Much more to come... I interrupt for my Christmas Letter 2014 above.
Believe it or not, several people have encouraged me to write a book about my time in radio. Who cares about radio? Not even me anymore. But I sure did then. As you'll read, there are many stories of what you hear and don't get to hear... This will be better formatted and edited after I finish the first pass... but hopefully worth a read now.
I got into radio (in my mind) my first day as a freshman at Villanova University, when, while standing in line, a guy with a microphone came up to me to ask questions about what I expected, etc. I was intrigued by the microphone. Who WAS this guy? I was still finding buildings my classes were in, but I had my radar out for this CAMPUS RADIO STATION. Eventually I found it, and joined the volunteer staff as an engineer (I was in the engineering school and all you had to do was read meters every so often.) The station was on carrier current. That meant you had to be plugged into the campus electrical system. We were on an old Conelrad (google it) frequency on AM. At a very low power. Seriously, no power, no listeners. Not uncommon was finding the transmitter shut off, hours after it was supposed to be turned on (2PM). At 4 someone would notice the thing was off. Cold. But you got to practice as if.
One fellow freshman engineering student I met, Art Constantine, aka Sharpie Artie, and I discovered we didn't live too far away from each other. Upon a visit I saw these outdoor speakers and 'equipment' in his basement. "What's that?" "Oh, I did bar mitzvah parties and dances." "Still working?" "No." "Well, how would you feel if we go into business and use your gear and I will book the jobs. It'll be a 50/50 split between us." "Okay." Little did either of us know that I COULD sell and we began a happy time running record hops at country clubs, church auditoriums, virtually any empty building I could find and locate the owner - even in the repair shop of a motorcycle dealer (closed by the Fire Marshall, a good move!) Then Art forged a relationship with the hot new radio station in town, WFIL, and couldn't handle all the jobs he was getting, so he then introduced ME to them and we both had a lot of work. We'd provide* the sound system, records, announce for the first hour, the deejay from WFIL would appear in magnificence, do a couple quick dedications, a contest or two, introduce the free band when there was one, and leave. I'd do the last hour, then bring the money back to the deejay's apartment. I didn't get a split with him though, just a fee, which was too bad because he had a LOT of ones every night. Still, it paid well.
*At the highest point of our success, Art explained he didn't need me any more. I bucked up, bought gear, eventually a truck, and was back in it. Art was such a funny guy I was happy to be around him, usually in the reconciliation of the night's dances. Since the dj didn't have to be in one place for more than maybe an hour, he'd or we'd set up dances where he could hopscotch. I remember one day where WFIL's Long John Wade, for whom I primarily worked, had 5!!! (FIVE!) dances on one day, from PA to NJ, and he traveled by plane!
I got to hang with Long John in the honest-to-god pro studio - in fact, all he did was talk and point. The point would cue an engineer in another room with windows facing the talent, to do the next thing - roll a song or a commercial. The station was unionized, thus the two-man operation. It was also a TV station and unions abounded then. WFIL was great! To me, Long John was a star. He was tall, thin, dressed real mod, knew, and had spent 30 days with the Beatles on one of their tours, had a great voice, a knockout wife, and a .45 automatic on his hip. One day I expected an early death as LJ passed a car by driving very fast in the curb lane before having to avoid the parked cars coming up fast. His Shelby Cobra GT 350 and lead foot kept us alive.
Now I had the school station to play in and the REAL station in which to hang out. As radio engineer I was quickly bored, sitting watching someone else be 'on the radio,' so I volunteered and was given an "on-air" shift where nobody listened for SURE. The dead zone of the dead zone: Friday night on a college campus, on a station few could hear even if they tried.
Here are some memories of WWVU: My first memory is being on the air and banging on a trash can with a hammer. I don't remember why. The station initially was a montage of 'formats' from easy listening to rock to jazz and so on. I guess they felt students were being well rounded by learning anything at all about the dying radio of that time. TOP 40 was king, later came album stations, country was always around, as was news. Even top 40s did the news, some in real pulpy reads, as in "Buick bashes baby boy's brains backwards..."
I remember we had this very large reel to reel tape deck that in rewind or fast forward would go SCARY fast. We had pro equipment, but not much of it. I kept thinking that if one of those reels came off, it could be dangerous to be sitting nearby. (See station three for more on this!)
I watched one of the sports guys actually fake a broadcast of a basketball game by reading off the teletype (ancient now) and reconstructing plays as if he was there.
WWVU was actually pretty good for what it was. Of all the people who passed through the station in my four years, I think only three of us went into radio for careers. Oh, and Jim Croce went ONTO the radio. He was a senior when I was a lowlife freshman.
We called it WOO VOO.
Well, as senior year approached I started sending out audition tapes to stations much larger than any which would have me. But my visits to WFIL had set my sights way too high. One of the guys took one of my tapes to his hometown station, then WYRE, in Annapolis, and landed me a part-time job. He had to go to summer school too. We then made a deal - I'd drive him to and from home on weekends, and I could stay at his house (complete with backyard into a tributary of the Chesapeake, and accessorized with fast ski-boat.) There was lots of drinking on those weekends, followed by learning how to talk with a ripping hangover - I had morning sign-on. As a daytimer, WYRE was regulated to only use its 250 watts during local daytime. It sat above a swamp, and the tower radials* were in the swamp, which helped get the signal out.
* AM station towers are only half of how it works; there's a grid of radial copper strips buried surrounding the tower. AM stations have a skywave and a groundwave. At night when you pick up a distant AM signal, you are hearing the skywave bounce off the ionosphere (way up there.)
250 watts was the smallest station possible. But those radials helped us get into parts of Baltimore and DC, so it felt like a big timer, except we had a local and nautical format as "The Voice of the Bay." Features like Tide Timetable and Scuttlebutt (PSAs) were peppered through each hour. And on weekends they'd turn the Chesapeake Bay Bridge one way outbound as much traffic was headed to the Atlantic coast, then on Sunday at some time it'd be one way the other way inbound. Now there are twin bridges. But back then, we'd call the toll booth, "On the Line with me is Sgt. Foley on the Bay Bridge. Sergeant, how is traffic?" Ding ding. Ding ding: the sound of quarters being deposited - Sgt. F. had laid the phone down and forgot it." I'd sit and think - ';is he gonna pick it up? How long should I wait?' Ding ding.
We had a color blind Chief (and only) Engineer, called a "contract" engineer, usually a nomad who repaired or took care of many stations. Ours was color blind. He'd hold up a wire and ask what color it was, then crawl back into whatever he was fixing.
One afternoon the circuit breakers tripped in the transmitter (swamp electric - this happened regularly) and WE COULDN'T GET THE TRANSMITTER DOOR OPEN to reset them. Engineer was called. He arrived in an agonizing 45 minutes, and pointed to the old transmitter. "See that dent?" He asked, "That's where Adam F****ed Eve." He then tapped a spot and the door swung open. Several of us had been yanking on the handle with all our might, so we stood dumfounded, then I rushed back to the studio to be 'on the air.' There couldn't have been one listener left.
