Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, December 25, 2005
By: Art Vuolo
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from Mike Austerman and me, your local radio reporters for more than four years. Today, let’s look back on the many changes Detroit radio has undergone in the last 12 months.
The year 2005 saw the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts celebrate its 35th anniversary while Arthur Penhallow marked an equal number of years at rocker WRIF-FM (101.1). Elsewhere on the dial, Eric Harthen, the man of many voices, segued from hits WKQI-FM (95.5) to oldies WOMC-FM (104.3), and we heard the return of Dr. Don to country WYCD-FM (99.5) and, just recently, the addition of Rachael Hunter and Steve Grunwald, both refugees from the old WDRQ-FM (93.1). Rumors about the return of Eli Zaret, Denny McLain, Lee Alan and David Newman sadly did not materialize, but all are major broadcast talents.
One rather dormant frequency got a complete make-over as WXDX became WDTW-AM (1310) and took on a heavy dose of left-leaning talk from Air America, though recently, Nancy Skinner, its only local host, departed. And listeners (and especially the staff) of WDRQ were stunned in early April when the entire on-air crew (except Jay Towers, who had a contract) lost their jobs as the Top 40 hits station became “Doug FM.” And Gregg Henson made remarks that helped ease him out of the building at hot talk WKRK-FM (97.1) — only to be replaced by talk wanna-be Towers who joined the more seasoned Michelle McKormick.
Summer began with Canton’s country WSDS-AM (1480) switching to Hispanic programming, ending Detroit’s status as the only major market with no Spanish language station. Three veteran news voices also departed from news-talk WJR-AM (760) — Dan Streeter, Rod Hanson and Gene Fogel. The urban radio scene also witnessed a major round of musical chairs, as personalities and call letters were juggled between FM stations 102.7, 105.9 and 92.3. The mostly black format at WQBH-AM (1400) also was dropped by new owner Salem Radio, which installed a great number of syndicated conservative talk shows; the 1,000-watter is now known as WDTK.
Over at Christian WMUZ-FM (103.5), we heard a new morning show premier with Rhonda Hart and Jon Culbert and the station also became the new home of Tom Wilson’s “Somewhere in Time” at 6 p.m. Sundays — with a 1940s Christmas music show tonight. From the recovery room, country WYCD host Jyl Forsyth is doing fine after complications from asthma, and former WDEE and WCXI jock Country Dan Dixon (now at XM Satellite Radio) is about to return to the air after six months in recovery from serious foot surgery. Sabrina Black, wife of WRIF jock Steve Black, is still successfully battling cancer, as is Dick’s wife Gail Purtan, a tenacious survivor of more than eight years.
From the court room, we heard about lawsuits with WYCD’s Erin Weber over the perfume co-worker Linda Lee wore that “made her sick.” There also were labor union suits among employees at news WWJ-AM (950 and sports/talk WXYT-AM (1270). Amazingly, WKRK remained free of lawsuits this past year — as did radio across the country, which received no significant fines for indecency. Speaking of indecency, Howard Stern left earth — radio, that is, to become a Sirius satellite host starting Jan. 9.
The year also brought the emergence of Radio Disney at WFDF-AM (910), the dumping of U-M sports in exchange for MSU football and basketball on WJR and the return of classical music on WRCJ-FM (90.9). High-definition radio also premiered, first from Greater Media Detroit, with others following. Recent weeks brought a huge programming shake-up at public WDET-FM (101.9), while pop WNIC-FM (100.3) began beaming holiday music the day after Halloween. And WJR’s Murray Gula took his “Home Improvement” show from radio to WXYZ-Channel 7, with more specials slated for 2006.
Sadly, we lost several radio greats over this past year including controversial ex-WXYT talk host Mark Scott and Dan Koti, better known as traffic reporter Rod Holden, on WWJ.
Contemporary WDVD-FM (96.3) extended Blain & Lisa to 10 a.m. weekdays and added Jesse in afternoon drive. The no-last-names station also awarded a new car to a 28-year old mother of two in a recent philanthropic Christmas promotion. Speaking of giving, in February, Dick Purtan’s annual Salvation Army Radiothon on oldies WOMC-FM (104.3) raised a staggering $1.7 million, bringing his total to more than $10 million since 1988.
Finally, your “On The Radio” column shifted from Friday’s Marquee section to Sunday’s Entertainment section in The Oakland Press, picking up new readers.
Here’s hoping you got a gift you could actually use, and that there was at least one new radio under your tree.
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Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com.