Entries in Vuolo Commentary Category

column written by Art Vuolo, Jr.

VuoloLast Tuesday evening (June 14, 2011) was reserved for "the woman with the golden ear" known as Rosalie Trombley. She was the longtime music director of CKLW (The Big 8) at a time when that radio station was a driving force in pop music top 40 radio! It was back when its massive 50,000 watt signal blanketed 28 states and 4 provinces at night. If CKLW played your record....it became a hit...period. To get it on the air, however, it had to impress Rosalie, and that was no easy task.

When I was in high school I remember a guy in my gym class, who was usually out jamming with his band, by the name of Bob Seger. He was a year ahead of me at Ann Arbor High School (now known as Pioneer). He wanted his music on CKLW so badly that he actually wrote a song called "Rosalie" in tribute to her, but she swore it would never be played on The Big 8. However, a lot of Seger music DID make it on the air and he has acknowledged openly that she was instrumental in making him a star!

Bob Seger was not alone. She also helped a few other notable pop and rock acts like: Alice Cooper, Elton John, Tony Orlando, Gordon Lightfoot, and groups like: Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Earth Wind & Fire, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes and many more. She had the power and the tower.

The tribute, on Flag Day, was spectacular. It was also the birthday of Rosalie's long-time friend and former CKLW traffic reporter Jo-Jo Shutty-MacGregor. Jo-Jo is still doing traffic on stations like WWJ and WOMC via Metro Traffic Services here in Detroit.

The event drew a crowd estimated at between 250 and 300 people at the Centre for the Arts at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario. The primary MC was Charlie O'Brien, morning host on oldies CKWW-AM 580. Later the baton was passed to Tony Orlando! Some of the notables on hand in person were: Pat Holiday and Brother Bill Gable, newsman Keith Radford plus Bob Seger's manager Punch Andrews, Jerry Adams of Harmony House, record promotion executives Craig Lambert and Denise George and legendary funk brother of the Motown era Dennis Coffey!

There were also countless tributes on audio and videotape from those unable to be there in person like: Paul Anka, Robert Lamm of Chicago, Alice Cooper, Smokey Robinson, Randy Bachman and a heartfelt appearance by Burton Cummings of the Guess Who. Several radio personalities spoke via tape like: Pat St. John, Ted "the Bear" Richards, Joe Donovan, and Robin Seymour.

The food was like that of a five-star restaurant in both taste quality and presentation. The dessert even featured cake with musical notes, a hockey stick and chocolate waver gold record with her name on it! It was a first class effort on every level. If you missed it, it was all captured on videotape by yours truly. E-mail me if you want to see it. Some highlights may be soon found on YouTube, but I was honored to get it all.

Without a doubt, Tony Orlando is perhaps among the very nicest entertainers that I have ever met, and I've met quite a few. He was warm, personable and hung around long after the event was over talking with fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. A real class act. The entire committee responsible for Rosalie's big night should be proud of a job well done. My only disappointment was that Bob Seger, who was rumored to show up, did not. Also, Windsor needs some larger signs directing we Michigander's back to Detroit via the tunnel. I was also amazed that my satellite radio played through the entire length of the underwater tube! I guess WJR isn't the only station available in the tunnel.

Now, if only Charlie O'Brien could talk Bell Media Radio into flipping the news-talk on AM 800 CKLW over to 580 AM CKWW and put the oldies on the big 50,000 watt signal, all will be right with the world. The Big 8 could be big again, and dare I say it might even once again show up in the Toledo, and Cleveland ratings, and I know someone who has a good ear for picking the right oldies too!

Art Vuolo Jr.

 

Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.

VuoloThis season has been, to put it mildly a bit of a problem for those of us who enjoy listening to the Michigan Wolverines on the radio. Going all the way back to the days of "the ultimate homer" Bob Ufer, fans have often preferred the radio audio over TV commentators who (are supposed to) remain neutral since their signal goes into the cities of BOTH teams.

