Christopher “C.J.” Zweig was entering his teenage years when he watched Little Miss Sunshine, the acclaimed 2006 movie about a 7-year-old beauty-pageant contestant chasing a dream.
It changed his life. “It made me appreciate all the small things,” Zweig said. “And it led me to practice becoming a film critic.” Now 27, the Tinton Falls resident has chased that dream to fruition. He produces a website and a YouTube channel for his movie reviews, which got the attention of NEWHD Radio, a nascent internet radio network devoted to hiring people with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum.
“I do have autism,” Zweig said. “I’m not like how they portray it on TV and in the movies. I like to prove to people I’m more than meets the eye.”
He’ll have the chance with NEWHD, giving movie reviews on the air three times per week and — this is big — getting paid for it. NEWHD Media was founded by Zach Martin, a Middletown native and longtime radio fixture who serves as creative director of WFAN in New York. Martin enlisted the backing of Tiki Barber, the former New York Giants star whose radio show Tiki and Tierney is syndicated nationally.
Oceanport resident Ray “The K” Kripaitis came on board as the lead on-air personality, handling morning drive-time shifts. Kripaitis, who has a close relative with autism, met Chris at a Long Branch restaurant and began checking out his work.
Zweig, a graduate of both Monmouth Regional High School and Brookdale Community College, did not let the coronavirus pandemic interfere with his work. He streamed as many movies as he could — Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is his favorite so far this year — and recently toured New England movie theaters, taking in Made In Italy with Liam Neeson, and The New Mutants, the latest X-Men installment.
Zweig also produced a moving, three-minute video tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman, who died last month at age 43. “He will always be remembered for inspiring a broken society to do better,” Zweig said in the tribute.
Do better: That’s the mission for NEWHD Radio as it casts a wide net for employees. Zweig is one of three on-air hires who are on the spectrum, joining Jeremy McCraclen of California and Rachel Barcellona of Florida. These opportunities are vital.
According to Autism Speaks, between 700,000 and 1.1 million Americans with autism will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services over the next decade.
That’s a ton of human potential seeking fulfillment. Zweig can’t wait to do his part. His first on-air segments will review the espionage thriller Tenet and the updated release of Mulan.
“I’m ecstatic,” Zweig says. “I don’t want a job that makes me unhappy. I want to contribute in the best way I know how.”