Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
For those of you who read my writings and rants about the industry I love dearly, realize that, just like those who routinely criticize the radio business do so because we care.
As most of you know, I attend a great deal of radio gatherings. Some are called conventions, seminars or conferences. All have experienced decreases in attendance this year, as could be expected. With the current economic climate being more like winter than summer, it provides an easy excuse for people to stay away. The longest running such confab is the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) held every year in Nashville (why not?) and this year, celebrated forty (40) years. Yet, attendance was down about 35%. Only a week later, the Radio & Records Talk Radio Seminar (TRS) was held in Los Angeles hosting a mere 150 attendees. In better times, TRS would attract between 400 and 500. Coming up next month will be the New Media Seminar presented by Talkers Magazine. It should be interesting to see who shows up. I will be there and will be "taking the temperature" of the room. I fear it might be on the cool side.
The mantra of nearly every confab, where radio people assemble, is LIVE and LOCAL. This is how terrestrial radio would win out against satellite radio and the dreaded iPod. The sad thing is now more than ever, and it has become extremely prevalent, here in the Detroit area (like it has nationwide), that very little of what comes out of your radio speaker is neither live nor local. I recently spoke to Steve Schram, who now runs the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service. He was the person who secured the former A&W Root Beer headquarters in Farmington Hills, as the new home for Clear Channel Radio Detroit. Sadly, the company known for letting people go, didn't hold on to Steve long enough for him to ever actually occupy that facility. Actually, the population of that building has been steadily dropping.
The last wave of CC layoffs was reported as being 590 nationally. In reality, about 1,000 employees were let go. Among the local casualties were Chad Mitchell and the entire morning show at country WDTW-FM (106.7) known as The Fox. The station currently has no local or live DJ's on the air, and had been without a local program director for several weeks prior to this recent exodus. The stunner came from a studio just down the hall as pop hits WNIC-FM (100.3) dismissed popular morning icon Chris Edmonds, who (with impressive ratings) was preparing to celebrate 21 years at the station! WNIC also tied with cluster-mate WKQI (known as Channel 9-5-5) for the top spot in local ratings. I'm trying to figure this out. He's on the top station, with the top ratings and for all his accomplishments he gets let go. I know, it all about the money...but this still makes no sense at all. Even longtime CC phone receptionist Pam Caldwell was let go with various staffers handling her duties.
Kevin O'Neill, more than likely, feels lucky to still have a job. He was moved into the morning show with Lisa Berry when Edmonds was shown the door. O'Neill is unquestionably one of the absolutely NICest people on the Detroit radio dial. The only time the WNIC studio is occupied for an entire live and local show is between 5 and 9 a.m. Every other time slot is either voice-tracked (pre-recorded) or imported from another city. If you check the web site www.wnic.com you will find for large segments of the broadcast day that no DJ's are listed, just "more music variety."
Most radio stations here, and across the country, have few (if any) humans in the building after 7 pm. God help us all if something catastrophic should happen between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. With TV dropping all analogue on-the-air signals on June 12th, radio will be the only way people can get information fast. Let's not fail them.
Whenever people call WWJ radio in Southfield, and have a question about a particular radio station, the operator always gives them MY phone number because she feels I know everything about local radio. I don't, but I always try to help out.
While actually writing this column I received such a call from a concerned mother by the name of Lisa in Northville, MI, who's raising teenagers. She was outraged by the sexual content she heard in the last hour of the MoJo in the Morning show on WKQI-FM (95.5). She wanted to know who she could express her concern to. I was honest and said that MoJo has the hottest morning show in town and makes a lot of money from and for Clear Channel. Her comments and concern would probably fall on deaf ears, because the dollar speaks the loudest. I could hear, in her voice, how upset she was, but knew that hers would be an uphill battle with station management. I wished her luck.
Sports WDFN-AM (1130) is another station in that Clear Channel fortress that pretty much cleaned out most of its live and local voices earlier this year and is now trying to at least return some locally-originated programming directed at helping listeners in our area. A few weeks ago I hinted that Murray Gula, our own Mr. Home Improvement, would be making a triumphant return to the radio dial, and after exploring a number of options, he'll be returning to right where he was last heard on AM-1130 both Saturday and Sunday from noon till 2 p.m. called "Your Home with Murray Gula." The first show will be on the 6th of June...which sounds a lot like the beginning of C. W. McCall's hit song from 1975 called "Convoy." Murray continues to host a web-cast for Ch. 7 at www.wxyz.com each Thursday at noon with co-host Joe Giordano, and he guests each Friday with Bob Allison on multi-formatted WNZK-AM (690) at 10:30 a.m.
