OK where was I before I was rudely interrupted by all the the noises in my head. Oh yeah I remember now! There I was sitting across the desk from Jim Hilliard shortly after arriving in Indianapolis at the corporate headquarters of Fairbanks Broadcasting from Toronto.
Jim’s office was a just a hair smaller than the owner’s but Mr. Fairbanks didn’t have a button like Jim’s that automatically opened his blood red drapes and let the sun fall on you like a huge spotlight. Mr Fairbanks of course was a very rich man but as I’ve always said, I would rather live like Hilliard because he always had a way more toys. Anyway there I am basking in God’s spotlight on my first day in America with my new career ahead of me as the company’s new National Program Director.
I remember to this day sitting there telling Jim I was ready to start implementing all his great ideas and do what ever else it was he wanted done. The words he used to jump start me back into reality were … “George if I knew what to do I wouldn’t have hired you”! That being said he also informed me that we were soon going to be doing some quick road trips to introduce me around. The first stop was to be Dallas where we would meet with the GM Bob Hanna and Morning Man/PD Ron Chapman of our newly acquired FM station KVIL. But before we do that he said there are a few things right here in Indy that need to be taken care of. He went on to say that he was very concerned about WNAP because he no longer recognize most of the music and the ratings seemed to be going sideways. He also thought I should consider hiring some new blood which may get the Buzzard Boys attention because he didn’t much like the fact that a lot of the jocks were hanging out with the sales folks and they were all acting like they had this very hip and exclusive private club thing they had going on. To him it appeared most of them were more into inner peace than they were ratings.
WIBC on the other hand he felt seemed to be in pretty good shape and was currently on the rise in Arbitron’s new diary method of harvesting ratings. We had Gary Todd as our Morning Ring Master and we had surrounded him with some very well known local morning characters like Jerry Baker, Fred Heckman and Paul Page. Orly Knutson had given up playing drums and was now focused on his midday show. Chuck Riley cantankerous as ever was doing afternoons along with Hockey Bob Lamey and Lou Palmer. Nat Humpheries was our pipe smoking Dude at night. Arbitron’s diary method of ratings was just taking over in America but was old hat to me because it was the way Canada had being doing it since I first started in radio. I felt I had a bit of a leg up in that arena and had brought with me a few sneaky ideas that might just help to further our good cause.
As good as WIBC sounded when I first arrived it was still in a ratings dog fight with an old line station WFBM and top 40 WIFE. Jim strategically wanted to maneuver WNAP more directly against WIFE which would pull their ratings down a little and make room for WIBC to sneak on by. We knew our demos would end up being younger then WFBM so even though they may in the short run out rank us we would beat them in the street then eventually dismantle them completely. His main concern about all this was the music we were currently playing on NAP was not going to aid our cause so he wanted me to fix it and he wanted it fixed without ruining ultra hip image The Buzzard had. Jim thought we could use a few very cool promotions that could add hipness to the station to counter balance the fact that the music was going to be squarer. My first step was to set up a meet with the PD/Afternoon drive guy Cris Conner who referred to himself on the air as “Moto Groove”. I needed to get Cris on board with the new plan as soon as possible but seeing as he was a very intelligent guy I was pretty sure he would see the logic behind some of the changes we needed to make and could bring Tom Cochran, Mike Griffin, Buster Bodine and Major Tom around to our way of thinking.
On the WIBC side Jim thought that it was time to start slowly moving the music a little closer to what I had been doing in Toronto on CFTR and away from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett type sound. The theory was If we evolved the music slowly and carefully Jim was convinced we could make WFBM sound much older than us without anybody realizing we had changed anything. WIFE on the other hand would be forced to go younger to defend themselves against the new WNAP pressure. Our thinking was if WFBM got older and WIFE got younger WIBC could slide right up and in between the both of them and end up with the Lions share of the 25-54’s and all the big blue chip clients that went with them, and thats exactly what happened.
