January, 1979, Dick French left WHBQ and Sales Manager T.J. Donnelley was named GM. There weren't two people on the staff who were happy about that decision. T.J. and I had really never had any problems working together. He had his hands full. By now Dees was getting restless. Dick Edwards had left for Boston. Bob Landree had some personal issues he was battling and came to me and resigned. I had always counted on moving him into mornings when Dees left. The staff had changed dramatically from 1978 to 1979. Lisa Smith left to join Dickie in Boston at WROR. I hired Sherry Medford from Muscle Shoals, Alabama to do mid-days. Tad Griffin had graduated from part-time to 10P-2AM, and all nights, it was Larry "The Man Of" Steel. Bill "The Birdman" Thomas came from WHYY in Montgomery to replace Landree. A new "Q Crew" was in place behind Dees and WHBQ was still strong, but FM100 had begun to make some inroads, particularly with the teen audience at night. I had budgeted about $100,000.00 for promotion for 1979. I knew I’d need every penny of it. After WHBQ scored so well in the Springs ‘77 ratings, we’d pretty much done "maintenance" outside ad promotion keying on the fads or hip TV programs. We had done a billboard campaign that featured Dees and Landree pictures and the caption "Everybody Loves Dees and Landree On 56/HBQ".
The television spot tied in with Terrence McKeever and Janis Gordon (Dee’s and Landree’s news partners) and the other jocks retaliating for being left off the billboards. We recreated the billboard on the set with Rick and Bob sticking their heads through cutouts on a white board background. Terry, Janis, Sherry, Dave Nichols, Dickie, Mayer, and Tad pelted them with vegetables. That shoot got a little lively with that many egos and the opportunity to take Dees down a notch or two. Another TV spot we used was filmed by the animators who did the opening and closing credits for the movie "Grease" to film a thirty second animated spot ALA the movie credits. RSO gave us permission to use an edited instrumental version of the theme song by Franki Valli. The cartoon character got out of bed, turned on the radio (Dees) and walked into the bathroom to fix his hair. When he squeezed the tube of hair pomade, out popped the 56/WHBQ logo and the vocal came up "Q is the word...is the word....is the word...is the word." There wasn’t a lot of continuity in what we had done since the "Part Of Everything You Do" campaign in ‘77.
Before French left he hired John Malmo & Associates as our new ad agency. The Memphis agency had a national reputation for creating an award winning campaign for Mississippi based Hunter Ceiling Fans. The campaign for WHBQ used a very simple approach. There were three billboards: a crayon, a banana, and a bottle of hot sauce. The captions were: "56/HBQ Colorful, 56/HBQ Top Banana, and 56/HBQ Hot Stuff. Malmo tied it altogether on letterhead, business cards. We painted the Q van with a huge banana on it, hired a girl to drive around handing out T-shirts. Her name was Banana Nan. We had T-shirts, beach towels, hats, book bags, lighters and a myriad of other promotional items. I don’t recall how much we spent emblazoning these three logos on various paraphernalia, but it wasn’t cheap.
Then the letter came. It was from the McIlhenny Company in Avery, Louisiana. They demanded that we "cease and desist" using the "Hot Stuff" ad and anything associated with it. The hot sauce bottle was identical to the world famous Tabasco bottle which their company had established as a vital part of the success of their product and many would say was the very embodiment of their reputation. The bottle shape was like their logo. Fertilizer hit the ventilator. Ultimately French got blamed because he signed off on the whole campaign before he left. French said Malmo was responsible for getting clearances of any copyrighted material used in the campaign. And to make matters worse, T.J. had set up an arrangement to SELL our tee shirts at several Memphis retail outlets. My relationship with T.J. began to deteriorate. We had just spent two years passing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in promotional merchandise to listeners and now we’re gonna ask them to buy it! Tabasco put an end to the sales of T-shirts with that image on it but Donnelly mandated that the other two be for sale. Any T-shirts given away on the air from then on were provided by record companies as a tie in for promotion of a new album. The next thing Donnelly did was start trading out prizes for contests instead of giving away cash. He traded for the worst crap imaginable. We had the worlds largest supply of some kind of Japanese pinball game. I was supposed to come up with an interesting way to give them away. This just wasn’t going to work.
The TRS 80, my first computer.
