On The Radio Columns: September 2008 Archives

By: Art Vuolo, Jr.

On The RadioIt is with great sadness that I report the passing of Ed, Buterbaugh (pronounced Boo-ter-baw), one of the greatest and most respected chief engineers in the radio industry. Ed, who we reported on in this column several weeks ago, was suffering from bladder cancer that was diagnosed right around the time that he retired from a twenty year stint as the chief of engineering at WJR. While at CKLW, Ed was the mastermind behind the big booming sound of the station in its hey-day as "The Big 8." The signal that he fine-tuned from a cluster of five towers in rural Harrow, Ontario, was legendary. He lived only a few miles from that transmitter site. In 1984 he remodeled all of the studios at CKLW at a time when AM 800 had a morning show hosted by Erin Davis and Paul W. Smith, prior to Paul joining WJR on a full-time basis, which happened a decade later.

In 1987, Ed oversaw the renovation of WJR, located on the upper floors of the Fisher Building, to new state-of-the-art studios. It was the first such up-grade at "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes" since the 1940's. Then around the turn of the century Buterbaugh helped with a major make-over at WJR as the station, along with their two FM stations (WDRQ 93.1) and (WDVD 96.3), moved from their lofty perch down to the seventh and eighth floors where they are to this day. Ed was also a genius behind the antenna running through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel so you could heard CKLW underwater! Later, when at WJR, he changed it to that station, which still exists today. Ed won the coveted Carl E. Lewis Award for radio engineers from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB), and Billboard Magazine Engineer of the Year Award. He was, in the words of Tina Turner, "Simply the Best!"

University of Michigan football fans will recall hearing Ed's name as he was credited by Frank Beckmann for engineering hundreds of games in the, soon to be replaced press box, at the stadium in Ann Arbor. Those duties are now the responsibility of WJR engineer Tony Butler, even though the games shifted three years ago from WJR over to WOMC-FM (104.3) and oddly enough CKLW-AM (800).

Family and friends can attend a visitation at the Gerald A. Smith Funeral Home at 197 King Street West, in Harrow, Ontario, Thursday afternoon 3-5 pm and evening 7-9 pm September 4th, with the funeral service scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday the 5th at the Harrow United Church, 45 Munger Street in Harrow, Ontario, Canada. Cards can be sent to his wife Pam at PO Box 1107, Harrow, Ontario Canada N0R 1G0...or you can e-mail: buter@xplornet.com.

Interestingly, Ed did get to see the Michigan vs. Utah game in its entirety last Saturday. I mentioned to his wife that both Ed and the late longtime voice of the Wolverines, Bob Ufer, had to witness a loss as their last game. Ironically BOTH games were losses by just two points. Ufer's last game was a loss against Iowa 9 to 7 and Saturday's loss was to Utah 25 to 23. Fortunately, I along with his engineering friend from L.A.,Greg Oganowski, visited Ed at his home a little over a month ago. Close friend Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor, wife of the late CKLW news icon Byron MacGregor also saw Ed at a Windsor hospital just a few weeks ago. Ed, will be missed dearly but, his memory and the signal will go on forever.

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Speaking of Michigan Football did anyone hear the outrageously funny line uttered by Frank Beckmann when a questionable call failed to be overturned even after a video review. A stunned Beckmann said...."that was a terrible call...you would have to be blind or Brigham Young not to see that the ball popped out after he was down." Watching the games on TV, while listening to the radio broadcast, is still a far better experience than listening to the "supposedly" non-partisan national announcers. Beckmann and (Jim) Brandstatter, along with Doug Karsch on the field, do a superb job. Sadly synchronization between the picture and sound can be annoying. HD telecasts are delayed even more causing most people to hear the radio call 5 to 10 seconds prior to seeing the action on the screen.

While at the "pardon our dust" Big House in Ann Arbor, I was surprised to see a sign at the concession stands indicating that they accepted "BLUE BUCKS." I learned this is a type of credit card students are issued that can be used to purchase snacks at the stadium. Did anybody think about a sign at the U of M Football Stadium that included the word "BUCKS?" Isn't the biggest rival to Michigan the Ohio State Buckeyes? Isn't their battle cry "GO BUCKS?" Why not call it "Maize Money?" Some might feel the maize reference to be corny, but I think it's creative. Is there still room for creativity? I hope so.

