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Former local man’s job in Big Apple is to make sure stars, others, sound good on air
By Steve Clark - Monday, December 26, 2016 8:26 AM
Originally published Dec. 19, 2016.
When a musician takes the stage, it’s John Gernand’s job to make sure that they’re heard.
Gernand, a Huntington native, works as an audio technician in New York, NY. A resident of the Big Apple since 1979, his profession has enabled him to work with some of the most celebrated musicians in the world.
Gernand developed an interest in the performing arts in his youth. As an attendee of Trinity United Methodist Church, in Huntington, he helped out with various performances that took place in the church’s basement, from concerts to theatrical productions. As a student at Huntington North High School, he was involved with the campus radio station, WVSH, and also worked at Wabash stations WAYT-AM and WKUZ-FM on the weekends.
Gernand graduated from Huntington North in 1977 and made the move to New York City two years later to study film at New York University. Among his classmates were future “Home Alone” director Chris Columbus and comedy writer Robert Smigel, who went on to create “Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.” During his time at NYU, Gernand started working as a production assistant on TV commercials and films. He found those gigs so educational that he eventually left school and let them serve as his classroom.
“I just felt like I was learning more on actual sets for movies,” he says.
Through all this, music maintained a special place in Gernand’s heart. And throughout the 1980s, he worked regularly in that branch of New York’s arts scene.
“As certain performers, certain bands, as their careers took off, they’d hire me to either go on tour with them or work on their productions,” he says. “So, I did about five tours with They Might Be Giants between ’87 and ’89. I’ve also worked with, off and on, people like Steve Buscemi since about that same time, from ’84 to the present on performance pieces, theater pieces.
“And now I see Steve every once in a while as a guest on talk shows that I work on.”
For a decade, Gernand worked at Studio Instrument Rentals, which rents musical instruments and sound equipment to the entertainment industry. He started out as a technician and worked his way up to management and sales. He worked closely with TV networks and, eventually, was offered a job by one of them.
“An opening in audio occurred at NBC,” he says. “Somebody thought I’d be good for it. That’s the door that opened.”
So, in the fall of 2000, Gernand made the jump to TV. He’s worked in that medium ever since.
“Most of the time, I’m doing A2 work, which is short for ‘audio assist,’” he explains, “and that means that I’m the technician on the floor who is, in the case of music, wiring up the bands and conducting the sound checks, the line checks and the music rehearsals for audio.”
In addition to working with musicians, Gernand also provides microphones to the hosts and guests of the shows he works on.
One of those shows was “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” His first day on that job is one he remembers fondly.
“So, I was working on ‘Conan O’Brien’ my first day as an A2 there, as a music A2, the guest was They Might Be Giants,” he recollects. “That kind of came full-circle. So, that was in 2002. So, I’ve been working with them since 1984 and it was just sort of a good thing to give them a good show.”
Gernand remembers the band’s guitarist, John Flansburgh, gleefully shouting his name while running around the studio toward the end of the performance.
“That was a great thing,” he says.
Also that year, Gernand worked with musician James Taylor on “Last Call with Carson Daly.” It marked the third time he’d crossed paths with Taylor. Their first encounter occurred in 1982, with Gernand working at a concert Taylor performed at in Central Park, which was filled with musicians and spectators protesting nuclear arms. They met again in 1992 at Squibnocket Farm on Martha’s Vineyard, where Gernand assisted Taylor and his bandmates with some rehearsals.
“Their rehearsal hall was a barn on Squibnocket Farm,” he says. “It was just a really cool vibe. Really nice.”
So, when they bumped into each other again, like clockwork, for the third time in as many decades, Gernand had to point out the chronological humor of it.
“(Taylor) recognized me from Squibnocket and I mentioned that it seems like I work with him every 10 years or so and he said, ‘Well, my muchacho, so this is a good omen.
“‘We both have 10 more years in the business.’”
And, sure enough, Taylor was right. Gernand ran into him again a decade later while working on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade telecast, which featured Taylor performing on one of the many floats.
“Around about 2012, he was in the parade and that was where I took a moment, set up his mic and then he started playing and singing and I sort of had a seat and enjoyed the ride for a block or so,” Gernand says.
Currently, Gernand works on “Good Morning America,” primarily with the show’s musical acts. This past summer, he ran the stage for the program’s Friday concert series in Central Park.
Additionally, Gernand works on NBC productions, such as “Saturday Night Live,” and for CBS Sports Network.
As a result of encountering celebrities on a regular basis through his job, Gernand describes himself as “not a terribly star-struck person.” That mentality, he says, serves him well.
“The object is to support them as professionally as possible,” he states. “My attitude is, anyone that’s on my stage, I’m going to treat them like a star and do my best to put across whatever it is they’re doing.
“I learned a long time ago with audio they need me to put a mic on ‘em or they need me to put a mic in front of them; they don’t need another friend or another fan. So, my attitude is to be as professional and sensitive and supportive as possible.”
While the prospect of moving to New York might be daunting to someone from a small community, like Huntington, Gernand says the city’s intimidation factor does wear off.
“It did drive me crazy when I first moved here that the horizon line is much higher,” he remarks. “If I look to the west, I’m looking over buildings and maybe seeing New Jersey and that drove me crazy because it’s not really as low. But, you know, you adapt to these things. You can always go back home, too, if you get homesick. So, my advice is to keep plugging away.”
“I think you just have to go for it,” he says. “Don’t let other people discourage you. If you have self-doubt, just confront it and go for it.”