The Traumatic “First Radio Firing” & Unemployment Benefits

One of my radio friends contacted me yesterday. She had just been fired and wanted advice as to what she should do next. All of us seasoned radio vets know that being fired is just a regular part of the business. “You ain’t no real broadcaster until you’ve been fired at least 3 times!” My friend is new to this business, however. She’s only been in radio for a few years. This is her first termination. Naturally, she’s panicked, emotional, and wondering “what did I do wrong?”

Because this is radio, the station is contesting her eligibility for unemployment benefits. This also comes with the territory. Out of all the times I was fired in radio (there were several), I can only think of two times when management didn’t attempt to deny my claim. In one case, the station had been sold and the entire airstaff was let go. Not much grounds for contention there. Especially since the station apparently failed to pay state unemployment tax on my behalf. Which of course I learned when I went to apply for benefits. In the other case, they didn’t bother to contest because the program director who had fired me was himself terminated for cause shortly thereafter. Trying to explain that to the Division of Labor might have become a bit messy. In every other instance, the station attempted to deny my benefits. Some would stretch the truth while others would outright lie in order to stop me from collecting what was rightfully mine. My favorite was an operation in Florida which claimed “theft of station equipment” as grounds for my dismissal. The item in question was a frequency spectrum analyzer which the chief engineer had reported missing. It was later returned, but damaged. I had no use for this piece of equipment. However, our weekend jock who also just happened to be operating a pirate FM station in his spare time found it a very useful tool in the calibration of his transmitter. It was my word against theirs. My benefits were denied.

Why do radio station owners/managers routinely contest legitimate unemployment benefit claims by their former employees? The first reason is money, of course. In most states, the employer’s unemployment insurance premium is determined in part by their claim history. The more claims, the more they pay. So there is an incentive to contest all claims against the station, valid or otherwise. The other reason is ego. The radio industry is full of egomaniacs. Some of them eventually end up in the GM chair. This is especially true if it involves a disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind. It becomes a grudge match. Management/ownership knows the unemployment benefit process better than the average jock who has just been terminated. Within the state system, there are a limited number of appeals available for denial of benefits. Once the appeals process is exhausted, the ex-employee has 2 options: drop their claim or hire an attorney and pursue civil litigation against the company. How many unemployed radio folks have the resources to do this? Very few. Management/ownership knows this. They use the process to their advantage.

Back to my newly-fired friend: I told her to hang in there. “It’s not you, it’s the business.” She’s very talented and extremely good at asserting/promoting herself. Despite the extremely tight job market for air talent today, I don’t think she’ll have any problem finding another job. Consider it a blessing to be out of a bad situation. I’ve always said “Why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t want you working for them?” She’ll be fine. If you’re reading this and happen to be in the same situation, things will work out for you also. “It’s not you. It’s the business.”

U100 WYOO AM/FM Minneapolis/St. Paul Revisited

38 years ago today, the greatest radio station in Twin Cities history pulled the plug and went dark. Now of course, that’s my personal opinion and many will disagree. But in my mind, U100 aka “The Supah Yeww” will always be the ultimate radio station to ever grace the Minneapolis/St. Paul airwaves.

U100 was actually two stations, simulcasting as one: 980 AM and 101.3 FM. These stations began life as WPBC, the People’s Broadcasting Company. Husband and wife team Bill and Becky Ann Stewart owned the stations. The format was best described as Easy Listening. Or, as WPBC put it in their promotional announcements: “Playing more of the prettier, popular music for easier listening.” The Metropolitan Opera was broadcast on Saturdays. Rock and roll was absolutely forbidden on WPBC. It was rumored that Becky Ann even went as far as to scratch out album cuts which were “too loud” with the point of a compass in order to keep the airstaff from playing them.

