In the movie that her publicist required we ask questions about, she plays Midler’s role.

Yes, Bette Midler: a Tony Award-winning actress who began her own rise to prominence thanks to roles in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Salvation.”

Maybe the publicist missed the connection? Maybe she didn’t care? Maybe she’s never going back, because the past is in the past?

Regardless, the cold shoulder never bothered me anyways.

Sure some women grow up with the dream of one day becoming Miss America – but how many of them also envision the crown’s travel schedule, which involves a different state every 48 hours?

“I live in airports and in hotels out of my suitcase,” the current titleholder, Savvy Shields, told me on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The two of us chatted for a few minutes on the third floor of the Good Morning America building after her TV appearance. “It’s been good. I don’t really remember much of it so that’s why I’m trying to journal and if I look at my social media then I remember everything I did.”

The journal idea was something Shields, who represented the state of Arkansas in last year’s competition, mentioned to me when we chatted the day after she won. Since that interview, the 21 year-old hasn’t sat still, but has experienced some cool moments including a trip to the American Music Awards where she joined Florida-Georgia Line on stage.

“(B.K. and Tyler) were fantastic,” she noted. “I mean, we’re southern people so we get along right away.”

With Shields’ personality, it’s hard to envision her not getting along with anyone, nor is it a stretch to think that she’s now getting recognized throughout these travels.

“I’ve gotten a lot of ‘Are you on TV?’” she said. “So it’s like, they know who I am, but it’s not until I have the crown on that they put two-and-two together.”

And contrary to popular belief, Shields isn’t always wearing the crown. Matter of fact, it wasn’t on her head at the AMAs; that and her new hair style that night which featured bangs lead yours truly to not recognize the titleholder, an occurance Shields did not let me forget during our interview. However she also joked that there is another time when people don’t realize she’s Miss America.

“If it’s an ‘airport day,’ they don’t really believe me,” Shields said. “So I mean it really depends!”

There are certainly more “airport days” on her docket, but also some once-in-a-lifetime destinations such as the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards, both of which take place this spring. “Miss America” is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which also handles all of the aforementioned award shows along with “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” another show that Shields participated in. The Arkansas-native didn’t seem to mind the December climate in New York too much.

“Maybe it’s everyone dancing that’s making it not as cold?” she wondering out loud. “I was expecting to be layered in like 7 parkas but I’m actually just down to one so we’re good to go.”

Hopefully for Shields that meant not having to pack or travel with as much; right after witnessing the ball drop she skipped the champagne toast and received an escort out of Times Square to grab a head start on the next part of her never-ending itinerary. Although I’m sure at this point, she couldn’t envision her night any other way.

I rang in the New Year in Times Square. Just two nights later, my Father and I stepped on to the ice after the Sabres beat the Rangers inside Madison Square Garden.

Yeah 2017 is off to a pretty solid start.

So one of my Dad’s good friends from back home in Niagara Falls is this guy named Ron DeFazio. Ron is a little older than Ralph Sr. and the owner of my Dad’s go-to watering hole, a venerable spot called Stadium Grill on Hyde Park Boulevard. Now even though he lives and works in Western New York, Mr. D is a life-long New York Rangers fan.

And he’s never been to Madison Square Garden. Period. Not even for a non-hockey event.

A few months ago, my Dad and his buddies were at the bar and they decided that it was time for Mr. D to see the Blueshirts on Broadway, especially with Ralph Jr. (me) working literally above MSG.


I made a few calls and scored us tickets to see the Rangers, who conveniently enough were playing the Sabres on January 3. The men booked their travel accommodations and those few months passed in seemingly a few days; next thing you know I’m hanging out with my Dad, my cousin Mike Hooper, Paul Parise and Mr. D inside Smith’s in Hell’s Kitchen. We did a bit of bar-hopping on Monday night with stops at Rudy’s and Jimmy’s Corner. Then on Tuesday, we started off the evening with happy hour at the Oyster Bar followed by a beer at Stout, a tour of the radio station and then a trip downstairs to The World’s Most Famous Arena.


Thanks to my friends at MSG Networks we were able to get Mr. D’s name on Gardenvision during the first period. Then my friend Nicole hooked up this once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity after the game.

The Sabres ended up beating the Rangers to Mr. D’s chagrin but regardless, it turned out to be a trip that none of us will ever forget.

As the band prepares for its upcoming tour that kicks off later this month, DNCE looks back on 2016 rather fondly.

“Getting a VMA for Best New Artist, that’s really special for us,” was one of the first things lead singer Joe Jonas told me he’ll remember about the year, besides of course releasing the quartet’s debut, self-titled album. “Touring with so many amazing artists and growing our fan base more and more, and we can’t wait just to be able to do it all over again hopefully.”

The LP, which dropped November 18, came out over a year after DNCE’s initial EP. According to Jonas, the prolonged success of “Cake By The Ocean” was one of the reasons for its delay.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he admitted. This was the first time that I had chatted with the group since the album’s unveiling. “Yeah the album’s out, and what a great way to kind of cap the year off with being in Times Square and celebrating with all of these amazing people that are kind of bearing the cold.”