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WOMC's Dick Purtan, along with his daughter, Channel 7's Joanne Purtan, did a great job on the local segments of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon at My 20 TV on Labor Day. Viewers in southeast Michigan helped raise an incredible 1.7 million dollars. Interestingly, Dick topped 2 million for his favorite cause, the Salvation Army Bed & Breakfast Plan. Nationally, Jerry's kids will benefit from a staggering 65 million dollars raised across the country, and that was while Hurricane Gustav was beating up on the gulf coast.

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Late Sunday night when the situation in New Orleans was becoming very serious, I tuned to WWL-AM 870 on the Internet so I could feel connected to what was going on. It is amazing how you can dial up almost any big news-talk station anywhere when a major new story is happening in their area. When I was a kid, it was cool to spin the AM dial late at night and see what distant stations I could pull in. Now, with a computer, you can hear anything from nearly anywhere with no static, no fading in and out and probably clearer than you could even in the city from where it actually broadcasts! Very neat stuff...and just wait till the wireless Internet is available in cars. Yikes.

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Apologies for the low volume of local news, but things have been slow on the Detroit radio dial, and your humble radio reporter has been on the road and buzzing around the country on far too many airplanes of late. I have been to five major radio conventions thus far this year and there are still two more to go, but they are done in tandem. The National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show and the Radio & Records Convention have teamed up together for the NAB/R&R Combo which, this month, will be in Austin, TX, home of the always controversial Gregg Henson, who still secretly would probably want to return to the local Detroit radio dial.

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I'll be listening and learning and reporting to you in this space in the very near future.

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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 RadioWith school back in session for a couple weeks now, it must be time to restart some media commentary here on Michiguide.com. Overall, summer radio news in Detroit was very slow- some of that no doubt is because of the change in the way the Arbitron plans on collecting ratings information, starting this fall. Instead of having listeners fill out diaries with pencil and paper, the company plans to move to what's been touted as better technology and have the information collected by portable people meters (essentially an electronic monitor that automatically collects and then reports radio listening with little effort from the person wearing the device). Once the first numbers with the new system start coming in, it might jumpstart some big changes ... depending of course on how much difference there is compared to the numbers gathered the old way.

The new system has come under criticism in the few markets it's been used in so far because of low response rates and differing opinions on how well the numbers accurately reflect listening to certain radio formats. So, I guess it shouldn't have been surprising to see most everyone play the waiting game this summer and into the fall.

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The Drew Lane rumor mill got fired up again this week with speculation that the former WRIF morning host might be returning to the Home of Rock 'N Roll ... but this time to an afternoon shift. Tongues have been wagging about what would happen to Rif afternoon drive legend Arthur Penhallow should Lane get the green light for a new program on WRIF.

I'd be very surprised if the plan was to move Penhallow away from where he's held court for decades without his blessing. If the rumors are true, and all indications are that there is something brewing between Lane and WRIF, my 2 cents is that a more likely scenario would be to reduce the air time for Penhallow and program director Doug Podell, who's got his hands full leading both Rif and sister station WCSX, in order to create a two or three hour window for Lane's show.

If these rumors become reality, it'll be very, very interesting to see what kind of program Lane will offer. It's hard to think that WRIF would drift away from music in the afternoon ... but then again, I said the same thing way back when the morning show first changed from J.J. and The Morning Crew and obviously having a talk program sure hasn't hurt the station at that time of the day. The risk of adding more talk is having someone else take on an active rock format to counter any additional hours of talk-focused programming in the afternoon on WRIF and lure away listeners that prefer music programming.

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Over the course of the summer, I had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling around Michigan and check out how the transition to digital broadcasting was progressing for TV stations. Our family owns a camper that has an amplified antenna and I brought along a small TV that receives DTV. I was very disappointed at how limited the DTV options were through much of the lower peninsula once away from metro Detroit and Grand Rapids. It was unusual to pull in digital companion stations for most of the analog broadcasts that could be received, even if only with fringe signals.