For quite sometime we have been reporting on new technologies putting the squeeze on radio's reign as king of in-car listening, and may not be over, but there IS a new threat. Autonet Mobile has begun selling Wi-Fi for the car at more than 3,300 stores nationwide, including Best Buy. Locally-based radio trend follower Jacobs Media conducted a survey that finds only 6% want Wi-Fi in their next car, and that most prefer an iPod connection. Personally I like the idea of Wi-Fi in the car, but not as a means of surfing the net or reviewing your e-mail while driving. What excites me is having the ability to listen to ANY radio station in America that streams on-line but then I'm a radio-aholic and having the ability to tune in stations from LA, or Little Rock...from Chicago or Cincinnati is very cool indeed. At least it's still listening to radio and not just a mini-hard drive with bunch of my own tunes.
Rock WRIF-FM (101.1) has assembled a newly configured weekday lineup. As expected, given the station's heritage, all the jocks involved have long histories with The RIFF: Twenty-year station vet Anne Carlini is now doing 10am-3pm, the shift formerly done by former WRIF PD Doug Podell before he became the hugely important Director of Rock Programming for both WRIF and WCSX. Afternoons, which had been the domain of market legend Arthur Penhallow for 39 years, now belongs to Meltdown, WRIF's longtime night jock, who has been covering afternoons since Penhallow left in February when he and the station couldn't come to terms on a new contract. Scott Randall, a 'RIF veteran since 1997, easily slides into nights, while Mike Clark & Company remains in control of mornings remarkably well without Drew. There were major rumors floating around town that Drew Lane was coming back to The Riff as the afternoon host, but it looks as though the "Doc of Rock" Mr. Podell, has his team set, at least for the time being. Radio has never been known as a bastion of stability. BTW what ever happened to that strange dude "Mr. Positive?" He's actually Greg Balteff, a personal trainer at a Westland fitness club, and was a semi-regular when Doug Podell hosted mid-days on WRIF. His status is somewhat unclear.
What puzzles me is why wouldn't either Arthur P. or Greater Media Detroit (the station owner) go for one last year, make it an even forty years and then send Mr. Penhallow off into retirement with a big party? I guess things like that only happen in the movies. Considering that Arthur came to the 101.1 frequency when it was still known as WXYZ-FM in 1970...and the humble beginnings he had in Howell and Ann Arbor...and the fact that he has probably made enough money to live comfortably...it just doesn't seem right to end it all this way.
We wanted to wait until this event was just around the corner, because most people have short memories and even shorter attention spans these days, but, it will be VERY special Memorial Day weekend in Motown! Even with a terrible economy. Even though most stations will be running lots of repeats and "best of shows," that will not be the case in the Motor City! LA based Jim Hampton, who grew up in Farmington and worked at WXYZ in the mid-1960's will be presenting a very special Detroit Flashback Weekend for a total of four (4) nights May 22-25, 7 pm till 10 pm EDT on suburban WPON-AM (1460) and streaming on-line at www.wpon.com which, considering the coverage of the 1,000 watt station broadcasting from just west of Walled Lake, most people will hear better on their computer. With a plethora of nostalgic oldies, memorable station airchecks, and special in-studio guests including; Lee Alan, and others, this will be a MUST for ANYONE who grew up listening to Detroit radio! Hampton will have many of the (still living) legends on the phone and some are already pre-recorded. This should represent 12 truly memorable hours of nostalgic radio. Get ready to roll tape!!!
WELCOME RACE FANS...is the cry of all those headed to Indianapolis for the 500, or just those of us who travel I-275 or I-696. This year the Indy 500 will be carried on both Sirius and XM, which are united, but the race will be on different channels depending on which service you might have. For XM subscribers it's on channel 145 and Sirius folks will find "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" on channel 211, if your have the "Best Of XM" package. Do you know anyone looking for the broadcast in Spanish? Indy's Hispanic station WEDJ-FM (107.1) will stream it at www.wedjfm.com live. Start time will be 1 p.m. Sunday May 24th.
Should you have friends or family in other parts of the country who are on the road vacationing but want to hear the Red Wings push toward another Stanley Cup Championship and our beloved Ken Kal shouting out "He Scores!!!" you can hear the NHL Hockey Play-Off's on XM channel 204 known as Home Ice. The Blackhawks announcer is one click away on channel 205. Sirius fans need to have that "Best of XM" package to hear hockey. It's a legal thing...don't ya know?
Mega-Kudos to Tim Roberts, Deb Kenyon, Jay Jennings, Susanne Bellinger and the entire staff of Detroit's Country WYCD-FM (99.5) for a phenomenal job on the Downtown Hoedown that drew record crowds and a provided a good time for all. Now, rest up Tim and get ready for the Woodward Dream Cruise on August 15th.
If you're reading this before the 22nd of May, I hope you have a safe Memorial Day weekend and don't forget what this holiday truly stands for. Click on this link
www.leealancreative.com/AM from the legendary Lee Alan to hear his tribute to those who fought for our freedom.
Art Vuolo has published the Radio Guide for more than 30 years and runs Vuolovideo.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.