Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
Before the year is out, I wanted to have at least one last opportunity to share a few thoughts with you and what has happened to the medium we all have loved so much...for so long. I feel the use of the word medium is also appropriate because radio these days seems to be "medium"....and it's seemingly RARE when it's actually WELL-DONE or done well. Okay enough with the steak metaphors, but seriously, it seems as though the people who are least important to the broadcasters of the new millennium are its listeners.
The year is ending on a sad note as across the country, and especially here in SE Michigan, names we know and love have either died or have been (figuratively) killed off by bean-counting management teams who feel, in order to save their own jobs, they must do whatever it takes to adjust "the bottom line." I know this seems like old news, but the problem has become worse as we approach 2009.
Who of us wasn't stunned at the dismissal of J.J. and Lynne at WCSX. The ratings had slipped a bit but, look at all of the good things they have done raising money for charitable causes, not to mention their super on-air chemistry and the longevity that the duo had on the Detroit airwaves. Yet, they were pulled off the air without a chance to say goodbye. Jeff Deminski, of the popular Deminski and Doyle show knows, first hand, how that feels. He, and partner Bill Doyle were yanked off the former WKRK-FM (97.1) with one week remaining on their contract. Did the CBS Radio management feel that they were going to trash-talk the company? These guys are professional broadcasters not vindictive school kids.
Reports say that D&D suggested to management that Jim Johnson and Lynne Woodison not be "left in the dark" and be allowed to do a farewell show. Time will tell if that happens. Meantime tune to WCSX-FM New Years Eve, because at the stroke of midnight the one-year "gag-order" for D&D will expire and they'll be on the air for an early welcome back before they kick off their regular show on Monday, January 5th!
On the heels of the morning show changes at Classic Rock 94.7, CBS Radio is not to be outdone in the pink-slip department. As Mike Austerman recently reported, it appears that at least two longtime and well-known personalities have been let go at Detroit's country leader WYCD-FM (99.5) and oldies WOMC-FM (104.3). Creative & Production Director Ron Tavernit is no longer with WOMC. Ron T, as he was widely known, had been with the station 15 years, and wore many different hats at the 200,000 watt powerhouse like: public affairs director, public service director, the go-to-guy for swing shifts and first choice to fill-in for market legend Dick Purtan. He also covered morning news when Dana Mills was absent. Big Al from the morning show once called him "the Tom Brookens of radio." Brookens played every position for the Detroit Tigers. Ron did not see this one coming and was surprised by the move, especially at this time of the year. Upon exiting the building, he e-mailed all staffers telling them "the door has closed for me, but it opens for someone else." Ron T. is a class act, and personally I hope his "on the beach" time is minimal.
Even country music listeners, traditionally the most loyal of radio listeners, were not spared as additional budget cuts forced the dismissal of talented WYCD evening host Jyl Forsyth. She had been with 'YCD since July, 1992 when 99.5 launched what it called, at that time, Young Country. Many people still refer to WYCD by that name, since it was so heavily branded with that moniker. Jyl was a bright light in the night and will surely be missed by her legions of fans. Perhaps she can out-FOX her former employer. Meanwhile you can reach out to her with good wishes and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a related story, Country Dan Dixon, who we have written about in recent weeks might be closer to regaining his job at (what is now) Sirius XM. The Ann Arbor native, who worked at five separate Detroit area country stations, was cut from Classic Country XM Channel 10 about a month ago. Interestingly a woman in Muncie, IN who spear-headed a campaign to get Dixon back on the air, received a call from Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin! She has also received two additional calls from the "big guy" regarding their petition which now has well over 4,300 names on it from long-haul truckers who have threatened to cancel their satellite radio subscriptions if Country Dan is not re-instated. Not surprising, Karmazin knew nothing about this situation, but the thought of losing all the revenue that 4,000 plus subscribers brings in certainly DID get his attention. Now, let's see if these efforts are successful in bringing the popular radio personality back to one of the country channels at Sirius XM.
In a conscience attempt to balance all the bad news with something a bit more positive, and In support of General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford, CBS owned WXYT AM (1270) known as The Ticket, dropped the simulcast of sports WXYT-FM (97.1) this past weekend and aired "Stand Up and Be Proud", with messages of support for automakers from civic, community, and business leaders. Other CBS stations, which include; oldies WOMC, smooth Jazz WVMV-FM 98.7, WYCD, and news WWJ AM 950 as well as WXYT-FM, are also joining in by airing these messages. According to CBS Radio Market Manager Deb Kenyon, "Detroit and the surrounding areas have so much to be proud of and thankful for. The CBS Detroit radio stations launched the 'Stand Up and Be Proud' campaign to salute and recognize all of the positive achievements in our region." It reminds me of that Channel 7 campaign from years ago "Stand Up and Tell 'em You're From Detroit!"
Speaking of WXYZ-TV, former radio host and Mr. Fix It, Murray Gula continues his Thursday noon-time web-cast at www.wxyz.com but, has now launched an exciting new site himself to help people with their home repair challenges. The new web site is www.whocanbuildit.com where anyone can list their job project(s) and have a carefully screened contractor or supplier bid for the work, so it gets done right, the first time! Gula is planning to get back on the radio after the first of the year.
At the top of this column I mentioned that we are losing a lot of great talents. During 2008, we said goodbye to longtime engineering genius Ed Buterbaugh from both CKLW and WJR. Bill Drake, the master-mind programmer behind the success of CKLW when it was The Big 8, also lost his battle with cancer in recent weeks. A personal loss for me was my friend Andrew Ashwood, who worked in Detroit back in 1982 as B. J. Hunter at WABX, rising through the ranks from his college days in Albion, Michigan to the head of Fox Sports Radio in Los Angeles. Cancer took him at just 51. Each of these people were profiled in previous On The Radio columns in recent months.
There seems to be a trend around the nation in radio that talent, especially high profile talent, who often command higher paychecks are suddenly expendable, and we wonder why the audience is becoming disenchanted with radio. I find that since that marvelous invention the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) came into my home I record all my TV viewing for playback at a more convenient time and, like so many others, zip past the commercials. The only TV I watch live is the news. Radio is usually not recorded for playback at a more agreeable time, but much of programming is. A large percentage of the DJ's on music stations are not really there. Their voices are encased in a computer that makes it all sound live and local, but until some (God-forbid) catastrophe occurs during a voice-tracked day-part, nothing is going to change. Especially in these economically challenged times, money talks and jocks walk. Chicago icon Steve Dahl, once at WABX and WKRK here in Detroit, became a super star in Chicago but has been pulled off the air because his ratings dropped. He was the only talk host on a Doug-FM style music station. Eddie & Jo-Bo got broomed after nearly two decades at Chicago's B-96 and John Lander was not renewed at Boston's WBMX after 16 years of waking up Bean Town. But, hey it's Christmastime and a new year is ahead, so let's hope to God that things will improve and the medium we all love so much will be well-done right! Stay tuned.