Tag Archives: Robert W. Morgan

Play Records & Meet Girls

50th Anniv WRKO logoLast summer, WRKO held its 50th Anniversary Reunion in Boston. The original five personalities that kicked off “Now Radio in Boston” were all there; Chuck Knapp, J. J. Jeffrey, Al Gates, Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg and Joel Cash.

Radio’s Best Friend, Art Vuolo, recorded the anniversary dinner and Saturday night reunion broadcast over 680AM-WRKO. I bought the two-DVD set, enjoying it all thoroughly.

Growing up in Western Massachusetts prevented me from hearing WRKO’s 50,000-watt Boston signal because of its directionalized North/South pattern and so hearing this incredible radio station was a delight only when I traveled to the eastern end of the Bay State.

Now Radio

For those that aren’t familiar with Boston Radio, WRKO brought the formatics of 93-KHJ Los Angeles to Boston under the leadership of General Manager Perry Ury. Before the station’s switch to Top 40 in March of 1967, the station was known as WNAC.

The Big 68 became WRKO with the launch of the new format and RKO Radio Consultant Bill Drake.

WRKO General Manager Phil Zachary

At the time of the reunion, Phil Zachary was Entercom’s Market Manager for Boston and overseeing WRKO. Phil was promoted to Market Manager of Entercom’s Hartford, Connecticut properties after the Entercom merger with CBS Radio.Phil Zachery

It was what Phil shared at the WRKO 50th Anniversary Dinner that most resonated with me and it’s what I’d like to share with you in this week’s blog.

Phil started off his talk by saying, “I got into radio as a disc jockey to play records and meet girls, like most of you, but I wasn’t as good as most of you, so I ended up as a manager,” adding that he’d been in radio for 41-years, 33-years as a general manager.

What WRKO Meant to Me

Phil grew up in Connecticut listening to parent’s favorite radio station 1080AM-WTIC, so he wasn’t one of the original members of the staff when WRKO was launched as Now Radio back in 1967. But he wanted to share with the audience what WRKO meant to him. Here’s what he shared:

“I was 13-years old and living in Hartford when this station (WRKO) came on the air. If you wanted to be in radio, there was no better place to grow up because there was WPOP, WDRC, 13-WAVES in New Haven and WPRO in Providence and everyone was working to get to New York or Boston, so I heard a lot of you guys as you were working your way up and I got to tell you I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you.”

“To me, you guys (the radio personalities) were superstars. It is what caused me to say, this is what I want to do for a living. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“I have 300-employees now in this region and the thing I lament so much, and the thing you really need to celebrate here tonight, is that you are artists, you were real craftsmen, you were entertainers, you were right every bit, every bit, the equal of that music you played. And to this day, I can’t hear those records without hearing you between those records. And without those elements in-between, without who you were in-between, those records were meaningless to me. They don’t mean anything to me. And they don’t mean anything to a whole generation of people who grew up believing you were a part of those groups. That that’s who you were.”

“I have to sit here and thank you with all my heart, not only for making my young life so special but for allowing me the spark and the privilege to earn my living for the last 41-years in this business. You did that for me. You put me up here at this table. I am so thrilled and proud to be here with all of you because I listened to every one of you on the radio. Every one of you!”

“And I said, ‘How can I ever be as good as Mike Adams, how could I ever be like Chip Hobart, how could I ever be like J. J. Jordan…how could I ever be THAT FREAKIN’ GOOD…and that’s what’s missing today, is we just don’t have those types of people, and we don’t have those program directors.”

“There isn’t a day that I come off that elevator and the first thing I say to myself is, ‘holy shit, I’m general manager of WRKO,’ but the second thing I say to myself is, ‘holy shit I could have been on WRKO if I had a great program director, that cared about me, that called me on the hot line and said don’t do that again.’ And that’s what’s missing now, is that we don’t have artists anymore. We don’t have kids that come on the air before the Polish show on Sunday morning and play the tapes and play on the cue speaker the show they really want to do. We don’t have that anymore and one of the reasons we have the show on Saturday night (WRKO 60s Saturday Night) is because I can’t let that die. It can’t go away.”

