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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

Mike Sakell hard at work on the air at WVOS in Liberty

Meet the Man
Behind the Voice

By Jeanne Sager
FERNDALE — May 11, 2004 – You don’t have to be awake at 5 a.m. – Mike Sakell does it for you.
He’s the guy everyone counts on to be there peeking out his studio window at the thermometer and announcing the temperature so you can pick an outfit that matches the weather.
He’s the one delivering the good news on snow days when Sullivan County’s kids are brushing their teeth, their necks craning to hear that closing announcement.
When you turn your radio dial on any given morning, Mike Sakell is the man you’ll hear chatting with County Historian John Conway about an upcoming event or chewing the fat with the county’s farmers before a big tractor show.
He says he’s not a morning person, but Sakell has been waking Sullivan County up for 20 years as the morning show DJ on WVOS.
“He’s been part of the lives of our listeners as they travel to work, if they’re at work, or at home,” said Shirley Blabey, who owns the Ferndale station with husband Gene.
Sakell never thought this was where he would be, 20 years after he started spinning tunes in the early hours at the station.
“It’s something I kind of fell into,” he said.
Born in New York City, Sakell grew up in Astoria, Queens.
At 13, his Greek-American father retired, and the family picked up and moved across the ocean.
The young Sakell had only been to Greece once before to visit an aunt, but suddenly he found himself in a new country, learning new customs.
He was lucky enough to attend an American high school and began doing the school news report on the US military base radio station near his home.
The report grew into a Saturday music program, and Sakell was hooked.
He returned to the states after graduation and studied marketing, keeping radio in the back of his mind.
He thought about going into advertising and realized that the field was an integral part of radio.
But his desire to go on air came out through his volunteer work as a reader for the blind, “ripping and reading” clips from The New York Times on Sunday mornings for those who couldn’t read the words themselves.
It was the best practice he could have ever had, Sakell said. It made him work to enunciate and perfect his craft.
“Eventually I decided I wanted to get back into radio,” he recalled.
Sakell went into the studio and made an audition tape, then he started shipping out resumes.
Interview opportunities brought him upstate, even sent him to Massachusetts.
Eventually the ad in a trade publication brought him to Ferndale.
That was more than 20 years ago. He was hired to fill in on air when no one else was available, taking the “undesirable” times like holidays.
But in the spring of 1984, he finally made the jump to the morning slot.
And he’s never left.
For Sakell, it isn’t really a job.
“You get to talk with a lot of the same people, and they become your friends,” he said. “It’s how I make my living, but the DJ part of it – I don’t think of it as work.
“I still enjoy sitting here and talking on the air.”
Don’t let him fool you. It’s not all fun and games.
While the bus drivers are saying a silent thank you that they don’t have to be out on the roads, Sakell is slipping and sliding down Route 17 from his home in Monticello to get on the radio and tell people school has been closed.
He’s in bed by 9 p.m. these days so he can get up at 4.
He says he’s not a morning person. The clock radio goes off, and he just rolls over and groans.
And what’s playing?
WVOS, of course.
It blares in his bedroom until he finally drags himself out of bed and heads out the door.
“The hours are insane,” Sakell said with a laugh. “But that’s part of it – you sacrifice.”
He wishes he could be involved in more things that happen during the nighttime hours, but he’s in bed.
He even gets a little harried when the mercury rises and Sullivan County is hopping and he’s out every weekend doing reports from “remote” locations.
“It gets a little crazy in the summertime, but that’s the way the community is – you expect that,” he said. “Every businessperson I know works hard during the summer, it’s the rhythm of the area.”
It’s a rhythm Sakell knows well.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has seen Sakell at events across the county.
“You really know our community,” Gunther said Friday, April 30, when she surprised him in the studio with a citation from the NYS General Assembly. “You have your finger on the pulse.”
And that’s what makes Sakell’s morning show so special.
He’s not a shock jock. His “celebrity” guests are county legislators and maybe the dairy princess.
But he’s the guy who has tickets to the Callicoon Theater up for grabs and will share a warm cup of hot cocoa with you at the Livingston Manor Ice Carnival.
“I’m starting to sound like an old man, but back in the old days that was part of community radio,” he explained. “You got involved in your community.”
These days Sakell is sharing the limelight with Sara Lee Seginak, a Grahamsville resident who started out as a special guest for movie trivia and became full-fledged co-host in September.
“Sara’s got a lot of energy, I really enjoy working with her,” he said.
Bringing Seginak in is part of keeping the morning show fresh, trying to inject something different into the mix.
Overall, Sakell loves what he does.
He enjoys the musical format, and he’s a guy who can talk about music for hours.
The station has gone back and forth between country and adult contemporary, but Sakell is happy with the current format – it’s music that’s familiar to people, that makes them happy and brings back a lot of memories for listeners.
“To use a gushy cliche, it’s like the soundtrack of your life,” he said.
And the narrator of that soundtrack is Mike Sakell, whether he’s talking about his two cats or talking up the next event at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty.
And after 20 years, he seems to be doing just fine.
“The reason I’m here is the listeners have responded well,” he said. “And as long as it’s still fun, I’ll be here.”

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