The U100 Years - Chapter 13 - Jesus In The Lobby
Years before, while at Brown Institute, one of my instructors was a part-time announcer at the station that would eventually become U100. He was old school having done news on the CBS Radio Network in the 40’s or 50’s. He was a taskmaster whose relationship with Contemporary Radio was as close as a pet Chihuahua with a pet rhino. He was part of the history of that station. When a radio station is sold, the new people do not respect that history. WYOO didn’t respect its predecessor, U100 didn‘t respect WYOO and KDWB-FM didn’t respect U100 and so it goes. You get even less respect from your competitors.
In San Francisco I learned a hard lesson. Whoever isn't there to defend themselves is wrong. The victors write history. Whoever dies with the most toys….wins. Before U100 there was WYOO. And before it was Jesus in the lobby. History should be served.
I was never in the stations before Fairchild bought them. (Although there were two stations….WYOO, the AM and WRAH, the FM, from now on I will lump them together and refer to them as WYOO. I heard often about the history of the pre-WYOO days and the lore included that picture of Jesus in the lobby. I really don’t know if there was one, but if there wasn’t an actual picture, there was a moral presence. The couple who owned the station had standards they did not compromise. They refused cigarette advertising when it was common. They refused beer advertising when everybody ran it. I am sure there are many other instances of them losing the income in order to live up to their standards or just because they felt it was the right thing to do. Their broadcast day ended not only with the Star Spangled Banner but also with Happy Trails to you AND May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.
They sold it to Fairchild Industries. They probably weren't all that happy with the new Fairchild/WYOO format of oldies. After all, it was STILL rock and roll. Old rock and roll, but rock and roll all the same. I can imagine their consternation and shock when, later, their baby went bad-ass.
On one of my last days at U100, the reality of the end of our experiment was stark reality. Mike Sigelman, our General Manager, was already gone and a very soft-spoken and gentle man from Fairchild Industries corporate headquarters was acting General Manager. His job with the mother company was to travel from division to division care taking and closing down sold properties. I call him a gentle man because he understood the emotions involved in these situations. Unlike many “corporate types”, he treated us all with respect.
The DJ’s and programmers knew the end was in sight but labored on for almost six months. In 1976 the FCC didn't operate with the dispatch it does today and the transfer of a broadcast license from one owner to a new owner was a slow and tedious process. The DJ’s deserve special commendations because they did their shows without regard for the dismal future, but just for the joy of “doing” it. It took me years to appreciate people like JoJo Gunne and Gary DeMaroney. They were just two of the people who weren't there at the beginning, but came in toward the end and did U100 and our short tradition proud.
There was a bitter pill to swallow. The enemy was buying us. KDWB and their smarmy General Manager and Program Director figured out that they could get an FM signal AND eliminate a competitor in one stroke. (It is interesting to note that the KDWB General Manager was friends with Mike Sigelman, our General Manager. During the entire history of U100, the KDWB GM used this “friendship” as a conduit to second-guess, nitpick, and interfere with out station. Early in the U100 experiment he opined to Mike that Top-40 music didn’t really belong on FM radio. I am assuming he has changed his mind.)
Because I knew that soon the KDWB people would have full access to our building on Cliff Road, I decided I just wasn’t going to leave them everything. On one late afternoon, I got about cleaning out my desk. I did it by dumping each drawer into a box. It wasn't neat or methodical. Truth be told, my heart just wasn't in it. Next, all my memos went into a box. Ranging from the banal (staff schedules) to personnel files, I was determined they would not be pored over by anyone from KDWB. It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years later that I realized I had taken dozens of files from “before U1OO.” Over the years I lugged them in moves from Minneapolis to Duluth. Duluth to Modesto. Modesto to San Francisco. San Francisco to Tacoma. Back to Modesto. Finally from storage in California to Minnesota. These memos, as well as some memory prods from others who were there, and a heavy dose of my memory will form the basis for this little history. And as is often the case, I am getting way ahead of my story.
In November of 1972 when the transfer was complete, the new General Manager was Marlin Schlottman. With either the title of Program Director or Operations Manager, Bill Stewart covered the programming. The new format was Oldies but Goodies.
