01/21/08 15 Years: Looking In The Rear View Mirror
After a recent speaking engagement, a very sharp young woman approached me and said something that shook me to the core. “I have been reading Radio Ink since I was six years old,” she said. “I used to go to work with my dad, and there was always a Radio Ink at the station. I looked through it while he was on the air.”
A successful, 20-something account executive who had grown up on Radio Ink! In her mind, Radio Ink has always been here, has always been a part of radio’s DNA. Well, it hasn't always been here. In fact, it just turned 15 years old.
When Editor Joe Howard assigned me the daunting task of writing about the past 15 years, I wondered: How does one compress 15 years into a single article? Looking back has never excited me; I consider myself a forward-looking kind of guy. I decided to do a bit of both.
WHAT I THINK
I’ve always operated a little like a pinball: Someone pushes a lever, and I end up careening off in a new direction. When I sold my radio stations 20 years ago, I created a company that sold a product called the Giant Boom Box. I purchased some advertising for the company in a publication called The Pulse of Broadcasting, and when the ads didn’t work, I scheduled a meeting with publisher Tom Shovan in which I learned that that the owners weren't investing in the product, and that circulation was low. Next, I met with the owner — and walked out with a handshake deal to own the publication.
The second I took over Pulse, I began writing editorials. There was no logical reason I should be allowed to pontificate, I was simply a guy with a platform. What followed was entirely unexpected: I started hearing from people who either told me I was full of hot air or who liked what I had to say. I did not anticipate this feedback, nor did I realize that if I came out for or against something it could actually result in change. Yet it happened over and over again. I took the responsibility very seriously. I still do.
I remember crafting one fictional editorial about a dream Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays had about world domination. It was written in country lingo with a lot of Texas sayings, and while my intent was not to make Lowry look bad, some thought I had slammed him. When I subsequently ran into Lowry, he behaved like a gentleman, and never allowed this one column to influence how he treated me. It was an important lesson on two accounts: how to be a gentleman, and the need to consider the ramifications of my words.
There are numerous memories similar to this I could recount here, but in recognition of Radio Ink's first 15 years, I've set aside 15 of the very best some funny, some poignant, but every one an important moment in this publication's history. And every one of them has been made possible by the readers, advertisers, and hard-working staff that support Radio Ink year-in and year-out. To each and every one of you, my heartfelt thanks. I hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane.
WHAT I'VE SEEN
1. Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey once read one of my editorials on the air. It was about the FCC considering foreign ownership of U.S. radio stations, which I came out against, and he voiced support for my position. As if that wasn’t cool enough, my aging grandfather called to tell me he'd heard Harvey reading my editorial. It was a big deal to Papa, and it meant a lot to me.
2. Howard Stern
I had written an editorial recommending that Howard Stern be honored by the industry for all the attention he'd brought to radio. A few days later, the phone rang: “Howard would like to see you in New York.” Shortly thereafter I arrived with tape recorder in hand. Howard approached me and said, “Twenty-five years in radio and you’re the first person who ever said anything nice about me. I wanted to thank you personally.” He even hugged me. Then-Infinity Radio CEO Mel Karmazin was also there, and when I asked him why, he replied, “I’m here to look out for my boy Howard since he is doing an interview with you.” But Mel sat quietly as Howard and I chatted for two hours. On my way out I commented on a Leroy Neiman painting Stern owned, which I used on the cover.
3. Gary Fries
I met Gary when he was running Transtar radio networks. When I asked if he had considered running for the new RAB president gig, he was intrigued. Although they had already closed submissions, I called the head of the search committee and suggested that Fries might be interested. In retrospect, either they had already been talking to him and said nothing about it, or I was able to get him a shot at the job. Either way, Fries soon started his long tenure in the job. I met with Gary after he had moved to New York. Outside on Madison Avenue it started to snow, and I grabbed my camera and took a quick snapshot of him, which ended up on the cover of the magazine
4. Rush Limbaugh
When Rush suffered hearing problems in 2001, rumors abounded that his program would end. I called Kraig Kitchin at Premiere and offered to do an article that told the whole story. We got a wonderful photo of Rush in a pensive mood, and ran a powerful headline for the cover: “Is It Over?” The intent was simply to draw attention to the article, but it blew up in our faces; Rush was hurt by our headline. He was a gentleman about it, but it made relations uncomfortable for a few moments.
