Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
Well, if you see this in time, mark your calendar or hang a sticky note on the frig door that your favorite (but absent for far too long) radio reporter will be a guest at 5 p.m. Saturday February 8th on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh! I will be the guest of native Detroiter Stoney Richards who, for true radiophiles. was Chuck Richards back in the 1970's on W-4 106.7 FM. Today he's the successful afternoon drive personality on Country Music Y-108 in The Steel City. You can easily tune in via any computer, smart phone or similar device. You need only to search kdkaradio.com and you'll be able to listen live.
On the program I will be discussing, of all things, the state of radio these days and there is much to talk about. One of the most recent alterations was the deletion of all on-air DJ's on Sirius XM's 90's and 50's channels. Personally I didn't frequent the 90's channel much, but the 50's on Channel 5 played a lot of music that you just don't hear anymore because it appeals to an audience who are too old. Ouch! Most of today's "oldies" stations find that any word with OLD in it as being poison to selling advertising. So, we call them Classic Hits these days and remind me how overused the word "classic" is?
With this "cost-cutting" budgetary move by satellite radio, a number of popular jocks were shown the door, including: Pat St. John and Jim Kerr, both with Detroit area roots, Dave Hoeffel, Ken Merson and "Mr. Music" Norm N. Nite. Norm did his show each weekend from the Alan Freed Studio at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. As one of pop music's true experts, his was the only LIVE show on the channel. All of the rest pre-recorded their programs via that method known as "voice-tracking" which is another way of saying they weren't making very much money. So how come they were all dumped?
As those of you who have read my musings in the past know, I have strong opinions about the state of the industry these days and I am not afraid to state them. I also attend a great many radio conferences. Most of the time I see the same people, talking about the same thing and seemingly never practicing what they preach. Every broadcaster screams the same credo LIVE & LOCAL, yet music FM's continue to voice track the majority of their programs and talk AM's lift most of their content from a program syndicator via a satellite. The large corporations which own the majority of the radio stations across this country are far more concerned with the bottom-line and the stock value of the company, than what type of product comes out of the speaker.
Again, if you see this in time, CKWW-AM (580) is doing a Beatles Invasion Weekend on February 8th and 9th like many stations are celebrating the 50th anniversary of when the Beatles premiered in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. The DVR's will be set for 8 pm on Sunday night when CBS recreates that special night in 1964. Now, I bet you wished you owned a DVD-RECORDER! When the hard drive needs more space, this will be a tough one to delete. Interestingly CKWW is heavily accessed via the Internet, since its anemic 500 watt signal limits its over-the-air availability. I still wish Bell Broadcasting, which owns both CKWW and CKLW would simply flip the formats of these two stations. The 580 signal is fine for the local news and talk of AM 800 which only appeals to the Windsor community. Just thinking out loud.
Make a note that on Sunday morning between 7:45 and 8 a.m. Warren Pierce will feature former WKNR great Bob Green talking about when Keener 13 brought the Beatles to Olympia for a Detroit concert back in 1964. So, on your way to church, breakfast or the bathroom, be sure to dial up Warren and Greeny Bob on WJR-AM (760).
Detroit's newest country station, WDRQ-FM (93.1), disguised as Nash-FM, is adding live jocks ... but the all-important morning show will not be local. The station will feature Blair Garner and America's Morning Show. Blair did a hugely popular overnight show for 25 years called "After Midnite." He left that program to anchor this new morning show on WNSH (Nash-FM) in New York City, but the program originates from Nashville. Now, Cumulus Media, which owns WJR, WDVD and WDRQ in Detroit is adding the show to dozens of Nash-FM clones all over the country, including The Motor City. Oddly enough Blair Garner was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame the same evening as WJR's Paul W. Smith back on November 10, 2013. Now, they'll be opposite each other in Motown. Friends, you simply can't make this stuff up.
Speaking of Paul W. Smith, his new contract with Cumulus had people throughout the entire radio industry talking. These days if you get a one year deal, you're doing OK, a three year contract means they really believe in you, and a five year contract means they love you and feel that you're the best in the business for the future of the station. Paul W. got a seven year renewal! It had to give this Monroe, MI native a great feeling of confidence, as this unprecedented deal keeps him comfortably ensconced onto the eighth floor of the Fisher Building past the year 2020 which interestingly will mark the 100th anniversary of commercial radio in the U.S.
One floor below, on the FM side, WDVD (96.3) morning host Blaine Fowler, got a new deal as well for three years which proves he is also doing a great job, along with co-host Allyson and studio-mate Dana. Blaine is a good fit on the pop music station. He's from Michigan's Upper Peninsula so this winter has been no problem for the boyish-looking radio personality.
Before we leave the Golden Tower on Grand Blvd., I have to say, with no disrespect to Mitch Albom, that when he is away from the microphone his "B-Team" is simply the best! Big Al (formerly with Dick Purtan) along with Ed Kelly (top-notch voice guy) then add in Kevin O'Neill on traffic and this trio is so wildly entertaining that it actually becomes "destination listening." One day I sat in the Costco parking lot, with the engine running, for ten minutes because I could not tear myself away from the radio. When was the last time you found a program that riveting, and on an AM station to boot? Just a few days ago, with Mitch back at the helm, his playing DJ with O'Neill (who can't be stumped on music trivia) were having fun with lesser heard songs like "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & the Drells and "Killer Joe" by the Rocky Fellers. It was outrageously fun to listen to. Talk radio just needs to lighten up and give politics a rest every now and then.
Sorry to see Mark Pasman get dropped by Greater Media's classic rocker WCSX-FM (94.7). His Sunday night show was a 20 year staple on the station. In recent months, a scary number of people have exited those Royal Oak Township studios. Think about it: Jim Harper, Drew & Mike, Ken Calvert and others. Some have returned in limited or alternative capacities, but come on. If WRIF, also a Greater Media station, drops their Sunday night talk show with Peter Werbe, then I'll know that the world is coming to an end.
Finally, since my audio and video archive of radio people is rather extensive, it seems like my responsibility of late is to create nice video tributes to people whom we have lost and the list is growing far too fast. My tribute to Bill Bailey (WDRQ in the 70's) was watched on YouTube over 2,500 times. My latest is for Chicago Super-Jock Larry Lujack, of WLS and WCFL. Old Uncle Lar was known throughout the Midwest thanks to the massive signals of both of these iconic stations. If you visit my web site www.vuolovideo.com, an edited version of the video is available to watch. Copies of the un-edited 73 minute version are available and 25% of every DVD ordered is going to Mr. Lujack's favorite charity Save the Children.
Next time I write, I will offer my views of things I saw in January at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. My sore legs are still recovering. Stay warm, stay informed and most importantly keep the radio on!
Contact Art Vuolo, Jr. via e-mail at email@example.com