The first memo that survived concerns the subscriptions Bill Stewart felt the new station needed and the cost involved. The local newspapers, Billboard, The Gavin Report, Broadcasting, R & R, and many sports oriented publications make up the list. Several notes suggest that the News/Sports Director, Ron Fraiser was to develop newscasts heavy on sports (aiming at men 25-49) and the Oldies Format, as developed by Bill Stewart (who came up to Minnesota from Dallas where he had been involved with an earlier Fairchild property, KLIF). I don’t have a staff list but names that are prominent in memos at the beginning of 1973 include Bob Chase (did mornings), Doug McKinnon, Bob Hall, Tommy Graham and Art Snow.
By November 1973, Bill Stewart had a list of “things” for the air staff to watch. In a memo titled “re: General things” he comments on the street feedback. I have been there. In the early days of a format change, the street feedback keeps you going. (And in my case, the telephone feedback. More about that later.) There were some negatives in the memo. DJ format-execution negatives. The memo lists a lack of time and temperature, mental lapses, topicality, and a few technical pointers. Strange, yet typical, along with the kudos, the programming reminders there were the trite and banal. “Try to get to work on time”. “Stop rearranging (sic) the thermostat” and about the outside vent switch “DON’T TOUCH EITHER ONE OF THESE”.
As I have mentioned before several times, there is something wonderful about being part of a station format change. In its purest form, you are giving birth to a programming baby. Programmers make a big mistake when they do things to squash and stifle this excitement. Why do PD’s write memos? Especially, why do the send those little nit-picky, whiny memos. I did it too often in my career. If someone is touching the thermostat, find out who it is, talk to him, find out why, solve the problem and keep everybody happy. When you carp in a memo, the innocent as well as the guilty get their hand slapped. The innocent ones are resentful and the guilty one wonders if you want them to freeze or have a heat stroke. The problem isn’t solved.
As 1973 began, WYOO/WRAH was a station already losing the frisson of something new. The memos tell the story of a station trying to be “friendly….prepared…bright…topical…happy…unpredictable”. They tell a story of a station trying to make a good first impression on new listeners, (“You get only one chance to make first impression. Make it a good one.” Bubbling beneath all the positive direction was a radio-station soup of resentment, and rebellion. Like always, the bad seeds sown in early 1973 bore bitter fruit in 1974. The disease of WYOO - The Oldies Station would still be infectious at U100.
Very much, like when I left WDGY on the promise of a job at KDWB, I left KDWB on a promise of a job at WYOO. I got the job from Mike Sigelman, who had been a salesman and eventually Sales Manager at KDWB. My first official day was April 15, 1974 and my last in September of 1976. I bought a maroon checked sport coat for my new position at an “adult“ station playing the oldies. When I left U100 for the last time, I was dressing in sweatshirts and Levis. What followed at KSTP makes me wonder if there is a core me, or is it all about ruse and façade. Ah, but I still getting ahead of my story.
Oldie but goodies. I remember listening to Dick Biondi on WLS in Chicago in the early 60’s and he used the phrase, oldie but goodie. And oldie then couldn't have been more than three years old, because that was about how old “top forty” was in those days. I know in 1963 in Blythe, we didn’t play “oldies”. We played a few in Green Bay, but they were seldom more than a couple of years old. They were “goodies” and not really “oldies”. By the time I got to KDWB, there was a long catalog of oldies but we didn’t play them. Not really. To a Top 40 radio station in the 70’s, Oldies were part of a different format. The cultural divide was too great when you played Cream or Eric Clapton followed by Bobby Vee or The Platters. You just couldn’t do it. Top Forty was a youth format. Sometimes the sales people pretended it wasn’t but let’s be real. When you play music in a youth format such as Top 40, later new wave, Hip Hop, or whatever music is the current rave, it is an impossibility and a great mistake to mix formats. A teenager or near-teen or post-teen looked at Oldies as their parent’s music. For a music format, that is the kiss of death. When you mix formats by drawing your play list from different generations, you will lose before you begin.
