On the Radio: Personality deaths shake industry

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By: Art Vuolo

On The RadioSo, here is my first on-line only On the Radio column, as Mike indicated last week please be forgiving when it comes to spelling and grammar. I am not smarter than a 5th grader. For as long as we can do this without compensation, we'll try to remain a part of your Sunday ritual.

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Death is one of things that I don't do well with, and the last 50 days have been unkind to the radio business. Things started to "go south" literally when legendary DJ Jack Armstrong died unexpectedly of a heart attack in North Carolina. Jack, 62, was the fast-talking DJ that XM's Terry "Motor Mouth" Young patterned himself after. Terry, you may recall, worked at the old WDFX-FM 99.5 The Fox (now WYCD) preceding Karen Delesandro. These days she's doing the morning show in Milwaukee on top-rated WMIL-FM (106.1). Next, as was covered in my last column in the newspaper, we lost WRIF Sales & Special Events Manager Bob Kozaitis in a terrible roadside accident. He was just 36. Then 2 weeks ago today, Big Ron O'Brien, only 56, died of pneumonia in a Philadelphia hospital. He had been the afternoon jock at Oldies 98.1 WOGL in the City of Brotherly Love. For those you with a vivid Detroit radio memory, Ron was known as "Biggie" O'Brien at the old WCAR-AM 1130 (now WDFN) when it tried to be a hit-music top 40 station in the early 1970's. A video tribute I produced is on YouTube: click here to view it. Then a week ago the Voice of America, Paul Harvey, lost his beloved wife Lynne "Angel" Harvey from leukemia at 92. Insiders are still wondering what Paul Harvey will do. Will he return to his daily news and commentary broadcasts or officially retire. His ABC Radio contract goes to 2010. I had the privilege of videotaping his last address to the radio industry at the R&R Talk Radio Seminar in the LA area back in 2003. My hope is that death can take a holiday and we don't lose any more radio friends for a while.

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Remember Chuck Swirsky? He was the unique voice in the WJR sports department back about a dozen years ago. He was also characterized by Dick Purtan's crew as "Chuck on a car phone." He came to Detroit from WLUP (The Loop) in Chicago. Chuck also did a stint on Chicago powerhouse WGN-AM (720). Well, now he's back in the Windy City after ten years of doing play-by-play for the Toronto Raptors, mostly on television. The Chicago Bulls basketball team lured him with an offer as their radio play-by-play voice. Radio announcer Neil Funk moves over to the team's television crew.

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Another name from the past is Tom Corbett, an Ann Arbor native who jumped many years ago from WAAM-AM (1600) to the news room at WJR-AM (760) and then over to WWJ-AM (950) until he left radio for the financial world in New York and now Chicago where he is a media analyst for Morningstar Financial, Inc.

Tom recently checked in to let me know that Mike and I shouldn't feel too badly about losing the newspaper column, since that industry, like so many, is facing hard times. The Oakland Press is owned by the Journal-Register Company, a publicly traded publisher that has hired an investment banking firm to help restructure the debt it incurred when buying a string of small dailies here in Michigan. With more and more people reading columns, like this, via the Internet, newspapers are trying to deal with the financial ramifications of this decline head-on, before it becomes a full-blown crisis, said analysts. "They see the iceberg ahead and they hired consultants to try to manipulate the rudder and change course before they hit it," said Corbett, an equity analyst who covers the media industry for Morningstar.

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XM Satellite Radio has hired a talk show host who once graced the airwaves of WXYT-AM (1270) back when it was a full-fledged talk station. He's Joe Madison, one of the brightest and best such hosts covering issues of the African-American community. The talk radio star and renowned social activist has joined XM Satellite Radio. Beginning Monday, June 2, Madison, also known as "The Black Eagle," will broadcast live each weekday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET from XM's Washington, D.C. studios on The Power (XM Channel 169), the only national radio channel exclusively dedicated to African-American talk programming.

Madison joins the XM in-house programming team after a 10-year run with D.C.'s WOL-AM, where his popular morning show has been simulcast on The Power since XM's launch in the fall of 2001. Named one of Talkers Magazine's Heavy 100 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts nine times and widely regarded as the nation's leading African-American activist talk radio host, Madison uses his microphone to bring attention to social injustices here and abroad while challenging listeners to take action. Madison has done well since leaving the Motor City.

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Michigan Radio, the public radio service of the University of Michigan, and the Ann Arbor District Library are honored to host an evening with journalist Cokie Roberts as she discusses her new book Ladies of Liberty: Women Who Shaped Our Nation on Monday, May 19 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. The event, which will include a book signing, will be held at The Michigan Theater, 603 East Liberty in Ann Arbor. Admission to the event is free. On a personal note, I had the opportunity of videotaping Cokie Roberts about 9 years ago has she conducted a one-on-one interview with Don Imus at a talk radio conference. She is among the best in the business. Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor operates NPR affiliate WUOM-FM (91.7) along with WVGR-FM (104.1) in Grand Rapids and WFUM-FM (91.1) in Flint.

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Those friends who have checked out the Internet station of one-time Detroit DJ Rich "Brother" Robbin at W4 in the early 70's, have flipped out over the variety of oldies he features 24/7 at www.richbroradio.com. Two songs that I heard flung me back to my high school days in the mid-1960's, were; "Funny Man" by Ray Stevens and "That Stranger Used to Be My Girl" by Trade Martin. Internet radio, as I've indicated before, could be yet another threat to regular radio.

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With the economy in rough shape these days and jobs, especially in the radio business, at a premium, great gigs are hard to come by, but if you're a Canadian or just want to work across the boarder in Canada's largest city, read on. Pat Holiday, the one-time Big 8 jock at CKLW in the station's glory days, who also worked at WNIC-FM (100.3) in the mid-1980's, is now the General Manager of CFRB-AM (1010) in Toronto. He has a rare opening for a program director at their AC formatted FM station. Details can be found at www.999mixfm.com/dreamjob/.

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Your most humble radio reporter has been invited to a couple of significant radio events over the course of the next couple of days. CBS Radio in Detroit is hosting a special reception that will feature radio division president Dan Mason and hopes to illustrate for the advertising community the power and effectiveness of radio. It should be interesting. I'll be listening and taking notes.

On Tuesday evening, the 13th, the Detroit Historical Museum will be hosting Detroit's Classic Radio Voices. Those being honored include: Bob Allison, Sonny Eliot, Ernie Harwell, Dick Purtan, J.P. McCarthy, and Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg. Sadly we lost J. P. back on August 16, 1995 and Martha Jean died on January 31, 2000. I'm sincerely looking forward to this event which should be one to remember.

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We used to close most of our newspaper column's with a plug for Tom Wilson and his popular "Somewhere in Time" program. So, our on-line version should be no different. Hear the music of Tommy Dorsey from Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford and others at 6 pm Sunday night on WMUZ-FM (103.5) and on WRDT-AM (560).

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Be sure to let your family and friends know that although the On the Radio column is gone from the printed newspaper, it remains available (at no charge) each Sunday here on Michiguide.com.

Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com. Contact him at artvuolo@aol.com.

 

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on May 11, 2008 5:25 AM.

Metro Detroit: Newsmakers May 11, 2008 was the previous entry in this blog.

Metro Detroit: Newsmakers May 12, 2008 is the next entry in this blog.

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