Geo’s Media Blog (We Gotta Get Outta This Place) under construction

My first radio hire
was a hippie named Gar
He helped me a lot
as we gathered our stars.

Sebastian & Woody
were part of the gang
Then when we added Ron Doc & Alfie
we came on with a bang

Two things happened almost spontaneously in the late’60s that changed my whole life. My daughter Candis was born and CKY offered me a full-time position as their Music Director. Knowing I couldn’t do both, I decided to leave the Jury. This though turned out to be the right move because less than six months later, I was offered the Program Director’s job at CKOM in Saskatoon and my radio career caught fire.

Now one of the bad things about Saskatoon is that it’s even colder than Winnipeg, I know it because I spent the first couple of days there, hunkered down in front of a heater, listening to the radio in a motel. Management thought it would be a good idea for me to monitor the radio station for a week and then come in and discuss my findings. However, after two days, I was crazed. I didn’t know much about programming, but I sure knew enough to know that what I was hearing would never ever work. 

The early mornings started off with MOR music, (Middle Of The Road) until a piano player showed up at 9 to play some sing-along stuff. At 10:00 they switched to Country Music which was followed by top 40 at 4:00 in the afternoon. During the evening, they switched back to MOR again before doing some strange talk shows like schizophrenic anonymous 

As I said, I knew none of this would work, so with my notes in hand, it was into the station I go. After being introduced to the staff as the new PD, I sat down in my boss’s office and told him what needed to be ripped off the air immediately. Unfortunately, when all I heard was crickets and looked up from my notes, I discovered that my new boss was just sitting there, red-faced and trembling with anger. That’s when I suddenly realized that I was talking to the guy who put all that sh*t on the air. Oh-oh! 

My first meeting at the radio station cost me at least six months so I decided to bide my time by fixing production first. The station was also short an announcer, so based on J Robert Wood’s recommendation; I hired future Hall Of Famer Gary Russell. (pictured with me above) Gar was a good fit and like me, was also once a board op at CKY-FM in Winnipeg but when he arrived in Saskatoon, he only had one question. “What the f**k is all this?” 

Wouldn’t you know it, Management loved the new production sound and gave me a raise because of it, but when I tried to convince them that my fixing production wouldn’t be enough to improve the ratings, they just waved me off.

Sure enough, out came the ratings and they’re a disaster. This panics the big guys and all they want to know now is, “How long will it take you to put all those things that you’ve wanted to do, on the air?” It seems that the owner was returning from his winter home in Palm Springs and they wanted to be able to say, “Yes, the ratings are terrible, but as you can hear, we now have a completely new sound.”

It is said that the definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity and Gar and I hadn’t been idle. We were totally prepared for this moment and already had most of the replacement staff lined up and Gary, who was familiar with the mechanics of CKLW in Detroit had our format clock ready to go. From the old crew, we decided to hold on to another future Hall Of Famer Ken Sebastian Singer, and then brought in Keith Elshaw from Toronto, Doc Harris from Vancouver, Ron Andrews from Regina, and Woody Cooper from Omaha Nebraska. Woody preferred the cold of Saskatoon to the heat of Nam, I suspect.
Everything fell into place rather quickly so not only was our sound completely different when the owner got back, we also managed to launch the new CKOM in time for the upcoming ratings.
Even though our new format scared the shit out of the sales staff, we were attracting a lot of new fans and one of them was Joni Mitchell. She was back home in Saskatoon visiting with family and heard our launch so she decided to pop by the station to give us her new album. She was with a guy who we thought was her boyfriend and while taping an interview with us she introduced him as Graham Nash of the Hollies. Graham told us that he’d just popped into Saskatoon to visit with Joni before heading to LA to cut an album with a new group called Crosby Stills & Nash.


Oh, oh, here come, the new ratings are out and they’re killer! Everything was beautiful, or so I thought until the owner popped into my office to ask if I was ready for the big meeting later that day? I just laughed and said that I didn’t need to do much prep for a celebration meeting and that’s when he shocked me with, “It’s not a celebration, in fact, it’s the opposite.” The sales department it seems was getting a lot of resistance from the clients to our new format which also had some new rules about what could run and what couldn’t so they wanted to return to our old ways.

Wow, I was in total shock so I called my mentor Jim Hilliard for some advice. Jim simply said, “All you can do is go into the attack mode.” Then knowing that I was about to rain hell down on everybody, I called my wife to warn her that this may be my last day. She was back home in Transcona with my daughter visiting family, and instead of panicking she told me to do whatever I had to do because we could always live with her folks.

It’s easy for a man to be strong and brave when he has his family backing him, so when I walked into that conference room, I was walkin’ tall and loaded for bear. Strangely, even though I’d arrived a few minutes early, everyone else was already there and seated which kinda pissed me off. This was good though because I’m at my best when I’m pissed. Things started out cordial enough; the GM began the meeting by congratulating me on our great showing in the rating book but when he got to the part about our having a few problems I interrupted him. I said, “You’re right, you do have a few problems and they’re sitting in this room. Somebody should have anticipated that there’d be resistance to our new format as there is to anything new. We should have formulated a plan that explained to our clients how they could take advantage of all our new listeners.” Instead, I said, “It looks to me like our sales department was caught flat-footed and had no idea this great rating book was on the way. Now, not only do we sound good, but we also have statistical justification proving that we’re on to something.
However, if you’re just here to tell me that you want the old ways back, I can assure you that it won’t be me doing it. With that, I walked out.
 