Mark Herring and I had worked for several months perfecting the programs for the TRS-80 computer which would allow me to send music research data via modem to Dave Sholin, RKO Music Coordinator, in LA. There was just one problem, Dave didn’t have a computer. I called Dwight Case and told him I had something I wanted to demonstrate for him when I came to LA for the R&R convention. My buddy at Radio Shack got me a special traveling case to protect the computer in transit. Dwight was impressed with what I showed him and authorized me to purchase a TRS-80 for each of the RKO music stations (excluding WGMS of course). I was to load the computers with the programming and then supervise a delivery and demonstration at the respective stations. I was to demonstrate the system to the other PDs at our meeting after the convention in Palm Springs. I’d had already told them about using a computer to compile music research and schedule music, but none of them were particularly interested.
The gang at the R& R convention in LA.
Don't know everyone but here are the names I know. Seated L to R: "Eddy" Barbis, Debbie Sholin, Chris (Les Garland's girlfriend). Standing L to R: ?, ?, Jo Interrante, me, Johnny Barbis, Dave Sholin, Les Garland, ? Dino Barbis.
At the R&R convention. Michael Kleffner invited me to come up to his suite one night to meet Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. I was a huge fan of the Blues Brothers and couldn’t wait to meet them. We stood around having drinks for a while before they were to come up. Aykroyd came in first and we were introduced. He was cordial but seemed uncomfortable. Maybe it was unfamiliar ground or maybe it was the drug use by some people in the room. Suddenly, John walked in. Someone handed him a vial of cocaine. He picked up a room service menu dumped the contents of the tall brown bottle on it. With one swipe he snorted the entire pile. Wiping his nose, he asked "Anybody got a ‘lude (methaqualon)?" I watched all of this from the balcony outside the suite. I looked at the people I was standing with and we were all taken back by his behavior. I’d heard stories, but now I’d seen it. Belushi came out to talk to us. We chatted about Memphis; he loved talking about Stax records. After a few minutes, he and Aykroyd left to prepare for their show at the convention. A couple of years later I saw them again in Houston. By this time, Judith Belushi and everyone around John were watching him like a hawk to try and keep him clean. The guy in charge of John twenty four hours a day, seven days a week was named "Smokey". "Please don’t offer John drugs, don’t even kid about it, Longman." Les Garland, working for Atlantic Records then, arranged for me to go backstage at their concert at Rice University. When the critics panned "The Blues Brothers" movie, I defended it in a letter to the editor of Rolling Stone. John remembered me as "The Longman", that Memphis radio guy. Again Aykroyd was cordial, but definitely uncomfortable. John seemed down. They autographed a "1941" movie poster to me. A few months later, I awoke one morning to the news that John had died. I loved John Belushi’s acting and I really loved the Blues Brothers.
Dan, John, and John at Rice University in Houston a few months before John Died.
Nicky Chin and Mike Chapman wrote and produced a lot of hits in the 70’s. Nicky came to see me in Memphis to formerly induct me into "The Man Club". It was a group of radio and record guys who were handpicked by Chin to be in the club. Each of us received an official roster, jackets and shirts with our names embroidered. I still have my jacket (wish it fit me!) The "Man" thing came about after Belushi called Woody Allen "Wood Man" on Saturday Night Live. Garland thought that was so funny, so he started adding "man" to peoples last names. And there you have the genesis of ‘The Longman".
After the Lake Geneva PD meeting, Harvey Mednick wasn’t about to let me plan another meeting. Besides, he wanted to trot in all of his research and promotional contacts. Additionally, it helped justify his position with corporate. By now Dick Edwards was PD at WROR in Boston and butting heads with the GM who had nothing to do with hiring him as PD. Dwight asked me to talk to Dickie and see if I could smooth things over. We hooked up after the convention and drove to Palm Springs. I listened to Dickie’s frustration and sympathized with his problems in Boston. Not much had changed since I was there, but I told him if he wanted to play with the big guys, he had to learn to play their game. Palm Springs is a beautiful place. It’s full of rich old people. We stayed at one of the resorts which offered nothing for a bunch of hellions. The meetings were boring and I demonstrated the TRS-80 to a less than enthusiastic audience. Our first night in the desert, Les Garland, Chuck Martin, Dave Sholin, and a couple others hit the town. We all kidded Martin about his resemblance to Franki Valli. We went to the only disco in town and the guy at the door didn’t like the fact that someone was wearing inappropriate footwear. I sprung into action. I told the guys to stand over to the side and I went up to the doorman and handed him a twenty as I said: "Mr. Valli and his friends just want to come in and have a quiet drink. They didn’t realized that you had a dress code. I know he’d really appreciate it if you’d make an exception." Little did I know that Franki Valli had just purchased a home in Palm Springs and it had been in the local paper. The doorman asked