U100 Story - Chapter 14 – A Pregnant Pause
U100 Story - Chapter 14 – A Pregnant Pause
One of the really nice people from the music company promotion side of the business was Doug Lee. I can still see him in my memory, towering over everyone, a 20th Century Montana Mountain man. When I first started in radio at that little station in Blythe, California, our record service was terrible. It used to piss me off when the local restaurant juke box had new music: music that we still didn’t have at the radio station. The Los Angeles promoters didn’t care about our little operation but they had to put up with my incessant requests for records. Eventually I gave up and made an arrangement with the local juke box guy who supplied us the "new" stuff.
During the time I served in Southern Minnesota and Green Bay, Wisconsin, I was just a DJ. Not a Music Director or Program Director. One of the peons. I don’t remember anything about music promotion at the station in Austin. I was pretty involved with my TV show, and just really didn’t care. A few record guys dropped by WDUZ in Green Bay. The only specific one I remember was pushing the Troggs song, "Wild Thing". After being stroked by this record guy I was committed to getting it on our play-list. I "owed" it to him. He bought me lunch! Over the years, I took a ton of 'food-ola'! It took a little persuasion on my part, because Ben Laird, the station owner was sure that the afore mentioned Wild Thing was a body part they don’t sing about in Green Bay.
When I got to the Twin Cities, I was never around at WDGY when the promotion guys worked Scott Burton or Johnny Canton and at KDWB, it was Don Bleu doing music. Once in a while I'd swing by the station and run into someone visiting TDB but my involvement with what some detractors have called, 'record pigs', was slight. Just after Tony Glover and his Underground All-night show left, Deane loosened the play-list after 10PM and let me play some album cuts. The new all-nighter also played some and as mentioned in an earlier chapter, we both got into trouble because of this license. One time though, the album cuts got me roses!
A phenomenon of the late 60's and early 70's was the 'rock opera'. I don't remember what order they were released but I particularly remember the first time I heard Jesus Christ-Superstar. I was sitting in the little trailer we were using as production room after the fire when Deane walked across from the main building. Rarely did I see Deane excited about music, but in this case he was toting the 45 rpm version of the Murray Head title song. The shock of hearing the words in the rock setting was startling. Moments later Deane retrieved the entire album. Listening to it, my heart was beating, my face flushed and tiny body rushes climbing from foot to head. It was the combination of rock, show tunes, and cutting edge story-telling that had me beside myself. Deane recognized my excitement and agreed that we would 'debut' the ENTIRE album that night. Give him credit for thinking AND ACTING outside the box. Later we did the same thing when the Who released Tommy and even when a company in Texas released a more Christian rock-opera, we debuted it on my show. Sometime before the final re-model of our main studio was complete I had a stroke of drug induced creativity. Using the turntables, doing segues, cross-fades, inserts and slip-starts, I combined Tommy and JC-Superstar. It impressed one of the record guys as he listened while driving home. Whether it was my creativity, the rarity of hearing something like this on KDWB, or that he was as stoned as I was, it didn't matter. He loved it and the next day sent me a wonderfully complimentary not and a dozen roses.
While at WYOO I was playing oldies and nary a new song was in sight. The music promoters weren't in sight either. You couldn’t blame them because the Moomy Format wasn’t yesterday and today…it was all yesterday.
Later, at U100, we were breaking a lot of hits and taking a lot of chances. The music companies and their representatives were all over us. During my time at KSTP, Doug visited often. I heard from him when I moved to California and even when I could do nothing for him, not a Christmas or birthday passed without a card or a call. He was the only one. Even when I left radio, the cards continued. When I did some theater in the Twin Cities after KSTP, he was in the audience. When I did some shows in San Francisco, he saw my show and once even sent back a box of chocolate! Every year, I looked forward to seeing him in San Francisco, at the Gavin Convention, sitting in the window booth across the street from the St. Francis at O’Doul’s. When I found out that the birthday and Christmas cards stopped because Doug had died I knew we had lost one of the few good guys in that business. He was a heck of a promoter. He was a hell of a good man.
