Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Magic of Columbus Nightime Radio

I've written before about broadcast announcer Bill Smith.

Bill was a member of the WTVN 610 air staff when the station was playing contemporary music splashed with great oldies. An AM station playing music tells you how long it's been since Bill's voiced graced the Columbus airwaves.

The image to the left is Bill taken from an advertisement that appeared in the May 2, 1974 Columbus Dispatch. For you broadcast and audio professionals, note the bird cage microphone that was used by TVN at the time.

WTVN's imaging, especially in todays world, would be considered amateurish. Yet that imaging made them the perceived "giants" of Columbus radio. As a matter of fact, they called themselves the Full Service Giant. They used a jingle package that used the theme Friends, not Rachel and Ross, as its cornerstone. WTVN called the music played the Great Blend of Music.

But unlike todays radio formats that appeal to our most base of senses, the WTVN of that day was safe. And yet being safe didn't mean not entertaining. The music, while contemporary, never ventured into being overly top 40ish. There was a sprinkling of standards from Sinatra, Dean Martin and others. There were 610 Flashbacks, not drug induced flashbacks, but select truly golden oldies. The format was not "tight". The station would play abbreviated instrumentals from such artists as Booker T and the MGs, the Nite Liters, the Ventures, Peter Nero, The Aldrich Brothers and others to get to the top and bottom of the hour news. They were the radio home of Paul Harvey. It would be so neat to hear that format today.

While I listened to Smith during his earlier WTVN days when he held the late evening and overnight time slots, I really got tuned in when he was promoted to the evening 6:30 to 11 pm time slot.

The sad thing is, despite the ad indicating Bill was a ratings leader, most people in Columbus would give you blank stares if you mentioned his name. He simply wasn't in a key time slot or in the market long enough to make a forever imprint.

Smith had every on air broadcast quality that I wished I had. That's not to say my goal was to be a drone clone, but rather be gifted with his talents and incorporate them into me.

Bill fit the TVN format like a glove. He was playful, yet safe. His voice imparted friendship that complimented the on air imaging jingle package. As you can tell by the 1973-74 photo, he was contemporary , yet respectable. Bill knew who he was and packaged himself well.

In April or May of 1974, WTVN decided to overhaul and retool it's afternoon drive host spot. That was the second time the afternoon drive shift was open in a little over a year.

The beginnings of all the changes began in early 1973. Long time and very popular afternoon drive host Bob Conners took a flyer and left WTVN to host the morning drive slot at rival WBNS. The vacuum left by Conners made way for then WTVN evening host Dave Parr to be elevated to the afternoon slot.

Bill Smith to me was like Bill Smith. He had that "something" that made him an audience magnet. Meanwhile Parr, while solid, just didn't seem to fill the huge shoes Conners had left. And Parr was a good replacement.

Whether Parr was orginally the actual long term replacement for Conners or just someone to plug in while a search for a true replacement began, only TVN management at the time and maybe Dave Parr knows.

The upside to all this is due to the Conners departure in early 1973 and the movement of Parr to the afternoon slot to replace him, Smith was elevated to the evening show.

It gave Bill a more attractive and exposed daypart.

Here's where the story gets interesting. By the spring of 1974, WTVN announced Parr would be leaving the afternoon drive spot and be moving to sister station WTVN-FM to host the morning show as a beautiful music announcer. Thus, a new personality would be needed for afternoon drive.

David Drake, media reporter at that time of the old Columbus Citizen-Journal, noted in one of his columns that radio competitors "in the Columbus market breathed a sigh of relief" when the station went outside their studios and hired Phil Whitelaw. Smith was left in the evening slot.

When asked why Smith wasn't elevated to the prestigious afternoon drive time period, then WTVN program director Jim Lohse responded that Bill "elected to further solidify his current evening slot". My guess is corporate deception and response to questions slight of hand was alive and well in that statement.

Plus I always had the feeling when visiting Bill at the studio that he and Lohse didn't always see eye to eye. For it wasn't long after the Whitelaw hit the airwaves that Bill packed up and left for Boston and a gig at powerhouse WBZ.

Maybe it was all for the better. The morning gig at WBNS apparently didn't suit Conners, especially after teaming him with his "Perfect Partner". (That's a story for another time.) Bob was back in his old afternoon slot by early 1976. Although Smith was gone by that time, had he stayed, he may have become a casualty of Conners return as Whitelaw was soon gone on Conners return.