This was a lesson I didn’t learn, unfortunately, until after I left U100. Our experiment would have been purer if I had followed the above advice. In January 1973, WYOO (and sister automated FM, WRAH) was a station in search of a niche. For some reason, Bill Stewart, the Programmer, and Marlin Schlottman, the General Manager, weren’t simply satisfied to fill the “oldies” niche. The memos suggest they were still searching for a hook. Or, perhaps, they were still flailing about. The staff, without a consistent and specific direction, fulfilled the cliché, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.”
They got reinforcement for one of their decisions with telephone research in late December 1972. (Incoming calls) The results of the unscientific research (prompted by a newspaper report) suggested that people who phoned WYOO liked hockey the best and football in second place. In the 'survey' one actual person wanted coverage of billiards. (If this was KSTP-AM a couple of years later, Stanley Hubbard would have jumped on the phone to Frank Magid (the research guy in Iowa) and depending on what the man with the checkbook wanted to hear, the possibility of some billiard play-by-play would have loomed at AM1500)
Back at WYOO, as the New Year began, things were a mixed bag. WYOO was an oldies station (format appeals to women?) with an emphasis on sports (appeals to men?). On January 23, the morning man, Bob Chase, was 25 minutes late. I did morning shows for about 10 years and marvel at those morning guys who can get there 10 seconds before show time. I will assume they did all their show prep the night before. Right? Tommy Graham, the all nighter, filled out the Programming Discrepancy sheet and Bob Chase did too. Again, they ignored the big picture and gave the minutiae all the attention. All that time waste with a bunch of 'who-shot-John'. He was late. A jock had to stay late. End of story.
January must have been cold that year and between shoveling snow and stoking the furnace there wasn’t time for more memoranda….or the memos they produced have been lost. In February, though there is some paper trail. Tommy Graham was short of money and was working a deal with Bill Stewart to borrow some. That loan involved more paper-work than the Ditech competitor. I never met Tommy, but he is one of my favorite radio “characters”. I know him only from the memo trail.
Money was on the mind of other on-air staff. In 1973, there were strict FCC guidelines on the total minutes of commercial matter per hour. Personal appearance promos would have counted against that maximum. Bill Stewart had finagled a policy from Marlin Schlottman that gave some promo airtime to the jocks for personal appearances. It was less involved when Henry Kissinger met the North Vietnamese in Paris. On February 12, Ron Fraiser, WYOO “Sports Director” pitched Minnesota Twins Spring Training in Florida coverage. His rationale fits the “sports emphasis” programming philosophy. Whether he got to make the trip, I don’t know. Who was the competition? WCCO. With heavy sarcasm, I imagine radios all over the Twin Cities switching from 830am to 970am when they heard that Ron Fraiser was covering the Twins spring training “live” from Florida!
As I sorted this memo history, I was wondering what was happening on the air. They must have been getting that sports on, but what about getting a grove on? What about the oldies? Play lists? Jock Schedules? As I was about to give up, there was a glimmer of programming hope. A memo about Blood Sweat and Tears tickets to give away. I guess Blood Sweat & Tears was a latter day oldie; really too new to be a real oldie. That got the ticket give-away exiled to nights. Of course they didn’t give them away on the morning show. Afternoon drive? They were too busy with those billiard reports.
In 1972, there was great concern about the furnace thermostat. In February of 1973, someone was still fiddling with the heat. And Tommy Graham (always a naughty boy) hadn’t changed the recorded WRAH-FM weather for a week. I wonder who was the recorded weather narc? Besides, Tommy didn’t have time to change the weather tape. He was too busy fiddling with the furnace.
As the WYOO Story continues, you might expect the March and April memos to show exciting programming in anticipation of the Spring book. Forget it. The lack of a paper trail doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. The proof, however, is in the pudding. As the Arbitron ratings loomed, the pudding was a mélange of misdirection, over attention to inconsequentialities, and seething and simmering DJ rebellion.