To promote the renamed Pulse of Radio, we created a “Radio Is My Life” logo and emblazoned it on stickers and watches that were distributed at that year's RAB conference. While there, our top salesperson and the head of marketing for a major radio network had a few too many drinks, and knocked heads over the client's request for a few extra watches for his kids. "You’re not spending any money with us, you’re not getting any extras,” was my seller's stance, which led to the two of them rolling on the floor beating on one another. The fight was broken up, but for me it was one of life’s most embarrassing moments. I should have fired the guy, but I didn’t. The two wound up becoming great friends, and Pulse ended up with a lot of that client's business.
6. Anatole Hotel
While chatting with the new neighbors at our lakeside family home in upstate New York, I was asked if I ever visit Dallas. Noting that I went every year for the RAB conference, they asked where I stayed while there. “Oh,” I groaned, “every year I stay at this God-forsaken hotel. It’s drafty, and you can’t sleep because the rooms surround the lobby bar. It’s called Lowes Anatole. Do you know it?” Long, pregnant pause. “Yes, we know it. We own it.” I wanted to jump in the lake.
7. Jeans and a T-Shirt
I was invited to keynote a National Religious Broadcasters conference. I’m a Christian, but I felt strongly that most Christian broadcasters didn't pay attention to quality and competitive sound. I wanted to really capture their attention, but how? “I’ll strip,” I thought. “That will work.” I started my speech by saying, “It’s a Saturday. I don’t feel right wearing a tie on Saturday.” So I removed my tie, and asked everyone in the room to remove theirs. Not everyone did, so I said; “I still feel overdressed. Do you mind if I remove my jacket?” They nodded, so I removed the jacket, as did some of the crowd. Suddenly, I turned around and pulled down my pants. I was behind the lectern, but they clearly knew what I was doing. You could have heard a pin drop. I took my shoes off and threw them, then the pants, then my dress shirt. Underneath, I had on a t-shirt and jeans. If looks could kill! I then made my point: Christian radio needs to be relatable, and not sound so obtuse. My jeans and t-shirt were relatable. A suit was not.
8. A Brilliant Mind
After that speech — which received a standing ovation — a man approached me and said, “There is only one other man as creative and as courageous as you. His name is Roy Williams, and he is the most brilliant marketing mind in America.” I didn't believe such a bold claim, but two weeks later I met Roy in Texas. He was (and is) the most brilliant marketing mind I’ve every encountered. I invited him to write for Radio Ink, to which he already subscribed, and his Wizard of Ads has been our top column ever since. We've also become best friends. He's the most innovative person I’ve ever met.
9. Bud Paxson
Of all the people I've met in the radio industry, Bud Paxson is the smartest. There's a reason he's a billionaire; his mind is unlike anything I've ever experienced. When we met in his Palm Beach office, he threw out dozens of ideas for the magazine, invented things off the top of his head, then called in his assistant and implemented ideas on the fly. I learned more in those few hours with him than from anyone I’d ever met.
10. Blast From The Past
I received a call from Chilton Publishing Company, whose auto repair books I'd relied on during my teens to keep my 1946 Chevy and later my 1967 Pontiac GTO running. Chilton invited me to participate in a photo book to commemorate radio's 75th anniversary. The original plan was to have a man named Irving Settel cover the 1920s through the 1950s, and for me to cover the 1960s through 1995. When they couldn't reach terms with Settel, I offered to do the whole thing. Chilton subsequently cancelled the project, so with their blessing, I decided to proceed.
Armed with an Apple PowerBook, a flatbed scanner, and a zip hard drive, I hit the road to peruse photo archives. I spent two weeks scanning images on location at the University of Maryland's Hornbake Museum, and traveled to great radio stations like KNX, where I roamed the basement of the old NBC building for vintage photos. I scanned the archives of the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy; I rifled through personal collections, museums, libraries, schools, other trade magazines, and stations all around the country. I gathered 1,000 photos, most which had never before been published. In less than four months time – while still running Radio Ink — I wrote the book, gathered the photos, and had my new wife Laurie — who'd been Radio Ink's art director — design the book's layout. Amid all of this, she and I found time to get married.
Though I thought the book was only a mild success, I found out years later that it posted record sales for a book of its type.