In 1972, WPBC AM/FM were sold to Fairchild Industries. The stations were split and both formats were flipped. WYOO-AM 980 “The New YOO in the Twin Cities” broadcast a mix of mostly 1950s oldies and nostalgia programming. WRAH-FM 101.3 “Rah-dio for the Twin Cities” was automated, focusing on rock album cuts. The results were disappointing, both in terms or ratings and advertising revenue. Less than 2 years later, management made the decision to flip both stations to an AM/FM simulcast hybrid Rock/Top 40 format.

U100 was born on August 26, 1974. Live at the Minnesota State Fair, Program Director Rob Sherwood abruptly brought an end to WYOO’s Oldies format. Throwing the cart across the trailer, he promised not to play any more “turkey records.” Rob then played Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”, announcing that since he had left KDWB five months earlier with this song, “I guess I’ll come back with this song. A new era in Twin Cities broadcasting…as we introduce you to boogie! Are you ready to boogie?” This was followed by a montage of the entire U100 jingle package. Which in turn was followed by the J. Geils Band’s “Give it to Me.”

U100 was in many ways an innovative station far ahead of it’s time. For starters, they broadcast in FM Stereo as well as standard AM. This was a big deal in 1974. All of WYOO’s competitors were available on AM only. The format was “Rock 40″, more than 10 years before Dan Kieley coined the term at KKRC/Sioux Falls. Sure, U100 played the current Top 40 hits by KC & the Sunshine Band, Wild Cherry, Hall & Oates, and Elton John. But they also played album cuts from Led Zeppelin, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others. They also played the longer album versions of current hits, rather than the short “45 versions.” Two that immediately come to mind are “She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates and “Miracles” by Jefferson Starship. The latter was somewhat controversial due to it’s racy lyric content.

Which leads me to the most important reason I loved U100: their DJs were radical. Always pushing the envelope. The station even billed itself as “OUTRAGEOUS!” in their promotional literature. Drug references were subtle but frequent. The infamous “U100 Grabs Me” T-shirt had a pair of hands strategically placed right where a female’s ‘special features’ would be. Afternoon jock Chucker Morgan called himself “The Mother Chucker”, a play on words for you-know-what. He also hosted “Chucker’s Leak Line” where kids could call and leak test answers to other students. Parents and teachers hated that feature, of course. Teenagers loved it! Each weeknight at 10:30, “Boogie Check” allowed listeners to call in and speak their mind, tell a joke, or whatever. I had just started the 7th grade at Valley Middle school when U100 went off the air. It was an absolutely huge deal around school. Many kids wore their U100 T-shirts backwards or inside-out in protest. It was like losing a friend. More than any other radio station, it was U100 that inspired me to pursue a career of my own behind the microphone. John Records Landecker of WLS was the jock who had the most influence on me, but WYOO was my most influential station.

Why did U100 die? Depends on who you ask. Some claim it was simply impossible for them to compete against 3 other well-established stations. Minneapolis/St. Paul was unique in that it was the only market at the time with FOUR Top 40 outlets. KDWB-AM 630 and WDGY AM-1130 had been playing rock and roll since the 1950s. KSTP AM-1500 was a fairly recent convert to the format but had the money and the muscle of Stanley S. Hubbard’s Hubbard Broadcasting behind them. All 3 of U100′s competitors had bigger budgets and larger promotional warchests. Others claim that Doubleday (KDWB’s parent company) made Fairchild an offer for their FM frequency that was simply too good to pass up. By this time, it was early 1976. Top 40 stations had begun migrating from AM to FM in select markets. Smart programmers and owners knew the future of this format was in high fidelity FM stereo, not scratchy AM mono. In any case, the FM station was sold to Doubleday and would become KDWB-FM 101.3. Since FCC rules prohibited a company from owning more than one AM and one FM per market, the AM facility was sold to local Beautiful Music broadcaster WAYL-FM.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, September 15, 1976, U100 night DJ JoJo Gunne played the station’s signature song: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” At it’s conclusion, JoJo thanked the audience, saying “Remember, I love ya”, kissing the microphone, and then “We gone, bye bye” into Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” At the song’s conclusion, just a hurried Legal ID: “WYOO AM and FM stereo Richfield now leaves the air.” The transmitter was quickly turned off, presumably to comply with the 12:00:00 deadline. Just like that, the greatest radio station in Twin Cities history was gone forever. Across town, KDWB overnight DJ Mark Ranier gleefully announced “and they just went down for the last time!”