Mike Sigelman was also a promoter. There was a magical way he combined on-air promotions with income producing ideas. Add to the mix, the special bones tossed to potential advertisers, and you have WYOO with a lot going on. Our major promotion in May was the WYOO 500. To coincide with the Indy 500, (which we did not broadcast)we were playing the "all-time" top 500 songs beginning late Friday afternoon and continuing until Number One on Memorial Day afternoon.
WYOO was a highly formatted oldies station. We didn’t play ALL the oldies. We played a select list of them. The Bob Moomy list. At that time we certainly didn’t play any latter-day oldies. If I remember correctly, there were NO oldies on our play-list from the decade of the 70’s. We were the 50’s, 60’s and "not now". We looked at the most popular Billboard Magazine songs and saw groups like the Doors, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. These groups were not in our play-list because they were "too rock" for the Moomy Format. Could I in good conscience, ignore The Doors or Led Zeppelin on my Indy Rock Week-end Top 500? Would I be satisfied with the number one all time song being by Elvis? We decided we would have to play "non-format" music during this week-end. Bob Moomy wasn’t happy about it, but without rock songs, our top 500 all-time songs would be a sham and the audience would have figured it out.
Our next problem was the order of the music from 500 to 1, and what to do about songs we didn’t have. We simply ignored the ones we didn’t have. The rest of the list was as arbitrary as it is possible to be. In other words, I decided what went where.
We hired a promotion director, Marsh Walser, and I think he was helping at this time. Maybe he will remember what song I decided was the top song of all time. I think it was Light My Fire by the Doors. (We repeated the promotion during the U100 days and this time number one was Stairway to Heaven…had a contest with that one too.) Anyway, I think it was the Doors. I am not sure. In spite of everything, it worked well, and I still remember hearing WYOO on radios all over town that week-end. There aren't many things as satisfying than hearing your station on radios or blasting from cars next to you at stop lights. Count-downs were popular and we had hyped this one well.
We had a horrible promotion in association with Pepsi. Listeners entered and won a picnic/barbecue in their own back-yard. Originally, it was supposed to be a block party, but that could involved dozens if not hundreds of people. So, it was a party in their back-yard. We would provide and cook the food. The winner provided the people. Very strange results. At most of them, we were a distraction and a chore for the winner. At a couple of the events, we had food for 25 and four or five actual attendees. At one, the winners were parents of a Downs Syndrome son and the party was for all his school friends. That was the good one I remember. The rest sucked. For the rest of my career, I hated this type of promotion. At later stations, I accompanied winners to Disneyland, to Hawaii, and to New York for a theater vacation. I don’t remember ANY of them being fun. A much better idea. Give them the trip (or the barbecue) and leave me out of it.
When I arrived at WYOO, a DJ named Steve Gibbons was doing the morning show. Just before I got there, he replaced Bob Chase. Steve was a genuinely nice guy. Through no fault of his own, he wasn’t doing the morning show I wanted. Steve was on till 10am. I worked till noon. Bob Hall in the Afternoon. Doug McKinnon and Art Snow filled out our day. As I mentioned, most morning shows in the Twin Cities were WCCO wannabe's and instinctively, I wanted something different. Not only did I want some new blood at WYOO but I wanted to be morning-show-unique. Mike understood and we brought Bob Moomy on board too. We advertised the morning show in the trades and somewhere along the line, got a tape from a DJ in San Diego who called himself Captain Billy. It was a very good tape. It was very funny.
Some DJ's have a special talent. They make terrific air check tapes. The problem is, however, they are never actually as good as their air check. My problem is the opposite. My air checks are never as good as my actual show. Throughout the years, I listened to so many air-check that outclassed the actual day to day ability. Every program director has been burned by DJ’s who don’t match their air check. Captain Billy was a good guy and he worked hard BUT…he was never as good or as funny as that air-check.