11. The PR Tour
The life of an author sounds glamorous, but it has highs and lows. One of my worst lows was a book signing to which no one came. I’ve blocked the name and location of the bookstore out of my mind. It was embarrassing. One of the highs was being interviewed on NBC’s Tom Snyder show. I was flown to New York, put up in a great hotel, and chauffeured in a limo. Synder had a guest host that night, but it was exciting just the same. A friend handled the PR for my book, and she got me placed in over 1,000 newspapers, magazines, and print publications, and on network TV and radio. I was her first client, and today she is a top book publicist.
12. The Radio Wayne Awards
When I got into the magazine business I introduced myself to then-RAB executive vice president Wayne Cornils, and asked for his help in getting the magazine recognized. He quietly gave me ideas, and introduced me to people I needed to know. He was very instrumental in the success of this magazine. When I learned the following year that Wayne had been diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to do something to honor him. I secretly arranged the awards, and honored him with the inaugural Radio Wayne Awards in 1992. Wayne participated in handing out the awards every year until the cancer took his life in 2000. I cried on stage in front of 2,500 people when I presented the awards the year after Wayne passed away. His family was in the audience.
In addition to honoring Wayne, I developed the awards as a way of recognizing the people who excel on the business side of radio. I’m proud to say it’s the best success of my career. I’ve watched winners weep on acceptance, and have seen nominees weep when their name isn't called. These awards are terribly important to me personally, because these people deserve recognition. I know Wayne felt the same way.
13. The MIWs
When I took over the magazine I introduced a column written by industry women that addressed concerns specific to women in radio. Called Women In Radio, it received mixed reviews. A vocal few insisted we shouldn't single out women, so I trusted their instincts and dropped the column. Years later I encountered similar criticism when I created a Woman of the Year category in our Radio Wayne Awards. So, we dropped that as well. In 1999 our now Associate Publisher Lois Chooljian encouraged us to create a list titled the Most Influential Women in Radio. The list was a big hit. Although we again encountered some negative feedback — including one executive who refused to be included on the list — the positives have outweighed those negatives. Our annual MIW list is one of Radio Ink's most popular issues, and gave rise to an industry-wide mentoring group that has rapidly become a force in the industry.
14. RAB antics
There have been lots of gimmicks at RAB conferences. Once year I was dressed as Big Bird another year a pot-smoking Hippie, another year a Radio Haulic drunk Radio is about entertainment, and I like to keep things interesting.
Over the years, I've pulled some crazy stunts at the annual RAB conventions. It all started during a brainstorming session with Roy Williams, when he and I created the idea of a radio revolution. Roy suggested that I show up for the next year's RAB awards in a revolutionary war costume, complete with soldiers and beating drums. “You need to give the fire and brimstone speech of your life,” he cautioned. “Can you do it?” On the day of the awards Roy introduced me, but I wasn’t in the room. I saw George Hyde looking around as I burst into the room with a team of drummers. In full regalia, I gave the speech of my life and received a standing ovation. Roy’s words echoed in my ear: “If you don’t pull this off, your career is over.”
The next year I showed up again in my Revolution costume, and the soldiers this time included some of the industry's top group heads at the time, such as John Cullen, Jeff Armstong, and Steve Hicks. I could sense that people were irked that I would try to pull off the same thing again. But as I began my speech about the future of radio, strip music played and we all shed the revolutionary costumes to reveal skin-tight space suit.
A year later, when everyone was worrying about consolidation, I spoke about forging ahead despite distraction, while jugglers, fire eaters, and acrobats performed around me.
15. What’s in a Name?
I’ve never told the full story of the Radio Ink name. Mentor and friend Dwight Case recommended we create a gossip column in The Pulse of Radio, and call it Radio Ink. Some years later Tower Records claimed they owned the copyright for Pulse, and we were no longer allowed to use the name. Though we had a copyright on Pulse that we purchased with the magazine, it was not valid. We learned that Tower was launching an in-store pub called Pulse and planned to sue 33 magazines with that name. The proceedings were dropped when I decided to change the title of my publication to overcome image problems I had inherited with the magazine. Dwight suggested the name Radio INC, and we began talking it up to advertisers. The day we were scheduled to go to press with the first issue under the new name, a column called Radio Inc appeared in a competing publication with a big TM on it. We were four hours from press and suddenly could not use the name or the logo we had spent so much time and money on. In four hours, art director Laurie Graham (now Mrs. Rhoads) designed the current Radio Ink logo with the fountain pen nib. A major logo like this can take weeks of back-and-forth designs, but we pulled it off, changed all the promotional ads, logos, etc., and made it work.
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