column written by Art Vuolo, Jr.
I'm not sure how you feel, but I like to wake up to human voices. I like to know what the day ahead is going to be like. I want to know about the weather, the traffic problems, the important news, and the light-hearted stories that make me want to say Hmmm. I want humor, funny stories and, dare I say it... entertainment! My bed is surrounded by three, count 'em, three AM-FM radios and one home-style satellite radio. The one I wake up to has pre-set push buttons which allow me to easily punch up any number of various stations on both bands. I usually don't go to Sirius XM until after 10 a.m. when most terrestrial stations shift into a more music mode, and it's often not the music I want.
On the FM side I land most often on Indianapolis-based Bob & Tom, which I re-transmit from my Internet Wi-Fi Radio via their flagship station, WFBQ (known as Q-95). Three times per hour, that show takes a six minute break, which is when I sample other morning fare. Often, if another show keeps me interested, it will take me longer to return to the boys from Indy. On the FM side, I go to Drew & Mike on WRIF (101.1), MoJo & Crew on WKQI (95.5), Blaine & Allyson on WDVD (96.3) or Stoney, Bill and Sara on WXYT (97.1 the Ticket). Since Dick Purtan's departure I hit the WOMC button less, since it's mostly music and, until such time when Chris Edmonds and Stacey DuFord are allowed to be funny, I'll wait on 104.3 FM. My WNIC button is about to be exchanged for WYCD (99.5) for Dr. Don and Rachael Hunter.
My reason for that exchange was the recent disposal of WNIC Breakfast Club hosts Kevin O'Neill and Lisa Barry. I used that word "disposal" because that's what the radio industry has been doing with what we once referred to as the "on-air talent." Corporate radio, as it is now commonly called, cares little about what comes out of the speaker, but mostly about the profit and loss columns. This is why we, the listeners, are considered the lowest common denominator within the radio broadcasting equation.
Most of the members of Detroit's radio fraternity are good people, who sincerely WISH they could do better, with larger staffs, bigger budgets and creative programming. Sadly, today's economic climate has greatly restricted the incorporation of the very elements that made radio a fun place to work and a fun place to listen.
When Dick Purtan retired on March 26, it signaled the end of an era. Dick got out at the right time. He even honestly stated it on TV saying that "it just wasn't as much fun anymore." Think about it. A few years ago he lost two key cast members in Gene Taylor and shortly there-after Mark "Doc" Andrews. In the last year we saw his show get trimmed by an hour, the loss of longtime engineer John "ankles" Stewart and news reporter Dana Mills. The new method of taking radio ratings, known as the Personal People Meter (PPM), has made more music and less talk more popular. It also gives radio companies a good excuse for trimming expensive personalities in exchange for DJ's that just know how to hammer out the hits, interjecting very little of what we used to call "entertainment."
So, after Mr. Purtan left in a blaze of glory, surrounded by lots of family and close friends, the radio landscape in Detroit was suddenly up for grabs, as other shows scrambled to steal away audience from 104.3 WOMC. Don't expect that station roll over and die. Far from it. Throughout the next few weeks a new and exciting image will occupy the space previously known as the home of Purtan's People, but it will take time and (the always lacking) money.
Meanwhile, other stations in town are clamoring for Dick's listeners. Did you see the big ad that Greater Media took out in the paper? It was a tastefully done campaign to get you to try out Jim Harper and his crew at WMGC, known as Magic 105.1. Good move. Perplexing is why did Clear Channel Radio dump 30 year market veteran Kevin O'Neill and 25 year morning staple Lisa Barry? I don't think it was money. That company now has Jay Towers on the payroll, but he can't go on the air locally until this summer when his "non-compete" clause with CBS Radio expires. So why was the trigger pulled now? I have no idea.
Lisa has survived a plethora of morning partners dating back through Chris Edmonds and Chuck Gaidica, but now she's also seeking her next opportunity. Kevin O'Neill, as we've stated in previous columns, is among the nicest and kindest broadcasters in this town. He's worked at WDRQ, WHND, WOMC, WYCD, WDVD and WNIC over the past three decades. He's never made, what industry insiders would call, big money but, has been as loyal to each station as anyone in recent years. So, what do Mr. O'Neill and Ms. Barry get as their reward for such unprecedented loyalty? They were told, on Easter Monday no less, as they ended their program that it was their last. They were coldly escorted out of the building with little regard for the service given to the WNIC audience. It was the only LIVE show on the station. Every other time slot at 100.3 FM is voice-tracked. That is where it may sound live, but it's all put together in a computer. You can't call in and talk to the jock on the air, or make requests. When major news breaks, you won't hear about it, because the computer doesn't know about it. The death of Michael Jackson was proof of how bad that can be. Worst of all, it's not getting any better. It's getting worse. Very few of the DJ's on any music station throughout the nation are live.
The last venue of actual LIVE radio can be found on news, news-talk and sports-talk stations. However the vast majority of such stations take most of their programming from a syndicator via satellite. We are lucky here in SE Michigan with a sports station (WXYT 97.1 FM & 1270 AM) that is mostly live and local. We have a second such station on AM WDFN (1130) which reverted back to a number of local hosts. Best of all, we have WCHB AM 1200 for the black community, a great all-news station, which is never automated, in WWJ-AM (950) and a heritage news-talk giant in WJR-AM (760) and they all sport a diverse cast of outstanding on-air personalities.
Before I get labeled as being too negative I'll remind you that earlier in this writing I heaped plenty-o-compliments on numerous broadcasters. However, my main issue with today's TALK radio is the extreme division it causes. It seems that a talk station is either ALL right-wing conservative or ALL left-wing progressive (the new word for liberal). About 85% to 90% of talk radio throughout this land is conservative. Some of what I've heard on Rush, Sean, Glenn and the like is outrageously disrespectful. On a recent Michael Savage (an appropriate name) Show I stumbled upon the program just in time to hear him make the most outlandish accusations against the current presidential administration. Regardless as to whether you voted for Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief deserves a certain level of respect. Savage was spewing forth commentary that, only a few years ago would not only get him fired immediately, but escorted out of the building. Instead that type of treatment goes to nice people like Kevin O'Neill and Lisa Barry, as previously described. Go figure.
Hardly anyone currently working in the radio industry, if they're being 100% honest, will say that the business is better and more fun than ever, because it isn't. Let's hope that radio will, one day soon, realize that the way into the listeners heart, and most importantly their ears, is to offer something that we can actually get excited about. Wow....what a concept!