Overnight chemistry: Red Eye Radio longtime hosts Gary McNamara, Eric Harley dominate late-night airwaves

One is from the southern U.S. border.

The other from the northern border.

One trained to become a manager at a 7-Eleven and even contemplated following his father into the military.

The other wanted to be a talk radio personality so he could tell students when school was canceled because of bad weather, but when his initial foray into the business didn’t pay enough, he became a machinist at a steel mill.

Both would eventually wind up in talk radio full time, despite one’s name being at the bottom of the list of potential candidates for his first radio job. The other was chosen because the owner at the station he joined as a disc jockey (after leaving the steel mill) couldn’t find anyone she wanted to hire for a talk show and finally looked his way despite the fact that he much preferred music to talk.

Meet Gary McNamara and Eric Harley, whose paths eventually crossed at WBAP radio in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in the early 2000s and who today are co-hosts of Red Eye Radio (RER), the five-hour overnight talk show that, after humble beginnings in 1969, is now heard on more than 240 radio stations nationwide, including radio giants such as WABC in New York City, WLS in Chicago, WBAP in Dallas-Fort Worth, and KABC in Los Angeles. The show and its podcasts can also be downloaded and streamed online.

How it all started

McNamara grew up in Buffalo, New York, and recently recalled his exact introduction to talk radio.

In addition to his music program, McNamara was manager of the station he’d joined after leaving the steel mill.

“The owner came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to do the talk show,’” shared McNamara. “And I said, ‘No, I won’t and I can’t.’ She said, ‘Well then, you have no choice.’ And so here I am 31 years later. I’m probably one of the few people forced into doing talk radio, having no idea that it was exactly what I would absolutely have the most passion for. In talk radio, you get to do everything. You get to be producer, director; you get to have a great editorial control and creativity that does not exist anywhere else.”

McNamara, who is single and 65 years old, held jobs in Buffalo, Portland, Chicago, and Rockford, Illinois, before winding up at WBAP in 2000.

Harley, who is married with four adult children and eight grandchildren, grew up in Texas, graduating from high school at Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1984, after spending his formative years in Del Rio, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexican border.

He had not necessarily considered a career in radio but did apply at a local radio station just “because they were hiring.” Because he had no car, a friend, David Anderson, took him there and both men interviewed for a job.

Red Eye Radio is heard on some 240 stations nationwide, including WABC in New York City and KABC in Los Angeles. (Courtesy: Red Eye Radio)

As the interview began, Harley was told the station wouldn’t hire anyone who did not have radio experience.

He was set to go to work for 7-Eleven at a store within walking distance from his home. On his first day at work he was told to report to a different location that would require a commute, so he had to decline the job because he had no transportation.

That same day, Harley was at home, fully dressed, when the phone rang. It was the manager of the station where he’d interviewed. The manager asked if Harley could come to the station, so his mother gave him a ride.

“I went inside the studio and the manager asked, ‘Are you Eric?’ And I said yes,” Harley recalled. “He said, ‘OK, great. I have a 40-hour-a-week job for you.’”

The manager had a yellow legal pad he showed to Harley, whose name was at the very bottom of the list of candidates. All the other names, including Harley’s friend, Anderson, were crossed out. The manager had tried to contact the other candidates, but Harley was the only one he was able to reach.

“David told me later he’d heard the phone ring when the manager tried to call him, but he ignored the call,” said Harley.

Harley eventually moved to Dallas, and in 1996 joined the late Bill Mack who had started the show as “The Midnight Cowboy” in 1969.

Mack’s show centered around music, but by the early 2000s, the show started trending toward more talk than music.

After Mack’s departure in 2001, the name of the show was changed to Midnight Trucking Radio Network (MTRN) and Harley and Joe Kelley were tapped as hosts.

In 2005, Kelley left for a radio job in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Read more at TheTrucker.com