“So please know how much you mean to me, how much you mean to our business and how honored we are as Entercom to be a part of this celebration.”

Thank You Phil

My own personal story is a parallel to what Phil shared. And I am in complete concert with all that he said.

We are real radio guys.

Radio’s legendary personalities have been lovingly captured by Art Vuolo and I encourage you to check out his website HERE and order some DVDs.Art Vuolo DVD recording

For those of us who made radio a career 50 years ago, it will remind you about why you got into this wonderful crazy business.

For those of you who want to know what radio was like before the internet and social media, it will be a wonderful, inspiring learning experience.

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After this article was written, a research report on the power of personalities was released this week. Tom Taylor’s NOW (4-24-2018) writes: “On-air talent is a huge draw” for AM/FM radio listeners, says Lauren Vetrano, Director of Content Marketing at Cumulus/Westwood One. She presents results from a new study with Vision Critical/MARU, and says “We asked 2,617 consumers how they felt about radio personalities. The results show a strong affinity and trust that marketers can use to their advantage in audio creative.” 68% of respondents “were able to name their favorite AM/FM radio DJ, personality or show.” More than half (52%) “say the main reasons they choose to listen to their favorite station” are specific people or shows. Lauren says “having a connection is about more than just preference…listeners develop loyal relationships based on humor and trust.” Read “The relationship between personalities and listeners is personal” by clicking HERE

You might also enjoy an article I wrote on this same subject back in September 2015 titled “We Never Called It Content.” I wrote:

Larry Lujack, The Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Dale Dorman, Ron Lundy, Salty Brine, Bob Steele, and so many, many more. These names I’ve dropped are all no longer on the radio. Terrestrial radio anyway. We radio geeks like to think they are now Rockin’ N Rollin’ the hinges off the pearly gates.

Everyone can understand the circle of life. People retire, people pass on.

But this past week saw the “forced retirement” of more big names in radio.

To read the entire article, click HERE 

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Radio Has an Addiction Problem

listening_to_radioHave you heard the latest? People are addicted to their smartphones. “We now see smartphones as dangerous for young minds,” writes Jean-Louis Gassée in a Monday Note.

More than 30 years ago MIT professor Sherry Turkle postulated that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds. In doing so, they would change our relationship with the world around us.

Smartphones are Mobile Computers

Turkle would continue her thoughts on this subject in a 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including our ways we think about ourselves and other people.”

Smartphones plus Social Media

When our mobile computers are married to a social media site like Facebook, things get really sticky. Sean Parker, a founding partner at Facebook, wrote about the problem after he left the company saying, “[Social Media] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.”

Time for Apple to Build A Less Addictive iPhone

The NY Times published an article by Farhad Manjoo that made the case for a less addictive iPhone. Can you imagine someone writing that broadcasters should be making TV or radio less addictive? That watching too much TV or listening to too much radio might be bad for our brains.

Broadcasters today find they have a different problem. They have lost the addictive luster of the past.

The Amazon Addiction

“For many businesses, Amazon is simultaneously a sales channel, a potential service provider and a competitive threat,” says Forrest Research. For broadcasters, Amazon is attacking our retail advertising revenue, by undermining the very businesses we sell to. Today Amazon is the go-to website for retail search, surpassing Google.

Trying to compete with Amazon is a retail challenge. The very retailers’ broadcasters depend on for their revenue.

Retailers measure how well they’re doing by their bottom line.

Amazon is all about increasing top line sales growth. (Wall Street hasn’t demanded Amazon to be profitable yet.)

See the problem?

Trying to beat the Amazon model is a race to the bottom with pricing for our advertising customers.

Free shipping, two-day shipping, lowest prices, biggest selection, customer ratings etc. are among the things making Amazon addictive.

People Made Radio Addictive

Over the years, radio has had personalities that made the medium addictive like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, Jess Cain, Dale Dorman, Paul Harvey and many more.

Once upon a time, music formats could be addictive, but today’s access to streaming audio is challenging that beachfront.

Alexa Doesn’t Know My Local Radio Station

My local radio stations are called KISS (WKSI-FM) and WINK (WINC-FM). When I ask Alexa to play either KISS-FM or WINC-FM, I get the Los Angeles KIIS-FM or the WINK-FM licensed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I asked Siri the same questions, she couldn’t help me play anything. Siri told me, “Sorry, Dick, I can’t help you with that on your iPhone.”

When your branding is not unique, these new consumer voice activated devices don’t have a clue what you’re trying to ask them. They either make their best algorithm guess or just throw in the towel.

Broadcast Station Call Letters

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) solved this problem early in broadcasting by assigning each broadcast station its own unique call letters, but broadcasters abandoning those identifiers for branding like Kiss, Froggy, Hot, and others, that are duplicated all across the country, is now a problem in a voice activated world. But it’s not just the brand not being unique, the programming is likewise just as non-unique.

Don’t Be Generic

No one ever became addicted to a generic.

Addiction stimulates parts of the brain that trigger craving and longing, that release habit-forming, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.

Your iPhone does that for you.

You voice activated smart speaker does too.

Broadcasting is show business.

Which do you think stimulates the part of the brain that causes addiction? The show part or the business part?

Answer that question correctly and you’re on your way.

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We Never Called It Content

Larry Lujack, The Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Dale Dorman, Ron Lundy, Salty Brine, Bob Steele, and so many, many more. These names I’ve dropped are all no longer on the radio. Terrestrial radio anyway. We radio geeks like to think they are now Rockin’ N Rollin’ the hinges off the pearly gates.

Everyone can understand the circle of life. People retire, people pass on.

But this past week saw the “forced retirement” of more big names in radio. Two of them that were on Los Angeles radio have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They delivered, according to what I’ve read in the trades, excellent audience ratings. So what happened?

Bill Gates once famously announced “content is king” as we entered the Internet age. Microsoft would give businesses WORD, EXCEL, PowerPoint etc. The business schools graduated a whole gaggle of spreadsheet nerds who excel at these computer tools. The Telcom Act of 1996 was the beginning of the consolidation of radio and when Wall Street would jump into this wonderful new investment opportunity.

When you look at radio stations via spreadsheets, you primarily are reducing everything to numbers. It completely eviscerates the human element from the decision making process.

Nobody turned on Steele, Lujack, Morgan, Dorman, Lundy, Brine, Steele and the rest of radio’s iconic personalities and said, “I’m going to get me some great content.” We turned on our favorite radio station because the people behind the microphone were members of our family. We enjoyed spending time with them. We knew that what we were experiencing, they were experiencing right along with us. They were local & live.

Radio is an art form. When you remove the artists, there’s not much left.

Radio is a pretty simple business. You play recordings people want to hear, you keep your hand on the pulse of the community you’re licensed to serve and report on what’s going on that people need to know and you hire personalities that become the audio glue that keep it all together running smoothly and engage the listener.

To support the expense of doing all of this, you work with businesses to expose their products and services to the audience you’ve attracted to your radio station.

The irony with today’s radio is that more radio stations operate out of a single location than at any time in radio’s 95 year history, but with less people per station than at any time in that same history. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rick Moranis (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) return to make a new movie about today’s radio called “Honey, I Shrunk the Staff.”

Frederick Allan “Rick” Moranis, a native Canadian, was a disc jockey on three Toronto radio stations back in the mid-70s performing on the radio under the name “Rick Allan.”

No one has a clue how much the employment in the radio industry has shrunk as the industry rushed to consolidate. What we do know is when you walk into any of these huge clusters; there are rows of empty cubicles, offices that are no longer occupied – it can be depressing.

I’m not saying that radio, like every other business, shouldn’t be running more efficiently and taking advantage of technology to control the costs of operation. But the buzz you hear is that the fat cutting has become cutting the bone.

As Ken Levine wrote in his blog about the state of the radio industry:

“In the past when a great disc jockey got fired he would simply show up elsewhere. But who knows today? Nobody is hiring. They’re all just firing.”

Today’s radio is being driven by Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations trying to put a pretty face on the new strategy. But radio is more than just studios, transmitters, and now websites/social media, radio is made up of people, albeit fewer of them by the day.

Radio was never a just a job. Radio was a mission inspired by people who were passionate about all the medium could be. Everyone inside a radio station worked towards this common goal, just like the people at Google, Apple, Southwest – to name a few – do.

People didn’t get into radio, radio got into people.

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Attention to Detail

I just finished reading Ron Jacob’s book “KHJ Inside Boss Radio.”  It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.  It’s out of print, but a new & improved Kindle version is now available from Amazon that brings in more detail about the birth of this legendary Los Angeles Top 40 radio station.

May 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Boss Radio – 93 KHJ.

One of the really unique aspects of this book, that will have any radio geek savoring, are the volume of memos written by Ron Jacobs and sent to his Boss Jocks; Robert W. Morgan & The Real Don Steele among them.

Ron Jacobs competed against Bill Drake in Fresno, California. When Drake was hired by RKO Radio to turn things around at their decrepit AM 930 “K-indness H-ope & J-oy” he hired the guy who gave him the most competition; Ron Jacobs. Together they would launch a new contemporary sound on the radio and Top 40 Radio would never be the same.

Ron Jacobs later in life would interview Bill Drake and that’s also quite an interesting read.

What I learned as I poured though the memos Ron Jacobs wrote over his four years at KHJ was his tremendous attention to detail. Ron was a talented air personality in his own right, but he never did an air shift at KHJ. I asked Ron that very question and he said the only time he was ever heard on KHJ was in a promotional bit involving his most famous summer promotion “The Big Kahuna.” What Ron DID do was listen to his radio station. Relentlessly.

Think about that for a moment; one radio station and disc jockeys with 3-hour air shifts and a program director that wasn’t on the air.

Ron worried about EVERYTHING. He also dreamed up incredible promotions for the station; so many in fact, that a new one might be beginning before the current one ended. Oh and Ron told me he had a $50,000/month promotions budget (1965-1969).

RKO had two media properties in Los Angeles in the 60s; KHJ-TV9 and 93-KHJ. All the money was made on KHJ-TV, until the team of Jacobs/Drake launched Boss Radio. The station became so successful that it would out-bill the TV property and of course, the format would be placed all across America on other RKO owned and operated radio stations (The Drake Format).

But it’s not just radio that has lost this attention to detail. A headline caught my eye that read “And then there were none.”  It was a news story about how the copy desk at The Cincinnati Enquirer was no longer going to be staffed.

For those of you, who may not be familiar with what a copy desk is or does at a newspaper, let me explain. The copy desk is where the copy editors work. Copy editors read over the copy composed by journalists for things like spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage and a continuity of style that make a newspaper’s published prose look polished and professional. Copy editors also ask those awkward questions like: Is this clear? Is this right? Is this plagiarized? Is this libelous? Is this a story? Is this true?

Sounds like a lot of attention to detail, much akin to what I read in the memos of Ron Jacobs to his Boss Jocks.

I’m sure there are similar stories in TV land too.

Watching the Golden Globes the other night, I couldn’t help but notice the TV winners were from places like Amazon, Netflix, Showtime and HBO, and not ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX et al. What separated the winners from the losers? I would profess it was attention to detail.

If TV viewership, newspaper readership, radio listenership are down, might it be the fault of the decision of trying to save your way to success?

I’m sure you know of a TV station, newspaper or radio station that sees the world differently. Pays attention to detail and owns the loyalty of their audience.

Call me naïve, but I believe if you build a media property with attention to detail, they will come.

It’s a universal law of success.

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