I am getting bored by WYOO. I am not the only one. Honestly, WYOO has its fans. They had some listeners. Some. It wasn’t a house on a shaky foundation, but the opposite. The foundation was solid. It was the first floor that was all screwed up and the lumber for the second floor was still piled in the yard.
Before I continue, let me assure you, dear reader, I am not the paragon of virtue and righteousness you might believe. During my career in radio (and even after) I was often opinionated and sometimes petulant. I remember childish tantrums and seething discontent. After a series of "hot-line" phone calls, I DID rip a phone off the wall at KDWB and put the remains on the Program Director’s desk. I DID get upset over the placement of a tape-recorder and throw something with enough force to dent the wall. I DID yell and use the F word. Frequently. Incessantly. I even cried. You know there is a "but" coming don’t you?
I have had a few jobs outside of broadcasting. As a kid and après radio. What I observed in my career as a DJ, I saw selling burgers as a kid and saw again renting videos part-time, or at a casino or golf course during my life after radio.
(I think I am repeating myself. This is such an important insight, I may repeat it a few more times)
In every enterprise, there are three types of employees.
1. There are those who don’t give a shit. They come to work. They do the basics expected (and not a wit more). They have no investment in their job at all.
2. There are those who mix up their life, their actual "self" and their job. They live their work. An attack on their work is serious business because it is an attack on their inner core of self identity. And because of this, they have strong opinions on just about everything concerned with their work because their work is them. They have a tremendous investment in their personal success but also in the overall success of the company for which they work.
I once had a psychiatrist ask me what percentage of my life was my work. My job. I said 60 percent. He felt if it was over 33 percent, it was too much. Easy for him to say at $100 an hour. Yet, think about Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas. Do you think Bill Gates thought about computers only 33 percent of the time? They are the mega-success they are today because of an obsession with their craft. And some very strongly held opinions. Have they made mistakes? Lots of them.
3. These people are similar to number 2 people in many ways. The difference is striking, however. They have a huge investment, but not in the job; in themselves. This group wants to be right even more than they want to be successful. They would be happy to watch a plane go down in flames if it disproved the accuracy of someone else’s flight plan. How many times have I observed colleagues who wished for company (or an individual’s) failure in order to validate their strongly held opinion. Imagine doing the morning show for a general manager who didn’t like it and was truly unhappy over good ratings. (In spite of the fact that his personal income depended on those numbers) I have tried to explain this several times and I’m not sure I have explained it cogently because I don't really understand it myself. The mere idea is alien. I can’t grasp the concept.
Is there another category of perfect employees who combine only the best of 1,2 and 3? I suppose, but they are creatures from another world, dropped to earth from some extra-terrestrial civilization and most likely have a weird little finger or blond hair and eerie eyes.
Now where was I? WYOO. Prior to U100. Here was a staff of ones and threes. Employees ranging from ‘who cares’, ‘not my job’, to ‘those bastards won’t get me because I’ll get them first!’
In retrospect, an Oldies radio station in Minneapolis-St. Paul in the early 70's, seems like a good idea. It strikes me as a niche that needed filling. At WYOO, the job wasn’t getting done. Whether Marlin Schlottman left of his own accord or was eased out to make way for Mike Sigelman is history for someone else’s memoir. The fact is: the change was made. Like some cosmic plan, separate orbits were moving together. Mike jumped into the morass at WYOO and I continued to agonize over KDWB’s decline. I know that Mike hired a consultant. Bob Moomey, had programmed a station in Chicago to some oldies success. He arrived at WYOO, like all consultants with a briefcase full of format. Without concern for the fact that this was Minneapolis-St. Paul, not Chicago, he opened his attache and out popped new clocks, new play-lists, new liners, a pep talk. The same old staff stuck around. The PD was Doug McKinnon and knowing Mike and McKinnon, there was no way they could have worked together successfully. Much to my eventual benefit, it was a union made in hell. If you look in the dictionary under Employee Type Number Three, you would see McKinnon’s picture. Asked by someone if the rumor was true... that Rob Sherwood was coming to WYOO, he replied that would only happen over his "dead body". Along with everything, this, perhaps, explains his animus toward Sigelman and Sherwood. (and everything U100) From the day Mike walked through the door, he had a staff wishing for his failure. Eventually, when U100 was in its early stages, we even had a corporate "leader" wishing for our failure. A story yet to come.
