On The Radio Columns: July 2008 Archives

By: Art Vuolo, Jr.

On The RadioIt's not my favorite way to start an "On The Radio" column with sad news, but I wanted this story to get the coverage that it deserves. Two of the best signals in the metro Detroit area have belonged to WJR and CKLW. Although neither is as good as they once were, both have one man to thank for their technical superiority and that man is long-time Chief Engineer Ed Buterbaugh.

Sadly, Ed is in a hospital over in Windsor suffering from bladder cancer and it's not good. He had a long run at CKLW back when it was known as The Big 8 and was top-rated in Detroit/Windsor and also in Toledo, Cleveland and as far away as Erie, PA. That booming signal was the work of Ed Buterbaugh.

During a two decade career at WJR, he truly made it the Great Voice of The Great Lakes. Ed deserves your prayers and a nice card to cheer him up would certainly be appreciated. His address is: Ed Buterbaugh, PO Box 1107, Harrow, Ontario N0R 1G0. If you have ever enjoyed the powerful and clean audio of either The Big 8 or WJR in recent years send Ed a card or even just a note of support and thanks. Spread the word.

Ed Buterbaugh worked hard his whole life and now, just a couple of years after his retirement, he is dealt a bad hand and it seems so unfair. I, along with some other colleagues are trying to do something special in honor of Big Ed, and if we are successful, you will read about it first here on michiguide.com. Hang in there E.B. we're all pulling for you!

 • • • • • • • • 

After reviewing the latest ratings for the Detroit area, Clear Channel VP of Programming, Dom Theodore has to be rightfully proud of his Home of the Hits WKQI known best as Channel 9-5-5. With the help of Mo-JO-town's top station is at 95.5 FM and Dom, who jokes about how (after he's through with radio) he'll go to work at Home Depot, might have to hold off on putting on that orange apron. His job, at the present time would seem to be rather secure.

Right on WKQI's heels is all-news WWJ-AM (950) a tenth of a point behind with a 5.5 rating which is just another tenth of point ahead of news-talk WJR-AM (760). Detroit is one of just a handful of cities with TWO AM stations in the top ten! The gap between country WYCD-FM (99.5) and WDTW-FM (106.7 The Fox) is wider than Fox owner Clear Channel would like, but it's unknown how committed they are to country music for the long haul. WXYT-AM (1270) has sunk to under a 1.0 share which is not good. All of the listening is seemingly on the FM at 97.1 known as The Ticket. WXYT owner, CBS Radio, should sell the (now with 50,000 watts) signal to Salem so they can move their anemic 1,000 watt talker WDTK-AM (1400) to a far superior signal than they currently have.

WRIF, even without Drew Lane jumped up from a 4.1 to a 4.6 which should boast the confidence of Mike Clark and his crew at The Riff. WMGC-FM (Magic 105.1) bested WNIC-FM (100.3) and the beat goes on.

 • • • • • • • • 

Two names you know will be inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame on July 15 up at the Crystal Mountain Resort. One is from radio and the other from TV. WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) news anchor Diana Lewis and longtime WJR-AM (760) voice Mike Whorf are the inductees. Mike Whorf was best known as the longtime producer and host of WJR radio's award-winning program "Kaleidoscope." It was a daily mini-program featuring famous stories of people and events in Michigan and the surrounding areas. He took over the Sunday morning show after the untimely death of long-time favorite Mike Deja and his program "Patterns in Music." Michigan Football fans will recall the powerful tribute Whorf narrated to the memory of the late Bob Ufer, the long-time colorful voice of the Wolverine's on WPAG-AM (1050) Ann Arbor and later on WJR-AM (760) Detroit.

 • • • • • • • • 

Diana Lewis began on WXYZ-TV 31 years ago after a stint at KABC-TV in Los Angeles. While in LA she landed the role of (can you believe it) a TV news reporter of a Philadelphia TV station. A true and fairly unknown story is that Diana hails from Coatsville, PA which is a far western suburb of Philadelphia, so this was ironic that while on the west coast she played a WCAU-TV 10 reporter who was to interview Rocky Balboa in a meat packing facility in the first Rocky movie!

