Geo’s Media Blog (Sales & Engineering)

Growing up in radio as I did. I was confused by some of the people who also worked there. My first mistake was in thinking that we all wanted to be #1. 
I used to waste hours arguing with the engineers about why my station had no highs, why the carts wouldn’t start, and why the mic sounded so tinny, amongst a ton of other technical stuff. However, when I  finally got into FM, the part about the highs went away, but not the other stuff.
As I moved from station to station during my career, I discovered that for whatever reason, the more unsuccessful the station, the more powerful the Chief Engineer was.

Unfortunately, the only radio stations that would hire the likes of me were the unsuccessful ones so I got to see a lot of engineers. Not only was I arguing with them about engineering things, at the staff meetings they’d be in my face about the station’s music and promotions.
At some point, I realized that they belong to a fraternity who share everything with each other. None of your secrets are safe with them and the quickest way to get them the hell out of the meetings was to get some ratings. Color me motivated.
The notable exception was Dick Smart (pictured above, 2nd from the right) who was the corporate engineer at Fairbanks. He’d challenge me almost every day to come up with something he couldn’t solve. R.I.P. Chiefy, I miss you, man!
 
Now salespeople are a whole other animal. My love/hate relationship with them began when I was a production board op at CKY in Winnipeg. One of the sales folks would sneak his orders to the top of the pile whenever I was out of the room. That was bad enough but his stuff was also very difficult to do which was also irritating. However, it didn’t compare to the rage I’d feel when after pulling off one of his more difficult creations, he’d reward me with a single movie ticket
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When I became a PD for the first time, after a lot of hard work and a lot of luck, my station went #1. However, the sales folks claimed that they couldn’t sell it so management ordered me to change it back. I chose to walk instead.

Consequently, it feels like I’ve been doing battle with sales and engineering my whole life but at least now my confusion is gone. I finally figured out that they don’t work for the radio station, we just pay them. Engineering answers to their fraternity and sales work for the clients. Don’t get me wrong though, outside the station, most of the sales folks are a lot more fun to hang out with then the air talent, but inside the station #*%^#^%*.
Notable exceptions, Tom Skinner, (just below Dick Smart) Jerry Bobo, (on the left) Dick Yancey, (middle) and Tim Reever. (on the right.)
 
GEO’S LIFE-LINES
Courage becomes easier to conjure up every time you use it. 
 
Can you imagine what it must have been like when you had to deliver pizza using a map? 
 
Sometimes the question is more important than the answer. 
 
COMMENTS
Hollis Duncan:  George, I can understand why you would not remember me.  We were in the same room at KVIL maybe twice, once in the production Room with Terry Munn and Jack McCoy, but I don’t think that we were ever actually introduced.  Larry Reid & I were like flies on the wall who got to sit back and watch you at work.
Mike Rey, who kept KVIL Programming running and well-organized, is a huge fan of yours and would fill me in on the cool ideas that you had for KVIL – the Daily Sheet, the People’s Choice Contest, and others that I don’t remember. I watched much of the second or third year of KVIL and witnessed the results.
I do know that your visits would inspire Ron and he would be full of new ideas that would involve Engineering.  I had a great relationship with Ron and I was always happy to help but was usually stymied by Fairbanks Engineering Politics.  More on that in a later episode.
Geo: Sorry Hollis but you’re right, I don’t remember you. However, I sure remember Heather. 🙂 Ron and I also had a great relationship, in fact, we could almost finish each other’s sentences when we talked radio. Case in point, when he’d pick me up at DFW, we’d chat about a lot of things on the way to my hotel. As we chatted about the Cowboys and other stuff, KVIL, of course, would be on in the background and upon arrival at the hotel, more often than not, Ron would point at the radio and say, “Oh, and that will be all fixed by tomorrow night.”
Randy Michaels: The planets are not perfectly round, and fission theory that says that the moon once part of the earth is only one theory.  The planets were superheated liquid when they were formed, thus the shape, but the gravitational pull of other plants keeps them from actually being round. The earth is actually an oblate spheroid.
OK, I’d rather discuss a Gretzky plus one. (We’re Becoming Animals)
Craig Hodgson: When I worked for Jimmy, he wore custom made shirts without a pocket so he could come down to the studio floor at some time during the day on his “stroke stroll” and borrow my cigarettes, as he searched for his in his perpetually missing pocket. I was making $200 a week and he had a Lamborghini parked out back. What’s wrong with this picture?
Geo: Craig, you mean like how he used to stand in front of the coffee machine and say, “Does anyone have change for a hun?” (Oh Jimmy Where Art Thou)
Robin Garrett: George you take an awful lot of liberties with misquoting people to fit your agenda. I never said you are raising your daughters incorrectly. What I specifically said is today there are very few young men out looking for a young princess that has to be taken care off. Hell, it’s no longer the time where men have any incentive to get married… they even have kids without marriage. I know plenty of men with kids (even daughters) but NONE go on and on about their daughters the way you do. And I’m pretty sure all those dads love their daughters as much as you do yours.  Which brings me to something my dad once told me… sometimes less is more.
We’ve been friends a long time (since before Cami) and for the first few years, you never told anybody she even existed! What I said, for the record, was stop blogging so much about your daughters and start at least giving an honorable mention to your son,  Curtis. Yes… impart your wisdom on us mere mortals about raising your son too! (Daughters Are Boring To Some)