For thirty years U of M fans enjoyed the super -signal of WJR-AM (760) but on October 13, 2005 the Great Voice of the Great Lakes stunned fans and the top brass at the Michigan Athletic Department with the news that they were going to abandon the maize and blue. They were switching to the green and white of the Michigan State Spartans. This necessitated the need for a new radio home for the boys in Ann Arbor. The result was a nice five-year deal with WOMC-FM (104.3) which was still (at that time) home to Dick Purtan and a great format of oldies music. M-fans got spoiled with an FM signal of nearly 200,000 watts! It was short-lived. Music stations do not like to stop the music, especially for six or more hours of pre-game, the game and post-game coverage. So, this year marked the end of the FM deal and no more WOMC, even after I came up with the promo slogan that WOMC stood for "Where Only Michigan Counts."

By late summer of 2011 there was still no signed deal with a Detroit radio station for U of M Football and the clock was ticking. We had a new coach in Brady Hoke, a multi-million dollar makeover for the Big House and a thrilling home schedule of eight games....but no radio contract signed. Athletic Director Dave Brandon, who is a brilliant businessman, felt it would be best to consolidate Michigan's two most popular sports; football and basketball, on one station. CBS Radio owns WOMC as well as WWJ, which was already carrying Michigan basketball, so Brandon and the radio network (IMG) put together a deal with WWJ-AM (950) for both sports.

True, WWJ is one of only two AM stations in the Detroit area that gets good ratings and is truly a prestigious radio station. Unfortunately, WWJ, even with 50,000 watts employs what is known as a directional signal, which (at night) is mostly sent straight north from its multi-tower transmitter site down in Berlin Township, just north of Monroe. At night, it reaches all the way to the Big Mac bridge, but sadly falls short of Ann Arbor after sundown. Out in Washtenaw County, and if you're in the stadium, the strongest signal is 10,000 watt WTKA-AM (1050), but at sundown that station drops to an anemic 500 watts making it a rough pull even on the west side of Ann Arbor.

Because the Notre Dame was such a big deal (first night game ever, etc) that broadcast was simulcast on WWWW-FM (102.9) in Ann Arbor and in Detroit on WXYT-FM (97.1) The Ticket...but who knew? It was poorly promoted. Now, on October 8th Michigan will play another night game versus Northwestern in Chicago (Evanston, IL) and no 102.9 FM coverage will be available and for it to make it onto 97.1 FM in Detroit there needs to be no conflict with either the Tigers or the Red Wings. The pro-sports take precedence on The Ticket and the Tigers, Wings, Lions and Pistons are ALL on 97.1 FM leaving little (if any) room for the Big Blue. Personally, I also hope that WWJ will come out of their standard 15 second delay so that the broadcast matches the action on the field. WTKA is right on the mark to within 1.5 seconds behind, which is acceptable.

My hope is that an arrangement can be made between the university, IMG and CBS Radio Detroit which would allow the games to be broadcast on one of their HD channels. WXYT-FM's HD-2 is WWJ but during games they run their regular all-news format. This leaves WYCD (Country), WDZH (Amp Radio hits) and WOMC (Classic hits) to offer up their HD side-channel for football. WOMC makes the most sense since they used to carry the games. We can only hope.

Meanwhile for those of us who prefer a good solid clean and static-free audio source for Michigan football it is available on satellite radio! It does run about 16 second behind "real time" but that's the case with all satellite radio transmissions. If you have a Sirius radio the UM-San Diego State game will be on Sirius Channel 128 at noon and XM subscribers can hear the game on Channel 195. Both will feature the broadcast team of Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter and Doug Karsch. This holds true only for HOME games. When Michigan is on the road, the opposing team's announcers are featured. This is why we need the HD carriage of these games. Stay tuned there's more to come and Michigan fans CLEARLY want to hear the games in sync with no static at all.

Art Vuolo Jr.

 

Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.

VuoloAs mentioned in my last column about the signing of WWJ as the flagship for Michigan Football and Basketball, I felt there should be a place where the games should be on FM. Sadly, there were simply no available stations on the FM dial. So, I mentioned "how about an HD outlet?" Well, prayers were answered and it's now official that the Michigan Wolverines will be, starting this weekend, on WXYT-FM (97.1) HD-3.

HD Radio has had a slow growth mostly because nobody was putting anything on HD sub-carriers that anyone wanted to hear. When HD Radio was first launched I wrote a piece suggesting that these "hidden stations" should feature music categories NOT available on "regular" FM frequencies because they are TOO niche. Formats like: pre-Beatles oldies from 1955-1964, easy listening and beautiful music, classic country, smooth and traditional jazz and classical music. My pleas fell on deaf ears and, other than WOMC 104.3 HD-2 which does feature the older oldies, not much has gone onto HD to make it interesting...until now!

