Geo’s Media Blog (The Mystery of Sales & Engineering) New 8/12/19

While growing up in radio as I did, I thought that everybody wanted to win so I was always confused about the folks in Sales & Engineering. 
I’d waste hours and hours arguing with engineers about my station’s lack of highs, or why the carts won’t start all the time, and why did the studio mic sound so tinny? However, when I  got into FM, the question of 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, was the unsuccessful ones so I got to see a lot of engineers at a lot of the early meetings. Not only was I arguing with them about engineering stuff in the halls, at the staff meetings they’d be all over me about the music and station promotions which they suddenly became experts about.
At some point, I accidentally discovered that the engineers belong to an engineering fraternity that shares everything with each other. (I believe alcohol may have been involved.) None of your secrets are safe with them, and the only way to get them out of the meetings is to get some ratings. Color me motivated.
The notable exception was Dick Smart who was the corporate engineer at Fairbanks. (pictured above, 2nd from the right) He’d challenge me daily to come up with something that 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 young production board op at CKY in Winnipeg.
One of the sales folks would sneak in when I was out of the room and place his orders to the top of the pile which was very irritating enough. Even worse though was that most of his stuff was not only small order stuff but also very difficult to produce and I can still feel the rage I felt when after pulling off one of his more epic creations, he rewarded me. The reward was a movie ticket for one. (I know, I know, Jim, it was a long time ago and I should let it go, I’m working on it, I really am)

For most of my radio career, the sales folks just wouldn’t stop f**king with me which went to a new level when I became a program director for the first time. It was at CKOM in Saskatoon where luckily, after some long hours and a lot of hard work, we showed up #1 in the new ratings. I was elated, but the sales folks sure weren’t, they claimed that they couldn’t sell it so when management ordered me to change the station back to the old format, I chose to walk instead.

After working in Sudbury for a few months, I ended up in the majors at CFRA in Ottawa where lo and behold we had the same national reps as Saskatoon did. Each week, the GM, the SM, and I had a conference call with them about the promotions we had to do so they could get us in on the buy. I don’t think they remembered me from Saskatoon, so during one of those boring conference calls, I finally interrupted and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you, and what I remember the most was when I asked you what I had to do to get rid of these lame promotions?” Your answer was, “Just get bigger ratings. “Well guess what, we’ve got ’em, so this conversation is over, and with that, I hung up the phone and walked out of the room. (Over 80% of the radio listeners in Ottawa, listened to CFRA )

My next stop was CFTR in Toronto, where years after I moved to America and became much kinder and gentler, right guys? My brother Reg ended up there as their new PD and as they were taking him around and introducing him to everyone, the sales manager upon hearing his name said, “You’re not related to that prick George Johns are you?”

Now that I think about it, I’ve been doing battle with sales and engineering for most of my career because I could never understand why they couldn’t see or hear the obvious, so I was confused. However, my confusion went away the day I realized that sales and engineering don’t really answer to the radio station, we only pay them. Engineering answers to and shares secrets with their fraternity brothers and the sales folks answer to and work for their clients.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to hang out with the sales folks because they’re a hell of a lot more fun to be with after work than the air talent or engineering but I just don’t like working with them.
Notable exceptions, Tom Skinner, (on top) Jerry Bobo, (on the left below Tom) Dick Yancey, (middle) and Tim Reever. (on the right.)


Courage becomes easier to conjure up the more you use it. 

It looks like the date, October 18, has been locked in for the “KVIL Casual Reunion”. The fun reunion is going to be held at a bar near downtown Dallas and a bunch of folks from the “Glory Years” are going to be there. If you have an interest in joining us, get a hold of Jack Schell at 

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.

I find it weird that an active shooter can be killed by the police, no Miranda rights, no warnings, just boom. However, if the shooter is captured alive, the shooter becomes the alleged shooter or a suspect?

When you’re the first, you have to be on your best behavior. There was no way that Barack Obama could be anything but a gentleman while he was in office just as Jackie Robinson couldn’t come off as an angry athlete when he was finally allowed to play in the Majors. This is what a woman, a gay, a Hispanic, a Muslim, or whoever becomes president as the next first, needs to think about. The second can do whatever they damn well, please.

If you were surprised at all by Epstein’s suicide, imagine how surprised he was.

What the hell has happened to the Red Sox?

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, but you’re right Hollis, the bad news is that I don’t remember you, but the good news is that I sure remember Heather! 🙂 Ron and I also had a great relationship, in fact, we could almost finish each other’s sentences. Case in point, when he’d pick me up at the airport we’d chat about the Cowboys and other things on the way to my hotel, KVIL, of course, would be on in the background. Upon arrival at the hotel, Ron would point at the radio as I was getting out of the car and say, “Oh, and that will be all fixed by tomorrow.”

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 outback. 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 On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.


6 thoughts on “Geo’s Media Blog (The Mystery of Sales & Engineering) New 8/12/19

  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.

    • My favorite sales call ever was with you, Dick. We had come up with a brand new promotion called the “Magic Ticket” and I went along with you on the pitch to answer any questions that may come up. You also brought along the salesperson whose account it was, but you told him he had to stay quiet. As you explained to him, “Were going to ask for big money so we have to look and sound like this is not our first big money Rodeo.”
      One of the lines in the produced promo we played them claimed that WIBC was going to offer over a hundred thousand dollars in cash and prizes during this promotion. When the promo ended, the owner of the drug store immediately said, “Well I’m guessing that getting involved in this “Magic Ticket” of yours is going to cost us about a hundred thousand dollars?” You quickly responded with, “Nope, only seventy-five,” and I’m pretty sure that was the moment you came up with the price?

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