WNAP was always used throughout the years to protect the company’s “Cash Cow”. WIBC was so successful that Jim used the profits to buy radio stations all over America. So goes WIBC so goes the company he often said but we all knew that WNAP played an enormous role as the protector of “Big Mamma” as WIBC was affectionately called. We would and could could adjust The Buzzard’s format the moment any competitor started to get any traction that we deemed may harm WIBC in any way.
At the corporate level of Fairbanks we were all totally into strategy and Jim and I even went to Disney University a couple of times a year just to see if we get a leg up on the Radio Biz.
Dick Yancey my counter part in sales and I used to spend hours dreaming up promotions we could add a little sales twist to which would enable us to take a bunch of money off the table and literly starve the other stations to death as we chased ratings.
One of those promotions we did produced over a 19 share for WIBC and brought in a ton of money. The promotion changed Yance’s life forever and he is still doing some version of it today. Hey it even got me a new Mercedes. Hey maybe I should have switched gears right then like my Brother Reg did rather than chasing ratings for the rest of my life.
Meanwhile back at the ranch Jim suggested I should begin a search for another great jock who could do weekends, production and vacation fill in on WIBC. He would need to be good enough to maybe scare my old friend Chuck Riley because once again Chuck was once again becoming unmanageable and driving the rest of the staff crazy. Oh and George one more thing he said as we started to wrap up my first meeting in America, I hope you still have your old promo chops cause your gonna need them. Jim loved promos and his desire for fresh new ones was insatiable. As I was leaving his office with my head spinning he said … Oh yeah and another thing I almost forgot, “Welcome To America”
Soon it was time to head for Big D Baby! But hey not so fast it seems we’re taking a little side trip first to New Orleans to look at an FM station Jim’s interested in. That was very cool with me because I had never been to Dallas let alone New Orleans. Wow, New Orleans the place where a ton of music that changed my life came from how fun!
I have to stop here for a moment to mention that before moving to Indy I lived in Toronto which by far is one of the cleanest big cities in North America so I was not at all prepared for what I would find in “The City Of New Orleans”. To this day I still can’t get it out of my head. When we arrived in the Big Easy it was cloudy, dreary and the humidity was just stifling. On the cab ride into the French Quarter in a beat up old cab with no AC I noticed a strange sour smell in the air and trash, newspapers and junk were blowing all over the very dirty streets. I noticed that the people were not smiling at all and appeared to be be sad as they were slowly shuffling around seemingly headed for nowhere. I think I felt their pain back then and I still do.
Jim finished up what he wanted to do and shortly there after we were on our way to the home of The Dallas Cowboys. We arrived at Love Field in Dallas to exactly what award winning Jock Bill Gardner claimed about a year later when he did the official weather live on KVIL. “When you live in Dallas Texas you expect sunshine, blue skies, and 80 degrees … You got it more of the same tomorrow” and hit the post. We were met by KVIL’s GM Bob Hanna who had a big ol’welcoming grin on his face as he greeted us. I really liked Bob who had a charming soft southern drawl even though I remember smelling a little too much after shave and he seemed to be wearing a tad too much gold. Anyway we piled into his white on white Cadillac Eldo with two phones and head to the Fairmont hotel to meet up with Ron Chapman for some lunch (Of course I got a red one just like it two weeks later. I Americanized very quickly)
While driving Jim mentions to Bob that I had never been to Big D. He immediately makes a sharp right turn and says OK lets get this out of the way right now. He soon stops the car downtown points up and says, that’s the window where Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from, and over there is the famous grassy knoll. So that’s the bad news George but if you look over here you will see the good news. Man oh man oh man! Here was another thing I was totally not prepared for … Breathtakingly beautiful women everywhere who all looked like Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. I’ll tell you one thing for sure unlike in New Orleans these ladies weren’t shuffling they were struttin’! Hey how could you not win in this town and as it turned out we surely did. To be continued….
See the movie/documentary “NAPTOWN RADIO ROCK WARS” on the big screen at a film festival near you soon.