Especially on weekends, radio stations are lonely. We had the inner studio door propped open because the AC failed at 10AM in the summer, and the program director had thoughtfully poured a bottle of Aqua Velva aftershave into the overburdened AC unit to try to cover up the moldy smell. So I am alone, on the air, and could see when the outer door opened by a flash of outside light, but it was getting late and as I looked up into the doorway there was a girl's face, suspended in space. Scared me to death! (She wore black, and was in a dark doorway.) And was sexy, and we were going to have some fun, I thought, eager to test my newfound personality power on her, but had to finish my shift. Time slowed. Meanwhile she called her ex-boyfriend to say she wasn't coming back but they made up before my shift ended, and she left.
One day my friend John and I were out in the ski boat and stopped to chat up some girls. He asked if they had heard the new guy on WYRE and what they thought of him? "He sounds gay" was the reply and we never mentioned it was me.
Legend has it that one day a snake fell through the dropped ceiling onto the microphone while some poor guy was sitting there waiting for a record to end. Later in my career I did confirm that stations with transmitters in swamps are snakeful places.
I lived maybe a quarter mile from the station, and when the morning show guy (also the Program Director) would go out to his car for a cigarette, the door would slam shut and lock him out; he'd run to a neighbor's house and wake me up to come let him back in. Meanwhile, on the radio, listeners heard the needle having run out of music... schk shck shck shck... for minutes and minutes.
"Dead Air" is when here's nothing on. To be avoided at all costs. You could lose your whole audience before you were back.
I lived on Silopanna road - Annapolis spelled backwards.
Once in the middle of a bad lightning storm I called the boss and asked what to do. He said "Don't touch anything metal." EVERYTHING I had to touch was metal.
Well, in September I got married, and received a ten dollar a week raise. By October I was trying to climb the ladder, moving to a larger station in a larger market. Remember, Annapolis was small, even though our station could be heard in parts of Baltimore and maybe Washington, but to the industry, we were tiny. Charlottesville was a step up.
WELK, no relation to Lawrence the band guy, was another 'daytimer' on 1010AM. It's studios were neat and functional, and not at the transmitter, but in full view with a studio window on Main Street (now an open air mall.) They hired me to do afternoons. There were two fulltime DJs. The boss (Program Director) and me. Our shifts would change as the day lengthened or shortened, as mandated by the FCC. In the summer I worked from 1PM until 'sign off' which I remember as close to 9PM.
WELK was located next to the George Wallace for President campaign headquarters.
Rednecks were obvious, even in this college town (U of Virginia, where my wife found work.)
We lived in an apartment complex full of students. This caused issues when I had the Sunday morning sign-on shift in the summer. Oh - I forgot to mention in radio you worked 6 days a week, but at WELK I worked for more than a month without a day off, a reason I eventually quit.
My stories from Charlottesville have little thread, so I'll present these as snapshots.
Our chief engineer/sales manager/part owner (same guy) declared it my responsibility to lock the door at 5:30 exactly and he demanded I do it without fail. His normal entry was a swaggering stiff arm to the door which would fly open. I could see the door through the windows into and out of the news booth, where the news was broadcast. The teletype was also in the public view ands drew readers from time to time. Well, one day I locked us up at 5:30 exactly, and here came Harold, swaggering down the street, arm fully extended, walking right into the door, expecting it to fly open. But noooooooooo. His timing was off. He almost snapped his wrist and arm.
One 4th of July the newsman prerecorded his news on a "cart" which is an endless loop of tape in plastic shell. It has several tracks of audio, one, your recording, and two, the cue track. As you started the machine to record, it would put a tone pulse on the track nobody could hear, but would signal the machine to start HERE. It would play, then stop back at the beginning, as marked by the tone. If you had multiple things on there, it would play them one at a time as you restarted the machine. We called that cueing up. That 4th newsman's parents were visiting town, so he'd be with them at his home, enjoying the 4th, and proudly turning up his newscast right at 5PM. So I played it at 5PM. And on he came, Good afternoon, this is Central Virginia News, I'm (I forget his name) Steve Sharr. He started his first story, stumbled, said SHIT! And the cart cued. My dilemma: I had nothing ready to play. Do I dare play cut two on that cart? Will he continue cursing? Here's where we had some dead air while I decided what to do. A note about dead air. If you are responsible, it seems like forever, no matter how long it really is. While time was standing still I decided the news was too risky. played commercials, then resumed my show. Steve's parents were no doubt impressed by their son, just not how he intended.
One day in the production room, where you put commercials and other recording together, I was rewinding a tape and the tape recorder had a very very fast speed... the tape was going like crazy, and it almost scared me because what if one of those reels came off? Just then, one reel, which apparently I didn't mount with enough muscle, started to wobble just slightly, then more, then more, then it came together with the other reel at speed, flew off the machine, taking machined metal parts off like a blade, and flew around the room like a buzzsaw. I escaped.
On the air people could look into the window. There was a low level cabinet with records in it, but they could see you from the waist up, sitting there. I had a rubber chicken which sometimes I'd wave around the room by the neck, trying to make someone laugh. It was great when a couple would come up, the guy maybe reading the teletype news while the woman looked at me. I'd swing the chicken and when she'd obviously say "hey, look" to her guy, I'd have thrown it behind the cabinet and was just sitting there innocently. He'd go back to the news and I'd go back to swinging the chicken and so it went. Great fun.
I got some redneck pissed at me somehow and he pantomimed he was gonna beat my ass, and hung around for more than an hour. I was getting worried, but eventually he left.
Sundays I was to turn the station on at dawn, and until noon it was all either sold time or religion, worship live or taped. 15 minute blocks were a-plenty. Sometimes a car would pull up to the door with just a minute or two to spare, to deliver the tape from whatever preacher bought his 15. I'd load it up with seconds to go, and find he never rewound it and it was about to play backwards. This was on a very long and thin tape. The question was, would I get it rightside out in time? Then I'd find that HIS recorder was four track and ours was two track. That meant our machine would play a wider part of the tape than his... with one track forward and last week's sermonizing backwards AT THE SAME TIME. You can pray for stupid, but you can't fix it.
One preacher did his 15 from the newsbooth, immediately across from me, shielded by a double glass window for sound purposes. He's drive up in his Cadillac, and come in wearing a nice suit, and after I introduced hi, would begin to wind himself up and before long he'd be screaming homilies, really screaming (think James Brown) and doing it with so much force he'd suck air back in with another screech. Something like this, but hard to put into print: PRAISE THE LORD GOD - HAH! (the last bit of air was a "hah" - wailing screech of air intake. And so it went. My first time with him he got so worked up and when I gave him the "time's up" signal he started wailing about the radio station cutting his message... all in scream - huh - scream style. I thought it was funny. So funny - and he could see this - I literally fell off my chair laughing at him... and insuring my place by the fire in hell, no doubt. And then I had to pick myself off the floor and try to say, "That was Reverend Rufus B Hayes of the First Bible Baptist Church of Charlottesville. Tune in next week for more." without laughing.
We had sometimes 52 commercials in 55 minutes (5 minutes for news). Some were 30s or 60s, there was even a 2 minute spot for milk, and many "quickies" - the dollar a holler type: "Brady Bushy Ford has a better deal. 2100 Pantops Mtn." - "Ladies shoes now reduced for Spring. Shop for Papagallo." Now generally you'd stop 6 times an hour (stop the music) for commercials, at maybe 18-22 minutes of spots you'd run a bunch of them and do all your non sequiter stuff aka quickies. They were on index cards posted on a plexiglas copy stand on top of the console (thing with switches and volume knobs) and I'd forget where they were (Where's quickie "Q"? They weren't in any sequence or order or code.
I had a trained duck that I would let tap dance to a song every day. I remember him doing Light My Fire. Almost jazz like. I admit a lot of what I did on the air was stuff that amused me, and the thought of webfeet in tap shoes was the joke to me, and the sound was just filling it in. I had a duck call, and the rest is history. I must have driven some listeners mad. And anyone at the U who might have been stoned would likely get off on what I did.
Since I was on the air way past supper time in the summer I'd ask people to set an extra plate for me at the table. And then they'd bring it down and I'd have dinner. The last two or three hours of the show were all live commercials, often with no copy, just me trying to sell shoes or cars or whatever. Add in the quickies and it was a cavalcade of commercial as I'd drone on and on, while looking out the corner of my eye for Quickie Q.
Getting the free food led to getting a cake that I said I'd trade for whatever you have... and thus started me on (between songs) a trade-radio thing. Management made me stop because too much stuff was coming. They wouldn't let me accept the horse or the car. But it was fun while it lasted.
I remember the ratings: the morning guy/PD got a 26 share of listeners and I got those numbers reversed, 62. To be fair, he had established competition.
A guy who played gospel music in two fifteen minute pieces of Sunday mornings and I hit it off pretty well, and I loved the music he played. Well, we figured with the power of the radio, we could stage a concert and unite the races and have a battle of the bands and make a good haul of cash.. The summer of 69 in Virgina wasn't ready for racial harmony aka our show, it turned out. In a driving lightning storm, few showed up, the bands refused to play, my partner was drunk, introed me and split. The frequent hits of lightning should have warned me away.
One day the nice secretary/women with many roles brought me my resume which got stuck in the copier the night before.
With no day off and long summer shifts, I just got mad and quit. Didn't have another job lined up. It was a dumb move. I was sending out audition tapes and resumes all over though.
I probably had some ego going as I was offered a job as Program Director (boss of everything you hear on a station) in Hilo, Hawaii. The owners and I got together and they had a little slide show (projected pictures) of Hilo. It's on the big island, on the opposite side of the island from Honolulu.
"Here's the new shopping center" I was told. "What happened to the old one?" I asked. "Tidal wave."
O-kay. I said if I take the job and you fire me for cause, it's my problem, but if not, and I leave at the end of my contract or you fire me with no cause, you have to move me back to the mainland. Um, no. A friend took the job. He hated it.
Some people on the air have really big egos... they NEED to be fed by an audience (Rush somebody?) But in my case, since so much of what I did was for my sense of what was effective or funny, that it was like playing with another persona. I once interviewed the comedian/actor John Candy, and asked him what it was like for him to see himself on a big screen and he said, "it's like watching somebody else." That's how I felt about my on-air persona. A lot of my stuff just happened to have two meanings... so if you weren't paying attention it would go one way, and if you were it'd be something hopefully clever.
We always signed off WELK at dark with the Star Spangled Banner. One summer night after it played, I yelled PLAY BALL, and hit the switch.
I had an issue with the people who lived below us: they were grad students and would throw wild parties on weekends, and on Saturday nights I'd need sleep as I had to be up and ready the station for sign on at dawn. Well, they wouldn't accommodate me (and at this distance, I don't blame them) but then, I'd leave for work on Sunday morning, just after throwing a lit pack of firecracker down the concrete stairwell to their door. I also would roll a bowling ball as slowly as possible down the wooded floor hallway. The rumble is quite audible, especially if you live under it. And finally, I had my whole PA system in that apartment, and sometimes I would crank it up and get on the mic and blast one word QUIET. I was accosted and thrown against the wall and threatened as a result. Can't say I blame him NOW.
They said there are (or were) more millionaires in the surrounding areas of Charlottesville than anywhere else in the country. It's beautiful there. Much larger now.
Wilmington, Delaware. WAMS 'served' Wilmington, but the studio was at the transmitter in beautiful Greenville Delaware, maybe 20 miles from town. It was a neighborhood of mansions. One guy had his own helicopter. Horses, the whole deal. And there, in the middle, was this five tower chunk of land which predated the mansions. Those five towers would flash at night as required by the FAA and the neighbors hated it. But what a beautiful place! We shared a building with cablevision, which was in the basement.
WAMS, an AM on 1380, had what they called a DA-3 pattern, which meant it had THREE directional signals, depending on what time it was. And on Sunday nights, it signed off and another station on the same frequency would come on and broadcast God's words. This is all highly unusual, and if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you couldn't even GET the station. My shift was 7 or 8 until Midnight. At the time I joined, newcomer WFIL in Philadelphia, which blanketed Wilmington, had surged ahead in the ratings by a lot. Many people (in the business) thought WFIL was one of the top stations in the US. They WERE great. And here I was, going up against MY favorite station, which I had gotten to know, inside and out, doing record hops while in college, as you know if you have read this far.
We had a 100 watt red bulb at eye level in the studio, which would light up if we were off the air, and this included those few seconds between 'patterns' as the engineer adjusted the coverage area per FCC. One evening he came in to work on the switching, and told me there'd be many offs and ons which he fought sticky relays or something. A record would be playing, then we'd go off, then on, then off, then on, etc. After enough times (I thought,) I turned everything off in the studio. The light went out, we were back on, but nothing was coming from the studio. The engineer likely shat. Finally, after a pause (remember, 'dead' air seems like forever if you are involved with it) I turned on the microphone and said, "It's not us, check your batteries."
He got me back by taking me for a ride in the country where we were, in a new very hot car (his family was tied into many things, including, I believe, a dealership, and even the station.) We zoomed at very high speeds, on one and half-lane country roads. We were flying and it occurred to me that maybe this guy had a death wish.
I liked Wilmington (Greenville especially) and Wilmington liked me. My ratings blew WFIL away in Wilmington, but not without a LOT of work. I got us involved in a promotion called "SCHOOL WITH THE BIGGEST HEART" as high schoolers were encouraged to make their school "win." A penny a vote. I don't think I realized as this started that I would have to go to every high school in the listening (and non listening) area and address the students in person to beg for pennies in assemblies.
Then I would dedicate that night's show to whichever school I had visited that day. Any stage fright I might have had quickly dissipated.
It's odd - on the radio you pretend/assume there are listeners because you can't see them. On stage, there they are. I found that in any crowd, some like you for no reason, some hate you also for no reason, and 85% of them don't care at all.
So I went school to school. We collected about a million pennies ($10,000). WAMS' general manager was cheap, so there wasn't really any prize except a plaque from the American Red Cross.
I am sure that making all those appearances got the station and my show some attention. When the ratings came out I beat WFIL at my time slot 3 to 1: a 30 to 10 share.
One snowy day my wife and I rode in her VW bug to the station because it had amazing traction and as we headed up the driveway on a hill, the car stopped forward momentum and began to slide backwards, down the drive, across the snow covered grass, brakes pumped, locked, and not slowing us at all. We were headed for a ravine with a creek in it and some misery plus a broken car. Amazingly, the car finally stopped just short of the dropoff.
That car was lucky. One rainy day, my wife headed to work up the major highway we lived on, and hit a puddle that threw her into oncoming traffic, and oncoming were two side-by-side tractor trailer rigs at speed. Somehow they managed to split and swerve around her without hitting the VW. She said her life flashed before her but wouldn't describe that experience, despite my questions.
I have many snapshots of WAMS to tell you:
One evening the newsman put on a dress he found in a closet. Ha ha, big joke. But he left it on all night.
Being out in the country basically, among the large estates, we could open the studio window, and sometimes when I did, the engineer would be out riding around the parking lot in a power mower. Listeners might have heard him drive by when my microphone was on.
We had three Program Directors in a relatively short time. One of them did afternoons, and he challenged me to a bet which took place on the air. We each chose one of the largest high schools as "our" school for the annual Thanksgiving rivalry. Loser would have to go to school at the WINNING school after making fun of them for weeks. And loser had to attend school with the football team. I lost. These boys were PISSED at me. And to top it off, I had to appear at a school assembly in front of the whole school. As I walked across the stage about 1500 kids booed me and booed me. I didn't know what to do so I thought maybe I'd just stand there and outlast them. I stood and obviously watched my watch and they had at me. Eventually it died down and I explained it was a promotion and I lost, etc. (more boos.) Boos can't hurt if you have the right attitude, and who could blame them? Oh - almost forgot - I also did the morning announcements so the whole school knew I was on site... and by the end of the day they were ready to have at me.
We had a celebrity softball team, and I'd usually get to play a little, then have to run back for my 7PM shift. One close game the Program Director told me I could stay until 8. I couldn't figure out his priorities. Softball got out of hand - a bunch of salesmen and others would be in the parking lot and field playing catch way before the end of the workday. But it was fun!
I thought we were pretty good until we played a professional 3 person woman's team. I had spent so many hours as a kid hitting a wiffle ball on a rope tied to a high tree branch, that I felt I could hit anything within range... it would swing back wildly and I could hit any angle... and I could place my hit too. But that woman pitcher threw so hard I couldn't even see the ball go by!
We got paid poorly plus a small talent fee when commercials we did aired on our show. Like $0.15 per. A monthly talent fee might be $15.
One night as we got hit by a wild thunderstorm our five towers on our hill were getting hit over and over. Flashing was constant. The noise was tremendous! We lost power. The effeminate janitor stood in a 'might wet myself' pose and whimpered "I sho hope dat we don die." The generator kicked in, but ran off speed. Which meant no 60 cycle electricity. Maybe 45 or 50, so the turntables ran too slow. Then there wasn't enough current or voltage to throw the relays to start our tape machines. Then the generator ran out of gas. Then the newsman went out in the station newswagon* for gas to refill the generator. Then a falling tree hit the newswagon at the end of the driveway. Just another night in radio.
* the newswagon or newscruiser had #3 on one side and #4 on the other. Who'd ever see both sides at once? It appeared then, that we had four of them.
Everybody burgled the coke machine which was one of the old horizontal ones. There was a shim which you'd insert instead of a coin, then pull it out with your ice cold bottle.
The Program Director who hired me did afternoons on the air and he was often out of the studio when a record would run out. You'd hear him running down the hall, into the studio, and he'd simultaneously flip a disc onto an empty turntable, hit start, and toss the tonearm onto it, turn on his microphone and cover the lack of music by talking until the music did start. This happened so often I am pretty sure that's why they fired him. Never could figure why he was always doing something else.
We had a mystery speaker in the production room (where commercials and public service was recorded). A nice big speaker. Never worked. Apparently they moved the station from downtown to the transmitter site very quickly and didn't document any of the studio wiring! Most amazing was you could talk into the microphone in there, leave the room (tape still recording) then walk back in and speak again and it would sound completely different. Nobody could ever figure this out.
I once led an insurrection against perceived wrongs and got my colleagues on the air staff stirred up and led them to the general manager's office to lay out our grievances. By the time I got to the door there was no one behind me. So I marched in and let the man have it myself. He wasn't pleased and nothing changed except I learned a lesson.
The WAMATHON WAKEATHON. Some sales guy had this idea - sell a client a deal where the personality would try to stay awake as long as possible, broadcasting every 15 minutes or so from the sponsor location. The first one was at a music (equipment) store, a big success, the guy made it past 100 hours* and lots of all nighter musicians dropped by.
*He then came to one of our softball games. I can report his pupils were the size of points and am pretty sure some speed was involved.
I was assigned the second WAKEATHON. At Northtown Clothing Care Center. Right. A Laundromat. Everything went wrong. The people who showed up (largely the music store hippie types) weren't there to do laundry. No reasonable person would be excited by this. The client was pissed. He offered deals like 5 cents off the first load... at 3AM! I didn't do drugs - coffee, sure, but not speed. I started to have trouble saying the name of the place and was hallucinating bats flying in the rear of the place (look it up: sleep deprivation does that.) Made it to 56 hours as I recall. Just an awful time. I don't remember a third wakeathon. I am pretty sure the client didn't pay.
On the air I did pretty much what I wanted while playing the proper music. I would give out 'tomorrow's' pop quiz answers (that I made up) to various high school classes, etc.
My shift ended at Midnight and since the newsguy would leave at 11, I would have to do a five minute newscast at 11:55 which he'd leave me. Well, one night he wrote toe truck for tow truck and I couldn't stop laughing. I'd turn off the microphone and try to compose myself, and couldn't. I laughed for three of those five minutes. I saw my job fly away. I could not stop. Finally I closed with, "...this news has been brought to you by the Bank of Delaware - the Bank with a sense of humor." Maybe nobody was listening. I never got into trouble.