Bill was a great guy. He was always generous. After he left the market, I got a gig at suburban WBBY working for Wild Bill. We needed liners and Bill agreed to voice them at no charge. He did a great job. And the effort got me deep brownie points for Bill's generosity.

Bill's still in Boston. He's lived half of the old WKRP show theme. While's he not left Boston, he has been up and down the dial. I understand he currently resides as production director for talk station WRKO.

The picture to the left was found on the web and shows a recent Smith photo relaxing in his home studio where he records local artists in the blues and jazz genre. Reading the reviews of his work from those who have had work produced in the studio reaffirms my belief that he continues to be a talented and generous pro.

Someday, somehow we need Smith back in this market. Maybe through the marvels of the web someday we can once again hear Bill segue to the next song and smile as he tells us we're listening to the magic of Columbus nighttime radio.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Money Talk Radio

>Sonny Bloch was unique. He had a personality that was reassuring to the callers and listeners. He gently handled people who called his show with financial questions and financial difficulties. In todays world of talk show hosts pushing the edge with their flaming commentary, calling people twits and use of hot button topics, I've wondered if a program with the on air qualities of Sonny's could survive.

Sonny always appeared to be at your service.

I was impressed by the fact he would suggest mutual funds to review for purchase. And he named them. This was one of the first times I heard a talk show host do that. Traditionally hosts would use words "find a good growth mutual fund" and let you guess what they were talking about. Hello! I was a rube from the hustings. Sonny named them, told their minimum investment amounts, talked about load funds vs no load funds and 12-b1 fees. All without becoming overly technical.

As a person who had no idea what mutual funds were all about, that was a huge breakthrough for me. I now had a realistic benchmark to work from.

Two funds that were often mentioned were Financial Industrial Income and the Fidelity Contrafund. Both were quality funds in the late 80's and early 90's. Money Magazine was a big fan of both funds. But here was someone who had a comforting personna and what appeared to be the heart of a well meaining teacher. Fidelity Contrafund is still one of the better funds out there. Financial Industrial Income got absorded into another group and I've lost track of it. I own Contra to this day.

Sonny taught me to what to look for in a Morningstar report. Where to find the information for free (this was before the internet revolution). He suggested term insurance over whole life. Although he talked about leveraged debt, he wasn't a huge debt proponent. All that information laid the foundation for the knowledge I have today.

I became a huge fan of his program. A financial rube from Ohio was getting an education. I envied his ability to connect with is listeners. If he was connecting with me, then he could connect with anyone.

The station in my town that carried his show would often cover it with sporting events since the show aired from 5-9 pm. I would turn on my old tube Zenith radio and dial in the show. At first it was WABC and then later WOR both from New York City. Because they both are 50kw stations, their signals bounced to Ohio in the evening sky.

Often I would listen to learn. Other times, I would listen to try to learn to emulate his on air presentation. Man, was it smooth.

I eventually had the opportunity to meet him at his home in New York City on East 63rd Street. Yes, I called one evening and he invited me to his home while on a trip to the City. Simply because I was a fan. Not many hosts would do that.

And despite all the good things Sonny taught me and the hospitality he showed me, he was a crook.

Besides some solid advice, Sonny was also promoting via advertisements wireless cable, precious metals from a dealer who was selling, or rather selling but not delivering the goods. He also began selling unlicensed securities in broadcast properties that he bought to air his show as well as other shows he had syndicated on a network he had ownership.

By 1994, the walls were caving in on Sonny Bloch. Prosecutors say Mr. Bloch and others used the "Sonny Bloch Show," broadcast on 170 stations, to promote investments in unprofitable radio stations and marginal wireless- cable operations.

He moved his operations to the Domican Republic to avoid prosecution assuming he was safe from extradition.

Not a smart move. He was extradited.

By October of 1996, Irwin H. (Sonny) Bloch, who had been host of one of the nation's longest-running financial talk shows, was sentenced in United States District Court in Manhattan to 21 months in prison for personal and corporate income-tax evasion and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also was to serve 750 hours of community service all from a plea of failing to report $263,000 in personal income tax in 1991, 1992 and 193.