me to wait. A minute or so later he came back with another guy who was just peeing all over himself to get over to Martin. "Mr. Valli please come in. I’ve arranged a private table for you and your party". It was the Starship routine all over again. We were ushered in and seated in a private booth overlooking he dance floor and a waitress brought us a complimentary drink or champagne. "Longman, you’re cracked" Garland said. No one but the disco employees knew anything about "Mr. Valli" being there until the DJ makes an announcement. All of a sudden there are a bunch of people coming up to our booth. I see a couple of guys who are eyeballing us suspiciously. If we got caught, who knows what might happen. We decided to bail, but we did it as if Martin was Franki Valli. We formed a circle around him and headed out the door. The doorman came running after us and asked me what had happened. "This is exactly what Mr. Valli DIDN’T want pal. He just wanted to have a quiet drink with his associates and your dumb a-- DJ had to make an announcement" I told him. He apologized and asked us to come back and over his shoulder I can see the guys who were scrutinizing us. We couldn’t get into our cars fast enough. We roared out of the parking lot and the cars behind mine apparently ran a red light or something. Palm Springs finest pulled them over. They got off with a warning. Bob Sherwood was a former radio guy turned national promotion guy for Columbia. He was the only record person allowed at our meeting. I have no idea why he was there but he took all of us out to dinner the next night. After our first night escapade, some of us decided that we’d better not hit the streets again. We’d already been to THE hot spot in Palm Springs. We went to the resort bar. There was a trio appearing there and they could have been right out of the Saturday Night Live sketches about lounge bands. By now we’re all pretty toasted, so we began to request songs and sing along. The trio thought we loved them; we were really making fun of them. Garland put me up to going up and talking to them. I told them that we were program directors at some of the hottest radio stations in America. I told them that a big wig with Columbia records was sitting with us and the guy was really impressed with them. Well that did it. The band started playing to our table and the more they played the louder we clapped. They were selling T-shirts and tapes. We all bought one. They were thrilled. We were amused.
RKO PD's wearing our Ford & Angel T-shirts in Palm Springs
TOP L to R: Don Kelly, WFYR-Chicago, Bobby Rich, WXLO-New York, Me, Les Garland, KFRC-San Francisco, Mark McKay, WRKO-Boston, Rick Shaw, WAXY-Ft. Lauderdale, Bob Hamilton, KRTH-Los Angeles.
Bottom: Dick Edwards, WROR-Boston, Dave Sholin, RKO Music Co-Coordinator, Chuck Martin, KHJ-Los Angeles.
KHJ was in trouble. Chuck Martin had just been named PD. He and I were sitting out by the pool in Palm Springs and I asked him if he’d like to have Dees for mornings. He said "Are you kidding, of course I would but what will you do for a morning show?" I told him not to worry about it. By now I’d seen how things were going to be with Donnelly as GM, so I decided to try and help some of my guys. Rick was in love with LA. He’d married a gal who was a real talent in her on right. Julie did national voiceover work and spent a good deal of time in LA. I knew he wanted to get out there where he could expand his career. He’d done everything there was to do in Memphis. His recording career had not taken off because you can only do so many novelty tunes and Rick certainly wasn’t a serious singer. I told Martin he should hire McKeever also because he and Rick were a great team. I asked to wait till the Spring ratings were over to do it. Well, the way things in RKO worked was whatever KHJ wanted, they got. Martin went to Tim Sullivan who called Dwight Case. Sullivan wanted Dees immediately. Dwight called Donnelly and told him they were moving Rick and McKeever to KHJ. I called Martin and read him the riot act. He told me it was Sullivan, not him that made the demand for Dees immediate move. I told him to at least leave McKeever in Memphis until the ratings were over so that I could transition someone new. He promised he’d try to persuade Sullivan. My intention had not been to gut WHBQ, just help the people who had made me look like such a hero. Word spread fast and the Memphis media picked up the story.
Rick and I really had a good relationship. I attended his and Julie’s wedding in Indianapolis. Rick made a point of coming to my daughter’s birthday parties with the Disco Duck. We appeared on panels at conventions together. By now I had learned that the really talented guys were the most difficult to handle. I stayed on him constantly about being on time. He was late almost everyday especially during the time he lived in the Dees dome on Lake Sardis in Mississippi. He was a little less late once he and Julie got married and moved back to his house in Germantown. I also had to stay on him about being on the phone conducting business while on the air. I reviewed a phone bill for the request lines into the studio and discovered he was making personal calls and billing them to the station. He and McKeever sometimes did long distance phone bits with people all over the world. I kept noticing calls to Greensboro, North Carolina. I asked him about it and he started putting his Mom on the air every time he called her from work.
Sean Cassidy and me, but not at the WHBQ Studios.