The good word has come down that WXYT-FM, which already has WWJ-AM (950) on their HD-2 channel, has now fired up a HD-3 channel with a simulcast of WXYT-AM (1270) which recently flipped to all-talk...but when the University of Michigan is playing football the pre-game, the game itself, and the post-game show will all be on WXYT-FM HD-3! There are limited numbers of people with HD-capable radios, but for those of you with this new technology, the games will finally be on crystal-clear FM-HD.

This news has come at a good time because this weekend (October 8th) has the U of M battling Northwestern in Evanston, IL in a night game that starts at 7 pm. WWJ will be on their night pattern for much of the game, which means that the bulk of their coverage is straight north from their multi-tower transmitter site in Berlin Township just north of Monroe. Fans to the east, south and west will be on the fringe of that signal. Out in Ann Arbor it's even worse as WTKA-AM (1050) drops from their impressive daytime signal of 10,000 watts to an anemic 500 watts...yikes! My hair dryer has more power. It drops off by the time you get to the west side of town, and at the moment, sister station W4 Country (102.9 FM) has no plans of simulcasting the game like they did for the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup in September.

So, it's great news for the handful of us with an HD Radio and want to hear the game clean and static-free. WWJ is an historic and heritage radio station, but there are inherit short-comings with nearly all AM stations which is why so many cities are seeing a ground-swell of sports shifting over to FM.

WXYT-FM (The Ticket 97.1) is the top station in metro Detroit right now and it has been the phenomenal success of this station that sparked the nationwide push of sports stations away from AM and over to FM. It all started right here in the Motor City. Rock on sports fans and Go Blue at Ryan Field under the lights and beat the Wildcats of Northwestern in Evanston!

Art Vuolo Jr.

 

Vuolo: The Black Market Changes

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Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.

VuoloBy the time most of you see this, your radio dial may have already been seriously altered. In the radio business we refer to stations which cater to the African-American community as "urban." If you look up the definition of the word "urban" you'll see nothing about radio stations which program to black listeners. Are we to blame this on "political correctness"? Some say yes.

This could be why we no longer have problems...we have "issues". Also nobody dies anymore. They pass. I'm waiting to see a NO PASSING sign in front of a funeral home. A news item last week actually reported a sign at a mortuary that was being remodeled stating "Pardon our dust." But I digress.

Detroit's significant black population has a number of radio choices which cater to its wants and needs. In fact there are six. Clear Channel, America's biggest radio station group, owns two; WJLB-FM (97.9) and WMXD-FM (92.3). Radio One, America's largest black-owned broadcasting company has control of all the rest. They include: WHTD-FM (102.7), WDMK-FM (105.9), WCHB-AM (1200) plus LPFM (99.9), and now has control of WGPR-FM (107.5). Interestingly the call-letters WGPR originally stood for Grosse Pointe Radio. Later it was branded as "Where God's Praise Radiates." As it moved away from its gospel image, it was again re-worked as "The Rhythm of the Avenue." Now it may be returning to its earlier image, but at a new address. The 102.7 frequency has been home to many sets of call-letters and many formats on a signal that has always been considered "less than full-market" because it is first adjacent to 102.9 from Ann Arbor (WWWW-FM) and the transmitting tower being to the far northeast of Detroit in Macomb County. It was originally WBRB-FM Mt. Clemens. So, this "lesser signal" will be surrendered to God as it segues to "Praise 102.7" but will the call-letters be WGPR?

This makes room for WHTD "Hot 102.7" to relocate to what IS a full-market signal on 107.5 and become "Hot 107.5" with a hip-hop format going somewhat head-to-head with Clear Channel's longtime market leader WJLB-FM, known to most listeners as FM 98. Radio One's other big FM is the one-time WCHD, then for many years WJZZ, but now has the WDMK calls. That stands for Detroit, Michigan's Kiss. That station pretty much stays the same in a sea of changes.