Amazingly, WCAU management had no idea how big a hit "Rocky" would be, so when the movie company told them how much it would co$t to have the WCAU call-letters on the TV news van, they said "no way." So they rearranged the black magnetic letters on the truck to say WUAC. No green...no being seen. True story.

Diana Lewis is truly one of the nicest people in the broadcasting business that I have ever met. She and her husband Glenn, are rightfully proud of their daughter Glenda who is doing a superb job following in mom's footsteps. The only thing I can't understand is WHY, after teaming her with Stephen Clark, Channel 7 doesn't promote them as "Lewis & Clark...discover the difference, explore the possibilities."

 • • • • • • • • 

Both Mike and I hope you're enjoying the tail-end of a great 4th of July holiday weekend. The weather has certainly co-operated. Enjoy the barbeque and be sure to keep a radio nearby tuned to your favorite local station.

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

 

By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioOur family returned home yesterday following a nearly two week vacation in Pennsylvania. We drove over 1,700 miles and spent a total of zero minutes listening to local radio during that journey. The kids, ages 8 and nearly 6, were either watching DVD's, finding different license plates (we found 43 states, 2 provinces, and Washington DC), or just listening to XM Satellite Radio's XM Kids channel. My wife and I listened to various XM channels exclusively and didn't miss FM or AM radio.

It used to be that a radio fan like myself would drive the other passengers crazy turning the radio knob to try and listen to as much local flavor via the radio as possible. But in recent times, much of that is gone, replaced by a sound that is about the same no matter if you're in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, or many of the smaller towns in between. Although some of those similarities are no doubt because of programming strategies that are much more national in structure than ever before, I think a lot of it also has to do with the way national chain stores have taken over our shopping malls.

Get off the interstate nearly anywhere and those plazas are filled with the same stores and restaurants as at home. So instead of hearing ads from local stores on the radio when you're out of town, it's the same jingles and voices pitching the same things. While it might be comforting to know that your favorite big box retailer is always just down the street, knowing I'd pretty much be hearing the same stuff in between the same songs didn't inspire me enough to check out broadcast radio. While it's still fun to surf the radio dial, it's just a lot easier now to do it via the Internet from home instead of bugging the family with constantly changing stations and dealing with reception problems. Family harmony is a good thing when you're spending countless hours together in a vehicle.

 • • • • • • • • 

One of the biggest highlights of our trip was a visit to Washington DC where we toured XM's headquarters/studios. It was the first time either of my boys had been invited to see a radio station, so it was pretty cool to be able to see several of them at one time. All of the gadgets and rows of studios left an impression on the kids, but it was the people that they met that really made the biggest impact. Our boys really got a kick out of meeting personalities Absolutely Mindy and Kenny Curtis from XM Kids and now understand that there are real people behind those voices that come out of the radio and just how much work it is to create an entertaining broadcast.

While we were in the studio of the 60's on 6 channel, morning host Phlash Phelps played his alphabet game on the air with my oldest son Everett, much to his pleasure. Youngest son Daniel now loves to sing the station's top of the hour jingle featuring "The Beatles". But what struck me the most was that the attitude around the place was friendly and fun, despite the looming uncertainty of the pending merger with Sirius. It was amazing to witness everything that has been invested in the creation of XM - and although the delivery mechanism is different than traditional FM/AM, it clearly still is radio if only because of the people that work there.

 • • • • • • • • 

It used to be that going away on vacation during the beginning of July would mean some kind of surprising change in Detroit radio. Sometimes it'd be a format switch or maybe just a big change in a station's on-air lineup. This year, it was almost disappointing to return home and discover that the only big media news was happening on TV with the controversy involving Channel 2's Fanchon Stinger.

While it's never fun to see anyone lose their job for whatever reason, the uncertainty of radio is kind of what makes it interesting to those on the outside looking in.

It's really hard these days for radio stations to pull off a really big surprise. With the popularity of Internet message boards, the news of a change is often leaked by either insiders at the station or by someone with connections to a big advertiser and it doesn't take long for the news to travel and get repeated either in a newspaper or in the trade publications.

