On The Radio Columns: March 2008 Archives

By: Art Vuolo

On The RadioTwo weeks in a row for yours truly, what did you do to deserve this? Actually, March is a heavy month for radio conventions and gatherings. I am expected to be at the Country Radio Seminar, the MAB Great Lakes Broadcasting Expo and the R&R Talk Radio Seminar, and they all happen to fall in the windy month of March giving some of us a new meaning to the term ”March Madness.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see whether broadcasters are going to stand up before us, preaching about what great shape the business is in. If that happens, I suspect some sessions could resemble an episode of Jerry Springer.

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First a bit of good news. Even in this terrible economy, Dick Purtan and his hearty crew of very hard-working volunteers were able to receive cash, checks and pledges totaling an impressive $2,310,070! The live 16-hour broadcast from the Oakland Mall on Friday was a huge success, with impressive crowds throughout the entire day despite dreadful weather conditions. Kudos to all. Both Mike and I were pleased to see former promotion whiz Kassie Kretzschmar at the event and wonder if she might be reinstated at Oldies 104.3 WOMC-FM. Unlike the person who let her go, she was and is very popular at Purtan’s station.

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In other personnel news, the big buzz is the assignment of rock WRIF-FM (101.1) mainstay Doug Podell as new program director of sister station classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7). Those of us with vivid memories of Detroit radio may recall when that station was WHFI in a rustic A-frame on Rankin Road in Troy. Today, it’s a real powerhouse. This move was not unexpected, since many radio jobs are being doubled-up to save money in this scary economy.

Kevin Carter of trade publication “Radio & Records” said it best: “Now please enjoy this corporately acceptable Doug Podell quote that contains the names of several key Greater Media (station owner) playaz: ‘It’s an honor to now be associated with and represent not one, but two of the greatest rock stations in the country, WRIF and WCSX. I’d like to thank everyone at Greater Media, especially (CEO) Peter Smyth, (regional GM) Tom Bender and (VP Programming) Buzz Knight, for the opportunity and their confidence in me.’ ”

I just hope he doesn’t collapse from exhaustion.

 • • • • • • • • 

Do you think that former WWJ general manager Rich Homberg felt as though he was on a mainline railroad track and the light was getting brighter? Had he stayed at the all-news station would he have been another statistic? Perhaps. It was probably a factor in his jumping over to Public TV Channel 56. Good move. His replacement at the main building is Pete Kowalski, so expect some Kowalski Kawality from “The J.” New managerial duties for CBS Detroit go to the well-respected and liked Deb Kenyon.

 

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.

 • • • • • • • • 

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.”

 

By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioThe Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB) held its annual conference last week in Grand Rapids and, as part of the event, announced the winners of its annual Broadcast Excellence Awards.

News-Talk WJR-AM (760) was named Station of the Year in the Detroit area and also won eight first-place awards in personality categories. News WWJ-AM (950) won five first-place personality category awards.

What was somewhat disappointing is that the list of winners and second-place finishers had only WWJ and WJR listed, making it appear that those two stations were the ones to submit entries from Detroit-area commercial radio stations. There was no winner declared in sports play-by-play.

Michigan Radio, which includes WUOM-FM (91.7) Ann Arbor, WFUM-FM (91.1) Flint and WVGR-FM (104.1) Grand Rapids, was named Public Radio Station of the Year among those with more than a $2 million annual budget.

Bloomfield Hills Schools’ WBFH-FM (88.1) was named Station of the Year by the MAB Foundation, the fifth time in the last six years the station has been given the honor. WBFH’s Corey Berkowitz won two individual awards, and students working at WBFH also earned six other second-place awards and honorable mentions.

MAB also presented a Carl Lee Broadcasting Engineering Excellence Award to Jerrod Martin, who retired in 1985 as the director of engineering for soft rock WNIC-FM (100.3) after a career that started in 1946 by assisting in the construction of WKMH-AM (1310) and later supervising the installation and construction of the present day facilities of WNIC. Since his retirement, Martin has worked as a consultant and co-authored operating information for what is now called the Emergency Action System.

Congratulations to all the winners.

 • • • • • • • • 

In 1971 at just 18 years of age, Lee Abrams was hired to be the program director at WRIF-FM (101.1) and was a key influence in the ’Riff ’s becoming one of country’s most successful and well-known album-oriented rock stations. Abrams’ career eventually landed him at XM Satellite Radio in 1998, where he helped guide the music programming and on-air lineup through its infancy and into a market force that land-based radio still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with.

This week, word came out that Abrams, who is not known for playing things safe, was leaving XM to join Randy Michaels, probably the ultimate executive radio rebel, at Tribune Co. If there were ever two guys who could collaborate and turn the media model on its head, it’s Abrams and Michaels. Their boss is University of Michigan graduate Sam Zell, someone who’s definitely not afraid of a little controversy in the name of business.