I'm aware that most of the state's TV stations are broadcasting with temporary DTV facilities that don't have the coverage area equal to their analog counterparts. That said, I find it very pretentious that people are being asked by the FCC and local TV stations to be ready for this conversion even though there isn't an opportunity to know if preparations are going to be successful or not after investing in new equipment. I've heard from various sources that even when the transition happens in February, there are going to be a lot of disappointed viewers in fringe areas that will find out they have lost reception of their favorite TV stations.

While homeowners might be able to invest in getting a bigger antenna or subscribe to a cable/satellite provider, those of us in RV's and folks with cabins up north may very well be left without usable television starting this winter. And because it seems that folks that are considered 'temporary' in nature aren't really sought after by either advertisers or the TV stations themselves, it's probably going to be hard to convince anyone to fix those probable reception problems once they are discovered. I hope I'm wrong and everything goes without a hitch... but after my experiences this summer, I'm not confident at all.

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This just in from the promotions department, Art Vuolo has finally finished his video of the second WLS Rewind from Chicago. WLS was the CKLW of the heartland, and last Memorial Day turned back the hands of time as the talk station returned to Music Radio 89 for one day and Art caught it all on videotape. You can actually see a 10 minute preview by going to www.wlsam.com or to YouTube. Search for "art vuolo", scroll down and you can watch a highly condensed version of the 2 1/2 hour video. You can order via www.vuolovideo.com on the "Reunions" page. It's some major radio history.

Speaking of "Radio's Best Friend," Art has just published his popular WJR Michigan State RADIOGUIDE after missing 2007 due to lack of sponsorship support. A number of clients were "looking at it" in '07, but time ran out before it could get printed. This fall, Flagstar Bank was the hero which makes the new RADIOGUIDE free for the listening public. It lists all of the AM and FM stations in Michigan and surrounding areas, and which ones carry MSU football. The schedule is also on the guide. They're available (while very limited supplies last) at most CVS Pharmacy's and some Flagstar Banks, which has the slogan "The New Wave in Banking." Perhaps it's radio waves, as this growing bank lends support to we radio fans. Since the 2006 edition there have been over 150 changes to stations statewide!

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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 RadioYour seemingly always traveling radio reporter is finally done traveling. I've been to a plethora radio conventions, and this last one (or should I say last two) was a real eye-opener. In Austin, TX the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Radio & Records (the leading radio trade publication) co-located their conventions in the Capital of Texas. The city's moniker is "Keep Austin Weird!" Some called it "Ann Arbor on steroids."

In past years each of these confabs was so big that they could only be held in major markets like: Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. The first of these "combo-conventions" was also in a big city; Dallas and at a huge hotel...The Hilton Anatole, but in 2007 it moved to Charlotte, NC and this year to Austin, TX. The reason for locating in smaller cities, is that fewer and fewer people are going to these gatherings and it's a sad commentary. I spent nearly all of my time on the R&R side of the street in the Hilton Hotel with the shorts and T-shirts, while the "suites" from the NAB populated the Austin Convention Center across the street.

The attendance at BOTH conferences was noticeably off from previous years. That was a shame, because the sessions were very good and the rooms had a lot of empty chairs. One of the most popular events was a sort of convention within the convention called the Jacobs Media Summit hosted by Detroit-based Jacobs Media. Most of their sessions were standing room only. Congrats to Fred, Bill and Paul Jacobs for a job well done. As is the case at most of these gatherings, the number of broadcasters from the Detroit area was light.

WRIF was the big local winner again this year with Doug Podell getting program director of the year in the rock category. Mark Pennington got rock music director of the year and WRIF won top active rock station in markets 1 through 15. I asked WRIF PD Doug Podell if he came with an extra empty suitcase just to carry back all of the awards Detroit's Home of Rock & Roll always seems to win...and if he flew Southwest Airlines his bags would fly free. That alone is helping propel Southwest, especially among we in the broadcasting industry always looking for a bargain. In fact, after the Austin conventions I went to Albuquerque, NM for a whirlwind 46 hour visit. While at the ABQ airport checking my bags for my return trip last Monday, who do I see behind the Southwest ticket counter, but Mr. Gary Kelly, the President and CEO of the airline! He was there in just a sport shirt and slacks helping personnel getting baggage onto the belt. I was amazed. He is a very real person and a nice man who was extremely approachable. He is one of the primary reason's Southwest is a friendly and profitable company. If broadcasters would run radio stations for the people, in stead of the stockholders, perhaps the industry would be in better shape.