At 6:00AM on September 16, KDWB began their 101.3 FM simulcast as “The All New KDWB, FM-101 and AM-63.” On Monday, September 20, WAYL assumed control of the 980 AM frequency. I find it amazing how a station that was on the air for barely 2 years had such a profound effect on Twin Cities radio and it’s listeners. To this day, people in Minnesota still remember and reminisce about “The Boogie Station”, “Fun Lovin’ Super U”, “The Acapulco Gold Countdown”, and of course “Boogie Check.” For those of us lucky enough to grow up in that time and place, the day the music died was exactly 38 years ago today. Right On, Super Yeww!

Is AM Radio Dead in 2014?

That was the question posed to the “I Love AM Radio” Facebook group yesterday. A lively discussion ensued, eliciting over 100 responses before the end of the day.

Many seem to feel that AM radio is doomed. Headed towards the ash heap of history, alongside spark gap transmitters and teletype machines. Others feel AM radio is still relevant in 2014 and needs to be given a new lease on life.

Here’s my two cents: “It depends.” If the AM station in question is simply churning out the same syndicated programming that can be heard in 12 other places on the dial, it’s doomed. If the station’s owners treat it as an afterthought: a poor red-haired stepchild to the 5 FMs in their cluster, it’s doomed. If nothing is done to improve the audio quality of the station, it’s doomed.

Contrary to popular belief, music can actually sound very good on AM radio IF the owners are willing to spend a little time and money. Anyone here remember the final “Musicradio” days of WLS/Chicago? They were broadcasting in AM stereo, utilizing the Motorola C-QUAM system. The audio was gorgeous. I was working in Garden City, Kansas at the time. At night, I would sit in the station vehicle and listen to Turi Ryder, amazed at the sound quality I was receiving from nearly 900 miles away. The best example I can recommend today is Ionia Michigan’s WION-AM 1430. Give ‘em a listen when you have a chance and let me know what you think. Yes, that is the actual air signal that is being streamed! This is a small market, independently-owned station. They don’t have a million bucks to spend on engineering. Proving that it doesn’t take a huge budget or an army of engineers to make AM sound good!

Then, there’s the programming issue. In order for an AM station (or ANY station) to survive, it needs to provide compelling, innovative programming. Serve your local community! Give your listeners what they can’t get from a satellite syndicated corporate clone. If it’s good, they will listen. They will tell their friends. Some of their friends are potential advertisers. You get the picture. Make your AM station a facility worth listening to and you will have listeners. Pretty simple, really.

I grew up on AM radio. So of course, I’m somewhat sentimental about this and would hate to see it go by the wayside. But I firmly believe that with a bit of effort spent on programming and technical improvements, AM radio is most certainly still viable in 2014.

High School Football Games = AM DX Opportunities

It’s that time of year again! The 2014 high school football season has begun. Friday night lights, cheerleaders, popcorn, and…all too often…AM radio stations that stay on their daytime power/directional pattern in order to broadcast the games.

I call these “football emergencies.” Many AM stations which are required to drastically reduce power and/or use a restrictive directional pattern at night will conveniently “forget” to drop to their required after sunset parameters when broadcasting play-by-play of local sporting events. The reason is so that more listeners (and advertisers) can receive the games clearly. Problem is, this is a blatant violation of FCC rules. The FCC does allow AM stations to operate their daytime facilities during bonafide emergencies. These include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and floods. Some program directors and general managers seem to believe this rule also applies to high school football games.

