Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Hits Just Keep On Coming!

Anyone who heard the great top 40 stations like KHJ and CKLW knows his voice.

He introduced the jock at the top every hour…”and now ladies and gentlemen…The Real Don Steele”, with the ID jingle that followed.

Bill Drake the legend passed away this weekend at age 71.

He was often accused of taking personality out of radio.

Drake’s contribution was bringing discipline to the Top 40 format.

Many Drake jocks of the 60s became some of the biggest personalities of the 70s and 80s.

He demanded discipline but loved talent that could bend the format just enough to standout.

There was a huge difference between the big ‘Drake’ stations like CKLW and those in smaller markets.

The small guys did the format, but lacked the sizzle of great personalities able to entertain within the tight format.

A Drake station required more than discipline, talent was a big factor too.

Stories about Drake are as large as the legend.

A CKLW jock told me a story about how difficult it could be to work for Drake.

The format at the time required the jingle to play after the commercials.

They NEVER jingled into the spots.

On this day the jock did his break and the engineer hit the button, but instead of going to commercial a jingle played.

Drake was at home in California tuned in on the listen line.

He called the jock and said, “you’re fired”.

The jock told him it was the engineer who hit the button, not him.

Drake asked to speak to the engineer and promptly relieved him of his duties.

The stations sounded fun on the outside, but they were doing serious business.  There was no room for error.

Ron Jacobs required new jocks at KHJ to perform shows off air until he felt they were ready for prime time.

Drake also became known for syndication, creating The History Of Rock N Roll, and automated formats in the 70s.

In recent years he consulted K-Earth 101.

The Drake sound was well defined.  Every station used jingles sung by Johnny Mann, and of course Drake voiced the ID.

The jocks were a who’s who of top 40 including Robert W Morgan, Charlie Van Dyke, Charlie Tuna,  Walt Baby Love, Sebastian Stone, Steve Clark, Sean Casey, Al Brady, Bill Brown and so many others.

Drake PDs included the likes of Jacobs, Paul Drew and Ted Atkins.

We can only hope that another Bill Drake or two are waiting to be discovered and will surface to put their mark on the industry.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Radio History, Radio programming


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Happiest Station On Earth

Radio is above all a mood service for the audience.

Most of us turn on the radio to feel good or to find a format to match our mood.

On a warm sunny spring day it might be to find great songs so you can turn up the volume and sing along.

At this time of year Christmas songs might be just the ticket to make you feel good.

There are fewer ‘good mood’ stations today than in the past.

K-Earth 101 in Los Angeles is an exception.

They’re still having fun and they sound like it.

Charlie Tuna filled in for Gary Bryant’s morning show this week.  Charlie worked the phones, talked with listeners, and sounded like it was the most fun he’s ever had.

Like Tuna, Shotgun Tom Kelly has played these same songs for forty years. Yet he makes every break sound like he’s playing the song for you for the first time.

This station is a escape for listeners looking to change their mood about economy or problems in the world.

More radio stations need to be like K-Earth 101.

Listen to your own station.  What kind of mood service do you want to be?

This is a time to help people get past the problems of the world.  Every format can be that escape.

Pay close attention to the songs you are playing.  Listen to the message and if your hour is loaded with downers, reconsider the mix.

Programmers sometimes think in terms of ‘format’ and not enough in creating a great radio station.

There are plenty of songs on the charts that have no business playing on your radio station.

In other words, instead of creating a station around ‘format’, such as country.  Create a station around a mood and feel that you want your station to have by using only the right songs.

Country is facing a difficult musical  period in my opinion. There are too few singable songs.

Balance your play list not based on charts or even research, but to make your station perhaps brighter.

In other words, use your ears to make sure your mix is right.

Oldies is pretty easy.  There is tons of great uptempo, happy, singable music.

AC can be a total drag.  This is one of the toughest and requires careful attention to detail.

A mood service is more than music however.

Remember your jocks, imaging and all of the other elements that go into your station create the total sound.

Talk radio can add fun, lighter elements through imaging.  There is no reason to have hard, totally serious production throughout your hour.

It’s time to turn the fun machine on and get that attitude coming through the speakers.

The good mood station is going to be the winner.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 29, 2008 in Radio programming


Tags: , , , ,

The Need To Make Edges Sharper

Jim Poh is Vice President of Analytics and Media Planning at Crispin Porter & Bogusky.  They handle radio ads for Burger King and Dominos.

