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.