Radio DaZe: Meet the new boss:
The next few months went by very fast. I was learning more about my craft every day and I was happy being a new father. Happy other than the fact that my son must have cried every waking moment from birth. We did have some family issues mostly relevant to our living arrangements but those will come to a head in a bit.
Unbeknownst to me and I imagine most of the staff of WCFR the Zezza’s were selling the station. I was too awestruck with the fun and excitement of actually being on the air at an honest to goodness top-40 station to notice and frankly too dumb to see the signs.
The news broke and I was still too naïve to perceive this as a threat. I was just too green to know that usually a new ownership brought in all their own people. So when they broke it to the staff I was not nervous or even concerned in the least. This probably worked in my favor.
I don’t really recall how it happened so I have pieced together this story. Dylan McDermit, the current PD quit in a snit immediately upon hearing the news.
“I’m not working for those assholes,” he said.
I’m not too sure Dylan knew those “assholes” and I suspect that Dylan considered most everybody but Dylan an asshole. Oddly enough in a forty year career in the management of radio stations I NEVER heard his name again.
The new management lined all the remaining announcers and news people up in a row.
“Anyone who wants to be the program director take a step forward,” the new owners said.
I stood still and all the rest took a step back. I was PD.
(I know, it’s an old joke. I will be honest; I really do NOT recall how I was appointed PD. I also don’t recall getting a raise.)
Wow. I had gone from unemployed and suicidal to being a new dad, a PD in charge of a real Top-40 radio station and all in less than 6 months. It was pretty heady stuff for a guy who was not yet old enough to legally drink. (I would turn 21 in a few months.)
Radio formats revolve around “Hot Clocks”- graphic representations of the hour in a round shape. I was a terrible artist so I am sure mine were crude compared to this.
Oddly enough the size of a 45 rpm record was just right to fit on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper. You drew around the outside edge of the record and then used a ruler to make the divisions.
Up until I took over WCFR was rather loosely formatted. Dylan had a laissez-faire attitude towards it, more lazy than fair. Actually, in retrospect I think Dylan saw the change in ownership coming and just didn’t give a fuck.
There were “Hot Clocks” but only in a very generic sense. The order of the top-40 songs was generated by the rack with the 40 songs in it. You played the # 1 song in the rack, then # 2 on down until you hit #40 then you started again. In between you played an “Oldie” that you picked from all the old records at random and then an “Album” cut from the stack of LP’s. Lather, rinse and repeat.
There was no real control over how often or what was played other than the 40 Top-40 songs repeated in the same order all week long until the new Billboard charts came out. It was not very scientific but it was a small town with little competition so I suppose it worked well enough.
Rick Kelly and I changed all that. To be fair I knew less about formats than Rick did. He had the advantage of having grown up close to New York City, close enough to hear WABC and more important he had the smarts to dissect what they were doing. Me, I just wanted to talk on the radio and play rock and roll records.
Together we brought WCFR into the modern era of radio formats.
The Top-40 songs were broken up into categories, “A”s were the top five most popular, “B”s were the 11 or so under the “A”s and “C”s were the 15 or so remaining. “D”s were a floating number of newer songs. These were all called “Currents.”
The Hotclocks would call for three “A”s an hour. This meant that the top five songs were repeated every 2 ½ hours. 2 “B”s an hour saw those played 5 ½ hours and so on.
In addition we created a category for songs that fell out of the current rotations called “recurrents” the idea being that songs that were popular did not just go into oldies rotations but were still being given significant airplay.
As long as the counts remained consistent the rotations worked like clockwork, but with this important difference. The songs repeated a lot but not in the same position or hour from day to day. It gave the illusion of playing more music than we really were. Of course you had to trust that the announcers would follow the rotations.
The “Oldies” got the same sort of treatment. The most popular ones were called “Power Oldies” and got played more than secondary or tertiary songs. As long as the clock “calls” and the numbers of songs in the category were carefully maintained the system worked. The rotation of oldies depended on a certain amount of trust of the announcers. Oddly enough the boxes of paper used to feed the UPI/AP teletype printers were just the right size for 45’s. The idea was you pulled the first song, played it and replaced it in the back of the box insuring rotation.
Later on there would be ways of making sure announcers complied with rotations and hotclocks. For now it was part of the PD’s job (as I saw it) to be a format “cop” and I was good at it, so good that some announcers were convinced I was peering over their shoulders. I became adept at catching DJ’s “breaking format” and was a stern taskmaster to those that dared.
Home life became somewhat tense with my promotion. First off we had taken an apartment (it was cheap, I am guessing) ABOVE the landlords. Bad idea. We were a young married couple, we had a newborn who CRIED ALLTHE TIME and…
I was in the process of learning radio management skills. I had to learn while doing so much of my time even when I was home was spent glued to tape recorders, listening to records and talking with radio addicts like me.
And I wasn’t home much.
The big problem was that I had to pretty much staff the radio station from top to bottom. Most of the old guard from the Zezza days had fled the operation like rats from a sinking ship. So I had a seemingly golden opportunity to bring in all my old radio buddies and college friends. I hired a lot of them and they all ended up sleeping on our couch while they found apartments. Plus we had more than our share of rowdy get-togethers. Drunken ones.
To be fair it must have been hell on the landlords underneath us. The Dubaneviches evicted us after a few months. It was not a happy time. Added to all this I was carrying a scary secret around with me.
I had always had “panic attacks” but now they came more often than ever, more than once daily. The rooms would become larger until I couldn’t reach door knobs. The effect was like being on acid, without having any warning of when it was to occur. The stress of being a new PD, a new boss to all these people and a new father was getting to me. I never told anyone. It was the beginning of a pattern of keeping personal problems to myself.
NEXT: We move across the river. The diet doctor. And the radio empire expands.