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We Still Miss You John McGhan

(by Buzz Knight)

As the radio business searches for the correct dose of passion, creativity, and enthusiasm, I want to remember a great leader who left us too early...John McGhan. Friday, John would have celebrated a birthday (he died in the late 80s) and today we celebrate his life and legacy. Too often when we lose friends and loved ones we don't realize the impact they made on our life until they are gone. If you knew him you knew he was a special character but maybe you took it for granted.

We knew he was a fabulous guy who energized a room when he walked in and we knew he was one of the great creative radio minds, but as each year passes we miss him even more. John was a successful Program Director at stations like WDVE in Pittsburgh and WGRQ in Buffalo at a time when rock music was thriving. Later in his illustrious career John would be a part of incredible ventures for NBC, Turner Broadcasting, and Rolling Stone magazine.

John's production of Live from Grammy Week was "can't miss programming" for the stations and personalities. I personally think of him every day as I try to coach and inspire others in a manner that John would hopefully be proud of. One of my favorite stories involving John was at his Live from Grammy Week Production in New York City. John had arranged for some of us to go over to Gracie Mansion to interview Mayor Ed Koch for the event. When we got there for the appointment the Mayor's assistant told us without question that this was postponed because the Mayor had lots of priorities and problems that day.

At that moment "vintage McGhan" snapped into action. He said to the assistant pointing to me "that gentlemen is a radio programmer who came all of the way from Columbus, Ohio (I was working for WLVQ Columbus) and the Mayor needs to do this. He's a guest in your fine city and we set up the appointment in advance and it needs to get done." The assistant agreed and it was done. The words "no" and "I can't" weren't in John's vocabulary.

A legacy like John's is best acknowledged by hearing from others in their own words on what he meant to them.

Harvey Leeds
John McGhan was one e of the most creative people I ever met. He took his love of communicating with the average Joe and applied it to radio. I will never  forget the time he convinced me to work with his sales department, take a warehouse of used tuxedo jackets, silkscreen the band Boston's logo on the back, and hijack a co-promote away from WKBW and create the illusion that it was a WGRQ show. How about the time he created a TV spot for WGRQ with zero budget? It was him on camera giving out his home phone number and asking listeners to call with suggestions. His phone rang for months. 

One of the greatest promotions ever was the KISS comic book promotion. Each member of the band added their blood to the ink at the printing factory in Buffalo. John had nurses in WGRQ outifits bring the band to the event in a WGRQ ambulance. 

I was in the room when he created Friday Night Videos. Simple-pure genius!  The Source -- which was a rock radio programming service -- was overflowing with exclusive creative content because John bent every rule and the artists/managers loved him and would do anything for him. Ted Turner created a music video channel to challenge MTV and hired John. The channel was making so much noise that MTV bought it and put it out of business in 30 days. Why? Because John McGhan was out programming and promoting MTV with no budget! 

His Grammy Week radio broadcasts with many stations broadcasting in one room was innovative and historic -- anyone who was there will never forget the Howard Stern on-air fights and John was right in the thick of it. 

On the night John Lennon was shot, I was having dinner with John at a restaurant across the street from the Dakota. We were among the first 20 people at the scene and John instantly ran around the corner to his apartment to get a tape recorder to record actualities and reactions for the NBC radio network. He had me stay at the phone booth across from the scene of the crime so he could have access and be the first radio network reporting live. 

Too many stories and memories about John to write about here. He was truly one of rock radio's  unrecognized pioneers and many of today's programmers could learn from his spirit and drive. There are times when I need a creative spark on a project and I reach for the phone to call John. Then I realize I can't because he's gone. He was one of my favorite people in the world."


Dwight Douglas
"John McGhan was one of the most creative and energetic people I have ever worked with. My favorite McGhan line was when he went to Hollywood to become an actor and he got a part in 'L.A. LAW'. We were all curious what he would play. When we asked him about the part, he said, "It's a very small part. But if you are going to be on a TV show with only one line, you should have the most important line." In the episode, John's character had only one line, it was 'Your honor, we find the defendant guilty.' Always the optimist. Yes, it was one line, but it was the one line every viewer was waiting for and that was his magic. Always focusing on the impact of everything he did. Never be another John McGhan."

John Parikhal
"He was like a brother to me. We created lots of great entertainment together for Rolling Stone magazine, NBC, Turner -- so many. It was always fun and original, usually generating huge audiences. That's because everything was based on John's Two Rules for Success:

1) Think like a fan and make everyone a star
2) If it's not "fabulous" don't do it.