Just before April Fools Day in 1978, Rick told his audience that Sean Cassidy would be at WHBQ to sigh autographs the next morning after his concert in Memphis. I nearly ran off the road when I heard him say it and called him on the hotline. He said "It’s going to be an April Fool’s Day prank". I told Rick that he had to be at the station. He said he couldn’t because of a previous engagement. I went to French and told him we were in jeopardy because a crowd of teenage girls were going to show up to see Sean Cassidy. All we needed was for one kid to get hurt and we’d be liable. French talked to Dees after the show and told him he would be at the station. I called Frank Turner and asked him to get me as many promotional albums, T-shirts, and posters as possible. Frank called me back and said they were on their way. I called McKeever and told him he had to be there, also. He asked why. "You’re going to hit Rick in the face with a cream pie in front of all these teenagers" I told him. He loved it. The parking lot at WHBQ was full of screaming teenage girls. We announced that they should gather at the garage entrance to TV. We opened the doors and Rick stepped up to a microphone and said "April Fool’s" just before McKeever let him have it. It was the only way to save what could have been a dangerous situation. We passed out all of our Sean Cassidy promotional items including some autographed stuff I’d gotten the night before. We only had a couple of complaints and Rick handled those calls personally. He hadn’t meant any harm. He just didn’t realize what he’d done
Julie and Rick's wedding in Indianapolis.
A sure fire way to get Rick to do something was with money. His salary was, at that time, the highest in Memphis radio history. His lifestyle wasn’t extravagant, but plush. He hated to spend HIS money. The sales people were always looking for ways to bribe him to do an appearance. They fought over him like cats and dogs. They hated me because I prohibited them from talking to him while he was on the air. Some of them would show up real early and sneak into the control room. I loved catching them. Even if I wasn’t there, the salespeople forgot that McKeever and I were longtime friends. He’d tell me to watch certain ones and I’d show up and run them out. Ricky had his own "producer" as he called her. I called her his babysitter. It was her sole responsibility to make sure all of the commercials were played on his show. Of course Rick considered her his personal secretary. More than once I had to remind her that I signed her time cards, not Rick. The only time he really made me mad was when I went on vacation and he played his new record on the air. I had to speak to him occasionally when he would play an unauthorized song, but his contract clearly stipulated that he not play any of his material unless it was on the playlist. He’d gotten fired at WMPS for that very thing. Plough Broadcasting was a subsidiary of Schering-Plough. Schering-Plough manufactured drugs and was regulated by the government. They didn’t need license trouble in the relatively small broadcast division which might spill over to the giant pharmaceutical company. RKO was operating it’s radio and TV properties on temporary licenses due to General Tire’s troubles. Rick couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t add his new release "Mr. Bigfoot". I was planning to add the record in a very controlled rotation, but not immediately. Adding it too soon might cause unwelcome scrutiny. The big thing with RKO legal was not only operating strictly by the rules, but avoiding any appearance of wrong doing. I left on vacation. I called in the next day and was informed that Rick played the song once that morning. My only choice was to add the record to the playlist immediately. Rick got his record on WHBQ, but it was never heard in any day part except on the all night show. Even then I had to watch the all night guy. Rick always buddied up with those guys so they would cover for him when he was late for work. I didn’t blame the all night guys, having Dees for a friend made up for working the graveyard shift. The only all night guy who wouldn’t cover for Dees was Paul Mayer. Paul was a frustrated morning man and hated Dees.
The previous 36 months had been the most glorious of my radio career. I enjoyed recognition and importance unlike never before. I was now watching a great radio station fade from glory. I wasn't the reason for it's success, I was part of it. The balancing act was over. AM Top 40's across the country were suffering from FM intrusion. In Memphis, FM100 wasn't programmed better than WHBQ. It was the fact that it was FM. They didn't have a single jock better than Q's weakest man. The pd was a punk who thought he'd be real cute and start hanging out at the Bulle Shotte. That ended about as quick as it began, thanks to Dave, the owner. He was very loyal to the Q crew. He liked for us to hang out there. His place was usually packed with MSU students on weekends; it was our patronage Monday through Thursday that helped pay the overhead. I should have left when French did, but I didn't for a lot of reasons, mostly personal. Despite the inevitable I decided that if WHBQ was going down the tubes, we might as well have some fun on the way down! I usually filled in for Dees when he was away, so I decided to do mornings with Production Director Rusty Black as my partner and McKeever doing news. We called ourselves the "Q’s Brothers." I had all of Dee’s drop-ins (sound effects, character voices, theme music, etc) and we ran the show as if he were on vacation. I was having a ball!
Promotional LP done for the RMR convention.
In the bar at an RMR convention. I have no idea who these people are.
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