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Radio Ink is Celebrating 20 Years

20 Years. Seems Like Only Yesterday

However The Beginning Wasn't Really the Beginning
(by Dick Downes)
No, it wasn't really the beginning for Eric Rhoads nor Radio Ink. Like many of us, Eric was a jock first, then a PD and consultant. But he saved his money rather than spending it on um, other things, got some folks behind him, and bought a little station in Provo. He leveraged that (by the skin of his teeth) into a CP in rural Louisiana, where he was welcomed with threats, shotguns, and not-so-friendly local business folk who had wanted that CP for themselves.
Using an old TV antenna and baling wire attached to an 8-track player, he got that station technically "on the air." Now it was actually worth some money, and he cashed in to the local Louisiana welcoming committee...and got out of town.
While taking a little time off, he visited a state fair and saw a concession stand (let's call it ice cream) -- it was so long ago when he told me the story I don't remember the actual product. The key thing is that the concession was in the shape of the product and could be easily towed behind a vehicle from fair to fair. Eric immediately saw an opportunity, bought an ice cream cone, and asked the proprietor where his wondrous trailer had been built.
Flush with that information and the Louisiana money, he contacted the fiberglass molding company and asked if they could build one of their trailers in the shape of a radio...a boombox, to be exact. The answer was "yes." Those of you who were in the business during the '80s (and many to this day) towed many a giant boombox to many a remote. (An aside: The biggest market for giant boomboxes today is in Mexico, where politicians use them in the boondocks).
I was selling ads for R&R at the time and made my budget on Eric and his boomboxes for quite a while. Steve Butler was his VP/Sales and eventually bought the giant boombox company. Eric was restless again.
He felt R&R was doing a good job reaching programming people, but felt broadcasting was falling flat in its service to Radio management, (he always insisted we capitalize the "R" in Radio -- and, out of respect, I will do so in this reminiscence). So, Eric bought a fledgling management magazine that wasn't doing very well, The Pulse of Radio, from Bob Sillerman; gently let the current editor, Tom Shovan, go; hired some other talented folks; and set out to make it "Radio's Premier Management & Marketing Magazine." That was in the fall of 1988.
By the spring of 1989, the magazine was just starting to grab a piece of market share, but the money was flowing out as if through a broken Chinese dike and he needed to stop the bleeding. This is when Eric made the commitment to the magazine and sold the majority of his boombox interest to Steve Butler.
He and I had talked on several occasions and, with Steve Butler's help, (Steve is truly the best salesman I've ever met), convinced me to move home to Florida, made some changes with the current highly paid management folks, and appointed me Sr. VP/Sales & Marketing. Eric would be publisher and the remainder of the staff would be locals with no radio knowledge, but we'd immerse them in radio and teach them. And we did -- it's not brain surgery.
He and I decided we had to spend the money on a road trip. Unless we got our faces and proposals in front of the advertising community and potential readership, we didn't stand a chance. So, off we went. Two months worth, maybe a bit more. East, west, north, south, sideways -- we earned thousands of mileage points and spent a ton of money!
During those 60-plus days we took four days off...for planning itineraries. The rest of the time we were traveling or pitching -- or just having lunch with guys like Gary Fries, Eddie Fritz, Dwight Case, and Jeff Smulyan.
We became like brothers, finishing one another's sentences, having catch phrases no one else understood, and pitching our brains out to get this thing off the ground. By the time it was over and the "Thank You" cards mailed, we had road rash a biker would be proud of.
The magazine started to break even. Good thing, too, 'cause we'd spent all the money he made from the boombox deal. We managed like that, borrowed a bit, and slowly but surely, made gains for a couple of years. Then came the letter.
Tower Records had a similarly named magazine for its customers, Pulse. The usage and trademark were earlier than ours. Eric consulted with Dwight Case, his hero and our mentor. Dwight checked with a couple of lawyer buddies and we decided not to fight it.
So, we had to change the name of the magazine, just as we were making progress. Thus was born the magazine celebrated for 20 years of service to Radio in this issue: Radio Ink.
I left shortly thereafter to form my own company, but I will never forget the waterfront lunch on a picture-perfect South Florida day when Eric and Steve twisted my arm to come back home; the road trip from hell; the satellite radio stations Eric founded way before their time; nor the friendship that lasts to this day with Eric who, not content with one magazine, now has three. The other two chronicle what, surprisingly, has become Eric's late-life love (along with Laurie and the triplets): art.
My buddie has become an accomplished artist and also publishes Plein Air and Fine Art Connoisseur. Congratulations to Eric, Deborah, Ed, Brida, and the others who make this publication tick like a Timex after 20-plus years.
Dick Downes