Michael J. Douglas, a newsman from KDWB had imploded at that station, and somewhere along the line before I arrived, Sigelman hired him. I am pretty sure he beat me to WYOO. Well, I am sort of sure. Either way, we teamed him with Captain Billy and that was our morning team. Michael Douglas had a natural, wry sense of humor and he made Captain Billy a better morning man. Things were going well. As spring turned to summer, we had a marketable morning team, a successful promotional track record and only a few problems. The problems were almost exclusively caused by the left over DJ’s from pre-Sigelman/Sherwood. Steve Gibbons was not happy when he was replaced by Captain Billy on the morning show. We didn't fire him but the resentment was surely smoldering. As far as the former PD was concerned, nothing we did was right. Not only did he voice his regular critiques freely (to his cronies) but he peppered me, Mike, and even corporate headquarters with memos. Doug McKinnon wasn't the only one gossiping and rumor mongering. The station was full of it and it was impossible to get any sort of "team" feeling. Doug McKinnon’s days were numbered.
At some point, we began making plans to visit the Fairchild Industries corporate headquarters in Germantown, Maryland. Mike and I were going together.
How Fairchild ever got into the ‘radio biz’, is one of those mysteries. Several years later at K101 in San Francisco, we were owned by a oil wildcatting/insurance company. Once, the phone at K101 rang and the voice told the secretary that "my wife and I were just visitin’ this nice city and I mentioned to my better half that I think we own a radio station here and I sure would like to visit. Would it be okay with y’all?" The Fairchild biggies weren’t quite so much at sea. They knew they owned some radio stations, but I don’t think any of them could figure out why.
Fairchild built fighter jets, commuter airplanes, launched satellites, and owned an oldies station in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Huh? When Mike and I visited together, we made a presentation to try to fill them in on what we were all about. The only thing I remember about that presentation, is that they had a stenographer take down every word. It was like being interrogated on Law & Order. They had divisions involving millions and millions of dollars and they had WYOO involving dozens and dozens of dollars.
In spite of the fact we were such small potatoes, corporate was a looming presence. The head of the radio division was a man named Josephsberg. I think. I can’t remember his first name but, I know his Uncle had been a writer on the Jack Benny Show and dozens of other Golden-Age-Of-Television classics. He deserves mention because as you will learn as this story continues, he trusted Mike and me enough to go along with our format change. Before we could be stopped from this folly, a representative of the Devil-Incarnate replaced him. Alan Henry didn't like anything about our operation and although we saw him often (too much) he contributed nothing but carping and complaints. He also used to threaten us. It was just his way, I guess. The last corporate visitor was the gentle and kind man who shepherded the station, for a month, at our demise. His job at Fairchild was just that; shepherding the properties they sold. And the Big Boss visited. The CEO. The Big Cheese. He visited us three times. Those visits were a personal (Rob Sherwood) disaster and deserve an aside.
I don’t remember his name. He lived in a different world than the one I knew. For one thing, he lived two or three hundred miles from the Maryland corporate headquarters and was airplane-chauffeured to work each morning. An STOL landing strip was adjacent to the main corporate building. Over the years, I have enjoyed telling the stories of our meetings and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tells the same stories.
Meeting Number One!
Mr. CEO came to Minneapolis/St. Paul for a quick visit. I was working evenings and wasn’t going to be able to join them for dinner, but we could "do" lunch. In fact, now that I think about it, they weren’t staying for dinner. I remember the halcyon days at KDWB and WDGY and later at KSTP when we would catch lunch at Charlie’s or Murray’s or the Blue Horse. But Mike didn’t drink so we didn’t need those up-town restaurants. We "did" lunch at Mr. Steak.
Okay. So, it really wasn’t that big a deal and Mr. Steak DID have a great hamburger. They took two meat patties, stuffed them with Swiss cheese and mushrooms. The end result was a huge patty with lots of juicy goo in the middle. Mr. CEO was sitting opposite me in the booth, perfectly positioned. I picked up my burger with both hands, bit into the side closest to me causing most of the juicy Swiss cheese mushroom goo to squirt out the other side.
It was a trifecta. I got Mr. CEO’s tie, shirt, AND suit lapel.
What can you say? Oh my god! Shit! Oops! Fuck! I may have said all of them. With a certain amount of grace, Mr. CEO accepted my apologies although he did remark that he didn’t have another clean shirt or tie. (short trip remember?)