And there were pranks. at 12:05 AM, the all night guy would have to read community notices which were on 5x7 cards for a few minutes. At the time there was this terrible murder in town that was in the news constantly because this girl who the newspaper suggested was a 'bar girl' - whatever that was - was murdered, and they found half of her in a trunk. Naturally there was huge suspense about what was assumed to be another trunk full. Well, I immaturely took the full length picture of the victim that was printed by the paper, cut it in two, pasted it on the community calendar sheets, and buried them maybe 5th and 9th in the stack. Horrible. And darn if the all night guy managed to get through everything with ZERO reaction. But he DID get me back, and again, here I am days later, reading a commercial in the midnight news for Bank of Delaware and as I hit the line about 'make withdrawals with no penalty,' a packet of condoms comes flying out of nowhere and hits my copy. In the seriousness of the moment this was the funniest thing ever. Again, the Bank with the Sense of Humor. And again, got away with it.
I and an associate made up some jingles for the personalities; two guys with no music singing out of key. I remember my favorite - "He's the man with a thousand voices... it's too bad they all sound the same."
Our first GM was a fat man. For whatever reason, he'd some up to you in the hall and pretend to kick you in the face, maybe to show his dexterity - he really could get that foot that high. I was always sooo tempted to just snag the foot as it went by and slowly push back. He'd be down like Frasier. Don't know what management book contained that stunt of his.
I should mention what it felt like being on the air. First of all, I liked it. My ego liked it. You sit in a smallish room and pretend anyone is listening (first) and then hearing what you say (second.) Sadly, many are not doing either. But some are. So you assume the audience. You assume what you say counts somehow, especially back when you had the room to be a personality and entertain somehow. I was always nervous on the first day or two then there was no intimidation factor left. I DID want to do a good job so I would spend a lot of off air time trying to figure out what to say or do on the air.
You also want things technical to run smoothly. Now it's all on a computer. It runs everything, and when it's your turn to talk, there's a 'window' for that. You can override the computer but it's easier to let it go, and many do. This led the broadcasters of music stations to begin to "track" their shows - they wouldn't sit there and hear the songs, just the beginning and end and where they'd talk. THAT then led to companies using the same person on several stations at once, even in the same city, even at the same time. Back when I was on the air there was a lot of finding and filing music and elements, running what they called "a tight board" which meant songs played at the exact time the preceding ended, no gaps between anything. The computer does it now, not that there aren't gremlins.
A station in Minneapolis (number one today) had one of its shows tracked (voice tracked) and for some reason the computer just played what he said. No music, no commercials, just everything he said for four hours-in-a-row.
Why do music stations play the same songs over and over? Because the audience varies, is like waves coming onto the beach, after one passes you need to satisfy the next wave. You KNOW the new song by the most popular artist will have high interest, so that - and songs like it - play several to many times a day, depending on how those waves of audience are measured. You might have 10,000 listeners at an instant, but within the next minute, say, 5674 leave and 3998 new listeners turn it on. Once you get the audience research math, you can calculate the rate of audience 'turnover' and adjust repeats for each new wave.
Back then, Pittsburgh was a top ten market, i.e.; the Big Time, and KQV was number two to the mighty KDKA, but 2 was huge and at that time in popular music, this kind of personality radio was also a big deal, a conduit to the new, hip whatever. We represented the lifestyle of the advertised whatever. I was hired by Bob Harper, their new PD. Much more will happen with Bob before I end my story. I had heard KQV at night in Virginia, and I can remember sitting in my truck listening to this guy who was great - Jim Quinn. Who'd have thought I'd actually work there? For ABC too, when ABC had the biggest station in the country, New York's WABC. They also had monster WLS in Chicago. These cities, and their stations, were as good or better than WFIL in Philadelphia and they were dream stations, so good, with the best talent, huge signals; and KQV was their farm team.
WLS eventually took three of our guys, a newsman!, and two personalities. I would be the new night guy. Me and my skinny voice in the land of the gorilla-ballsed.* I was and am still pretty creative so I entertained three groups: out late, up all night, up early. I also did some news stories in the 5-6AM hour, always ending with yesterday's DOW jones closing (sound effect of a door shutting.)
*Three of the guys had profoundly deep voices, and back then it was a highly sought after and imitated sound. It was emasculating for me to speak with them.
I was so intimidated I actually didn't believe I was a member of the team until one day 18x24 pictures of the six personalities was put onto the studio wall, and I was one of them. An honor.
Due to union rules, separating engineers from guys on air, we couldn't really even move our microphone without requesting it of the engineer (in a room facing.) Then they might file three part grievances with the station, and do I have to say Pittsburgh was one UNION town. May still be, I don't know. I got along great with my engineer who would usually be taking things apart and refreshing them, doing good maintenance. The big time.
I have so many good memories of KQV, it's hard to pick which to tell you. Well, working all night: it helps kill marriages, isn't good for you, and especially hard to convert to a normal day for one day of the weekend, then go back.
I saw a movie the other day and in it the car was driving through a tunnel and as soon as I saw it I knew exactly where in Pittsburgh they were as I had driven it hundreds of times by the time I left.
Pittsburgh looks good, and there's a great view angle from across one of the three rivers. We were downtown, in a window for all to see. You 'could' craw the curtain, but no one did, and the glass was thick and multi-paned to keep bullets out. Radio can attract crazies who come along with the great numbers of people a station reaches. Real psychos. Remind me to tell you about the woman and Larry Hunter (much later.)
Since the station had an FM and at the time AM was the rage - I'd say these years were the birth of fm, and our FM was blessed with huge coverage and an automation unit. While I was at KQV, KQV-FM became WDVE as ABC birthed all their FMs - this was the early 70s. Some of my show was simulcast. On transmitter maintenance nights - maybe once a month - I'd be sent to the FM studio and told, 'do whatever you want but don't try to do KQV' so I got to screw around and at the time that was pretty hip. I got an interview record where they send you the script, the answers on a disc to promote something. So I'd ask wrong questions which tilted the answers wildly. Like that.
Played hipper music. As WDVE was born, the new GM asked me three times to be the PD but I kept turning him down, because I wanted to be on the radio. By the way: dumb move.
That station partied hard. Just a notch below destroy a hotel room-hard. Happened to be several bars right around the corner or across the street. Yes indeed. Partied hard. I will confess to barfing Swedish meatballs in the news director's guest bath at one of his parties. Letsee, there was the party where I convinced the news director to turn his speakers up and up until they blew out.
The news director was a very intelligent clever guy hidden under a serious shell. But at parties he became a sort of children's show host and the party became the children. Apparently this was modeled on someone he saw on TV. Blew out the speakers.
Or the party where they had me hypnotize a willing (almost demanding** gonna be trouble!) young woman. I put her under and she freaked. Had control issues.
