Radiothon, interviews prove death of radio greatly exaggerated

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By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioThe past couple of weeks, I’ve been seeking out examples to show that radio’s days aren’t quite over yet.

Frankie Darcell, midday host on adult urban WMXD-FM (92.3), had the first exhaustive radio interview with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick last month. The hourlong discussion made headlines in print and on television and was the talk of the town for days after. Give Darcell a lot of credit in her continuing coverage of the situation as she makes every attempt to cover all sides of the issue. Her program is now a daily must-listen for many concerned about the text-messaging scandal in Detroit.

When Kilpatrick made morning phone calls to news WWJ-AM (950) and news-talk WJR-AM (760) following the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision to allow the release of documents related to the whistle-blower case, it again was must-listen radio that created a community buzz. I was impressed with WJR’s Paul W. Smith as he skipped breaks to continue a nearly hour-long conversation with the mayor without interruption.

What got my attention is how much more in-depth radio interviews go when compared with the packaged 90-second bits that are presented during TV newscasts. These two interviews show the true power of radio and its ability to not only entertain, but to connect with the community on important issues.

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There is perhaps no better example of rallying community support than the annual Dick Purtan Radiothon for The Salvation Army’s Bed and Bread Club.

Since 1988, more than $19 million has been raised with every penny helping those in need in this area. While ultimately falling just short of the annual goal to make just $1 more than last year, the $2.31 million in pledges last weekend was less than $70,000 under the record set in 2007. Although a huge push was attempted in the final 60-plus minutes, not even “Big Al” Muskavito could coax enough dough from oldies WOMC-FM (104.3) listeners to get over the top. But it certainly was not from lack of effort.

Observing the number of community leaders who get behind this effort make it something special each and every year. The final hour is always the most touching when tributes are paid to late cast members Gene Taylor and Mark “Doc” Andrews by Purtan and crew — which includes Big Al, Jackie Purtan, Dana Mills, Rebekah Rhodes, John ‘Angles’ Stewart, Dave Zoran, Larry Lawson — and countless others behind the scenes.

“Once again the incredibly generous people of metro Detroit have come through,” said Purtan. “The money raised assures that nearly 5,000 people will be fed and more than 500 will be sheltered every day and night for the next 365 days. In extremely difficult economic times, our listeners found it in their hearts to dig deep and once again prove that the people of this area are among the most caring in the nation. On behalf of those who need it the most, I thank our listeners for their incredible support and for offering the gift of hope to those men, women, and children who count on the good works of the Salvation Army Bed & Bread Program for not just a meal and a mattress, but for a new start in life.”

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The last example of how radio still connects for many is more idyllic. I can’t recall a time when I’ve heard more radios tuned in to hear spring training broadcasts of the Detroit Tigers. No matter the economic or political circumstances, there is something about listening to a ballgame while the snow is still flying that cuts through all of that and helps us become optimistic about not only baseball, but that soon enough we’ll be stashing the snow shovels in the back of the garage and digging out the Weed n’ Feed. Hearing Dan Dickerson and Jim Price back behind the microphone on WXYT-FM/AM (97.1/1270) makes it easier to envision 80-degree afternoons hanging out by the pool or barbecue.

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While much has been written about how the younger generation doesn’t show interest in radio, I can attest that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. My second-grader and kindergartner were most interested that Daddy was going to go see Mr. Purtan’s show and dug out some of their own cash to help the Radiothon. Learning and caring about our community and its leaders isn’t something that can be developed by listening to a bunch of MP3s or satellite radio. Just put more people on the air like WMXD’s Frankie Darcell, WJR’s Paul W. Smith, and WWJ’s Joe Donovan and Roberta Jasina instead of cutting back on the people who know how to make radio work when given the chance.

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Where are they now? Ron Chatman, former WYCD host and assistant program director, has been hired to do afternoon drive for WZZK in Birmingham, Alabama … Former WWJ sports director Larry Henry checks in to let everyone know that he hasn’t disappeared off the face of the Earth, but rather is still in the area hoping to use what he learned over his radio career to help companies develop Internet multimedia content. Reach out to Larry at

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Set your dial: “Somewhere in Time” hosts Tom Wilson and Alison Harris feature a program of ragtime classics at 6 pm this evening on WMUZ-FM (103.5) and WRDT-AM (560) ... This week's edition of "The Evolution of Jazz" with host Ed Love will air on tonight at 8 pm on WDET-FM (101.9) and feature the 1954-55 recordings of Buck Clayton and the All-Stars playing tribute to Benny Goodman and Count Basie ... Judy Adams' Jazz Cafe Discovery Series presents a live performance from the Chila Dog Electric Trio featuring Rochester-based drummer Joe Chila with Brian Biggs on guitar and DJ Turner on Bass at 11 pm tonight on WVMV-FM (98.7).

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Mike Austerman is the founder of and has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.

Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, March 9, 2008



Can you talk about the condition of Don Phillips of Womc...all night guy. What he is battling and how he is doing? I always enjoy reading your column every Sunday via computer.
Thanks so much!






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This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on March 9, 2008 10:48 AM.

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