Jim and Barbara Hilliard: Cami, from a quiet, little girl, to a shy little lady, an inquisitive and exceptionally bright teenager, and now a beautiful young woman, all in front of our eyes! Take the training wheels off, it’s time to steer on your own! And you’re ready!  We applaud your graduation and wish you continued success on your next and exciting adventure. If you were a tree, you’d be a peach. They’re the sweetest!  (Camera Anne Johns Summerfield Graduates Today)

Reid Reker: Jack McCoy = Creative Genius!  Not only is Jack a good friend but he also resurrected my early fading radio career and put me in the hands of my longtime best friend and programming mentor, George Johns. How fortunate I was to be just a punk kid learning at the hands of these two radio greats!
I also shared the privilege of being in the studio watching Jack perform his promo magic where he said to me, “I don’t work with copy cause the copy is in the music”.  We would set out to do promos for the latest contest but end up with 20 imaging promos for KOGO, it all depended on where the music took him. On top of that, Jack could have easily made it on the stand up comic circuit being one of the funniest people on the planet. He had me laughing so hard one night at dinner (or maybe just cocktails now that I think about it) that my stitches from a recent surgery literally burst out.
Jack McCoy is the most futuristic person I have ever met.  I will never forget hearing him speak at a Fairwest convention in 1989 where he told the audience that one day all radio stations would have a 2 share and that commercials would be purchased electronically.  All I can say about that is WOW!
Thanks, Jack for showing me the definition of the word “BIG” and for being a huge inspiration! (My Friend Jack)

Geo’s Media Blog is an inside look at Radio, Music, Movies, and Life. For a sneak peek at some upcoming Blogs or to see some that you may have missed, go to GeorgeJohns.com. On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.

 

4 thoughts on “Geo’s Media Blog (Sales & Engineering)

  1. Ron was unique in my experience because he didn’t worry over the Air Sound.
    If the audio appeared in his headphones, he was happy. That freed me up to work with Bruce Buchanan to tweak the KVIL audio using his expert ears. We both agreed that the sound of the station changed from day to day and we spent a lot of time trying to chase that down. I eventually discovered that the Consulting Engineer was readjusting the audio behind our backs. My protests to Smart and Spence fell on deaf ears and Ron had not yet gained control of the Engineering Budget.

    For reasons that I still do not understand, establishing a good working relationship with Ron and the Air Staff caused friction with Fairbanks Engineering Management. My exit forced Fairbanks to hire Jerry Kablunde and I understand that he did an excellent job.