Meeting Number Two!
This visit DID include dinner. Dinner at a rather up-scale Chinese restaurant on Interstate 494. I didn’t get off the air until 9PM, so I was arriving late. When I did get there, most of the eating was over. They had ordered several dishes and shared as one does in a Chinese restaurant. When I sat down, next to Mr. CEO, he and others began passing dishes to me so I could catch up on the eating. I filled my plate and reached for the soy sauce. What evil spirit was guiding me, I don’t know. Talking the whole time and without thinking, I unscrewed the top of the soy sauce cruet. (NO! NO!)
Usually, you have to shake that soy sauce bottle quite vigorously and shake I did. In fact, I shook about half the bottle in one shake into Mr. CEO’s lap.
Once, as a child I put a hose into an ant hill. Another time, I punched a nun. I used to hide huge Hershey’s chocolate bars under my bed. At long last, the gods were punishing me.
Meeting Number Three!
I guess I should be surprised I was even invited to the last Mr. CEO visit to the Twin Cities. I was. Dinner was at a very special Swiss Fondue restaurant in Stillwater. Hot oil on the table to cook the various bits of meat, as well as cheese fondues made it a very unique dining experience. Each course was accompanied by appropriate wines. It should have been a very special evening.
I was slightly embarrassed when a reference was made to my previous faux pas. Mr. CEO made a point of sitting me as far away from him as possible. He sat at the head of the rectangle dining table and I was instructed to sit at the foot. Perhaps, I was 10 feet away. Of course I spilled my wine. My red wine. Spilling (as expected) was embarrassment. I was mortified when Mr. CEO made a relieved comment that, this time, he was out of the spilled-wine line-of-fire.
Napkins were used to sop up the excess wine and the meal continued. So did the wine. Slowly, inexorably, the spilled wine worked its way toward the other end of the table. Sort of like an underground river, it silently flowed, pulled by gravity. Eventually, it reached the opposite edge, and Niagra’ed down into Mr. CEO’s lap. There was a bit of commotion, a dawning realization and a sudden glare. I would compare it to that look on Jimmy Finlayson’s face in the old Laurel and Hardy movies. If Mr. CEO had been Homer Simpson, he would have said, "DOH!"
I was assured that it wasn’t my fault. Within a few months, we got Alan Henry and six months after that, we were sold.
But, I’m getting ahead of my story…and I mustn’t do that.
Sometime in June or early July, Mike Sigelman and I were going to headquarters again. It was the end of the coporate fiscal year and all the divisions were going to report. On the morning of departure, Mike's wife went into labor. With a son about to be born, he wouldn't be going to Germantown. At first, the entire trip was canceled. I really wanted to go, so I convinced Mike I could handle it by myself. He trusted me.
Being picked up by a limo at Washington National Airport, being whisked to corporate headquarters, and representing our station was pretty heady stuff. I had come a long way from that drug using, insecure, bundle of ego that 3 months earlier had walked out of KDWB.
In 1945, as the Russians swept across Germany, the German V-2 rocket scientists were between a rock and a hard place. Actually, they were between the Red Army and the U.S. Army. Their leader was Werner Von Braun. He sensed that spending the rest of his life in a Siberian gulag or throwing himself and fellow geniuses on the mercy of Ike Eisenhower was an easy choice. He led his colleagues to the American lines and surrendered. Any history of the space race will chronicle the contributions Werner Von Braun and those former Nazi scientists made to our rocket program. In the early days, he WAS N.A.S.A.
Werner Von Braun made history and I was sitting at his table for lunch. Did I tell him about our oldies play list? Did I share with him that I took algebra in 10th grade? Did I get him to tell me some funny Fuhrer stories? I don’t think so. I did hear about the communication satellites they were putting in space for India. At 500 million dollars a pop! To say, I was intimidated is an understatement. After lunch, everyone introduced themselves, told the assembly a little bit about their division and commented and questioned each other on plans for the next year.