Remember, at the beginning of 1974, Doug MacKinnon was PD. His nightmare began when Mike Sigelman was hired and introduced to the staff on February 13, 1974. He tried to put the best face on things when the memo Doug issued ends with the sentence, "Any ideas you may have for the station will be discussed." Hello? How about send Sigelman back where he came from and ….” There were other memos. In flurry of memo-tag, he wrote Bob Chase with a complaint that he had left the station 50 minutes early. Not 50 minutes of his show but 50 minutes of his scheduled total hours. Chase fired back a memo to Doug reporting that he left the station 50 minutes early to take his kid to the dentist. Another memo warned "Sweet" Michael O’Shea to quit being sweet. "As of today…omit the "Sweet" part of Michael O’Shea. You are to be known as Mike O’Shea ONLY." If course ever memo was copied to Sigelman and in some cases to corporate headquarters in Maryland! Poor Mike. They hired Steve Gibbons from KRNT-AM in Des Moines, Iowa to fill-in (replace) Bob Chase. In addition to Bob Chase’s problems with his kid’s teeth, he also had throat problems. Effectively they didn't have a morning man. He had throat surgery at some point and milked his problems as much as the union would allow. It was almost impossible to just fire someone so a case was made and he was finally fired. The excuse for finally severing Chase was the change in his voice following the surgery. The second paragraph of the memo said:
”As you know, a prime consideration in determining one’s announcing value to Fairchild, Minnesota is one’s vocal ability. It is obvious that you cannot perform your appointed duties at WYOO to the level of voice quality necessary for our standards."
What a crock of shit! They paid him off. He was finally gone.
Mike was trying to put his stamp on WYOO but his PD was still nitpicking. The whole staff looked at the tree and missed the forest. You pick a cliché'. They all apply.
Mike made some other changes. In addition to the Steve Gibbons hire, he dredged up Jerry Brooke to do noon to four. Jerry worked at WDGY as the same time I did, followed me to KDWB and finally left Twin Cities radio about a year before. He was a competent DJ. As mentioned, he also hired Bob Moomey to consult. During the tumultuous first weeks of April 1974, Mike wrote a memo to his national reps summing up the Twin Cities Market:
"I have never, in my ten years of Twin Cities radio, ever seen our market in such a state of flux. Yes, KSTP is going to town with numbers rocking and socking ‘em between the eyes with 57 minutes of music, smoking-cookin jocks, screaming insults at the competition and super tight programming. After watching Hubbard do a different format a year we are all watching to see what’s next with this new phenomenon. Thus far KSTP has relyed greatly on morning jock personality Chuck Knapp and PM drive Machine Gun Kelly. Kelly was just hired away by KHJ. Other rumblings of change are already in the offing. Time and commercial load will tell.
KDWB is reacting to KSTP by cutting their commercial load to eight minutes per hour, and WDGY similarly. They are not as smartly programmed and let’s face it, three rockers bumping heads keeps a rat race going teen-24. And WYOO is looking at early 20’s through 35, so let them battle over the teens!
KRSI-FM changed call letters to KFMX in late January and continues to program a strange combination of rock and progressive, WCCO-FM, middle of the road FM with some progressive, is existing. We have doubts as to its success and future.
WWTC continues to buy business with bonus spots, promotions, etc. And with no programming change. And they should make changes. WAYL continues as a great Twin Cities buy for 35-plus demos and they work with their clients.* Progressive rock KQRS has shown some fluctuations in the numbers and with KFMX and WCCO integrating progressive rock in their format they could suffer a more competitive future.
Red Hot Last Minutes News: KDWB General Manager William G. Smith has been replaced by a good friend and dynamic broadcaster, Gary Stevens*, ex General Manager of KRIZ Phoenix, he is bringing in the one and only Buzz Bennett to turn the operation around and grab KSTP by their screaming throats. It’s my feelings that this is going to force KSTP out of their heavy emphasis on Solid Gold Music. Hold your breaths that this is so, ‘cause this is great news for WYOO!"