So now, the most fun seems to be trying to determine which rumors are legitimate and which ones are nothing more than pure speculation. Kinda makes me wish for the old days when you never had a clue what was going to come out of your speakers when you returned back from up north and frantically scanned the radio dial to see if you missed another big switch.

Maybe next year.

 • • • • • • • • 

Mike Austerman covered radio for the Oakland Press from September 2001 through April 2008 and can be reached at ontheradio@austerman.com or at PO Box 99392, Troy MI 48099.

 

By: Art Vuolo, Jr.

On The RadioFirst of all, I would like to thank Susan Whitall at The Detroit News for the nice words she put in her column last Thursday July 17th regarding this column on this web site. Nice move Sue and greatly appreciated.

 • • • • • • • • 

Forgive me for not covering as much local radio news as some of you might want, but my summer travel schedule has had me seemingly out of town more than in town, but I've been listening and learning about what people are saying about the radio business and their changing habits regarding how they use "the wireless."

 • • • • • • • • 

A couple of weeks ago I returned from a week in Minnesota. I attended the annual Conclave, where (rather than electing a Pope) radio folks gather for a regional Midwest confab that now attracts people from all over the nation. After the conference, which is tied in with the Specs Howard School locally, I drove up to a friend's spectacular lake home about three hours north of the Twin Cities. The land of 10,000 lakes is similar to Michigan and Wisconsin, but each state west of ours is a bit further north. Look on a map. If you draw a straight line east from Minneapolis you are on a par with Traverse City! When I was up in Crosslake, MN due west of Duluth it placed me (if it was in our state) north of Marquette in the U.P. No wonder the lake was too cold to swim in, but the R&R was a real treat.

 • • • • • • • • 

Back at The Conclave, we were treated to keynotes from luminaries like: NAB president David Rehr, programming guru Lee Abrams (who was WRIF's second PD in the early 70's), LA's famous DJ Rick Dees, Progressive talk host Ed Schultz, former MSNBC news anchor Rita Cosby and industry "prophet" Jerry Del Colliano, who I've quoted numerous times in this space. I archived much of "the learning conference" on videotape and it is all good stuff. Del Colliano spoke to a packed room, even at 8 a.m. and reflected on the two years he taught at USC in Los Angeles. College age (and younger) students do NOT listen to regular radio. They hate radio, Jerry preached, and they are completely addicted to their cell phones and computers. It is impossible to get them to give up these new technologies, even for a day. It was a riveting 95 minutes session and we were all awakened to many truths we didn't really want to hear. NAB president David Rehr painted a picture that was much more optimistic, but some would say less realistic. He, of course, condemned the XM/Sirius merger and was positive about HD Radio. Rehr, however, was the only one who was. Interestingly, yours truly won mini-iPod shuffle. I'm not sure how it works yet.

 • • • • • • • • 

The next convention on my calendar is the Morning Show Boot Camp, which this year celebrates its 20th Anniversary in the Mile High City of Denver, CO where the (mostly highly paid) morning radio show jocks gather to steal ideas from another and see what outrageous stunts they can have their "danger-boy" cast member do in order to garner TV publicity and higher ratings. Wish me luck. I'll let you know if I spot any Detroit radio people in attendance.

 • • • • • • • • 

My last column spoke about the condition of legendary engineering genius Ed Buterbaugh who is fighting bladder cancer across the river in Canada. Among those who I heard from was one of Ed's old friends Ed Gursky, now working for the Voice of America in Washington, DC.

He worked with Ed at WEAM Arlington, VA (Washington) in the late-60s and played a role in his getting hired at CKLW. It was 1973. Paul Drew was living in and running his consultancy from Potomac, Maryland, after the WGMS-AM debacle in 1972 (a long story for another time). Paul had hired Gursky to be his Music Director at WGMS-AM. Paul, who was again consulting CKLW at the time, was impressed with the audio processing at WEAM-AM (1390), and asked Ed if he knew the Chief Engineer. So Ed Gursky arranged a meeting between Paul Drew and Ed Buterbaugh, at WEAM one late Sunday night when the station was off the air for regular weekly maintenance. Shortly thereafter, Ed was hired by CKLW and what he did for the big sound of the Big 8 is well documented. It was featured in the radio special "The Rise and Fall of The Big 8...CKLW," which has aired a couple of times on Detroit Public TV Channel 56.