GEO’S LIFE-LINES 

So far I’ve lived in three countries, Canada, Australia, and America, but I love my family more.

The reason America became the greatest country on earth in such a short period of time was because, great people with great ideas, came from all over the world because they wanted to live in America. I’m not sure that’s true anymore.

In my world, there are two worlds, the one before the Beatles and the one after.

As the Jews discovered shortly after WWII, nobody is going to take care of you so you better learn how to take care of yourself.

COMMENTS
Xrey: Hey Geo, enjoyed The Phantoms & The Jury songs, While shopping on AMZ I see after 30 years The Guess Who have a new pre-order CD “The Future Is What It Used To Be”.
Musicians include their original drummer Garry Peterson, vocalist Derek Sharp (he’s NO Burton Cummings with a whiney voice), ex-Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo, guitarist Will Evankovich, and multi-instrumentalist Leonard Shaw.  Special guests include founding member Jim Cale, ex-Styx Tommy Shaw, ex-Whitesnake Michael Devin, Brent Fitz (ex-Slash, Gene Simmons) percussion.
The previews show this to be a good overall rockin’ album. The good, but formulaic, single is “Playin’ On The Radio”.  Maybe they should have called it “Playin’ On The Stream” since terrestrial radio shot itself in the foot-long ago and will likely not support them again. “Give It A Try” would make a good single for Hot AC, and rock,  The ballad “Haunted” is also good, with a piano reminiscent of The Commodores’ “Easy”. (I Remember The Jury)

Jed Duvall: George, even though I understand the economic discrimination of “redlining” real estate and putting stigmas on the economic classes we as Americans (and human beings) are not supposed to do, radio, TV, websites, magazines, books, newspapers, texts, tweets, etc., etc., etc. are all forms of communication in which hooks of all sorts are needed to gain attention in this crazy, over-communicated, noise-filled world.  Although I have always believed that understatement is the best avenue, I realize I am and was wrong.  Whatever I might think about Donald Trump, he has proven time and again, that today in the 21st Century, the loudest and bluntest language breaks through the attention-barrier of most people.  Jack Collins at KLLS-FM was absolutely correct, and frankly, even today was not being racist in the way he presented his maps to advertising agencies.  Without calling out agencies that we both remember in Indianapolis, we knew agencies that discriminated between and against stations for reasons known only to the media buyers.  The families of staff, programming and management, and engineering all depend on sales savages convincing small businesses and advertising agencies were and are worth the investment, on a sustaining basis to prove that exposure on the radio produces results.  However that message was transmitted without slurs, exaggerations or outright lies was and is fair game.  In the 1970s, WIBC became KING with WNAP (as did KVIL and WRMF). Maybe it was not fair to the other radio stations in the market, but I remember when Jim Duncan did a study of the Indianapolis and Louisville radio markets in the early 1980s (which I still have). Duncan found that because WIBC and WNAP led the market in commercial rates and kept the pedal pressed to the floor-board, even lesser stations in the market could thrive slotting in below WIBC and WNAP. WIRE-AM and WXTZ-FM under the ownership of Burrell Small and Mid-America Media did very well making money, slotting in at # 3 and # 4 in the 1970s.  In Louisville, with the lack of leadership in programming and sales management (except maybe for WAKY-AM) on the part of WHAS-AM and their FM (First the Bingham family, then Clear Channel), Louisville was a tough market to make real money, but then the Binghams owned the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. It is amazing how many radio station managers take the easy road and not push themselves to higher levels, larger scale. (We’re #1 Right Here Right Now)

Geo: It’s always about the market leader Jed, they set the rates and everybody tucks in under them. I once talked Joe Amaturo into not going after the #1 station in town because it would not only a tough fight but and all we would probably accomplish was to bring them down. This, I explained would make the bad sounding country station who had equally bad rates, #1. He went country instead

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.

 

2 thoughts on “Geo’s Media Blog (We Gotta Get Outta This Place) under construction

  1. Ken Sebastion Singer: Wow George, thanks for the memories of CKOM. What an amazing story. I remember that the station wouldn’t financially back the cost of a new music service or station imaging package. So at a jock meeting, we decided we would do some “record hops” and turned over our fees to make initial payments on the new services. Management, feeling a bit embarrassed, finally agreed to buy the tools we needed. What an awesome team you assembled George. Never forget those times my friend. (We Gotta Get Outta This Place)

    • A have a ton of memories of those times Ken, like you paying the price of referring to Ron Andrews as “Fat Cat” on the air and his retaliation of putting your phone number on the air very early in the morning to win a prize.
      I learned a lot there Ken, but unfortunately, a lot of it was what I would never tolerate again. So proud of you Man!

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