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.
Locally 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!