Gursky remarked "Ed's a good guy, and was always among the top chief engineers in Radio Ink's annual rankings." We will keep Ed Gursky and all of Mr. Buterbaugh's many friends and admirers posted on his condition. Ed did go home from the Windsor hospital this past week, but it's a waiting game now. Rush a card or note of support to Ed at PO Box 1107, Harrow, Ontario, Canada N0R 1G0. Better yet, E-mail your good wishes of support and prayers directly to Ed at his home near the CKLW transmitter via buter@xplornet.com.

 • • • • • • • • 

It is being heavily rumored that the merger between the two satellite companies will finally happen this coming week, or certainly before the end of July.

Honestly, at first I was very much against this action, because I knew that many people would lose their jobs. A merger will surely cause a major "thinning of the herd" and consolidating of channels. I don't want any of my close friends at either company to be a recipient of the dreaded "pink slip."

Since the two sat-casters are as incompatible as Beta and VHS were, insiders feel that both systems will have the same channels simultaneously. Example: the popular 60's channel on XM features three full-time LIVE DJ's and Sirius has two and both are voice-tracked (pre-recorded). If you combine XM's Phlash Phelps, Pat Clarke and Terry Young with Sirius jocks Pat St. John and Jim Kerr (both of whom are Detroit area natives) it would make for a damn good line-up of top talent. I'm just not sure if they would retain that much staff. Phelps at XM has over 1,200 members in his Phan-Clan (fan club) and seemingly knows every square mile of this country from years of radio jobs and extensive traveling.

My hope also is that specialty channels like XM's Escape Channel 78 with it's lush easy listening will remain and one of my favorite regional channels 173 with 700 WLW radio from Cincinnati, a great news-talk station that keeps me connected to the Midwest while traveling across the USA. Edgy radio fans would have both Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony swearing on the air and sports fans would have a "field day." Since Sirius has the NFL and NBA, and XM has MLB and NHL, together the combined service would have all pro football, baseball, basketball and hockey!

Lastly I wonder where the company will be and what it will be called. XM owns their building in Washington, DC, while Sirius rents a considerable amount of space in mid-town Manhattan. Perhaps the programming will come from both cities with additional efforts from Nashville and L.A. Finally what will they call it? Each company has its own fans and supporters. True they represent only about 12% of all radio listeners compared to terrestrial radios vast audience, but if oil company giants Exxon and Mobile can merge and be called Exxon/Mobil, why not keep both well-established names as Sirius XM? This way, fans of both stay happy, and it will help the public learn how to pronounce Sirius (which is like the word serious.)

 • • • • • • • • 

I promise more LOCAL news in two weeks. Stay tuned. This is going to be interesting.

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

 

By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioI look forward to the day when Internet access becomes easily available everywhere, but until then getting away from it all is still possible. So now it's time to play some catch-up.

When the spring ratings book was released last week by Arbitron, there were lots of smiles in the halls of WRIF, WKQI, and WXYT. Anyone that was looking for rocker WRIF to fall off its pedestal as one of the area's most popular stations is going to have to wait a bit longer as it again was tops in the age 25-54 age group, followed by contemporary hits WKQI. Channel 95-5 was also the highest ranked station among listeners age 12 and above - the first time that's ever been the case for the 95.5 frequency in Detroit. I think it's also the first time a hits/Top 40 station has been on top of those broad numbers since the days of the Big 8, CKLW in the 1970s.

While there has been some listener erosion at WRIF in the morning since Drew Lane jumped ship, Mike Clark has done a great job anchoring the program and keeping it on top which no doubt helps keep the 101.1 frequency locked in on enough radios throughout the day ... and makes program director Doug Podell a happy guy.