He backed them up with lots of praise, support, enthusiasm, and fair judgement. I still miss him."

Gary Krantz
"I first met and began to work with John in the mid-80s when we hired him as our first-ever consultant at MJI Broadcasting. We were launching our first long-form show 'Metal Shop' with host Charlie Kendall, who was PD at WNEW FM in NY. First and foremost I think John invented the word 'fabulous!' Everybody who knew him knows that. He bolted into a room and the lights went on.

"You knew something was going to happen and there was energy, humor, fun, and, most of all, a sense of impending SUCCESS! John always said to me (at that time a 24-year-old kid): 'Gary, someday you're going to be running a radio network so you'd better dress the part!' Now remember, this was the early 80s so Dress for Success was not a new idea , it was already a best-seller. That's not what John meant. He was all about the power suit (nobody wore it better than John!), but it was always about when you wear it and how. He would say 'Always dress against the room,' which meant if you were at an industry pool party, that's when you put the blue suit on and if you were at an evening cocktail party, that is where you wore the t-shirt , flowered bathing suit, and sandals.

"He was a bright shining light who brought joy and excitement to everyone he touched."

Roxy Myzal
"The 'Fabulous' John McGhan taught me the basis of what I do every day in my work: 'Think like a fan; Make everyone a star!' It has always been the credo of my career: break new artists and support the ones I have. John opened my eyes to many things, but he was also the most insecure genius I ever knew in my life! It was a pleasure to work with him and John Parikhal while we were at Rolling Stone magazine Radio Productions. Not to mention, he was a gentlemen in every aspect. He even carried my mother's luggage to the train station! What a guy! Miss him lots!"

John Hager
"John's influence on what would become the hugely successful Classic Rock Radio format in Buffalo was enormous. John programmed Buffalo's first progressive radio station, WPHD in the early 70s. The station was so plugged in to its audience at a time when young adults, who previously knew only AM Top 40 were first discovering something special was happening on the FM band. WPHD broke bands such as Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Supertramp not only in Buffalo but in the U.S.

"After an ownership change at WPHD, John helped launch one of the first Superstars AOR stations in the country at WGRQ in Buffalo. That station is racking up big ratings and revenue as 97 Rock 37 years later. I was lucky enough to hear the magic that John brought to Buffalo radio in the 70s as a high school student. The impact of John's talent is part of my programming DNA to this day. When I first started programming 97 Rock in the late 80s, the very station that John had launched, I was fortunate enough to work with him on his Grammy Week Live promotion. It was a great honor to pick his brain and hear wonderful stories of his time in Buffalo radio."

Andy Denemark
"John McGhan had a great brain for promotion...everything was 'sensational' or fabulous,' and whenever he said that, it felt sincere and didn't feel like hype. I met John when I joined the NBC Radio Networks in the early days of their rock network, The Source. I wondered if I would fit in with NBC brass and if I'd be successful in that environment, and John just looked at me and said, 'You'll be great, YOU'RE A STAR!' No one ever called me a star before and I probably wasn't one but that was an example of his main philosophy...he would say, 'Think like a fan, and make everyone a star.' And he did create magic in the process. John motivated people to do well, he was creative yet still left room to co-create with others. And he was an awful lot of fun. I'd share some of those stories but I'm not sure the statute of limitations is up. And whether it was watching him do an eleventh hour negotiation with a manager for an A-list band or brainstorming with him on scripts for Don Pardo, all of us who worked with John learned a lot from him. And it's especially nice that we still honor his memory and that his influence lives on."

Beau Phillips
"John McGhan had a huge magnetic presence. He was a sparkplug who influenced everyone around him, whether they realized it or not. When inspiration struck John, as it often did, his face lit up with excitement. McGhan became a fountain of 'fabulous' ideas, wildly jubilant, with arms flailing. John McGhan was a creative genius during radio's heyday, back when innovation was rewarded."

Jon Erdahl
"Working with John, through all those years of Live from Grammy broadcasts, was a privilege. John's attention to details ensured each of our segments was outstanding. John created magic; continually stressing something I still use today in my consultancy: 'Be the fan!' The day you stop being the fan is the day you need to step aside and let someone with more passion take over. I have never lost that 'fan feeling' thanks to John."

Buzz Knight is the Vice President of Program Development for Greater Media and he can be reached at Knight was named among “Best Programmers” by Radio Ink Magazine in 2007 and 2010. He has served on the programming subcommittee of the National Association of Broadcasters(NAB) and is currently a member of the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) COLRAM Committee.

Read more articles by Buzz Knight HERE

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