Mr. Bloch, 60, who previously pleaded guilty to seven counts, was also sentenced to three years of probation during which he would provide 750 hours of community service.

In his plea, Mr. Bloch admitted that he failed to report $263,406 in personal income in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

While in prison, news reports noted he was assisting the prison staff with financial matters.

But it soon all came to an end. By March 10, 1998 Sonny Bloch was dead of cancer. He reportedly told the court in his appeal to the court to die outside the confines of bars that the cancer was retribution for his acts. He was allowed to go live with relatives under house arrest as he was only expected to live no longer than 6 months. The court allowed him to die in peace with family.

From portion a New York Times article reporting on his death in July of 1998 noted

On his show, he dispensed financial tips with folksy warmth -- advice that was, by all accounts, solid and sometimes sophisticated, especially concerning real estate. A self-described consumer advocate, he produced several seminars and six books of financial advice.

''He was everybody's friend -- we felt he knew us all,'' said Jean Goldsmith, an 89-year-old widow who lives on the Upper East Side and invested $35,000 in the radio and cable securities. ''Everybody simply adored him. He gave some wonderful, wonderful advice. He made a lot of money for people.''

Sonny Bloch taught me my first lessons in finances. Thankfully, the lessons I learned taught me to stay away from the frauds advertised and promoted on his show that cost many other listeners in some cases their life savings.Irwin "Sonny" Bloch.

In the late 80's I first heard his radio show returning from a business trip to Detroit. I was hooked.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Four Corners

Someone once asked my why I named the blog Four Corners since I've never written anything remotely resembling anything to do with 4 corners.

I named the site after the only place in the United States where four states share a common corner boundry. The location is the tips of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

The Four Corners is for lack of a better term an odd place. Despite the United States being comprised of 50 unique states, it is only at that point where four borders come together.

And that's the tie in. This is a unique place where odd things are shared and discussed.

Diana and I like searching out and going to odd places. We've found the origins or rivers, the place where states join and unique and beautiful places. We've been to the birthplace of Presidents and the burial place of the same.

One of my goals was to go to the Four Corners. Last spring I made it.

Sometime in the next few years, I would like to travel to upper Minnesota and see the origins of the Mississippi River. And the nearby point where three directions of water divides come together to send water to various points to the sea.

As I come across more oddities, I'll pass them along. And of course write about the things that cross my mind or have an important place in my life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


FPU class ended last night.

What a great class. This is the first time everyone in the class "got it". They accepted the challenges of a budget and debt free living.

This is the 4th class I've been involved with and usually by about the 8th week I'm ready for it to end. This time there wasn't a week where I started the "how many classes" to the end countdown. I love doing the class, but it drags you down when people begin losing interest or don't get it.

We graduated everyone who started the class.

These people were ready to change their family tree.
It really was an inspiration.

New Digs

So many of my writings recently have been radio focused. Growing up, radio was an important part of my life. I went nowhere without a radio. I loved listening to the creative people who weaved their personalities into the music they played on the air.

I've written about radio people who have made an impact in my life.

I had always wanted a career hosting radio programs, but the desire of radio outlets to use my talents seemed to always be far less than my desire to work for them. Such sometimes is life.

And over the past 30+ years, I've worked partime on and off at various radio stations in my market. Most recently, I've been blessed to be a host at WOSU radio. I've been working there off and on since 1987, first as the host of Big Band program. When that program was discontinued in the early 90's, I've been a fill in host for a Bluegrass format. Two years ago, I was elevated to be one of the three rotating hosts.

Bluegrass music for me has been an adventure. I never knew much about it and frankly seldom listened to it prior to doing the radio show. While the other two hosts had a broad range of experience and exposure to the genre, I was like a fish out of water. My hosting experience has been a baptism while under fire. I knew of a couple of songs and about a handful of artists names. I can't sing or pick and most people would head for the hills if I attempted to do so. It wouldn't be pretty. Thankfully the station, the other hosts and the listening public have accepted this rookie.

So for me, Bluegrass was an acquired taste. Everyday I learn something new about the music. And the more I learn and the more comfortable I get with it, the more I have been enjoying it.

Recently the radio station moved us into new studios. I feel like Jean-Luc Picard
at the helm of the Enterprise. Doesn't looking at the picture at the top of the page sort of explain why?