A quick scan through the AM dial on an autumn Friday night reveals several potential violators. In the age of the Internet, it’s pretty easy to determine who you should and should not be hearing from your location. Once you’ve made a positive ID on the station, check their coverage map at radio-locator.com. If you’re hearing a station from 200 miles away that is licensed for 170 watts nighttime and you’re in their directional null, it’s a pretty good bet they’re not operating within their night parameters! To confirm, try to receive this same station on a different evening. My guess is that you won’t hear a trace of them.

Since we’re not FCC enforcement agents, we might as well turn lemons into lemonade. I consider these “football emergencies” to be great DXing opportunities. This is your chance to log stations which would otherwise be impossible from your location. It’s usually very easy to identify stations running local ball games since the towns will be mentioned frequently. Also, these games tend to be heavily sponsored by local merchants. Small town advertisers almost always include their locations in their spots. “Joe Blow’s Construction, located at 123 Main Street in Anytown. Joe Blow’s Construction. Call them today at 666-3333. Joe Blow’s Construction, for all your construction needs.” These ads stick out of the pile like a sore thumb.

Let us know what you’re hearing during these “football emergencies.” Happy DX’ing!

Dan Donovan (Blaine Harvey) aka “The Geezer” Dies

Dan Donovan passed away over Labor Day weekend. I grew up listening to Dan in the Twin Cities: first on KS95 (KSTP-FM 94.5) and then on KOOL 108 (KQQL-FM 107.9.) He was one of the best. Known as “The Geezer” or simply “The Geez” during his tenure on KOOL, Dan always performed a very energetic afternoon show. He was definitely an “old school” jock with tons of personality. As a kid who aspired to be on the radio when I grew up, Dan was one of my influences. I rarely missed “the Donovan Disaster.”

Prior to his arrival in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dan worked at legendary AM Top 40 outlets WMEX-AM 1510 in Boston and WFIL-AM 560 in Philadelphia. He will be missed.

WHEO-AM 1270 Stuart, Virginia Signing Off for Good

Another independent hometown radio station bites the dust. WHEO-AM 1270 in Stuart, Virginia will be signing off permanently the end of this month. Patrick County will be losing it’s only radio station.

Reason? You guessed it: ad revenue has declined to the point where it is no longer feasible for the station to operate. WHEO has been on the air since 1959, providing local news and information. Sadly, 55 years of broadcasting will come to an abrupt end this coming Sunday.

Radio Geek Heaven Has Moved…Sort Of!

It’s summer cleaning time here at RadioGeekHeaven.com. You may have noticed that our URL has changed slightly. We are now simply http://radiogeekheaven.com. Easier to remember. Easier to type into your phone and other handheld devices.

If you’ve been accessing us from www.radiogeekheaven.com, you don’t need to do anything. You should be forwarded automatically to the new domain.

If you have been using drewdurigan.com/radiogeekheaven, you will need to update your bookmarks and other related stuff.

If you’ve found our homepage through the search engines and are encountering a 404 error when attempting to access another page, simply change http://drewdurigan.com/radiogeekheaven/example to http://radiogeekheaven.com/example on your web browser. Of course, “example” being the name of the page that you are looking for.

Thanks for your patience as I do some long overdue maintenance and overhauling of this site. The end result will be a “new and improved” RadioGeekHeaven.com for all to enjoy!

-Drew (Geek in Chief)

The King of Countdowns is Gone: Casey Kasem, Dead at 82

I am heartbroken. One of my biggest radio idols has passed away. Casey Kasem died earlier today. He was 82.

When I was 9 years old, I discovered American Top 40 while visiting my grandparents in North Dakota. I was riding my bike, tuning the dial on my red and white Arvin Bike Radio when I came across something I’d never heard before: a DJ counting down the Top 40 songs from #40 to #1. The station airing this amazing program was KNOX-AM 1310 in Grand Forks. Even though I was only 9, I already knew the difference between local disc jockeys and nationally syndicated programs. After I got back home to Minnesota, I anxiously scanned the dial for Casey’s voice but couldn’t find it anywhere. Our local station KDWB-AM 630 did not pick up American Top 40 until the first week of January, 1974. Finally, I caught a segment of the broadcast on KOIL-AM 1290 out of Omaha. The KOIL signal was tough to hear since it received interference from stations on the same frequency in Peoria, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Still, I was able to catch enough to identify each song and it’s number in the countdown.