“Lee is the most formidable creative thinker in the media business today,” said Michaels, Tribune’s president of broadcasting and interactive. “He invented the modern FM radio format, got satellite radio off the ground when no one gave it a chance and managed to advise on the redesign of Rolling Stone magazine and the launch of TNT Cable Network in his spare time. Lee’s going to pump new life into our content, re-energize our brands and get people thinking and working together like they never have before.”

While Tribune doesn’t own any media properties locally, the business marriage among Zell, Michaels and Abrams promises to bring back a phrase Michaels coined while he was running Jacor, a radio company swallowed up by Clear Channel in the 1990s, “The Noise You Can’t Ignore.”

 

Trekking columnist happy to be home

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By: Art Vuolo

On The RadioHappy Easter to all who celebrate this special religious holiday and, personally, I could use the sugar rush that a few jelly beans and chocolate bunnies could provide. Your ever-traveling radio columnist has just completed a trio of radio conventions back-to-back. It was enough to kill a mortal man.

The healthiest music format on the radio today is definitely country, and the audience it attracts is loyal and responsive. Advertisers get above-average exposure with an attractive demographic. The Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville is incredible. It allows radio folks to get very up close and personal with the biggest of the musical celebrities. One stunned morning host from a small Georgia station got to sing a duet with superstar Garth Brooks. It was priceless. Country radio is attracting more young listeners than ever before. Both Tim Roberts, PD of WYCD-FM (99.5), and John Trapane, PD of WDTW-FM, were there, so our local country stations were well-represented.

After slipping out of Music City, I had less than 48 hours to recover before heading up Interstate 96 to Grand Rapids and the Great Lakes Broadcast Expo, presented by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. Karole White and her staff always put together a sensational show with never fewer than half a dozen sessions to choose from throughout the day. It ended with a big awards ceremony. Mike Austerman covered the results last week, and WJR needed a couple of cars to carry all the trophies back to the Fisher Building.

About 12 hours after returning from the west side of the state, I found myself landing at BWI airport near Baltimore for the R&R Talk Radio Seminar in Washington, D.C.

A weak economy, tight station budgets and the rescinding of an award to a legendary New York City talk host resulted in a noticeably reduced number of attendees. That was unfortunate because the panels and keynotes were sensational.

News-talk radio is the other format that is in very good shape. The political climate and an abundance of “breaking news” make listeners loyal to the spoken word format.

Personally, I nearly fell off my video platform when Kraig Kitchin, a native of Troy and former CEO of Premiere Radio Networks, bestowed a huge accolade on my service to the radio industry. Wow.

 • • • • • • • • 

Back here on the local scene, have you seen the billboard campaign by sports WDFN-AM (1130)? It carries a plain and simple message, “If The Text Don’t Fit, You Must Acquit,” a zinger playing upon the continuing legal ups and downs of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The slogan was created by WDFN listeners who participated in a Web site promotion where people could send the radio station their personal text messages for Kwame.

 

Radio becoming more a labor of love

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By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioTroubles at media giant Clear Channel reached a fever pitch this week with strong speculation that the $26 billion deal to take the company private might be on the verge of falling apart. Behind all the recent financial wrangling and lawsuits that are trying to salvage funding for the biggest radio deal ever, there are thousands of Clear Channel employees wondering what their futures hold no matter what the final outcome is. The market value of the company took a severe hit this week in light of the turmoil, and many industry insiders predict more cost cutting soon, possibly along with the sale of more of the company’s radio stations in small and medium markets.

Locally there has been no indication of a sale of the company’s adult urban WMXD-FM (92.3), contemporary hits WKQI-FM (95.5), urban WJLB-FM (97.9), soft rock WNIC-FM (100.3), country WDTW-FM (106.7), sports WDFN-AM (1130) or talk WDTW-AM (1310). One could surmise, however, that the poor Michigan economy and the fact that the Detroit market is no longer one of the 10 largest in the country might be reasons to evaluate what stations would be considered core to Clear Channel’s operations should it decide to shrink the business.

With all the bad news seemingly throughout the radio industry, one thing has become clear — a career in radio is no longer more glamorous or secure than any other job. At least for now, choosing a career in radio requires a strong constitution and an even greater love of the work itself than ever before.

 • • • • • • • • 

Sara Fouracre, better known by her first name on the air, has signed on with sports WXYT-FM/AM (97.1/1270) to handle morning news and traffic reports but also to offer some female balance to the guy chatter of co-hosts Jay Towers and Bill McAllister.

“I’ve always respected Jay Towers as a radio personality, and I was a huge fan of the previous show that he and Bill McAllister hosted,” said Sara. “To work with them both now is a joy and an amazing opportunity.”

A native metro Detroiter, Sara is a graduate of Michigan State University and has spent 10 years in local morning radio, first at what was modern rocker WXDG-FM (105.1), then most recently with the Mojo in the Morning crew on WKQI-FM, where she co-hosted for eight years until being let go because of budget cuts in December.

 

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the On The Radio Columns category from March 2008.

On The Radio Columns: February 2008 is the previous archive.

On The Radio Columns: April 2008 is the next archive.

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