  2. George: What most people did not realize, was that Jim Hilliard (and take from that, Dick Smart) would not spend money on equipment unless it was absolutely necessary. If it made the air sound better and louder, or if it made the station run more economically (with fewer ancillary people like John Walters), Jim would approve Dick’s wish list items as they became priorities, as you well know. A great radio station does not necessarily have showcase studios or the greatest equipment. When I visited KCBQ-AM in San Diego in October of 1980, I could not believe how ancient the equipment was. The production studio where Jack McCoy performed his “magic” in the early 1970s was no better than what WIBC’s production studio had even on WIBC’s best days in the 1970s. The KCBQ news booth was a closet with no windows, a microphone switch, a headphone jack, a teletype and a microphone hanging from the wall. The great KCBQ that beat KGB and spawned a legendary Top 40 legacy was all done with great air talent, great production and smoke and mirrors. When I visited Jim Hilliard in Dallas in 1985 before moving to Tampa, Jerry Bobo gave me a tour of KVIL’s studios. Again, it was not palatial, but was more than enough to win-win-win. I helped preside over WIBC and WNAP’s move to the Fairbanks Building at 9292 North Meridian from the cramped two-story brick on North Illinois Street in a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood. I also watched as the move eroded the dynamic tension from a family having to share everything to a designer showcase fitting for our egos, but separated sales, management, staff, engineering into two floors where people would rarely see each other for days and weeks. It took 18-months to rebuild what was lost with the move, but it was never the same as it was in that cramped build, and WNAP never fully recovered. Then there was Blair Broadcasting’s engineering extravagance at WFLA-AM / FM…the latest in equipment, chrome-plated equipment racks, Pacific Recorders boards, new I.T.C. Delta cart machines…all bought before Jim Hilliard took over Blair Radio’s reins…over a million-spent on capital equipment, and the ratings were falling faster than a thermometer falls in Duluth, Minnesota in January. By the time Jim hired me to try to resuscitate WFLA, the FM was at the bottom of the ratings heap, but losing over a million a year. So much for having the best equipment.

    One other example: The Emmis World Headquarters on Monument Circle added all new equipment for WIBC, 93.1, 97.1, Network Indiana and their other stations / translators. Their total ratings share of the Indianapolis radio market combined do not equal the combined ratings share of the market the WIBC / WNAP enjoyed in the 1970s when programming emanated from the two-story brick on dangerous North Illinois Street. – Jed Duvall

    • When KVIL was in the Highland Park Bank Building, the coffee pot was centrally located and everyone ran into everyone else sooner or later and we got to know all of the Sales Staff. Just before my arrival, Management had started charging for coffee. Chuck Murphy and Larry Reid retaliated by setting up a coffee machine in the Engineering Shop and giving it away. If Sales had been on another floor or even in a different office down the hall, I would have missed knowing a great group of Sales people.

      In El Paso, both XEROK and KINT built their mini-empires out of cramped studios and when they moved to larger quarters, the Air operation was never quite the same.

      KVIL did not need a lot of studio or production equipment. Craig Slayton had installed most of it and it worked very well, but there was absolutely no redundancy in any area. The Production Rooms could not serve as an Air Studio, there was only one Audio Chain, only one STL link to Cedar Hill, and the FM Antenna was shared with another station with no backup Transmitter or Antenna. None of this interfered with Programming and Engineering Management was unconcerned, but KVIL was always a component failure away from disaster. That kept me up at night.

      KVIL did have a backup Exciter and one afternoon Larry & I were tuning it back on the workbench. It radiated just enough power to overwhelm the marginal Off Air Receiver and Mike Selden came running back to tell us that we were off the air. We reassured him and said that we were just tuning an Exciter.

      Mike led me back to the control room and did a bit, asking me what it was called, and then doing a riff, a jungle, and a tune. And I went back to work.

      The next afternoon, I was cashing a check at my downtown bank and the Teller saw my name, looked up, and said that she heard my name on KVIL the afternoon before.

      I was sitting in an upscale Greenville hamburger place one evening and the 6 adults at the next table spent their evening talking about what they would do if they won the People’s Choice.

      Such was the power of KVIL and it was fun to watch.

    • When I first met Jack McCoy, Jed, I was at CFTR in Toronto and had bought the Last Contest from him. The promos were the best that I’d ever heard, but when I traveled to San Diego to have mine cut, I couldn’t believe how bad the equipment was at KCBQ. Jack even had to lay a suit jacket over the cart machines so the clunking noise they made, wouldn’t bleed into his mic. My promos were magnificent, proving once again that it’s the artist, not the canvas.

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