From that moment, I was hooked. Each Sunday night, I was glued to my radio from 7-10. Make that 7-11 after the show expanded to 4 hours in October, 1978. I had a dedicated Spiral notebook in which I would write each song, artist, chart position, and change from last week’s chart position. Later, I began recording and saving the shows. My weekly allowance didn’t provide for enough blank tapes to record every show, but I managed to save quite a few. I still have them, including several which I originally archived onto 8-track tapes! The biggest American Top 40 event was the annual Top 100 of the year. It aired in 2 parts over Christmas and New Year’s weekends.

When I started at my first radio job in 1983, I was thrilled to learn we were an AT 40 affiliate station! It was then that I discovered the show was sent to stations on vinyl records. I also learned from the cue sheets that the American Top 40 theme music was actually called the “Shuckatoom Theme.” Since the following weekend’s show usually arrived at the station by Thursday, I now knew what the #1 song was 2 days before anyone else. I thought having access to this “inside information” was VERY cool!

Although I never had the chance to meet Casey Kasem, I feel as if I knew him. I guess that’s what happens when you spend 3-4 hours each week with someone for over 20 years. He was one of my earliest and biggest on-air influences. With the possible exception of John Records Landecker from WLS/Chicago, this man inspired me more than any other to pursue a career as a radio broadcaster. Although American Top 40 lives on with Ryan Seacrest, there will never be another voice, another host, another talent like Casey Kasem. Thanks for the memories and for all you’ve contributed to radio over the years.

And the countdown continues…

The Big Move to Iowa: KKEZ-FM (Z94) Fort Dodge 1986-87

On the third Friday in August, 1986, I arrived in Fort Dodge, Iowa. After checking into Super 8 for the night, I woke up early the next morning to begin my new adventure. This was back in the days when it was inexpensive and easy to find a place to live. You didn’t need to submit to a credit check, a criminal background check, or pay an exorbitant deposit. I went to the radio station, grabbed the want ads, and began making phone calls. By that afternoon, I was living in my new home: the upper half of a house that had been converted into duplexes. It was just a few blocks from the radio station. My rent was $185 per month “plus lights” (electricity.) The landlady said “You look like an honest young man. You can pay the deposit ($100) after you get your first paycheck.” This was a good thing. I had a total of $300 to my name at that point. After unloading my stuff from the car (Rule #1 of radio: NEVER own more stuff than you can fit in your car), I walked up to the station and met a couple of the weekend guys. When their shifts ended, they took me to Godfather’s for pizza and beer. Welcome to Iowa!

Monday, August 18 was my first night at KKEZ. At this point, we were still “Fort Dodge’s Hit Radio 94, KKEZ.” Two weeks later, we would become the hot rockin’, flamethrowin’ Z94! This could easily have become an uncomfortable situation: several long-time airstaffers had recently been fired in order to accommodate the format change. A few others had been “reassigned” but were still in the building. I’ve always said that one of the greatest benefits of working nights is that you don’t have to deal with the office politics! By the time I showed up at 6PM, all the “day people” were gone. Plus, I was so excited about being at a new station in a larger market that I didn’t care. I just got on the mic and gave it all I had to give!

I was still very “raw” and inexperienced on-the-air. Yet, Jim Davis (my Program Director) believed in me. He gave me a ton of freedom to have fun with the listeners and develop as an air personality. Jim was an experienced broadcaster and programmer. He had worked for KOIL-AM 1290 in Omaha and KIOA-AM 940 in Des Moines. Both of these were legendary, heritage AM Top 40 stations in the Upper Midwest. Jim was very good to me and taught me well. KKEZ was the station where I learned to do good, solid phone bits. It’s also where I became serious about airchecking and reviewing my air work. EVERY show was recorded. After work, I would listen back to the entire tape at home, making mental notes about what to correct and how to improve for the following night’s broadcast.

