Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Kid In Town

On Valentine's Day, 1977 the FM band in Columbus was rocked with the New Kid in Town.

WTVN-FM and it's beautiful music faded away and legally became WLVQ-FM with the playing of the Eagles hit "The New Kid in Town." For listeners and fans, it would just be called Q-FM-96.

I've not often written of the FM band or WLVQ. Growing up, in my world AM was the king of radio. Actually it still was in my opinion, despite the obvious slump in ratings and revenues for the past 30 years, until probably the first of this year.

The story of how the transition began is actually quite interesting. I found the below on consultant Lee Abrams blog. I've always enjoyed being a fly on the wall type of person and this is almost as good as being there. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it.

Miami reminded me of a key career break. In 1972 I was consulting WQDR in Raleigh. We went to #1. It caught the attention of a guy named Gordon Hastings from Katz, then the leading ad rep firm. Gordon was a big believer in the commercial viability of FM which was still in the financial closet. I met Gordon and I guess I impressed him. He then talked to Carl Wagner who ran the powerful Taft Broadcasting Group. Carl was a bad ass former pro catcher. Mean--but fair and smart. Gordon set up a meeting at about midnight at the New Orleans Hilton at a convention. Taft owned 7 major FM's, most of them with big signals, Taft muscle, but kinda sitting there. Carl and I hit it off. I think he was impressed by my knowledge of baseball as much as my ideas on developing FM stations. We shook hands and he told me to wait for a call.

A week later, Carl calls and invites me to the Taft Managers Conference at the Sonesta Beach Hotel in Key Biscayne (Miami). Taft managers were an old boys club. I got the feeling that their bonuses were based more on their Golf scores than on performance. I dressed up as best I could but must have looked like an alien to these guys. At the opening cocktail party I think they thought I was brought in as an entertainer. One exec asked me if I was with the band. I told him I was in Led Zeppelin. The response was "Really? My daughter has one of your albums".

The next morning I did "the pitch". In a suite overlooking Biscayne Bay. On orders from Carl, the Managers of every Taft station were sternly told to listen to me. The pitch went fantastic, but I was still an outsider. But then after the morning meetings, there was a Tennis tournament. I loved Tennis, so I asked if they needed another entry. They put me with Ed McLaughlin who was the other non-Taft person at the meetings. Ed ran ABC RADIO and later managed Russ Limbaugh to fame. I'd known Ed for awhile since I worked for ABC at WRIF in Detroit. He and I absolutely kicked ass and WON the tournament. It was all over. Even if I looked like a drug addict to them, I proved myself on the court--the next best thing to beating them in Golf. They even invited me to appear in the Taft Company picture, though they probably airbrushed out my beard.

Within three weeks I signed WDVE Pittsburgh, WLVQ Columbus, KYYS Kansas City and WGRQ Buffalo. All four stations had huge increases and we were off to the races.

Now--I had a problem. A good one, but a problem. I had six clients. It was a business. But I had no experience in running a business of this nature. I needed capital, connections, an infrastructure, and guidance on how to maximize this thing. I'd known this guy Kent Burkhart. Most people in the business did. He was one of the FIRST Top 40 Program Directors ever...oddly enough at WQAM (my all time favorite Top 40 station) in Miami, and then went on to run the powerful Pacific and Southern group. He was a legend. He had left Pacific and Southern and started a consultancy. Every week I'd read in the trades where Burkhart signs another station. So I send Kent a proposal. Basically, I do the FM's while you do the AM's...and run the business aspects. He suggested a meeting in Minneapolis. We met at his client KSTP. We put a deal together in 30 minutes. I moved to Atlanta a week later and Burkahart/Abrams was born. Kent also turned over WYSP in Philly and WKLS Atlanta to me as they were FM's. We formally introduced the "Superstars" format. That name is kinda hokey and we NEVER used it on the air, but to station heads that were still suspicious about this underground FM thing, it was a comforting and relatable term that translated into "mass appeal".

The basics of the concept were pretty simple. To change the familiarity factor from song title to artist so instead of hearing the same songs, you’d hear the same artists, but the whole library of songs instead of just the hit single so it was familiar by ARTIST, yet interesting because you’d hear ALL of that artist. It was aimed at the vulnerable Top 40 listener. The person who listened to Top 40 but liked every 4th song. Stones and Cream--cool. Bread and Osmond’s...not cool. Eliminate the Bread and Osmond’s and focus on the artists that were defining the new "Album" movement. Then between the big names, introduce the coo new stuff so the sound was anchored in familiarity, had depth and selectively introduced new artists so they'd get enough exposure to actually get noticed. We accepted the Underground stations as a fact of life and were ore concerned about getting people to FM who found Underground radio too out there. In the process we took out a lot of the Underground Free Form stations who were simply too elite. The good ones that were focused remained important factors.

Our "position" was to be as accessible as possible without losing the progressive identity.

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