Poh states in today’s New York Times that consolidation of radio companies has resulted in sound-alike stations.

He claims this is a big part of the reason advertising is way down on radio.

And the claim makes sense.

There is very little to draw listeners back to many stations.

Once morning shows, great jocks and exciting contests all done with the right music and some creative marketing set stations apart.

Today there are few points of difference between stations.

A cluster that includes two rock stations makes sure they stay out of each others way.   Twenty years ago those same two stations would be fighting to the death to win the ratings.

The great country battles are gone.

KILT vs KIKK in Houston were literally locked into brutal hand to hand combat and each .5 gain in the ratings was something to be celebrated.

Houston also had a great CHR battle at that time with KKBQ and KRBE.  Both great stations with excellent talent.

Market after market had radio ‘war’s’ taking place.

The listener  and advertisers were the benefactors.

The listener got exciting well focused radio entertainment.

The advertiser got stations that promoted their own product heavily thus adding ears to hear the advertiser message.

Poh is right.  Radio does sound alike.

Replacing local talent with Ryan Seacrest and John Tesh on every station in America is not the answer.

Consolidation and cost cutting are turning the radio dial into a vast waste land.

Listeners are caring less and less about radio, so why would advertisers buy the medium?

Once we take away all the reasons to listen we’ll be left with a bunch of useless transmitters and worthless licenses.

Radio operators seem to miss the point that there is way more competition today than ever.  The internet and IPODs were not in existence a few years ago.

The internet alone opens up enormous opportunity for audio entertainment and information.  Most of which have yet to be created.

Radio owners will tell you HD is the answer.  But the only answer in a world with more competition is to have better content.

Music can’t be considered content.  Radio operators don’t own the songs.

The staff cutbacks might be necessary for companies to meet their covenants.  Miss the payment to the bank and well you aren’t only without a staff but you’re without a business for that staff.

But in the end, radio must get very serious about creating content and competing in the new world.

The rules have changed.  Radio groups are living in a pre IPOD, internet age.

Content is the only hope.

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Judging by those stock prices, it might be.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Radio programming


Tags: , , , , , ,

Down On The Border

Wolfman Jack’s autobiography “Have Mercy” is a great read.

It’s quite a story.

I was lucky enough to meet Wolfman once, right after he finished a show on WSM.  He was genuinely nice and very down to earth guy.

Wolfman was really two people.

Bob Smith businessman and Wolfman Jack entertainer.

Much of his career was actually spent managing radio stations in Shreveport and Minneapolis.

He played country songs as Bob Smith in Shreveport.

The Wolfman idea was perfected in a production room.  He believed a crazy jock playing R&B on a powerhouse would be a huge hit.

He was the guy who brought XERF back to life and created a whole different side to border radio.

The story is loaded with gun battles in Ciudad Acuna Mexico home of XERF.

The worst that ever happened to me was seeing bullet holes in the front doors of the Capitol Music Hall one night .

I’d gone to make sure the theater had been locked after the Jamboree.

The WWVA studio was just off the lobby of the Music Hall.  It had bullet proof glass.

But there it was, big as life a bullet hole in the glass of the theater door.

I quickly checked the doors and slipped back behind the safety of the studio glass.

Wolfman wasn’t so lucky.

The station was physically located in Mexico and after a dispute with ownership he and a partner took control.

The actual owner was not terribly happy about it, and a gun battle ensued.

The story is a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

The XERF engineers ran off the intruders but not before being pinned down for a while by gunfire.

The machine gun that Wolfman bought in San Antonio and smuggled across the border didn’t work.

Border radio has quite a history.

Most of it began in the 1930s with Dr. Brinkley whose specialty was goat gland surgery.  The surgery was performed to help men with a ‘flat tire’ get back in the game.

In other words Brinkley’s surgery was an early form of Viagra.

He began in Kansas and later lost his station license and moved to Del Rio using XERA on the Mexican side as his radio station.

Soon XERA was one of the most powerful stations in the world and because there was no treaty between the US and Mexico it could run at high power.

Brinkley was eventually shutdown.  He wasn’t truly a medical doctor, let alone a surgeon.

The AMA thought it was a bad idea for him to perform surgery.  But not before he became very wealthy and famous through his clinic and broadcasts on XERA.