I made some good friends at KKEZ and sister station KWMT-AM 540. Jane E. Morgan, Phil Jaye, Jim Davis, and Duane Murley are still in radio today. We keep in touch. In fact, Jane and Duane are still at KKEZ/KWMT. It was a great place and a great time to be working as a broadcaster. I was being paid fairly well, had a great boss, and was cultivating a loyal nighttime audience that enjoyed what I was doing on the radio. I was really happy here, as evidenced on this composite aircheck.

All good things must come to an end. In March, Jim Davis announced his resignation. He received a job offer too good to pass up at WLLR-FM 101.3 in the Quad Cities. His replacement was Doug MacKinnon. Doug had a long radio history in Des Moines, stretching back to the 1950s. Our General Manager reasoned that because of his experience, he would be a great candidate for mornings on-air and Program Director. Doug had some “different” ideas regarding the future direction of KKEZ. Shortly after his arrival, he called a mandatory staff meeting to outline the many changes and new rules which he had implemented. He told me “You are no longer to put callers on-the-air.” In response, I told him this was an important and essential element of my show. I was the night jock at a high-energy FM CHR station. My callers were a large part of what made my show fun and interactive. Doug’s response: “We don’t do that here. We’re not a talk station.”

Shortly thereafter, Doug MacKinnon fired me. It was not a friendly parting of the ways. I walked into the KKEZ building shortly before 6PM on Monday, March 30, 1987 to do my show. Doug was sitting there, waiting for me. When I walked up to him, he handed me my final paycheck and said “We no longer have need for your services.” If I had acted on first impulse, I would have ended up in jail on assault and battery charges. I knew better. Instead, I calmly took my paycheck from his hand. I looked right at him and said “Well, I’ll be hearing you across the dial and you can damn well bet you will be hearing me as well!” Then, I turned and walked away. The last words I ever heard from Doug were “What does that mean?” as I moved toward the exit. I said nothing. Just opened the door and walked out. Thus ended my 6 months of radio fun at Z94 KKEZ.

Although my tenure at KKEZ had been terminated, my radio days in Fort Dodge were far from over. There was a new radio station on the horizon. Don and John Linder of Mankato, Minnesota had recently purchased KRIT-FM 96.9 in Clarion, Iowa. The signal had been upgraded to 100,000 watts from a new tower north of Fort Dodge. I knew from my research that KRIT was getting ready to move into Fort Dodge and relaunch as a local operation. I had already promised myself that if Doug were to fire me, I would do everything in my power to become his primary competitor on this new station! This is what I was eluding to when I bid him my fond farewell. Was my quest successful? Sure was! I’ll tell you all about it in the next thrilling installment of “Drew’s Radio Stories!”

A Radio Geek Looks at 50

Two days ago, I celebrated my 50th birthday. It’s true, kids: your author is as old as the Ford Mustang! By the way, I’ve been thinking it would be great to commemorate this occasion by purchasing a new 2014 Mustang GT. If you’d like to contribute to the fund for my indulgence, please let me know! :-)

Most 50-year-olds are looking forward to retirement. I’m not. Instead, I’m searching for a new adventure. I don’t feel 50. Not in the least. I suppose this is because I have never been married and don’t have any kids. I basically live the same way now as I did when I was 25. Minus all the stupid things that I did in my wayward youth, of course.

On my birthday, I thought back to all the places I’ve been, all the accomplishments I’ve made, and how much the world has changed over the past 5 decades. My maternal grandmother lived to be 100 years old. She used to tell me how technology had progressed throughout her lifetime. She had witnessed the birth of the telephone, the automobile, radio, television, computers, and the Internet. Indeed, she was fortunate to have lived during the time of the greatest technological innovations this world has ever seen.