I sat down with Jonas and his bandmates Jack Lawless, Cole Whittle and JinJoo Lee in their hotel suite before the group performed “Cake” and “Body Moves” on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” It was Jonas’ third time performing the event; in 2007 and 2009 he did so with his brothers Nick and Kevin. Lawless, who played drums for The Jonas Brothers, joined those times as well. But for Whittle and Lee, joining a million people to ring in the New Year was a new experience.

“We’re all wearing adult diapers underneath actually, just to keep things legit,” Whittle cracked when I inquired how they were staying warm. He eventually told me that because of how much the band moves around on stage, they wouldn’t have an issue with the temperature outside.

“It’s amazing how many people are waiting all day for this awesome event,” Lee said of her first New Years in Times Square. “I can’t wait to celebrate with all of those people.”

DNCE, which played the Orange Bowl Halftime Show in Florida the night before New Year’s Eve, now heads west for their headlining tour that starts January 17 in San Diego.

“We think the world needs more love,” Jonas responded when I asked if the band had a New Year’s Resolution. “And hopefully we can bring some joy and happiness to people.”

Imagine standing in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Now picture that you’re live on the radio. And add in the fact that you have no producer, no intern, no assistant… no one. Well, no one to help you; there are obviously plenty of (read: a million) people surrounding you.

Welcome to my New Year’s Eve broadcast in Times Square on 95.5 PLJ. This was the third straight year that I had the honor of hosting the show and the second consecutive broadcast where we partnered with Dick Clark Productions so that I had space inside ABC’s Good Morning America studio. Thanks to our friends at Times Square Alliance, I had full-run of the “Center of the Universe” as well; I spent my evening literally running between the third floor of the GMA studio (without using the elevator mind you) and the crowd with stops in between to interview DNCE, Miss America, Gavin DeGraw and a few revelers.

But even as I managed to book, edit, produce and host the show, there were some difficulties simply out of my control. No my in-ear monitors didn’t go out, rather our entire wireless broadcast system went down. So as the clock struck midnight and the 11,800 pound crystal ball completed its descent, I dialed in to the studio to ring in 2017 over the phone.

When you’re live in a setting like Times Square for New Year’s, these are issues that you actually can prepare for; you simply create backup plans for everything because anything can go wrong. Over the 7 hours I spent in the Theater District I dealt with a broken audio recorder, a late interview and faulty internet connections on top of everything else you would normally expect: heightened security, large crowds and the weather.

Although the temperature hovered around a balmy 40 so that wasn’t awful, but I digress.

It’s stressful but in the moment, a lot of fun. At any moment I’m in a hotel suite with Joe Jonas, editing audio on my laptop, talking with a couple from the Philippines who is visiting the city for their first time or simply pausing to take it all in. Because despite all of the difficulties that I encounter with the show, I still couldn’t imagine spending my New Year’s Eve any other way.



Last weekend was of the long variety for me; with an abundance of vacation to use before the end of the year, it won’t be the final time that happens in 2016 either.

It was also the last weekend before I began one of the craziest but also most enjoyable stretches of my year: flying to Los Angeles to cover the “American Music Awards” and then back to New York for the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” So I knew that over the course of the three days I needed to find time to rest, run a few errands and work out.


While completing all of the above, I also decided to try something new on Friday night: I got a massage. My buddy Nick is a former massage therapist, so I called him for some advice on where to go and what to look for price-wise. I ended up choosing the performance massage at my local Equinox, which was the perfect way to wind-down from a day that included a 5.6 mile run.


On Saturday I got another run in before hopping aboard NJ Transit to pay Newark a visit. My Sabres were in town to play the Devils and even though I’ve adopted the Devils as my local team (I mean c’mon, they gave me a jersey with my name on it!), I had to show up to support the blue and gold. Yes, New Jersey won but me along with my colleague Dan and his son Justin had a great time at the game. Our seats weren’t too shabby either. Big thanks as always to Kerry and the Prudential Center for having us!

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The weekend wrapped with, you guessed it, another run – followed by a Football Sunday and a trip to H&M to pick-up a few last-second items for the trip west. It was a very productive weekend, which was perfect, because I had a very busy week waiting for me.

Our last guest of 2015 was the lovely Miss America, Betty Cantrell. I was in Atlantic City the night Betty was crowned, and she was nice enough to stop by and visit us just a few days after the pageant. In her dressing room at the Good Morning America building in Times Square, we chatted about some of the celebrities she has met so far and Steve Harvey’s mess-up on stage at Miss Universe (which by the way, is a different organization than Miss America).
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I was live in Times Square for New Year’s Eve on 95.5 PLJ. In addition to counting down in to 2016, I chatted with Charlie Puth, Miss America and George Zimmer. Check out some of the sights and sounds below!