The one place stations seem to shine with personalities and localism is in the morning. Yet, the "new" Hot 107.5 will continue to feature Rickey Smiley, who is syndicated out of Atlanta. After Sundays Lions vs. Falcons football game, Atlanta is not a favorite among Detroiters. Kiss 105.9 imports, from Dallas, TX, the Tom Joyner morning show who's good, but NOT local. At least Radio One has local Detroit talent Mildred Gaddis in the morning slot on WCHB (1200 AM and 99.9 FM.) The new gospel format of "Praise 102.7" has Yolanda Adams which is another nationally syndicated program heard in over forty other cities throughout the country. At the Clear Channel fortress in Farmington Hills, WMXD (Mix 92.3) features funnyman Steve Harvey who is very entertaining, but not local (he's in Hollywood, CA.) He's also the newest host of TV game show "The Family Feud" and is one of the best since Richard Dawson, of many decades ago. Kudos to longtime main-stay WJLB with its four-person local morning show featuring Coco, Foolish, Mr. Chase and Max! Three of the four are native Detroiters. All are live and local.

So, even through Radio One is making a great number of changes on the local radio dial, it shouldn't have too many people upset....unless you are a fan of Mason in the Morning or two FM's on 99.9 which you can no longer hear clearly.

John Mason is arguably the dean of black radio personalities in Detroit, but he fell victim to this most recent round of "musical chairs" of stations, formats and on-air personnel. Personally, I hope some station makes room for Mason in the morning...he's needed on the radio in Detroit.

 

You may have read right here in Michiguide.com how one of the two new low power FM's at 94.3 and 104.7 was forced off the air because of interference with a Toledo station. Smooth Jazz, The Oasis 104.7 was conflicting with Toledo rocker WIOT-FM, also on 104.7. They will need to find another frequency where it can be more clearly heard. Now, WCHB-AM (1200) has landed an LPFM to extend their coverage on 99.9. Oddly enough another Toledo station is on that frequency! Country WKKO (known as K-100) is popular south of the Down River Area. Up in St. Clair County, listeners to Sarnia's CFGX-FM, also at 99.9, may experience some co-channel interference.

The FM dial is simply getting TOO crowded. I can remember while living in the Ypsilanti area rotating my FM antenna and getting three stations at 100.7 from Lansing, Cleveland and Elkhart but now there is a new 100.7 in Windsor and another one down in Toledo. Yet, when the regional blackout happened during the Dream Cruise in August of 2003, I was able to pick up, on a portable radio in Novi, WNCI-FM on 97.9 from down in Columbus, OH because WJLB had been knocked off the air due to the outage. This proves that FM signals can travel amazingly far if there weren't so many of them on the limited number of allocations across the dial.

 

Lastly, God knows we have a plethora of Christian and religious radio stations in the greater Detroit area with several full-signal FM and AM stations, plus a whole lot of small coverage LPFM's that make up the K-Love Network. These Christian pop music stations are found on 98.3 in Detroit, 105.5 in Rochester, 102.3 in Ferndale, and 106.3 in Westland . As a regular church attendee I have always felt that the people who listen to religious radio stations are already right with their faith. The people who NEED to listen don't....but what do I know? I'll have more observations as the final days of 2011 unfold. Stay tuned.

Art Vuolo Jr.

 

Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.

As I pen these words, I am listening to a talk show podcast from LA's big AM powerhouse KFI. It's hosted by Jim Ladd, who is to southern California radio what Arthur Penhallow was to us here in Detroit. Arthur P. opted to leave WRIF after 39 years over contractual issues, but Jim Ladd was unceremoniously shown the door at Cumulus-owned KLOS in Los Angeles, which ironically was once sister station to The Riff! In a truly unprecedented move, KFI allowed Mr. Ladd to do a "final show" and a chance to say farewell for three hours on Sunday night November 6th. It was great radio and kudos to Clear Channel LA for allowing it. That is very uncharacteristic in today's seemingly cookie-cutter radio landscape.

Jim Ladd did not exit KLOS alone. He was followed by PD and DJ Bob Buchmann, production director Howard Hoffman and others. It's part of the staff trimming that always seems to happen when companies consolidate. In this case it was the ABC stations, which morphed into Citadel and now to Cumulus.

VuoloLocally Cumulus now owns WJR (760 AM), WDVD (96.3 FM) and WDRQ (93.1 FM). There were no cuts made at 93.1 Doug-FM since the station is a computer with a hard drive loaded with commercials, promos and mostly classic hits. WJR and WDVD were not as fortunate.