By 4PM, it was over. I suppose I could have avoided the boring week-end in Germantown by visiting Washington D.C. I may have thought about it for a moment. Better yet, I wasn't far from New York City. A secretary checked on availability of seats on Amtrak and after another hurried limo ride, I hopped the train and headed for the Big Apple.
As the train whistled through the darkness, like Scrooge before his fire, I "thought and thought and thought." By the time the train pulled into Pennsylvania station, I was on fire. I may not have been on the road to Damascus but I had had an epiphany. Time was running out. Listening to the other divisional reports had been daunting. I had the niggling feeling that the Fairchild Industries experiment in the radio ‘biz’ wasn’t going to last very long. I came away from that solo excursion to the executive suite wondering what to do until the axe fell.
The answer was waiting for me on my desk back at WYOO.
On August 9, 1974, when Mike Sigelman and I asked Bob Hall, Captain Billy, and a couple of others to join us for dinner, we were about to let them in on a two week secret. The television at the bar distracted us, as Twin Cities radio history was not the only history being made that night. As background to our dinner, we watched Richard Nixon resign as President of the United States We also told the gang things were going to change at WYOO.
All that thinking on Amtrak convinced me that Fairchild Industries was going to end their involvement in broadcasting and WYOO AM/FM was going to be sold. Watching the Maryland countryside along the main-line between Washington and New York, I dealt with the demons of hell. Looking for a job, selling myself, dealing with change, were the terrors I have always tried to avoid.
By the time the train rolled into Pennsylvania Station, I had moved on. It was fact, I believed. We were going to be sold. There was no proof. I hadn't discovered a secret memo. I just knew it and that realization depressed me. It was a fact that two years as Program Director of an Oldies Station in Minneapolis would NOT be a career builder. Also, the coming two years wouldn't be much fun. I had no confidence in my ability to segue from old owner to new owner. At that point in my career, I had only experienced one ownership change. My memory of the living hell I went through at KDWB when ValJon gave way to Doubleday was seared into me. When it happened, everything I loved at KDWB changed from chicken salad to chicken shit.
Since that ownership change at KDWB in 1972, I have experienced ownership or management changes in Seattle and Modesto and watched fellow broadcasters go through it at dozens of stations. The lie is always the same. Don’t worry. Your job is secure. Trust us. Years later, at FM104 in Modesto, I listened to the ‘new’ general manager tell me everything was fine while I read the ads for my job in the trades. Let’s just say, I am an ownership-change-everything-is-fine cynic.
The following Monday morning I went to the station with the intention of keeping my mouth shut, skimming over my worries, and putting off until some other time what I should do right then. True to form, rather than face it, procrastinated. Like Scarlet O’Hara "….I’ll think about it tomorrow, because tomorrow is another day".
With some help from some friends, I had carved an office out of a corner of the basement. It was truly a cave, but it was MY cave and on my desk was a few days accumulation of mail. It was serendipity that caused me to open a cardboard package that held an air check LP. I don’t remember who sent it or why I received it but there it was. Samples of five or six radio stations. I slipped it on the turn table and listened as I looked through the mail. (Is it notable that I wasn’t listening to my own radio station?)
Then I heard it. Three breaks. I stopped. I paid attention. I reset the needle and listened again. And again. And again. There was energy. There was excitement. I was back at WDUZ in Green Bay where I had an epiphany listening to a DJ named Chuck Dan from Oklahoma City.
I had the answer.
I wish I could remember the exact sequence of events that led from that moment to August 9th when we ate dinner while Nixon said goodbye. I wish I had a transcript of my first conversation with Mike Sigelman. Thank God for Mike Sigelman. What was it in Mike that made him receptive to this programming mental breakdown? In the next week, Mike put it all on the line. He pitched our idea to Mr. Josephsberg. I think Mike proved himself a "MASTER SALESMAN" because he closed the sale in short order. The big selling points were a greater opportunity to make money, an under-utilized FM signal, and the Minnesota State Fair. The Fair was the perfect opportunity to ‘roll out’ a new radio station. The planets came together and within days, we made the decision. Immediately, we began planning. Mike and I were committed to taking an AM/FM radio station, licensed to Richfield, across the Rubicon.
