Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green Acres AKA WRFD

Green Acres conjures up thoughts of the 1960’s television show about a New York City lawyer who pursues his dream of owning a farm. The only problem is his dream isn’t well researched and he ends up with a dump and non productive farm land known as the Haney place.

Such was not the case with Green Meadows, which was anchored by among other things WRFD radio. The link between Green Acres and Green Meadows was agriculture. And there’s where it ended.

Green Meadows at its prime was a combination restaurant, upscale motel, summer playhouse, a series of agricultural test plots, a picnic park and all that was anchored by radio station WRFD.

Green Meadows became a destination point in the 50's and early 60's. The accommodations were for the time upscale, the restaurant among central Ohio's best and the radio station was known for quality programming. They were showplaces as much as destination points.

As mentioned the centerpiece was WRFD. It was a unique radio station. Started by the Ohio Farm Bureau to broadcast agricultural news and entertainment of interest to rural families, the station became one of the most profitable daytime only stations in the nation. Advertisers were drawn to the stations statewide signal that covered 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties with a quality signal along with the listeners it attracted. Those listeners were seen as traditional families with solid nuclear family values. On the downside, the station was limited to operate from sunrise to sunset since it was located on a clear channel frequency (880 AM) that is and was dominated by WCBS in New York City.

The WRFD broadcast house was at one time a palace. A large colonial brick structure built at the intersection of Powell Road and US Route 23 in what was then the virtual end of the civilized world as far as Columbus was concerned. The exterior of the station was similar to what you’d find at any Virginia plantation. The interior at the time it was built contained large modern studios designed for live performances.

I remember listening to the station with my father growing up. When the station signed off at sunset, it would advise listeners that additional programming was available on co-owned WRFD-FM, now contemporary powerhouse WNCI.

I was hired by WRFD in 1973, not quite yet out of high school to a multifaceted job requiring many skills. I was to run the church programs, mow the giant lawn and clean the interior office. In exchange I was paid a little over $2.00 per hour and given a 15 minute show from 6-6:15 on Sunday morning. I had made Columbus radio……until sign on advanced to 6:30 in September.

My interview at WRFD happened sometime in April or early May and the interview was done with general manager at the time Dick Via and program director at the time Len Anthony. Via’s office was large and at one end of the building. I had never seen such a large office at the time. It had a fireplace and a sofa. Although beginning to show some wear, to a still 17 year old, it was quite impressive.

I don’t remember how I was hired, but I started the first weekend of June and reported to new program director Michael O’Malley as Anthony had left to return to country formatted radio and move to do so in Denver. O’Malley would later gain greater fame as the popular morning host at WNCI and later 92X in Columbus. He along with his wife now are involved in real estate in the Grandview area.

Besides O’Malley and Anthony, many other radio greats passed by the microphones of WRFD. Jeffrey P. Morgan was the morning host when I was there. Jeff was a young radio prodigy at the time. Morgan was christened Jeff Detrow and was raised in Wooster, Ohio where he began working in radio at a very young age. He was hired just out of high school to host the morning program at WRFD. It was a plum assignment. Jeff was gifted with a wonderful baritone voice and a playful personality. He created the humorous Return to Pataskala Place as one of his ongoing radio spoofs. Jeff has had a long and successful radio career and until recently was co-host of one of San Diego’s venerable morning shows.

O’Malley meanwhile handled mid mornings. Early afternoons was hosted by Lancaster native Chris King (real last name Joos) who later left for WVBF in Boston at the invitation of Bill Smith who was written about in this blog earlier. Rounding out line up roster was evening man Howard Hewes. “Handsome Howard” lived the WKRP theme song living town to town and up and down the dial. He had worked for WFLA in Tampa before coming to WRFD and returned to Tampa and WFLA when he left a few years later. Hewes was hip, fun and dangerous.

Rounding out the music host airstaff were weekend hosts Dan Donovan (Green) and Bruce Edwards. Donovan had to be the inspiration for Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP. There couldn’t have been anyone else.

News people were Gregg Campbell who now hosts middays on WVNO in Mansfield, Mary Marshall who left for WBNS radio and now is lost to me as is then evening news anchor Carl Dickens.

I also noted other hosts who graced the microphones. Among those were 1960’s morning man Johnny Martin, mid 70’s morning host Bob James (now Dr. Bob Pondello), Farm Broadcasters Ed Johnson (who we’ll write about later), Bob Zieglar (known as Ziggy’s Piggys on WLW in the 80’s) as well as long time Columbus Radio and Television personality Spook Beckman who too will later be profiled.

I left WRFD in February of 1975 to join WBBY and Wild Bill. I returned after I was dismissed from WTVN in April 1978.

The station had changed quite a bit by that time, having dropped its oldies format for adult standards using the handle The Unrock a them and variation of 7-UP’s popular at the time advertising campaign using the word uncola.

I was hired to host a big band based program on Sunday afternoons that I remained with until 1980. Other notable hosts were Bill Stewart, Damon Sheridan (who also doubled as program directors) Corey Dietz who now hosts a morning program and writes about radio for web page, Pam Fultz (now known on air as Pam Spencer who later worked for WBNS, WCOL, WSNY and later as a traffic reporter for the Columbus Clear Channel Cluster)and of course Columbus mainstays Spook Beckman and John Fraim.

As AM radio fell out of favor and daytime AM stations were hit even harder, WRFD finally succumbed to the market forces and could no longer exist as a non niche formatted radio station. It was sold to religious broadcaster Salem Media who converted the station to a teaching and preaching station. The station had for lack of a better term, an altar call and accepted God's programming as it's financial savior.

Back to Green Meadows. The farm test plots now have been developed into home, shopping, office space and retail/warehouse combos. The radio station broadcast house now is home to another company and a now abandoned bank building was built on the former spacious front lawn. And the hotel and restaurant is now home to Nationwide Insurance's training facility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bob James aka Professor Bob Pondillo as spokesperson for Uncle Bill's and Ontario: