Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
Remember those commercials that used to pepper the radio air-waves? You know, the one's that started out with the line "people judge you by the way you speak." Well, these days that's truer than ever. Just ask Paula Dean. Remember all the flack about her use of the N-word some thirty years ago...in private? Do you recall all of the sponsors and endorsements she lost over that? The media often eats its young and can be savage. However, most people have short memories and once you drop off the headlines, few people remember.
About a year ago I was often touting the brilliant on-air rants of Darryl Parks, who was VP of Talk Programming for the mighty behemoth Clear Channel Media & Entertainment. Along with his executive duties, Parks enjoyed writing his blog on the stations web site and hosting a two hour Saturday morning show on the mother-ship 700 WLW down in Cincinnati.
At the big radio convention in Orlando last September, the industry was buzzing about the new AM revitalization plan designed to help struggling AM stations. A great number of people felt the program that was being put forth was ineffective and somewhat of "a joke." Personally, I felt that at least they were trying to help. In Mr. Park's analysis he called it "a giant circle jerk." He probably was right in the minds of a lot of radio people. The problem was "he said it in print." It is OK to feel a certain way, but when you print it or vocalize it, the temperature goes from tepid to HOT. There are no First Amendment protections when you represent a huge publicly traded company, especially when it owns more stations than any other in America. Darryl Parks paid the price. He lost his executive position and his radio program. Yup, he lost his job for saying what a lot of his contemporaries were probably thinking.
There are countless such situations within the radio and television business and lots of such examples have unfolded right here in the Detroit area. I will address them in a future column.
Sadly, within the last few weeks we have lost a number of notable members of the local media scene. Among those who have passed away are WDIV Local 4's reporter Jennifer Moore and WJBK Fox 2's Woody Willis.
Then there are the dearly departed who are still very much alive, but absent from or ears and eyes for any number of reasons. TV weather guy Dave Rexroth may not be back in front of Channel 7 cameras before September, at the earliest, due to his left eye injury.
Alan Lee at Fox 2 is stepping away after 18 years of early morning wake-up calls. After twenty years at WCRZ (107.9 FM) Carz 108 in Flint, morning host Rod Pahrain is out of a job. His last appearance on the Detroit dial was way back when WABX (on 99.5 FM) was trying out top 40 hits. Even the building, at 8 Mile and Coolidge, that 'ABX was in back then, is gone! After only a couple of years, Cumulus has transferred WJR programmer Kevin Metheny out to San Francisco to help restore KGO and KSFO to their "glory days." Good luck. Then the Fisher Building felt another rumble as, Scott Meier, the top man for Cumulus Media in Michigan was spotted at the elevator leaving the building for good. What is happening? Somebody cue up the top instrumental from 1961, "The Theme from Exodus." This is nuts. Who's running the store? Who's guiding the ship?
In the last few years we have seen a plethora of top name talent exit the airwaves and many have gone off into the sunset under the guise of "retirement." Trust me, hardly anyone can even afford to retire anymore. What's far more often the truth is broadcasting companies simply don't want to pay the large dollars that big name talent commands.
Should you need a reminder, the roster of top-rated personalities who have left the radio dial in the last five years include: Dick Purtan, Jim Harper, Drew & Mike (although Drew did return to ESPN 105.1 FM), Ken Calvert, Steve Costan, Chris Edmonds, Murray Gula, and Frank Beckmann (on U-M football games). The TV exit door was even more jammed with the likes of: Diana Lewis, Eric Smith, Don Shane, Cheryl Chodin, Robbie Timmons, Jerry Hodak and soon to leave Chuck Gaidica. Now, many of these people said that they were "retiring," but if the truth be told, not very many people really WANT to retire. More often than not, they were simply making too much money. How many times have I said it? It's almost always about the money.
The listeners and viewers hate change. We are all creatures of habit and don't like being moved out of our "comfort zone." All I can hope for is that some of the new people who have replaced or succeeded many of our favorites will do a good job and become embraced by the audience. It's all we can hope for. And, by the way, can someone teach TV people how to properly pronounce the letter "W"? If you're going to work on this side of the Mississippi River it's kind of a prerequisite. As an example, I hope the executives at Cumulus Media in Atlanta are smart enough to hire a new program director for WJR who is from Detroit, or loves Detroit and/or knows Detroit. If they import someone from the west coast who doesn't know what pop is, or how to pronounce Lake Orion or who truly believes Detroit can come back without changing its name to Gilbertville, then God help us all.
If you have fond memories of listening to Lee Alan, on The Horn, at WXYZ-AM 1270 in the 1960's you will really enjoy listening to Southfield native Pat St. John on SiriusXM Satellite Radio 1 pm till 5 pm weekdays (EDT) on Channel 6. This is where they feature the music of the 1960's and it's real obvious that Pat was a Lee Alan fan. He even uses Lee's old opening them "Zing Went the Strings" plus his cadence and on-air style will remind you of those old days on Wixie Radio. He's not trying to imitate Lee, it's just that Mr. Alan was a great influence on his radio career, which started at WSHJ (Southfield High School). Pat also worked at The Big 8 CKLW and WKNR Keener 13.
SiriusXM management has given him extraordinary freedom to play songs, and create segues that you just don't hear on radio anymore! If you have satellite radio in your car or at home, this show is worthy of your time and has a LOT of Detroit flavor attached to it.
Former CKLW audio engineer Tom Ryan, not the one who played Sargent Sackto on TV, has noticed that the audio on WMYD-TV Channel 20 is seemingly out of phase and causing what some of us of a certain age called "duo-phonic." It's especially noticeable on the Entertainment Tonight program on TV 20 and even I wonder if anyone actually cares. WMYD was recently acquired by WXYZ-TV and gives Channel 7 a place to air their news at 10 pm to better compete with Fox 2.
Please remember that my thoughts and opinions are strictly mine and any comments, agreeing or disagreeing, you might have are always appreciated via e-mail. In the meantime, stay tuned!
Contact Art Vuolo, Jr. via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org