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Hearing Gordon McLendon Loud And Clear

Gordon McLendon is  a legendary name who dominated radio programming during the Golden Age of Top 40.

The McLendon Stations included power houses like KLIF Dallas and KILT Houston.  McLendon was also one of the first to try all news and bring Top 40 to FM.

He loved programming innovation.

I was reminded of a memo given to me by my late friend and mentor Larry Kent a former  PD for McLendon  at  KTSA San Antonio.

It’s called “Creating A Sparkling Station”.  In it, the “Old Scotsman” hammers on lazy Program Directors and lack of creativity at company stations.

The memo appears to have been written around 1970.

No one is mentioned by name, but we can assume they knew who was being singled out.  Those that didn’t “get it’ were probably gone pretty fast.

McLendon describes a ‘sparkling station’ as one that is: alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air and feeling of what’s going to happen next, and something continually going on.

He says “it takes work by the Program Director and all concerned — lots of work. And if that work is not a labor of love, rather than a labor of continuing effort, the chances are that the station will sparkle only briefly,”

He explains why Program Directors fail,  “the tendency not to want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”  In other words allowing bad copy, commercials and jocks on the air without speaking up.

McLendon is none too kind to the talk show hosts on his stations.

“The average stations talk man sounds like he is trying to conduct a church social and make as many friends as possible. They don’t clutter up their minds with a lot of confusing preparation, They plunge right in without a lot of information of the subject which might obscure their views.”

He finishes by saying “mostly our call in talk emcees are characterized by their extreme friendliness and courtesy, and also by the almost audible sound of radios being turned off by the thousands.”

Well you get the idea.  The memo takes just about everyone in programming to task.

McLendon was like many others of his era.  He demanded creativity and attention to detail .  Most of all he drove the point that topicality was key to a station’s ability to sparkle.

Times have changed.  Many of the elements he wrote about don’t fit today’s radio.

Many stations obsess over song rotations and spend too little time on creativity.

The McLendon  message still rings.  Stations must sparkle.  They need to be imaginative and kept fresh.  It’s not enough to just update the imaging once or twice a year.

It would be unthinkable that a McLendon station or others from that time would not be exciting.

Few stations today sound really excited about what they are doing.

Jocks are all too often left on their own getting no direction about their role on the air.

Everything  in McLendon’s memo referred to building great content.

Content is key to everything in today’s multi-media world. That means on-air, on the web, everywhere.

Radio doesn’t sell content.  Its sells advertising.

But without content, no one will have a reason to buy advertising.

Without advertising, it’s hard to say where radio goes from here.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Radio programming

 

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Ready For Primetime

The morning show drives the entire day.

It’s really pretty simple. Win in the morning and you’ll probably do fine all day.

But if your morning show under performs the rest of the station, you have big problems.

Morning shows need planning, preparation and review DAILY.

Ron Chapman a legend in Dallas radio spent most of his forty year career in morning drive. Chapman recently came out of retirement to fill in for Paul Harvey on ABC.

He was hired by KLIF in 1959 to team with another talent as Harrigan and Murphy.

KLIF Program Director Don Keyes recorded the show every morning. He then met with Harrigan and Murphy to review the tape, tighten and refine their performance.

Keyes described the sessions as ‘intense’. They went through each show break by break, sometimes with owner Gordon McLendon present.

The result was a dominating morning show.

Few Program Directors today are trained in the skill of coaching talent. Many, if not most are almost afraid to meet with their morning show.

This is where you either make it as a PD or not.

The Program Director is like a hitting coach in baseball. He must know when the show is on track and know what is required to get it back on track when its not.

Here are some suggestions for working with your morning show.

  • Listen daily to the entire show. This means you must be up early.
  • Take notes. Keep a notebook with details from each day’s show.
  • Have a daily standing meeting with the show.
  • Review what worked, what could be better.
  • Focus on how what is coming up.
  • Outline the show. Brainstorm topics, ideas and guests.
  • Brainstorm future shows. What holiday is coming up or big event?
  • Get the show players to listen to the show on their own.
  • Keep an idea book of things you notice on television, in the paper, magazines.

Great radio is preparation, preparation, preparation.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Creating A Sparkling Station

Gordon McLendon was the owner of KLIF Dallas and KILT Houston among others during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The McLendon stations were innovators and very colorful.

He was the first to try an all news format, but Top 40 was where McLendon made his mark.

The stations were really promotion vehicles, with music and DJs attached.

McLendon promotions were imaginative and exciting.

A McLendon promotion could generate thousands of participants. They often included treasure hunts or other ‘event’ type promotions designed to stop traffic and get notice for the station.

Sometimes the promotion was so big and successful the city had to pass new laws to prevent traffic jams and property damage.

Other owners and PDs would fly into Dallas to listen and take notes. They’d try to identify what worked and bring the magic back to their own station.

McLendon was hard to copy, in part because he was so original and so driven.

The “old Scotsman” had a simple rule posted in the studio.

“Be funny, be informative or be quiet”.

Talk to any former McLendon PD or jock and they’ll tell you he meant it too.

McLendon believed certain elements made a station stand out from the others. He called these “sparklers’.

To quote from a McLendon memo; “a ‘sparkling station’ means one that is: alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air a feeling of what’s-going-to happen-next and something-continually-going on.”

“Such a station doesn’t just happen. It takes WORK by the Program Director and all concerned– lots of work. And if that work is not a labor of love, rather than a labor of continuing effort, the chances are that the station will sparkle only briefly.”

McLendon was so serious about the subject he laid it out in a ten page memo to Program Directors.

Every element was important.

He wanted the Program Director to pay attention to everything on air. The memo even outlines the right and wrong approaches to ‘time and temp’.

Does your station ‘sparkle’? Does it sound ‘immediate’ or ‘topical’?

Pretend you are a Program Director coming from out of town. Take a room at a local hotel for two days and listen to your station. Fill a notebook with everything you hear.

Is there anything you would ‘steal’ and take back to put on the air?

Is your station alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air a feeling of what’s-going-to-happen-next and something-continually-going-on?

In other words does it ‘sparkle’?

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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