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.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Chris Johnston. said...

Well thank you, but if you could tell me what you see as positive change and which stories have touched a nerve more with you, then I can focus on ways to improve.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Bill, my brother, emailed your article to me. It sure brought back a lot of good memories.

Chris Johnston. said...

Sandy: I was a huge fan of Bill's. Thank you for checking in. You are blessed with a gifted and talented brother and bottomline overall neat guy.

Anonymous said...

Deception, sleight of hand & Jim Lohse are one-in-the-same! Undoubtedly one of the biggest clowns radio has ever seen... And speaking of sleight of hand, he met his demise by his OWN hand a few years later in Cincinnati...

jcburns said...

Bill Smith—not only a huge radio talent, but amazingly friendly, generous and encouraging to anyone who expressed any interest at all in radio or broadcasting in general. A true hall of famer.