XERA or XERF as it later became programmed lots of preachers.  Its 250,000 watts were heard throughout the US, Canada and parts beyond.

Reverend Ike was one of the many heard on the station.

The preachers raked in the money.

Bob Smith raised the rates, they kept paying.

It was at XERF that Wolfman Jack become well known, later moving on to other border stations.

Smith made up stories when people would stop at the station to see Wolfman. Telling them things like he’s a porn star and lives in Mexico City.

For several years Wolfman was a mystery, somewhat like he was portrayed in American Graffiti.

There are a couple of excellent books about border radio.

First is Wolfman’s “Have Mercy”.  It is the story of his life and career and written just before his death.

Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford tells the story of Brinkley and others who were heard on the Mexican powerhouses.

XERF still comes in here at night.  It has much less power.   The days of the crazy preachers are gone.

Today the programming is in Spanish and of public service in nature.

Many of the Mexican stations are heard here at night including XEB and XEWA, stations with long and proud histories.

It’s possible to hear them in much of the US at night.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 20, 2008 in Radio History, Radio programming


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Random Thoughts

Sad news this week to learn of Andrew Ashwood’s passing.

Andrew was PD of WOAI when I was the same at KJ97.  Besides being one of the most genuinely nice people he was always available for support and advice.

He will be very much missed by his many friends.

Don’t be surprised if the Green Bay Packers remember him at their next home game.  Andrew was their biggest fan.

Calls come in daily from people who have been displaced by recent layoffs.

We’ve been through this  before.  This time most of the jobs won’t be coming back.

Sorry to tell you that the job of a disc jockey has gone the way of milkman and the guy who delivered Dugan Bread to my house in New Jersey.

All is not lost however.

There are ways to make a living doing the work you love if  you’re willing to be creative.

Remember companies will pay for ideas.  So look around and match your skills to market needs.

There’s money to be made if you’re willing to think differently.

I was bugged by seeing the CEO of one of the top two or three largest radio groups taking a big bonus for signing his new contract.  This wouldn’t be a problem if his company hadn’t laid off dozens of people who probably really needed the job and the money.

Was the company’s board concerned he wouldn’t sign his contract?


This particular company always claimed to be the best run company in the business.  I’ve worked for them and others and can tell you they’re not.

Based on their current stock price I’m stunned anyone is getting a bonus, especially the CEO.

Perhaps he plans to do the right thing and donate it to charity.


I crack myself up sometimes.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2008 in Radio programming


Tags: , , , , , ,

We Need A Little Christmas

There seems to be a different mood in the country since Election Day.

The mall stores are busy,  people are out and shopping again.

This is not uncommon after a big election.  But this year the change feels bigger than at other times.

I just visited a major retailer.  The lobby of their offices is decorated with a huge Christmas tree.

We’ve heard all the doom and gloom predictions for this holiday season but their mood was upbeat even excited.

The holidays are more important this year than in most.

We’ve been through eight years of war, recent economic downturn, job loses and uncertainty.  Those things alone say we need something fun to divert our attention.

Make sure your station has the holiday spirit.

Budgets are tight, and staffs are small so a major promotion may seem out of the question.

The best Christmas promotion ever was KDKA’s Children’s Hospital Fund Drive.

KDKA broadcast for three weeks from the windows of Kaufman’s, Horne’s and Gimbels, Department Stores in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The KDKA host would be located in the store window.  A mike was set up on the street so they could talk to the large number of people who came out to see them.

Certainly it was about raising money for the hospital and they did that well.  But more importantly it was about feeling good at Christmas.

I know of no other holiday promotion that connected with a city the way KDKA did with Children’s Hospital.

There was always a line of people outside the window.  School buses brought choirs to perform.  Every parent listened.

The programming was a little hokey with Jack Bogut the morning host asking kids how they collected the money they were donating.  But it was real, warm and very Pittsburgh.

We tried to compete at our station across town knowing KDKA owned Christmas.   In fact I think KDKA forced us to think up good community service projects for the holidays.

But we knew KDKA owned the holiday hands down.

There is still time for your station to be part of the holiday magic this year.

Programs like the Salvation Army Angel Tree are an excellent way to be in the spirit and do some real good this season.

Best of all you’ll be someone’s hero Christmas Morning.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 9, 2008 in Radio programming


Tags: , , ,