Putting sports on FM 97.1 has had the biggest sudden impact on radio ratings that I can recall. If you combined the age 25-54 listeners of WXYT-FM and AM throughout the day, they'd boast 15,700 listeners in an average quarter hour, good enough for second place. As it is, the FM is 5th overall in those 25-54 listeners, the best performance a Detroit sports talker has ever had.

I wonder if the Monday morning quarterbacks at Clear Channel, which owns Detroit's original all-sports talker WDFN, regret not being the first one to try the FM sports thing locally. The idea of taking WDFN to FM was presented years ago by former program director Gregg Henson but not agreed to.

 • • • • • • • • 

Speaking of WDFN... a big nice job to the station's afternoon hosts Mike Stone and Bob Wojnowski for helping to get over $116,000 worth of pledges for Leukemia & Lymphoma research during their 28-hour radiothon last week. Stoney and Wojo have been going all-out in their efforts for 11 years straight.

 • • • • • • • • 

No doubt the biggest radio news is again nationally focused. First there was the final vote of approval from Clear Channel's shareholders to take that company private as part of a merger agreement with financial companies Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners. The vote was nearly unanimous with nearly 97% of the shares that were voted in favor of the merger. Clear Channel should cease to exist as a publicly traded company by the end of the week - and then who knows what will be in store for the company's still-huge portfolio of radio stations.

When this whopper of a deal involving Clear Channel was first announced, it was reported that most of the radio stations outside of the biggest markets were going to be sold off and speculation swirled about the fate of a number of Michigan stations, including those in Grand Rapids and Muskegon along with stations in Ann Arbor and Battle Creek. While we know that Clear Channel is out of Ann Arbor and Battle Creek, it's still anyone's best guess as to what the future ownership situation will be for stations like powerhouse country WBCT-FM (93.7) and soft rocker WOOD-FM (105.7). As a smaller private company, the new Clear Channel will be free to make deals without nearly as much public scrutiny.

There is one thing that does seem clear with the pseudo break up of Clear Channel ... bigger isn't always better.

 • • • • • • • • 

The other big national news involved satellite radio with the FCC's long-awaited vote in favor of allowing Sirius and XM to merge. While it often seemed like a foregone conclusion, the entire process certainly took a lot longer than anyone predicted and it's certainly going to cost a lot more than I'm sure was planned for with the announced $20 million in fines that will have to be paid to settle issues with things like improperly licensed terrestrial repeaters and radio units that broadcast with too much FM power. If we've learned that bigger isn't always better with the Clear Channel example, this merger certainly should cause some concern.

No doubt buzzwords from the 90's like synergy and right-sizing will be flying around the Sirius and XM headquarters in New York and Washington D.C. respectively for the next few months as costs are squeezed out of the combined operations. The bosses will look like geniuses during the honeymoon phase and nearly everyone else will spend as much time on their resumes and air demos as they will working at their job.

But what should happen with a combined XM and Sirius is a real push to market their product once again and get some new hardware out in the stores that causes excitement. Unless you're a subscriber, close to the radio business, or buying a new car, XM and Sirius have become nearly invisible. Aside from news stories about this merger, there is almost no ink about the programming on either service. No big controversies from Howard Stern or Opie & Anthony. No buzz about channel lineup changes or even changes to current channels.

I still believe satellite radio is superior to things like MP3 players and most amateur-type Internet radio stations. I like that I don't have to do anything but turn on the receiver - no playlists to create, no songs to download, no Internet accessibility problems to be concerned with. There is still plenty of room for satrad in between local radio and personal music players ... it just needs to be remarketed to connect to consumers that have never really understood the product.

As a self-described satellite radio fan, I'm looking forward to the ability to have a receiver that can pick up the programming from both XM and Sirius, especially sports. From purely a consumer's standpoint, I like that there will be price caps for the next three years. But I just hope that my favorite personalities and stations won't be lost as the inevitable cost-cutting starts taking shape.

 • • • • • • • • 

Mike Austerman covered radio for the Oakland Press from September 2001 through April 2008 and can be reached at ontheradio@austerman.com or at PO Box 99392, Troy MI 48099.

 

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About this Archive

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

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

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

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