People flying out the revolving door of the Fisher Building included the WDVD night jock Scott Vertical, who dates back to the days when 96.3 FM was known as WPLT The Planet. The overnight host Jeanmarie Pavol was also told she can get more sleep now. Up on the 8th floor, WJR (known for news & talk) jettisoned two news reporters: Danya Clark and Donna Barbera and an excellent talk host in John McCulloch. John was also widely used as a fill-in host, and with the holidays ahead, his dismissal seemed as ludicrous as the women let go in the news room. Others were also cut, including production manager Mark Mitchell.

Throughout the country big powerful AM news-talk stations are latching onto an FM for more reach and better (in office buildings) reception- and Cumulus is a big fan of such simulcasting. It would not surprise me to see 93.1 FM extend the WJR brand on FM. Another possibility might have WDVD moving to 93.1 and 96.3 (which was originally WJR-FM) being the FM voice of The Great Voice of the Great Lakes. Black-talk and Gospel WCHB (1200 AM) recently got a low power FM on 99.9, and across the river in Windsor, CBE (1550 AM) shut its 10,000 watt signal down and moved the whole radio station to 97.5 FM.

 

The big news since last we spoke was in the Clear Channel complex out in Farmington Hills. The Beat did NOT go on (it went off) at 106.7, as WDTW-FM flipped into an aptly named classic rocker known as "The D." Since that is the new hip name for Detroit, it's a clever moniker. After they finish the typical 10,000 songs in a row means of attracting an audience, the real proof will come when they staff the station with (dare I use the word) on-air talent. There is a slew of great talent currently available locally and I hope the powers-to-be at Clear Channel Detroit staff the 106.7 frequency with good people who actually know how to entertain. With this format change one can only wonder if perhaps WOMC (104.3 FM) will revert back to more mainstream oldies versus the 70's and 80's classic hits, which borders on classic rock.

 

The FCC flunked the test! On Wednesday 11-9-11 (notice the inclusion of 9-11 in the date) every radio and television station, including satellite, was to run a simultaneous EAS (Emergency Alert System) test nationwide in case (God forbid) we needed to enact such an "all points bulletin." I was intrigued and felt like flipping through as many radio and TV stations as possible at 2 p.m. EST to hear this amazing group effort. With so many stations running on multi-second delays it did not happen as simultaneously as originally conceived. Detroit's top station 97.1 The Ticket didn't kick in until a full 2 minutes after the top of the hour! My parents out in the Las Vegas area called when it finally kicked in out there...7 minutes past two! It's a good thing this was only a test. Had it been an actual emergency, God help us all.

 

At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney, I really wonder why the nicest man in Detroit radio, with over thirty years of tenure, Kevin O'Neill, is still off the air. His last job was the evening shift at WMGC (Magic 105.1) until they felt semi-automation would be more economical. WMGC was the first local FM to deluge us with endless amounts of Christmas music. With the exit of longtime market legend Jim Harper, now only about a month away, who will fill those shoes? The perfect candidate is already in the building...afternoon host Chris Edmonds. Who should then move into 3 to 7 pm? Hello? Bring back Kevin O'Neill putting true "market vets" in both drive time slots! It makes a lot of sense...and dollars!

 

Finally, I can't ignore two of the biggest stories of recent days. The Foo-Pa and Joe Pa. Oakland University was the spot where Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry had a "memory malfunction" which has been played and replayed till we're sick of hearing it. Thanks to our over-active news media, that screw-up could knock him out of the political race.

Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno also seems to have forgotten the serious charges of child abuse by a member of his staff. Hey, I'm lot younger than Joe Pa and I forget things on a daily basis. That doesn't absolve sins, but it explains how "things can happen." One thing is certain...the Penn State sex abuse scandal is providing sports-talk radio with a mountain of fodder. Admittedly, like those of us embarrassed that we slow down to look at an accident, I can't tear myself away from listening to sports-talk radio. Remember, what a far less powerful media, did to the reputation of Kent State in the mid-70's when four students were killed? The only good thing from all of this will be gigantic ratings for sports radio. College sports, like most of corporate broadcasting, is big business, and let's see what happens when the donations from wealthy alumni slow to a crawl. It's always about the money. Meanwhile radio (and TV) are eating it up!

Art Vuolo Jr.

 

Michiguide.com 2011 News Archive

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