Or when I loaded up TWIN charcoal barbeques with hamburger then sort of forgot for a few minutes too long. Or our Ripple Party with a (clean, thank you very much) trashcan full of ice and ripple wine bottles. If you don't know Ripple, if it's even still around, you're lucky. But back then, a party it did make. People left around 3, and I had to be on the air at 6. A little wooly, I was.
Or being driven home by my wife, following one of the guys being driven by his wife as he hung out the window throwing 8 track tapes at telephone poles and trees.
Or how a fight broke out on the yacht we sailed boozily up the Ohio - a station sponsored party.
We played celebrity basketball for charities, we emceed concerts, we drove around in a converted hearse and handed out bookcovers at high schools (tens of thousands of wonderful chances at paper cuts!) TV cut-ins for MDA telethon, etc. Union rules were odd or some weird deal was done, as eventually we got paid for NOT emceeing concerts plus free tickets.
I never made it to WLS.
Snapshots: there was a bunch of us who had broken into fellow air person's condo for a surprise party for this guy. He comes in with his girl and they're fighting - we're in the next room. Guy stomps upstairs and we're staring at the cat - what do we do?
I learned to fly in Pittsburgh and am proud to say on a very short runway now closed in Aliquippa, Pa. I flew a plane over one of the Pirates World Series Games and the control tower jokingly asked for the score. I just rented a plane, flew over the stadium where all these other planes were circling pulling ad banners, and got in line. Now fast forward to today versus then. I almost think you'd be shot down.
One night my newsman walks in on me, draws a pistol and starts yelling as he shoots me about 6 times. I just looked at him with disinterest. I knew he wasn't going to kill me with blanks.
One night someone hid a walkie talkie in the AC duct and when I turned the microphone on I'd hear another voice sort of out there in the distance....
Our window overnight would attract people coming out of bars, street denizens, hookers, guys who didn't know they lost the parrot on their shoulder, if you get my drift. One night a car stopped for a tall hooker who was really a transvestite. We tried to wave him off... but in s/he goes and they drive off. For about 2 minutes, then the car stops and s/he gets out. Surprise!
One day a bullet hole appeared in the outer glass of another studio we used for making commercials. We got paid if we recorded more than - I think - 3 commercials in a week. UNION!
I admit unless I was on it, I considered the FM a competitor. While still in its automated state I sat in my car and watched the tape break, and it was 45 minutes before someone came to fix it. I was sitting in my car talking to someone and the automation unit was also in its own window facing the street, like the studios.
I parked in a ramp with a spiral up/down and would really get my car going. I'm certain I would scare a passenger, but I got so used to it, just hold the angle and go fast!
I used to have this on tape, but in moving I got rid of many many tapes: our overnight part time newsguy gets laughing about a story of a school bus-train wreck. Just loses it. Keeps turning his microphone off. Tries to regain composure. Nnnnope. I don't know what was funny at the time but I laughed at a funeral once, so don't ask me.
One night we had to go off air for maintenance as the FM was now live. But I had to be there because they couldn't say when they'd be done out at the transmitter. So my engineer and I decided to play a trick on the newsman: now the newsroom was in the middle of our space, no windows, and with doors that would close whenever the microphone was turned on. So this particular night we went off the air while the newsguy was trying to pick up some action on the phone. He didn't hear us go off, so I kept doing a show and that's what he'd hear in the background - everything same as it always was. I run his intro and he's "on the air" but not. The doors close as he pops the mic on, and he begins to read. A few sentences in, one door flys open and in roll the engineer and I in a noisy verbal fight full of words you don't say on the radio. real loud. I kicked the metal trashcan across the room. There sat one newsguy in shock. We then broke out laughing which confounded him more as his wits had left the planet. Maybe that prompted the shooting.
I wanted a better shift and there wasn't one, so I told the Program Director, my boss, that I was going to start looking for work at another station. Bad idea: he replaced me before I found a gig. And he was replacing me with a minority, so doubt because he had to and he didn't want to lose this guy, so I was out.
But right away I got interest from the General Manager of...
KRIZ, Phoenix, "Rockin' in the Valley of the Sun."
Phoenix was hard to figure. Didn't seem to be much there there. I went up in our traffic report airplane and there really wasn't much there there. I liked the heat. I was newly single. The station had no Program Director, then it did after I had begun. His exact words to the air staff: "This is my big chance and I'm not going to let any of you fuck it up for me." Must have meant me, as I was fired pretty quickly.
I had been noticed though, as I started giving away dirt bikes to non-listeners who called the wrong station. Our competitor - the one which was crushing us? - THEY were the ones giving away dirt bikes, part of the reason we were being crushed. I'd get a LOT of calls from confused listeners so I would give some away, tell them to come to the station at 3 the next day and ask for the program director, etc. at the Crushing Competitor Station.
We got so many wrong numbers and so few calls for us or me... I slammed the phone down - you know - one with many lines coming into it? And it shattered. I always thought they were pretty much indestructible. I tried to piece it back together, but the lines were broken. I finished, went home. Awakened the next morning by the GM who asks, "What did you do to the phones last night?'
Me thinking, buy time. "What phones?" "ALL OF THEM!"
And I got drunk on a remote broadcast. It was really hot - Phoenix with the flame turned UP! And my remote point was tied to the outdoors. I was on a few times each hour. "Come to the Waterpark"
for about a minute. Well, after that, I'd go find cool and cool was in a bar where I ordered a beer. ...after sweating a few minutes outside to do another on air thing over and over, enough beer was consumed for me ( rarely drank alcohol then and now ) to be not good on the air.
The midday guy told me I was going to be fired and thought I should know, especially since I had come all across the country for this job. I went to the GM who hired me? Guy says I'm going to be fired? GM: "No, no, we had a meeting and I just said that to say everybody has to pull their weight or anybody will go, even the new guy." Later that week: PD to me on phone. Wanna see you at 9AM. Me, getting off air at Midnight... 'oh man that's so early for me can we make it later.' Him: I'll come down now. He smiled as he fired me, says, "you know that big party I didn't invite you to? That was a clue." I didn't even know about it or was on the air during it.
It would take many weeks before I found work, weeks I spent at the pool, and I think becoming fearless in the water. Became a good swimmer.
I remember one line: after a Johnson and Johnson's Baby Shampoo commercial I added, "excuse me, there's a lizard in your hair."
The station was Barrio-side. I'd look out the door and see a bunch of kids sitting on my car - the only car in the lot. There was a transmitter behind a heavy door. The legend is one guy opened the door and a neighborhood bad guy cold-cocked him. The other station legend was some employee had thrown a body block into a fancy-then electronic vending machine which gave up EVERYTHING. No, wasn't me.
The overnight guy smoked weed I discovered on my first midnight. But he wasn't worried because he had this magic aerosol (Ozium) which he said would immediately mask the smell. I said, well you had better use it because I just heard the front door open. He sprays magic. The engineer walks in and says, "Who's smoking dope in here?"
