DJ Jimmy Fink, By Rachael Gorrie
After 18 years, radio personality DJ Jimmy Fink of 107.1 The Peak continues to hit all the high notes in Westchester County.
Westchesterites growing up in the 1960s through the ’80s who cut their rock-radio teeth on stations like WABC, WNBC, WNEW-FM, and WPLJ fondly recall the DJs who became the voices not only of local radio but also of their generation. While all but a few of those signature personalities have passed into nostalgia, there is still one voice from the youth of countless thousands in the county that is still going strong.
WXPK 107.1FM, aka The Peak, went live on the air 18 years ago, and Westchester resident and DJ Jimmy Fink has been there from the beginning. Rather than meeting at The Peak’s new digs on North Main Street in Port Chester (near the iconic Capitol Theatre), we instead convened virtually, a policy put in place during the pandemic. Since the onset of COVID, The Peak’s DJs do their thing from their homes, coming into the studio only for a weekly staff meeting. It’s just DJ Chris Rodriguez (“Coach”) who works from the studio; the others — program director Chris Herrmann, Pam Landry, Meg White, and fill-in Dina Dessner — all broadcast from their respective homes in Westchester and Fairfield counties.
Fink has traded the sound of Metro-North trains passing by the Peak’s new location for the sight of deer serenely foraging on his property, and he couldn’t be happier about the trade-off. “I never want to go back to a traditional radio studio again,” says Fink, who was raised in Mount Vernon and Eastchester. “My home studio sounds better than the Peak’s current studio does. I love working from home. And you can’t beat the commute.”
Today, Jimmy, resides with his wife Debbie in Scarsdale, while his children (son Robbie, and daughters Allie and Lucie), have left the nest for Manhattan. They enjoy hanging out in Rye, often roaming the boardwalk at Playland, or exploring the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, especially the bamboo forest. When it comes to dining out, Fink says their go-to spot is Meritage, in Scarsdale.
Full disclosure: Several years ago, Fink anointed me as The Peak’s “resident astronomer,” as I provide him with news on eclipses, meteor showers, and other sky happenings, which he relays to his listeners. But on this day, we were eager to delve into his favorite subject: music, specifically The Beatles.
“They changed my whole life back in the ’60s,” Fink says of The Fab Four. “They were much more than a band: They changed music and were the trendsetters for a generation. They’re pretty much at the top of the list.” (The first time I met Fink in person was at Beatlefest ’79, where he was the emcee. We fondly recalled all of us attendees recording a 36th birthday greeting for George Harrison.)
But it doesn’t stop with The Beatles. Fink’s 5,000-vinyl-LP collection runs from ABBA to ZZ Top. While admitting it’s difficult to single out particular albums (yet he did for us; see above), other favorite bands of his are Pink Floyd, Yes, and his son’s combo, East Love, whose music he raves about. Fink is also a fan of more modern-era bands, like the Decemberists, Lumineers, and The War on Drugs, thanks in large part to The Peak’s regular rotation of newer artists alongside the veteran acts.
Interviews are part of the job when you’re a DJ, and during Fink’s 50-plus-year career, he’s done more than his share. When suggested that a Paul McCartney interview might be among his most memorable, he surprisingly said no — it was the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb during their career-renewing Saturday Night Fever period. Fink fondly recalled how Gibb even took advantage of a piano in the room to play him a song or two.
“Then there was Todd Rundgren smoking a cigar, lying on a hotel bed during our entire interview,” and talking to the Wilson sisters from Heart “while their two little Yorkies were crawling all over me as I’m asking questions.” Other standouts were Elton John (“He had no airs about him… conversation was lighthearted, great sense of humor. I don’t think he takes his flamboyant public persona all that seriously.”) and David Bowie, whom Fink describes as “very well-spoken and serious about himself and his music. I felt that whatever environment he was in, it had a major influence on his music. [Bowie] said he liked to be in cities that had ‘conflict,’ perhaps explaining why he recorded three albums in Berlin.” Fink says he doesn’t have many regrets, but two acts he wished he’d interviewed are Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones.
While certainly a local legend, Fink, who holds a communications degree from American University, has also been heard nationally and internationally via the ABC Rock Radio and Armed Forces networks on such programs as the Rolling Stones’ Continuous History of Rock & Roll. Known to be outspoken and clearly an expert in his field, Fink didn’t demur when asked if there were rock gods out there whom he deemed overrated.
“I always thought Jack White is overrated, but there’s a buzz about him that people seem to love. I just don’t get it.” Also, “I’ll probably receive some blow-back for this, but I never really thought Nirvana were all that great — a lot of whining and minor chords, not melodic. Again, I don’t get it. But as a radio professional, I’ll never put them or their fans down.”
It’s likely that the hallmark of Fink’s New York career was his tenure at WPLJ — one of the top rock stations in the country in its heyday. He first came on the air during summer break 1970, while still at American University. He became a mainstay at PLJ until the early ’80s, when he got a call that a new station was coming on the air, on the weekend of the most generation-defining musical event since Woodstock: Live Aid. Fink played K-ROCK’s first song, “Long Live Rock,” by The Who, then went right into live coverage of the watershed benefit concert. Talk about hitting the ground running.
But that’s the best time to work at a station, “because the energy is fresh, and the person who hired you hasn’t been fired or moved on yet,” he says with only the slightest trace of facetiousness in his voice. “The Peak is very different from those big, formal, New York City radio stations and their big, buzzing office scenes. The Peak is not that; it’s basically me, Coach, Chris, and the others, and the support sales staff at the Port Chester studio.”
Fans of the medium will be happy to hear Jimmy’s prediction that “radio will always have a place. Sure, you have Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Apple, and Amazon, but the thing about radio is, it’s local, and that’s the thing that will always keep radio alive,” he says. “When you tune into Sirius XM, for example, nobody’s going to talk about what’s happening where you live — it’s national and impersonal.”
Lifespans don’t run long at any radio station unless you are truly a standout in the business, which makes Fink’s run that much more impressive. He has transcended musical fads, styles, trends, and formats to remain a steady presence on the New York airwaves (and now other media formats) through five decades. Hopefully, he’s just getting started.