Specifically, I began thinking about all the changes radio has gone through during my life. When I was born in 1964, radio was the dominant medium in the U.S. Television was still in it’s infancy. Not everyone had a TV. But nearly every household had a radio. Most cars had radios. Aside from a few educational, “beautiful music”, and experimental stations, there was no FM to speak of. When someone said “radio”, they meant AM. Amplitude Modulation. Ancient Mary. 540 to 1600 kilohertz. Music of the Beatles had just arrived in America. The radio dial was filled with high energy, personality DJs who brought those sounds into our homes and our cars. The first song I remember hearing on the radio was “Penny Lane” at age 3.

Throughout the 1970s, commercial radio was vibrant and profitable. FM radio became a force to be reckoned with in many markets. In Minneapolis, our first Top 40 FM was WYOO-FM 101.3, known as “U100.” I remember hearing it in glorious FM stereo and thinking “the music sounds so much better on this station.” CB radio became popular, due to the truckers’ strike and the record “Convoy” by C.W. McCall. Now, the average person could talk to others by using inexpensive 2-way mobile radios in their cars and with “base stations” at home. CB radio was the cell phone and the Facebook of the 1970s and 80s.

In the 1980s, radio remained strong. FCC regulations prohibited any one entity from owning more than 7 AM, 7 FM, and 7 TV stations. This was known as “the 7-7-7 rule.” In 1985, the limits were raised to 12 AM, 12 FM, and 12 TV. So for the most part, radio stations were independently owned and operated. Now, more people listened to FM vs AM. Top 40 was now known as “CHR” or Contemporary Hit Radio. It was very much an exciting time to get started as a broadcaster, as I did in 1983. The future was bright on the airwaves!

The 1990s were the beginning of the end. “Duopoly” passed in 1992. Radio entities could now own two AM and two FM stations per market. Total ownership caps were raised to 18 AM and 18 FM stations. This profoundly changed the radio landscape in many markets. Now, instead of owning a sole FM station and trying to make it dominant, companies would often use a second frequency as a “flanker” station to protect their cash cow. If your established FM was traditional country FM, you would program “Young Country” or “New Country” on the new station. If your established FM was running a rock format, put “Alternative” or “Modern Rock” on the recently acquired station. The purpose was to “tag team” a direct competitor or to keep another company from launching a direct competitor against you. In 1996, the ownership caps were basically eliminated as the Telecommunications Act was passed. This allowed huge national conglomerates like Clear Channel and Cumulus to purchase hundreds of radio stations and operate multi-station “clusters” in several markets.

The new millennium saw increasing levels of radio consolidation. Many independent owners sold out to the national operators, often for a huge profit. Faster computers and improved Internet/Intranet technology allowed the proliferation of voice tracking. One DJ could now prerecord shows for multiple stations in their cluster and/or for multiple markets. Jobs were cut and live airstaffs reduced as companies realized the cost savings of sharing voice talent among several stations. Listeners soon discovered radio was not as entertaining as it used to be. The local disc-jockey had been replaced by an unknown voice, often emanating from several states away. First listenership, then revenues began to fall in many markets.

In 2014, radio is very much a corporate playground. In all but the smallest markets, the radio landscape is dominated by the large national conglomerates. Nationally syndicated morning hosts have replaced local talents. Radio’s share of the media pie continues to shrink. It has become a downward spiral. Faced with lower ratings and revenues, companies continue to cut payroll costs by eliminating more live personalities. This causes ratings and revenues to sink even lower. The process then repeats itself. It’s a race to the bottom. My last day on-the-air was Friday, May 21, 1999. I saw this “consolidation tsunami” approaching and decided to cash out of the game before the house of cards came tumbling down.

Can the present state of radio be reversed? I certainly hope so. Even though I have been “out” for 15 years, I still love the industry very much. The existence of this website should provide sufficient proof! I would like to get back in the game someday IF the landscape and the outlook for radio’s future were to improve markedly. That’s a big “if.” But all things are possible. Time will tell. Until then, this 50-year-old radio geek still has 5 decades of great memories to look back on.