From late 1995 until the winter of 2000, I made a living out of radio. I had moved from Augusta to Cartersville (just North of Atlanta) while working for ADT, selling home security systems. I made pretty good money in Augusta, but in the Atlanta area it was tough going. A friend of mine was selling cars and told me I should try it. Yeah, yeah I know....sleaze job. He told me that the dumbest people he'd ever met in his life were car salesmen and that anyone with even a little bit of sense could run circles around the average lot lizard. I answered an ad in the paper the week before Thanksgiving in 1995. I had a couple of days off for the holidays from ADT and decided what the heck I'd give it a try. I sold two cars the first two days on the job and made more money than I'd made in he past month. And my friend was right, I met some real brainiacs. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I needed to do more than sell if I was going to stay in the automobile business. I set my sights on being a finance and insurance manager. Let me digress for a second and say that in addition to the less than bright people I met in that business, I also made some of the best friends I've ever had. One guy in particular was the F&I man at the dealership I worked for, Jim Thompson. He and Tim Miles (who worked for GMAC) mentored me. Jimmy T resigned shortly after the dealership was sold and I wanted the his job although there wasn't a chance in hell I was going to get it. Tim suggested I go to the GMAC F&I School and even gave me a coupon which helped me with the tuition. I was an honor student, came back to work and the new owners promptly fired me. I went to work at another dealership and within a month was promoted to the F&I job only to be demoted the next day because the sales manager hadn't cleared my promotion with the guy who owned the place. Within a month, Tim Miles suggested I call a small dealership in Cedartown, Georgia. They "might" be looking for an F&I man. They were and I got the job. I worked there for a year and a half for a guy who had inherited the dealership when his father died. I rally enjoyed the job until the sales manager who hired me turned into the biggest a--hole in the world. The owner saw how miserable I was, but liked the money I was generating in the F&I office so he fired the guy . It was my turn to help Jimmy T, who was looking for a job. I recommended him for the sales manager job and he was hired. Then the owner started acting out and making everyone's life miserable. It was during this time that I decided to finish the book I had been trying to write for several years. I had become the dealership "computer guy". Now, one of the downsides of working in a small dealership is that you have a lot of down time between customers. I used that time to write. In the fall of 1998, I used the software at the dealership ( I was the webmaster for their website) to start building OIDAR.COM. I had decided to publish a chapter a week of this book. The only promotion I had for the website was from friends like Joel Denver a ALLACCESS.COM and Rick Irwin at REELRADIO.COM. Within a few weeks I was averaging over 2,500 hits a week. I really missed radio; writing the book allowed me to feel closer to the part of the business that is nearest to my heart: being on the air. I figured there wasn't a chance in hell I would ever do THAT again. I was wrong. I had long since left the dealership in Cedartown and gone back to being a salesman and was hating life.
On a lark, I dug out 16 year old air checks, made some cassette copies and sent them to several Atlanta stations seeking part-time work; just enough to make me quit missing it so much. In April of 2000, I got an email from WFOX, a now defunct oldies station asking me to contact them. To my surprise, the PD asked me to come in for an interview. When he asked me if I'd be interested in doing nights, I couldn't believe my ears, but managed to suppress my disbelief and excitement long enough to say "yes". I was fired 16 months later.
So, what did I learn from this experience? First of all radio for the most part is no longer an art form. It business; all business. Programming is an impersonal product. I think they call it a brand now...kind of like toothpaste. Back in the mid eighties, when Wall Street discovered radio stations were making about 25 cents on the dollar, the rush by non radio types to buy stations was on. They successfully bribed the government to relax ownership rules. These corporate geniuses decided to apply all their Harvard Business School expertise to this new toy. They didn't understand, or want to understand, the secret to successful stations...the people. When the FCC (which Nicholas Johnson once said was famous for shutting the gate AFTER the fox was in the henhouse) decided to allow companies to own as many stations as they liked, that was the final nail in the coffin of the once magical radio business. The research pioneers like Magid, Moyes, and Coleman had already entrenched themselves with the heads of many of the existing companies, providing them with a scapegoat when their station underperformed ratings and ultimately revenue wise. The bankers who allowed these companies to buy stations at ridiculous multiples understood research and ate it up. Projections of revenues had to be met and operating costs had to be cut to make up for shortfalls. The research said stations didn't need personality so, lets fire all the announcers. One or two can voice track shows on several stations. Computers can operate everything; they don't get sick, need health insurance, become pregnant, file age discrimination or sexual harassment suits. And if your research can help you sell more toothpaste by identifying those people who currently buy it and keeping their gums wanting more, then we can research the music we play, the way we position the station, and repackage our "brand" so that people who don't need it will think they do...or something. And while we're at it, lets start calling the corporate headquarters "campuses" and our mission statements will be know as "cultures". Everyone knows it's cheaper to keep the customers you've got rather than get new ones, so super serve the identified listener's zip codes. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard details of an illegal contest (at an Atlanta station for which I worked) where listeners write or email entries. Unbeknownst to the people who entered, if they weren't in a "hot zip" their entries were thrown out.
After my reentry into radio, post-consolidation, I worked with another man who will always hold a special place in my heart: Jim Popwell. Jim offered me a job while I was still at WFOX and I turned him down the first time. The second time, I said yes and for two years I ran a station licensed to Cuthbert, Georgia, but which put a decent signal into Columbus, Georgia. Jim had filed for permission to change the city of license to Buena Vista, Georgia and greatly improve the coverage of Columbus. The tower was in Stewart County; the studios in Eufaula Alabama; and the sales office was in my apartment in Columbus. For nearly two years I ran the station with the help of an old WAPE alumni, Brother Bill Duncan, who was Operations Manager for a while and Barbara Gammage, a lady in Eufaula who handled traffic and billing on a part time basis. It was an interesting time. Finally, in January of 2003 the CP was granted and I began the task of building a new tower, moving studios, and setting up new studios in Columbus. Before I could get the station back on the air from the new tower, Jim called me and told me he had sold the station, but that I didn't have anything to worry about because he had some ideas about what he wanted me to do next. He had a CP for an FM in Dawson, Georgia (near Albany) and I told him I wanted to build that station and get it on the air. He sort of hedged a little, but told me not to worry. The hedging was because he decided to sell the rest of his stations, but, told me not to worry, I had a job no matter what. For the first time in my radio career, my efforts were appreciated with more than a paycheck, but with loyalty from my employer. I didn't worry. I knew if Jim Popwell said that I would have a job, I'd have a job. The man's word was his bond. He's one of the last great local broadcasters.
On August 1, 2003, I became Senior Vice President/Group Manager for Staton Broadcasting, Incorporated of Macon, Georgia, the company which bought Mr. Popwell's stations. Guess who recommended me for the job? Big Jim died on Christmas Eve 2003. He battled lung cancer for two years. I loved that guy. I was with Staton Broadcasting until September of 2005.
I have great memories of my radio career. I know radio will never be that way again. I am very fortunate to have been a part of it when it was so much fun.
Today, I live in the second oldest city in the United States, St Marys, Georgia, just blocks from this waterfront. I am semi retired. I do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I am President of The Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. In February of 2008, I started a new company, Paper Sound, LLC, which provides audio content to news paper web sites.
The End ( I think)
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