The GM called in drunk one night to hear Layla after I had very recently played it. It's long. He didn't care. "Play it again!" I did.
Phoenix is so hot you can actually burn yourself on your steering wheel.
Back then we'd give visibility with the weather - often 25+miles. Not today.
My next door neighbor had short hair when men were growing it out... this was the early 70s, man. But I found out the reason his hair was short was because he just got out of jail.
Several Phoenix Suns (tall guys) lived in my complex.
I couldn't believe my luck when I got hired BACK by WAMS, to do afternoons.
Again, WAMS, where I had been successful. I loved the beautiful neighborhood where the studios were. I found a great condo. I was fired on the 6th day. My program director explained very seriously that for some reason, my voice didn't go through the transmitter! Yup. I explained it had gone through very well on my last visit, and that I'd buy a new microphone or whatever he thought necessary. Nope. I cried. Nope. DOWN LIKE FRASIER!
My mother still lived outside Philadelphia so I camped there while I sent tapes out trying to stay in the biz. I got a bite from Scranton. Not exactly a high profile move up, I took the job, and feel very deeply that I learned radio there.
"It's warm enough for me." Either we or a recorded voice said that regularly. The station was WARM, with a darn good signal, being at 590. Though when it rained the wires to the transmitter got wet and we sounded like a phone call on a cheap phone. "The Mighty 590" had real personalities and they performed daily. We had a darn good news department, a good General Manager and major market experienced Program Director. I worked 7-Midnight plus production of commercials as needed. One advantage of that shift is the cleaning crew would come in and unlock the PDs office. I got very good at reading upside down, so I'd do a nightly scan of his office just to be sure I wasn't in trouble. Like for invading his office. Didn't touch anything - just read what was sitting there. I was pretty insecure after my return trip for 6 days at WAMS/.
But they wouldn't let me be me. The afternoon guy was named Bob Woody and used his real name. The management didn't think it to be a good idea to have him followed by Bob Wood, so I chose the name Christopher Sky. Part of my deal was a tradeout for an hour or two weekly at a local airport.
So as a flier I thought Sky was an unique name, and liked the cadence of Christopher Sky (never Chris.) I had never been anyone but myself, so it was strange, and I asked those who knew my real name not to use it as it would inevitably goof me up. I never said the wrong name on the air, but did once or twice say the wrong station name. My show was unique, well rated, and jammed with news, features, many commercials, and me playing the hits.
I never got used to 5 hour air shifts, always running out of gas in the fifth hour.
WARM was, essentially, a top station worthy of a larger market. I feel I 'learned' radio there, as the personalities were varied and great to study. Later in life I'd put some of the lessons I learned to use.
One thing about WARM was how I felt liked by the management. That really builds your confidence. I also found out what everyone was paid and I felt it a fair distribution - morning man always made most, as was the case, but as evening guy I wasn't being paid a pittance as some station did. Plus I got to fly.
Snapshots: The weekend newsguy was all hyped because he had a system that was 'working with the horses.' Several weeks later he came in all sad. The system failed.
I figure this was the only station which Patty Hearst, on loan to the Symbionese Liberation Army, could pick up, once she was 'released' and it came to be known where they were all hiding.
My apartment complex was said to have been a haven for swingers, but that was before my arrival. No swing. No slide.
Had a date on Christmas eve and she fell in the parking lot and broke her ankle. Wouldn't get out of hospital until New Year's Day. I had to call her dad, who was coming from midnight mass... who looked like a mobster. I did smuggle, decorate, and light a real Christmas Tree in her room before they caught me.
I got the swimming pool rules changed - no nets required anymore for 'long' hair. I became a hero.
We broadcast from the Pocono Fair from our mobile studio. Subsequently, I got to emcee the Helen Reddy Show. We passed on stage and I noticed she had a big zit on her back. Just sayin'
I decided I wanted to be the boss of what goes on the air... so I managed to become a manager, in Canada. Note: In 1973 studded tires are not allowed over the border.
CHAM, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
I had worked for the man who was PD there for a while, and he was now in Canada as GM of CHAM. We kept in touch and he offered me the job - BUT - first you had to PROVE that no Canadian was displaced, and there was an interview with immigration, xrays, blood tests - it was no simple matter, but I did get in, though without my studded snow tires.
Hamilton is at the left end of Lake Ontario, sort of like a nipple. A steel town of days gone largely by though the mills still operated. Stelco and Dofasco, I think, from 40 years later.
I was program director. That means one who is responsible for whatever you hear.
I should explain for those who worked for me and might be reading this that as program director I felt I "owned" what was broadcast, had high standards, and couldn't settle. I also felt if you told your staff the right thing to do, they'd do it. WRONG! The air staff almost walked out on me. Lesson learned. Management involves more finesse.
We were getting clobbered by the competition. Under my tenure we did improve though, and I got to work with several folks who justifiably went on to fame in Toronto at our sister station. From my narrow point of view they kept stealing my best people.
One DJ would scream on an inhale to 'lower his voice' before he turned on the microphone. Except one time he turned the mic on first.
I made the morning news guy do the weather from outside the station and the weather in the winter was raw. You could tell he hated it, which I thought made great radio.
We went through a bunch of staffers in my year and a half as they climbed into the BIG TIME or out of my controlling ways. I have stayed in touch with several of them.
The GM was fired. The new GM (former Sales Manager) was promoted and took me to Toronto to our national sales team to show me off and declare a great new day. Several days later, corporate came to town and fired me. There WAS some resentment about me being American, and the guy who replaced me put up billboards that said "CHAM - where all the good music has gone." Huh?
You can read this both ways. A bad billboard.
I was out of work for nine months. There was a postal strike in Canada in that stretch so I could only apply in the US by driving to Niagara Falls and mailing my packages of taped samples, resume, etc. One day I took my girlfriend along and as we were just about to go through customs she had taped her mouth shut withy my mailing supply and was going "mmmmmm mmmmuph" as if kidnapped. VERY funny, and yes, she did remove the tape and I didn't go to jail.
Canada is enough like the US that it all seemed familiar but different. Like living in a movie.
One night of many in my 9 months of unemployment I heard something hit outside my window. Something BIG (I was on second floor overlooking a patio.) I looked outside but the lights from the driveway obscured my view of the patio. I got a flashlight and it revealed a young woman, face down. My brain immediately went two ways at once. One was logical - call the police - the other half was in denial. After calling the police I ran to the body, arousing the building manager as I passed that apartment. Not a mark showing on the body that we could see. It was a swan dive off the 13th floor. Word was she had mental issues but was out from treatment on a pass. So sad.
I got into Transcendental Meditation in Hamilton, and when fired, spent many a day in meditation. It helped. I still do it, though not all day like then.
STATION 10 WKBW Buffalo
I snagged a part-time job for my Program Director from Pittsburgh who had moved to Buffalo, at WKBW. 65 miles one way. "KB" as they called it, had a nighttime signal that went from the Canadian maritimes down the East coast halfway (or all the way - I'm not sure). I know you could get it in Virginia. Answering the phone was amazing.... call from Halifax, Philly, etc.
