Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
It's been months since last I wrote a column for this website, but I could hold off no longer as I sit back and observe a plethora of bazaar behavior on the radio dial, and decisions made by management at stations that defies logic or any benefit for we, the listeners.
A few years ago I suggested to, then-publisher, Erica Farber at the now defunct Radio & Records trade paper, that they should change the name since there is no more radio, as we remember it and CD's did away with vinyl records a couple of decades ago...but it could still be called R&R, which would today stand for Ratings & Revenue which is ALL that is important to the broadcasting industry anymore. If it doesn't make the cash register ring, it doesn't mean a thing. I can still hear the newly divorced Tom Cruise yelling (from "Jerry McGuire") SHOW ME THE MONEY! It's not about what comes out of the speaker...it's "making budget."
At Clear Channel Radio Detroit there have been an amazing number of changes, at the top, many of which you have read about here on michiguide.com. The top two jobs at their Farmington Hills complex saw a "changing of the guard" when 14 year market manager Til Levesque (La-veck) was suddenly replaced by Nick Gnau (Naw) who is a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye, spending much of his career in Ohio. It could be time to trade in those scarlet and gray shirts for something in green and white or maize and blue perhaps.
Then in a surprising move Todd Thomas, who oversaw Fresh 100.3 (WNIC) and is a Detroit boy, was shown the door and T.T. was replaced by another T.T. by the name of Tony Travatto who is also a Michigander from the west side of the state. After a few years in Clear Channels headquarters market of San Antonio, TX, Tony got a bit closer to home when transferred last October up to Columbus, OH. I asked him if they knew that he was a Michigan fan? He said "they already knew." So, now after only nine months the company moves him again even closer to home! So, now he doesn't have to fear for his life. In getting to know Travatto, in recent years, he seems to be just what the doctor ordered to help the seven stations at 12 Mile and Halsted achieve the type of success Clear Channel Media and Entertainment (their new name) expect in the Motor City. He'll oversee: WNIC, WKQI, WJLB, WMXD, WDTW, WDTW AM and WDFN AM. Offer prayers.
On a personal note, I would love to see 100.3 return to its longtime image as WNIC and toss the "Fresh" name which means nothing to most listeners. It's right up there with "a better mix of today's best variety in music". Lame. The WNIC name goes all the way back to 1972 when it switched from WKNR AM and FM.
It would also be nice to see WDTW 106.7 do something to make its presence known. With the clever moniker of "The D" it's playing music similar to Doug 93.1, WCSX 94.7 and even WOMC 104.3 with a dearth of any known personalities and an over-all iPod sound.
There are Cumulus Clouds hanging over the Fisher Building as a reduction in staff at WJR and WDVD have left the lower floors with a lot of excess space. Steve Stewart, who programmed WJR and was affiliated with the station for over twenty years was jettisoned the day after the March St. Patrick's Day broadcast. Bridgett Burns of their promotion department went out the same exit as Mr. Stewart being replaced by former WMGC PD Lori Bennett.
One of the bigger surprises came in the stations traffic coverage. After a longtime arrangement with Metro-Traffic, WJR's new owner, Cumulus Media, wanted to start there own service with a line-up of familiar names who do the reports right from the 760 AM studios. Reports are now being filed by Dana Clark, daughter of Val Clark (of Ch. 7 fame) followed by Mark Mitchell, who goes back to WDRQ Jay Towers days and later as imaging voice and production director at WKQI (Channel 955) and had been in need of a job. The biggest surprise to me was the 4 pm to 10 pm reporter Kevin O'Neill, who has done nearly every format at almost every station in town. On Sunday July 1st he did his last weekend show on WOMC and started the next day with Mitch Albom reporting "right now" traffic on the fives.
The stunner was the grounding of WJR's famous Jetcopter 760 with its well-known pilot/reporter Joel Alexander who resigned rather than taking a desk job in the studio. After speaking with Joel, he indicated that he has various opportunities to explore and should "land" something soon. It was an emotional parting at 8:50 a.m. Friday the 29th of June on Paul W. Smith's first day back on the air.
My Sunday mornings have been somewhat altered too as Warren Pierce loses both Danielle Banks of the Weather Channel and Tony Bruscotto on traffic. That trio was company heading to church. I just hope they don't drop the coffee and donuts after mass. However, someone please tell Warren that WJR is radio and to go easy with all the television audio and instructions to WATCH this!
Even with recent TV spots, a lot of people still don't know who is hosting mornings on WOMC. I asked a demographically-ideal couple of ladies at a restaurant recently that question. One said Dick Purtan (who retired over two years ago) and the other said "no he's gone and I can't think of who it is now." Most people know only that the weather comes from Chuck Gaidica, while newsman Bob Schuman (one of the best in town), co-host Stacey Duford and head announcer Bobby Mitchell are NOT known with top-of-mind awareness. Marketing is key.
Meanwhile what's with WMGC, now known by the non-descript name of Soft-Rock 105.1 FM? The only names on the station anyone would know are morning man Chris Edmonds, whose talents are truly being wasted with a music-box format and mid-day host Mitzi Miles. It's amazing that after Jim Harper left six months ago the whole radio station seemed to just fall apart at the seams. Harper was good, but my God so are a lot of people and now we have at least three or four FM stations in Detroit which seemingly sound like an automated record changer. Yuck.
It's admirable that some AM talk stations are gaining FM signals, even if low-power FM's to reach out with a clearer signal. WCHB AM 1200 managed to snag 99.9 FM which is amazing to me since there are 99.9 full-power stations in Sarnia, Ontario to the north and Toledo, OH to the south. The frequency of 94.3 FM used by the defunct rock station known as "The Bone" which now simulcasts WDTK AM 1400 from Salem Communications. The AM signal, once home to the legendary WJLB, is today rather anemic and can use even the low-power FM help.
The rumors are hot and heavy that WWJ AM 950 might soon find a slot on the FM dial, but not certain where. It would always remain on AM, but an FM outlet rather than just an HD-Radio repeater would make a lot of news-radio fans happy. It would also thrill the front office at the University of Michigan Athletic Department considering that WWJ is the current home of Michigan football and basketball. Sports on FM, as evidence by the success of 97.1 The Ticket locally, is the rage all over the country. One wonders what will become of the AM dial by the year 2020.
Congrats to WJR morning host, Paul W. Smith, on his recent nuptials to Kim Guisinger. They recently returned from their honeymoon in Italy and Spain. Smith said it was the first time in memory that he had a full two weeks off and is now trying the become acclimated to the new formatics of the WJR morning show. Welcome back Pauley and many years of happiness ahead.
Contact Art Vuolo, Jr. via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org