*(Mike’s good friend Sam Sherwood was GM at WAYL and Mike’s friendship with "good friend and dynamic broadcaster, Gary Stevens" would cause me tons of trouble in the next two years.)
It wasn't long before everything changed. EVERYTHING! Two days after I joined WYOO, I sent a letter to Deane Johnson, the PD who pursued and hired me for KDWB 6 years earlier. In the letter I asked him when I would be able to just "brew tea, adjust the temperature, walk up and down the hall, and stick my tongue out at DJ’s?" He replied in red ink, "When you own the market!"
Now, gentle reader, you may be asking why I am re-plowing this old ground? I have to because at U100 in virtually all of 1975 we were going to reap the fruits of the adage: If you don’t learn from history you are bound to repeat it.
Mike and I tried, we really tried to make allies of the staff. Robert Hall became Assistant PD. Steve had a nice voice, but not the aggressive major market style I wanted for the station. Eventually Steve would move to nights as Doug MacKinnon was stashed in the news department and Captain Billy arrived to do mornings. As the seeds of U100 were being planted, one of the most bizarre events of my entire career happened. This story has become Twin Cities radio lore and I have received several emails asking about it. The facts are almost always wrong and it is time to set the story straight. I think.
The Case of the Deadly Speakers!
Even as we wondered about the future of WYOO and contemplated a potential U100, the operation of our Oldies station continued.
We celebrated the Beatles’ 10th Anniversary with a special, celebrated the 4th of July with a promotion we called our All-American Revolution Record Battle that knocked out the telephones as over a quarter million calls were made to the station over the holiday. And Mike and I tried to up-date the antiquated equipment in the main control room and production room. This included a new board (stereo) and some painting and formica-ing. At the time we didn’t broadcast stereo from WYOO (980 AM). We WERE in stereo on WRAH at 101.3. We listened to the oldies in stereo through our ear phones. What we needed were some killer stereo speakers. Ask any DJ and he (or she) will tell you, studio ‘loud’ is killer.
We were on a budget and the painting and decorating was a do-it-yourself project. This included the installation of the speakers. Mike Sigelman and our engineer, with the help from a newsman, put eye-bolts through the back of the speakers and hangers into the studwork to the left and right of the jock. They were almost like a pair of gigantic phones. The speaker on the left was hanging about 8 inches above the door. An in-swinging door.
Now, according to Doug McKinnon (now working over-nights) early on the morning of June 11th the speaker, weighing about 60 pounds, came crashing down just as Doug was going through the doorway. The morning man, listening at home as he prepared to leave for work, heard nothing but dead air. When he arrived at the station, 20 minutes later, he found Doug unconscious on the floor and called an ambulance.
Doug was in the hospital for five days (actually 3 nights) and claimed to have spent the entire time in intensive care. He wrote that he received injections, EEG’s, x-rays, and suffered from a loss of right-eye peripheral vision, headaches, and for the first time in his life required glasses. (Just as an aside, in a subsequent medical report, the ‘tests’ showed no damage or abnormalities)
Doug spent the next three weeks, according to him, ‘recuperating at home, in a dark room." After three weeks of dark seclusion while still collecting his paycheck, Mike finally told him he either had to work or go on medical leave. Doug MacKinnon wrote:
‘In essence, I had no choice. Mike’s ultimatum to me was the difference between salary and/or putting my family on ADC and relief". He also claimed that at work he now had to lie on the floor during music and news for relief from the splitting migraine headaches.
We’ll never know for sure what REALLY happened, but here are some facts. The speaker on the other wall remained hanging in place for the next 2 years. To test its stability, I grabbed it and hung my entire weight from it and I can assure you that’s more than 60 pounds. The speaker that DID fall had a chunk of wood broken out of the back that would have required a great deal of force. If the door was opened when the speaker fell (the only reason someone would be under it) the speaker would have hit the top of the door first. The speaker had no damage from a fall. And finally, according to the emergency room report, there was redness and a bump but no cut, bruising or blood.