Let me stop my narrative for a moment. Four months before when Mike hired me, there were NO plans to change the WYOO Oldies format. I have read several ‘histories’ of U100 that suggested I was hired for the express purpose of bringing Top 40 to WYOO. Not so. Mike hired me to be an Oldies Radio station programmer. Inside of me was the soul of a Top 40 jock and deep inside Mike beat the heart of a Top 40 GM.
We were an unholy alliance.
Having an ally like Mike $ (as he signed his memos) was the best thing that ever happened to me in my entire career. The new format had to have the pounding, unrelenting, non-stop, in your face, sound I knew was possible. If the average listener stayed with us for 20-30 minutes at a stretch, I wanted to have 20-30 minutes of knock-their-fucking-socks-off-radio. If the multitude of listeners were punching the buttons on their car radio or switching their home radio between KDWB, KSTP, WDGY, KQRS, plus a few others, I wanted our radio station to be the one that stood out….way out…in that crowd.
I had the idea. I would make some mistakes. I would make a ton of mistakes. It would take a few months to get there. I was excited as hell.
Mike was the detail man. There were graphics to design and presentations to prepare. In a few weeks we were planning to dump a two year format and jump into the water with the sharks. Our plans were ‘top secret’. One of the first things to decide was what to call the station. WYOO was history. Our AM was at 980 and our FM was at 101.3. We were going to simulcast the two. (This would be the first FM Top 40 on Twin Cities radio)
Once again, the ‘histories’ about the station name are wrong. Here is the true story. If you look on the old analog radio dials with both the AM and FM numbers, you don’t see 980 or 101.3. But there was, right in the middle of the dial, a 100. Screw our actual dial location. We would be a "100". At the time, in Florida, there was a very popular flavor-of-the-day radio station called Y100. We decided to be Y100 in the Twin Cities.
Next, we had to deal with staff. We made a lot of mistakes here. The right decision would have been to dump everyone and start over. Although we were dumping the format, we weren’t dumping the union. Changing staff would have been very difficult. Somehow, we had to mold what we had into what we wanted. We still needed two jocks. Important to our concept, we needed an afternoon drive jock to compete with the big guys and we needed a kick-ass night man. I talked to a couple of record guys and with a lot of lies as to why I wanted them, I got the names of some hot jocks. One in Milwaukee, afternoon drive in Pittsburgh, a jock in Jacksonville, Florida, Birmingham, Alabama, and Denver, Colorado. Mike thought there wasn’t time to go through the ‘send me a tape’ process, so I hopped on an airplane and over the next few days flittered about the country listening to radio stations.
I was somewhere on that trip when Mike informed me that Y100 threatened to sue and get a cease and desist order for any radio station using the name, "Y100". From Florida or Alabama Mike and I talked about our name. The graphics were already made with Y100. We knew it was going to be ‘something100’. Z100? Nope. X100? Very hard to pronounce. We literally went through the alphabet saying A100, B100, C100, D100.
I read in one of the ‘histories’ that we picked U100 because the station was WYOO. Not so. I didn’t think of that. Perhaps, Mike did, but the connection never crossed my mind. In these days it wasn’t as easy to change call-letters as it became and though I knew I was stuck with WYOO, I was so intent on burying it, I totally missed the connection between U100 and "Yoo100". Mike and I picked U100 because it was easy to say, was unmistakable, fit with the graphics already being produced and just sounded hot. It was important to have this decided because we were ordering jingles from Dallas and they needed to know what to sing.
Mike came up with Super U. How hot was that? The jingle writers came up with Right On Super U. I heard a cab driver say a radio station boogied and decided that "U100.…boogies!"
When I got back from my trip, without either afternoon drive or bad ass night time jocks, Mike had a logo and sales presentation. The jingles were in the works, the kernel of an actual format was germinating. Like in Gypsy, we had our top hat and tux. All we needed was a girl. All we needed was a bad ass staff.
We had a little less than 3 weeks.
Coming in Chapter 15 – Breaking All The Rules