One of my favorite activities each Memorial Day Weekend is to listen to WABC Rewound streamed over Rewound Radio. What makes this weekend so special is that people from all over the world are listening to the stream at the same time. It’s a coming together of people of all ages to celebrate one of the greatest radio stations America ever produced.
Why WABC Rewound is So Popular
This year, I streamed WABC Rewound driving back to Virginia after spending a couple of weeks in my home state of Massachusetts. Over 7-hours and four states, the stream via my iPhone7 pumped through my Honda Accord’s premium 7-speaker, 270-watt audio system was rich, full and continuous without buffering or interference of any kind. That all by itself is something to note. Streaming audio today is becoming seamless.
But it wasn’t the music that attracted me, though the records are the “music of my life” from my days in high school, college and as a disc jockey. No what attracts me – and everyone else that faithfully tunes in each year – are the personalities.
Herb Oscar Anderson, Bob Dayton, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Bruce Morrow, Charlie Greer, Bob Lewis, Chuck Leonard, Johnny Donovan, Harry Harrison and George Michael, plus the newscasters that delivered news every hour.
We are attracted to the people. People we grew up with.
The New Yorker magazine wrote back in 1965 that listeners to WABC were part of the WABC family. We were “cousins” of Cousin Brucie. We were part of the Ingram tribe as he called us “Kemosabe.”
Mornings went “all the way with HOA” as New York’s morning Mayor Herb Oscar Anderson started our day before Harry Harrison moved from WMCA to WABC.
Contests, Features & Promotions About People
WABC invited listeners to vote for their “Principal of the Year” (16-million votes cast in 1964), mail in for a “Kissin’ Cousin Card” or a “Kemosabe Card” (drawing in 150,000 requests in a single week).
Herb Oscar singing “Hello Again” live on the radio and reading lost dog announcements, celebrating birthdays.
Each personality became a member of the family. Your family. And like a member of the family, you took them everywhere you went. To the lake, on a picnic, in your car, to wake up with or go to sleep with. They were companions and we were part of their community.
Father Peter Gregory
“Without people, there wouldn’t be a priesthood,” was the often-heard proclamation of Father Peter Gregory of St. Charles Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Father Peter has been the pastor of St. Charles for nearly three decades. “The church is people,” he told a reporter who interviewed him on the eve of his retirement.
I bring up Father Peter because at a time when many churches in Pittsfield have closed their doors due to a lack of followers, St. Charles is doing quite well.
It’s not the most glamorous of structures – other churches in the city I might rate more inspirational – and it’s not in the best neighborhood, no what it has had is a spiritual leader that believed in people and whom people believed in right back.
A Mount Rushmore Sized Opportunity for Radio
I love reading the weekly Mid-Week Motivator articles from a good friend and former consultant of some of the radio stations I managed, Tim Moore.
Recently Tim asked “Why is Talent Development in Neutral?”
He wrote that his life’s education seems to have been about understanding the challenges and concepts of what it takes to be a winner. It meant he would constantly be looking for character and excellence in people who hadn’t found it yet.
The irony about today’s radio, Tim says, is “glaring opportunity, constricted by the inability or lack of will on the part of many companies and their leaders to insist on the culture of better.”
Air talent goes un-coached while radio has a huge opportunity to build relationships with its listeners. Building the same kind of bond, I had with the personalities of WABC, WKBW, WTRY, WPTR, WBZ, WRKO, WDRC, WBEC, WBRK, WLS, WCFL and so many more.
Over the years, I’ve been to many diary reviews and a few focus groups. What you see are the attraction of radio listeners to radio personalities.
While a particular format may be what initially attracts a listener to a radio station, it’s the radio personality that is the glue that will cement the listener’s loyalty.
Tim says” It’s the personality of a station that locks-in listeners’ interest and daily habit.” “The implications are simple, obvious, yet largely ignored: without better talent (defined as more relatable, interesting, and reciprocal people on the radio) we are treading water,” says Tim.
Who Influenced Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Dale Dorman or…?
Most radio people my age grew up with the most talented and engaging radio personalities to grace the airwaves of American radio. They were our teachers. They were available for us to listen to and mentor under 24/7, 365-days a year.
In addition to them, we had program directors – many of them off-air – who coached us and inspired us to be better.
I’ve often wondered about the iconic radio personalities that did it first. Who did they learn from? How did they become the engaging, relatable, interesting personalities that attracted our ears like metal to a magnet?
And can a talent voice-tracked over multiple radio stations ever be as compelling to not just listeners but to the next generation to want to pursue radio as a career?
Again, Father Peter understood his church’s most valuable asset, it’s youth. “It’s the kids and youth who are the future of our church,” he said. “I’m now dealing with kids whose parents I had as kids.”
The Community Band
Once upon a time, every community in America had at least one town band. Most of them are long gone.
When I was managing a radio cluster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I came to know and love the New Holland Band of New Holland, Pennsylvania.
The band was not only strong and vibrant, but performed at a level that would have made John Phillip Sousa proud. Its concerts are very well attended and it’s produced some of this country’s finest musicians, some of whom now perform as part of the President’s band.
Why did the New Holland Band not just survive but continues to thrive? It understood it’s all about people. The band’s members are made up of a diverse group of professional, semi-professional and student musicians. The oldest member of the band has been a member since 1959 and the newest member since 2016. It’s this blending of youth with experience and wisdom that keeps the New Holland Band fresh, contemporary and relevant.
It was the initiative of one of my hometown radio stations (WBEC) that convinced the Junior Achievement to create a JA Radio Company.
Junior Achievement was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1919 by Theodore Vail of AT&T, Horace Moses of Strathmore Paper Company and Massachusetts Senator Winthrop Murray Crane (who’s family paper company, Crane and Company make the paper all U.S. currency is printed on).
The JA website states: “Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. Junior Achievement’s programs—in the core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy—ignite the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life in the 21st century. Our Purpose: Junior Achievement inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy.”
WBEC’s management realized that getting high school students actively involved with the radio station would engage their parents, siblings, families and friends too. Many of them who owned local businesses. It was both mentoring a new generation of radio broadcasters as well as leveraging the people attract people principle.
As Tim Moore says “Human development is the essence of life. Weak excuses such as ‘we don’t have the time to develop talent’ are just chin boogie.”
All my radio life, I’ve invested my energies in the development of people. Many of them today are owners and managers of their own broadcast operations.
I’m also proud to have spent the past seven years of my life as a broadcast professor paying-it-forward to a new generation of broadcasters.
Radio is a people business.
It will never attract people to its product like it once did without a serious commitment to talent development.