The fact is that Mike was into our radio station. He was into enough to come to work on a day-off and ram-rod an installation that might have been delayed for weeks. A nice guy, part of the team, trying to make the jocks happy. I soon came to the conclusion that there is only one way that speaker fell.
Someone helped it. Someone pulled on it, jerked on it, swung from it, twisted it, perhaps even used a crow-bar on it and caused it to fall. It wasn’t Mike Sigelman. The jury is still out because unlike a Perry Mason episode, nobody has jumped up and confessed. Eventually, I believe, Doug sued Mike personally and Mike’s insurance paid a settlement. A nice reward for just trying to help.
By now we knew we were surrounded by wolves and rumor abounded. The place was a secret sieve. Whether it was done as a joke or because we were seriously concerned, we decided to test the leaks. We sent out a phony memo. We wanted to see how soon the false ‘plans’ became general knowledge. In the memo to Staff, I wrote that WYOO was soon to be embarking on some innovative programming. This included a full-time experienced talk personality to do ‘talk radio’ every evening 10pm to 1am.
It is quite humorous to think how prescient this memo was. Remember. This all happened before my trip to Washington, before the format change, and before the State Fair. All that was still a month or so in the future. If anyone could have imagined……
In July our jocks were in a parade in White Bear Lake, emceed a beauty show, did the Hopkins Raspberry Festival Parade, competed in an auto race at Elko raceway, did those HORRIBLE patio Parties, and fielded a staff softball team. Captain Billy and Michael J. Douglas began their morning show and the first version of the Grabs Me T-shirt made its appearance. And while all this was going on, we were less than a month from a huge format change. Nobody knew it was coming. We hadn’t planned for it. Suddenly like a snowball rolling down hill, we barreled toward U100, as you, dear readers, have already seen.
While Mike was dealing with WYOO, at KDWB, I was preparing, Mr. DeMille, for my "exit". At some point, lost in my memory, Mike and I talked. Contrary to other histories I have read, I was not hired at WYOO while at KDWB and I left KDWB without any assurance of a job at WYOO. We had 'networked' but a decision wasn't cast in concrete. Most importantly, when Mike did talk to me about coming to WYOO, U100 and the format change were NEVER considered by either of us. I applied for the PD position with the firm intention to leave my "teeny-bopper" days behind. In preparation for my "interview", I bought the most god-awful sport coat and slacks combo (a maroon checked jacked and matching maroon pants with maroon tie to complete the picture).
The only thing I remember about the formal job interview was the amount of discussion about whether I could abandon my career to that point and become and adult personality and programmer. Of course, I assured them I not only could do, but had been waiting my whole life for the opportunity to do so.
One week after leaving KDWB for good, it was a done deal. I got the job at WYOO. There would be money for milk for the children!
Before any official announcement would be made, I was to spend some time with the consultant, Bob Moomey, and of course Doug McKinnon would be removed as PD. Easter Sunday was April 14th and I drove north to my parent’s home to spend the holiday with family. It was a heady visit, my parents being proud of their son moving from "night-time DJ" to the executive suite. I left my parents home Sunday night for the drive back to the Twin Cities. The next day, Monday morning. I was flying to Chicago to spend a few days with Bob Moomey learning the Moomey System. I can still remember how proud I was as I left, my Mom waving to me from the upstairs window.
Monday morning while packing, my older brother called me. My mother had died, unexpectedly, that morning.
A horrible part of growing up and getting old is death. Not our own, but of those we know and love. We lose our parents, our siblings, our friends. It is never easy. When I contemplate my own death, what strikes me most is the thought that the world will continue to spin. A couple of generations and we are forgotten. Life goes on.
And mine did. A week and one day later I was on a plane for Chicago and my Moomey Method tutorial. Bob Moomey was no longer at the oldies station he created in Chicago. He now did consulting and ocean’s of voice work. Moomey’s voice was the quintessential announcer voice of the 60’s and 70’s and he was working from home, making a nice living.