After some time passed I figured I'd just move to Buffalo in case a fulltime job opened up at KB. The day the movers were in to give me an estimate, I got a call from Montreal and asked the movers to quote both Buffalo and Montreal. I was flown to Montreal for an interview and offered evenings (7-Midnight) which I accepted.
At KB I'd sleep in the ladies' room since it had a couch. I'd be on till Midnight Saturday then on again Sunday at 6AM.
KB wasn't in a good place in town. How bad? I'd run down to the nearby McDonalds when there was a very very early Sunday morn public affairs prerecorded show on. The manager there wore a gun on his hip. That should tell you something.
STATION 11 CJFM Montreal
Boy I loved Montreal, lived mid downtown, and in the mid 70s the media was invited to everything!
I did evenings, then afternoons, and was eventually promoted to off the air after doubling then tripling the original ratings. This made zero sense to me, but I was made "Creative Director."
So I created stuff.
Montreal was viewed as a special Major market by many, and we were mandated to have some talk shows which were hosted by Matthew Cope and Mary Lou Basaraba. Matthew was diligent and went after anyone and everyone famous. I remember a young Donald Sutherland stopping by and hanging out after his interview. Bing Crosby on the phone singing just a few lines of White Christmas. From strippers to celebs, every day was someone who was well known or should have been.
CJFM was the little FM upstairs from the BIG English AM station, CJAD. I was eventually promoted to Program Director and not long after the French-mother-tongue majority finally assumed power and it seemed like they were going to force all sorts of French on English companies, so I started looking for work elsewhere. I could read signs, etc., but could never speak it well enough to criticize what was on the air.
Snapshots: Funny line: "A social note, don't use the urinal while wearing open toed sandals."
The guy who said that replaced me in afternoons when I was taken off the air. One day he came in so drugged out of his head he couldn't speak coherently. I called the PD (Program Director) who was at the bar across the street, and said, listen to your station. The PD was a young alcoholic, a great guy, but not a good PD.
I convinced The GM to buy a piece of expensive equipment that immediately made us much louder.
His gleeful call the night they turned it on was a high point.
Once another station broadcasting from the same antenna as we did, from the highest point on Mount Royal, was WAY over their legal power limit, and it knocked all our radios off our station. I actually went on the air and announced "If you can hear us, would you please give us a call?" The meters said we were, but we couldn't hear us.
On my first day I saw an old friend in the hallway. "DAVE," I said, "this'll be great, working together!" "Bob, don't you know? You are replacing me." Man, mixed emotions there. And we stayed friends!
We were invited to the big Montreal company Christmas bash. And the little station upstairs completely upstaged the big AM downstairs, and they didn't like it. PLUS we had an after party party in the big suite at the top of the hotel. Much alcohol was consumed. The AM staff attended. One of their news guys had a fight with their Program Director. Hair was pulled out. Furniture thrown. BLOOD!
STATION 12 and STATION 13 WBEN AM and FM (ROCK 102) Buffalo
I had listened to ROCK 102 while in Hamilton. It was automated and all screwed up. So was the AM but I didn't know it as I never heard it. The job open was for the AM, and at my interview I insisted on both, and got them.
ROCK 102. Dumb contest, new bad jingles, and highly predictable songs (nobody changed the tapes, just wound them back to the beginning to play over and over.) I like to say I fixed it in 15 minutes, and I did. Killed the contest, removed the jingles, and assigned the tape rotations to the music director. Fixed.
WBEN. As I'm writing this for general eyes, I won't go into all the programming things wrong with the station which remained popular and legendary, but just to give you a taste: on my interview trip I heard the station play Lisa Minnelli, Burl Ives, Jefferson Starship... in a row. It took much longer than 15 minutes - but eventually I fixed it. I had the number one AM and number one FM. And I had 25 job offers over 5 years or so as it turned out the competition was trying to remove me. I almost took the job in Portland, Oregon and passed on a good gig in Chicago - the GM there said he had interviewed 35 people, flew me in twice to be interviewed by his Co-GM and Sales Manager and I passed, then turned the job down over $5000. I wanted more and he wouldn't bend. I thought that if he really did interview all those people and got down to one, he ought to bend, and if he wouldn't, I didn't want to work for him.
WBEN had the first computerized snow closing system in the country, thanks to our Chief Engineer and genius, Dave May. He built it, programmed it. He also built what had to be among the first music programming systems by which I could assure how the songs were played on WBEN.
We had everything. New overly equipped studios built by the previous owners (and a CBS affiliate down the hall.) Example: the usual radio microphone costs about $450. We had MANY $3500 microphones. We had custom quad equipment in case quad caught on! We had the Buffalo Bills, the Sabres; our own helicopter traffic reports. A major production facility which I ran from 9AM until 3am or so.
One day I cam back from doing some commercials at a local studio (I was pretty popular) and found two Buffalo Bills waiting for me - angry. They wanted their pay for their one hour a week and they had been stiffed somehow. Everybody told them to see me. I gotta say, it's funny when a NFL nose tackle and linebacker at 250 pounds each are mad at you. They could literally swipe me off the planet. The disparity in our sizes was so silly. We got them their money and all was good.
We had Coach Knox on the air once a week for an hour. Mister cliché. And here's the take-away: no coach will ever disparage his team or any team to the public. Later, post Chuck, we had Kay Stevenson, then youngest coach in the NFL. He was horrible so I gave him a big speech about how I could work with him to 'coach' him into better performances. I went on and on, trying to get his buy-in. His reaction: "If you don't like me, I'll quit." Um, no.
Jeff Kaye, our morning man, and the team of newsers, weather, traffic... held a 20 share 12+, one of the last few giant audience in morning radio at the time. When he left us he left us to be the main voice for the company that produces NFL Films, replacing the late John Facenda, who was a one of a kind, and who I got to do promos for us sometime before his passing! In speaking to him I found out he lived maybe a mile from where I grew up and I had been by his home hundreds of times on my way home from grade school. He was a true gentleman.
Along with Buffalo, ROCK 102's signal was strong enough to cover most of Toronto, Erie, Rochester and all in between. I calculated over a million listeners per week, all added up! I haven't mentioned it was a big automation unit. Canada actually passed a law that advertising on "Border Blasters" would no longer be a business tax deduction, and we lost millions. Still, the cost of operation was so low it continued to make lots.
WBEN also had legendary Sabres coach Scotty Bowman on for an hour a week, in season.
And let it be noted that BUFFALO always had radio better than the market size would lead one to believe. It might not have been a major market, but I felt we could compete well IN a major.
It was fun being down the hall from TV, no longer co-owned... hey, look, Dan Rather... Jane Fonda...
more to come - by the way, this is first version, not edited particularly