Back to the last two conventions of the year. The key "buzz word" this year was CONTENT. All people were talking about is the product that goes out over the air. Wow, what a concept. Hold the front page. That news is about as stunning as the news that Clay Aiken is gay. Ever since Ellen DeGeneres nobody cares. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the NAB's Marconi Awards (radio's Oscar's) which was hosted by TV (and now radio) star Billy Bush, who was surprisingly good. At my table were WLAV-FM Grand Rapids PD Rob Brandt and longtime afternoon drive personality, Tony Gates, the only two nominees from Michigan, and BOTH walked away with Marconi Awards! What a special night and huge kudos to Rob and Tony most deserving recipients.

One of the more interesting sessions centered on the fact that radio is getting FAR more visual. One panelist said "it used to be that radio stations had a web site...now web sites have a radio station." This is to say that if a radio station lacks lots of photos and streaming video on their site, it will not generate the type of traffic Internet advertisers crave. It was suggested that all radio station employees and especially the air talent should have some sort of digital video camera. More and more programs will be web-cast so listeners can see "behind the curtain." Most people feel that Don Imus and Howard Stern were the innovators of this technology, but actually legendary talk radio personality Joey Reynolds at New York's WOR Network was doing an overnight radio show on 50,000 watt KOA (AM 850) in Denver back in 1982 while it was also being simulcast LIVE on KOA-TV Channel 4! That was over 25 years ago.

The Bob & Tom Show, heard everywhere in Michigan, except in the Detroit area, is next to make the jump to TV via Tribune Broadcasting in Chicago. It's primarily, the concept of Sean Compton, former "boy wonder" at Clear Channel corporate in San Antonio, who has segued to WGN America, the super-station from The Windy City. Compton, like myself, is a fan of the syndicated morning show that showcases more comedians than any other in the nation, and it will be videotaped with multiple cameras each morning. It will then be edited into a one hour "Best Of" which will air at midnight EDT on WGN-TV which is available on most cable systems and satellite TV. It will premier on November 3rd, the day before the presidential election.

Often I wonder why some of these really entertaining shows are not available on our local AM and FM dial, but I must admit that I am listening to more Detroit area stations than ever. I have both Sirius and XM at home and XM in the car, but of late, I feel that a number of local stations are sounding better than ever. I do wish WOMC, Oldies 104.3 would team up Jo-Jo Shutty MacGregor with Ted "The Bear" Richards for traffic reports like she did during the Woodward Dream Cruise. I also wish WJR would provide a platform for Paul W. Smith so that he could exercise his personality more. Paul is actually a very funny guy, but needs guests who can bring out his excellent sense of humor.

Oddly enough the over-all picture painted by the NAB Convention is that although radio needs change and up-dating, things are not really all that bad. At the R&R topics were far more realistic. The miserable economy is greatly affecting what you hear on the air these days. HD Radio is suffering because broadcasters do not have enough money too adequately program their primary channel, so how are they expected to properly program these "secondary" signals which are available to a still very limited audience? Life, and everything in it, including your favorite stations, is like comedy....timing is everything!

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The journalistic community is still reeling from the news out of Chicago at Sun-Times Radio & TV columnist Robert Feder (Feeder) is leaving the paper in the coming weeks (after 28 years) to explore other opportunities. Feder was to Chicago what John Smyntek is to the Free Press. Interestingly, Smynty is also taking advantage of what is basically a "buyout" from the paper. If the Freep is looking for someone to take over the radio news, I can think of two people who will work for less than one.

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Lastly, it's nice to hear that former WOMC midday host Dana Lundon-Masucci is back on the air; she's now doing weekends with pop WDVD 96.3.

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As the leaves change in the coming weeks so will the radio dial, and Mike and I will try to keep you up to date with it all.

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 Archive

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

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

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

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