Earlier, I described the excitement of turning around a radio station. I didn’t get most of the excitement this time, because Bob had already done it. The formats, clocks, play-lists, liners, were all in place, personally installed by Moomey. I was going to be his shepherd. Bob and I talked at length about his philosophies and my new ascension to Program Directorship. Basically it was like this. He would tell me what to do and I would do it. And with my strong "personality", set an example for the staff. During the meetings, I said the right things. I said yes when a yes was expected. The old phrase pops to mind: butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. At night in the hotel, I was frustrated and a bit unhappy because it seemed like being a program director was really being chief disc jockey. With a long sigh, I continued to listen and learn. And say yes. Meanwhile, back at WYOO, the rumors were flying Doug heard the rumors and commented in a staff meeting that Rob Sherwood would come to WYOO over his dead body. The week delay caused by my personal loss, made the secret hard to keep.
The day after the dead body comment, the announcement was made, Doug was demoted, and I arrived for the first time at the station. Doug McKinnon didn’t die.
We have all heard the horror stories of new ownership or new leaders who fire the entire staff upon take over. Fire and replace. I have often thought how cruel that was to do. How different things would have been if we had done that at WYOO. Or later, prior to the start of U100. At least, Doug McKinnon should have been sent packing. Demotion is a terrible thing. It amazes me to remember how many non-U100 people had a profound effect on the station. One of them was Hal Newell, the head of the union that represented the on-air staff at WYOO and later at U100. AFTRA. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Hal and I did not get along. He once told me. in a different time I would have made a good guard at a concentration camp. Was he the source of the union virus, which was infecting the WYOO staff? Probably not. The staff was who they were. If you are a dip-shit when you are 20, you are a dip-shit all your life.
Later, when U100 began its run at the Minnesota State Fair in 1974, half the staff were holdovers from WYOO. When Mike Sigelman arrived all of the staff were Marlin holdovers. Bob Hall, blessed with a golden toned voice and Doug McKinnon handled mid-days and afternoon drive. When the big change came they were at opposite ends of the “co-operation” spectrum. Bob Hall was an enthusiastic ally and Doug McKinnon was an enormous, unadulterated, pain in the ass. Also on staff were Art Snow, Bill Lake, Jerry Brook, Steve Gibbons, and a few I don't remember. At one time or another everyone of them and their involvement with the union had an impact on U100. In a perfect programming world, when the decision to change formats was made, each of them should have gotten their pink slip. A large payout would have been necessary. In retrospect, it would have been money well spent.
My memory of those first days at my new station are faded, but I know I tried to get to know the staff. I was most recently "one of the guys" at KDWB and tried to get a feeling of "we’re in this together" going. It was a slog. I went on the air, doing 10am to noon. Bob Moomey felt the Program Director should be on the air to get a feel for the station. That sounded like a good idea. It was so difficult to put into practice. In one month, I had gone from pubescent chit chat/Peter Pan to a second cup of coffee now that the kids are off to school. I hadn’t worked that hard in years.
I kept thinking, the radio station should be about the music. The oldies. Start to finish. The sports, news, touchy-feely commentary, DJ chit chat all seem contrived. It should have been all about the music. It was a lesson I learned and forgot, learned and forgot and learned and forgot again, in the months and years to come. Such a great concept. Shut up and play the music.
With music in mind and a couple of people to help, we planned the first of our two big WYOO promotions. It was late April and we began planning for Memorial Day at the end of May. The Indy 500. How about The WYOO 500. The top 500 Oldies of all time. Played from bottom to top over the week-end. It was an opportunity to do something special, maybe get some press, and play some oldies not on Bob Moomey’s play list.
Mike had persuaded the powers that be to allow us some equipment up-grades and we were ordering a new board, fixing up the production room, and generally making things ‘professional’. We were even planning some staff changes….or additions.
Both of us were committed to WYOO and oldies and not a whiff of U100 was in the air. I must repeat this often, since so many believe Mike and I arrived at WYOO with U100 in our back pocket. Not so. It was May 1974 and I was happy to be playing the hits. The old hits.
Coming in Chapter 14 – A Pregnant Pause