Geo’s Media Blog (Running Back To Saskatoon) New 8/17/20

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

Sebastian & Woody
became part of our gang
When we added Ron Doc & Alfie
we came on with a bang

When my daughter Candis was born and CKY made me their Music Director, I left my band called The Jury. I wanted to focus on radio and before long I was named the new Program Director of CKOM in Saskatoon.

Upon my arrival in Saskatoon, I soon discovered that it was even colder here than it was in Winnipeg.
Management wanted me to listen to the radio station for a few days before coming in, so I spent my first couple of below zero days hunkered down in a motel room with the heater on full blast.

However, after listening for two days, I was just crazed, and even though I didn’t know much about programming, I knew this would never work.

They started the day off with some middle of the road music (MOR), you know, folks like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Perry Como. Then a piano player who the morning man obviously hated showed up at nine and played some sing-along stuff.
At ten, they switched to Country, followed by CHR at four and back to MOR in the early evening before doing some talk shows.

Whew, I had my work cut out for me, so with my notes in hand, I headed into the station to get started.
After being introduced to the staff, I then sat down with my immediate boss to discuss my findings but when I tell him what stuff needs to be pulled immediately, I hear nothing but crickets. Looking up from my notes I discovered that my boss was sitting there red-faced and trembling with rage. Until that moment I had no idea that I was talking to the guy who’d put all that sh*t on the air in the first place. Oh-oh!

That meeting cost me at least six months, so I decided to take fix our production sound first and because we were short an announcer, based on J Robert Wood’s recommendation, I hired Gary Russell. (pictured on top with me)
When Gar arrived in Saskatoon he only had one question, “What the f**k is all this?”

My bosses loved our new production sound so much that they gave me a raise, but when I told them that my fixing production wouldn’t fix the ratings, it just fell on deaf ears.

Sure enough, when the new ratings come out, they’re a disaster and management panics. It seems that the owner was heading home from Palm Springs soon so all they care about now was how quickly I could change the sound. They wanted to be able to say, “Yes, the ratings are terrible, but as you can hear, we have a brand new sound.

As they say, luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and Gar and I hadn’t been idle, hell, we already had most of the replacement staff lined up.
We held on to Ken Sebastian Singer from the old crew, brought in Keith Elshaw from Toronto and Doc Harris from Vancouver. Next, we got Ron Andrews from Regina, Woody Cooper from Omaha, and when we brought in Dylan Thomas from Albuquerque, we were all set.
Not only did we sound completely different, the owner even told me that he liked the new sound but I think what he liked the most was the fact that something had finally changed on his radio station.

Even though our new sound scared the sh*t out of our sales staff, we were also attracting some new fans like Joni Mitchell. (pictured above) Joni surprised us by stopping by the station one day with a friend to give us her new album.
While she was there she agreed to do an interview and when we took a short break she introduced us to her companion who turned out to be Graham Nash of the Hollies. Wow!
Graham told us that he had come to see Joni for a couple of days before heading to LA to record an album with his new group, Crosby Stills & Nash. (pictured below)

When the new ratings hit, they’re killer and I thought everything was beautiful until the owner popped into my office to ask if I was ready for the big meeting?
When I just laughed and said that I didn’t need to do much prep for a celebration meeting, he shocked me with, “It’s not a celebration, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.” He went on to say that the sales department was getting resistance from some of our old clients so they want to return to the old ways.

I sure wasn’t ready for that and was in total shock, so I called my mentor, Jim Hilliard, who said, “Go into the attack mode.”

So knowing that I was about to rain hell down on everyone, I called my wife to tell her that I might not have a job come supper time. Instead of panicking, she told me to do whatever I had to do because if worse came to worse, we could always live with her folks.

It’s easy to be brave when a man 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 was already seated, which pissed me off but I give much better meetings when I’m pissed.

The GM began by congratulating me on our great showing in the rating book. However, when he got to the part about our having a few issues, I interrupted him by saying, “No, what you have, is a few problems, and they’re all sitting in this room.

Someone,” I said, “Should have anticipated the resistance and formulated a plan on how to overcome it.

We should be out there right now, explaining to our clients how they can take advantage of all our new listeners. Instead, it looks like our crack sales force was asleep at the wheel.
Not only do we sound good, but we also have statistical justification proving that we’re on to something. So if you’re here to tell me that you want the old ways back, I can assure you that it won’t be me doing it. And with that, I walked out.
Jed Duval: Well, another year, another strike-out for Jim Hilliard, George Johns, Dick Yancey, Chuck Riley, Roy Cooper, even Gary Todd in the Richard M Fairbanks / Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame for 2020.
While I do not begrudge their nominations or inductions,  Paul Mendenhall (yes, WNAP’s / WIBC’s part-timer who has been full-time at WTTS-FM for the last 20-years and is retiring in September) and former WIBC – WNAP receptionist, Terri Stacy, who became Jeff Pigeon’s side-kick, then Steve Simpson and now does public affairs on WIBC-FM, will be inducted this year.
Why, because Geoff Vargo is President of the Indiana Broadcasters Association and Jeff Smulyan still has veto power over inductees.I quit the Broadcast Pioneers and the I.B.A. in disgust in 2005.  Oh, and the Executive Director of the I.B.A. is none other than Dave Arland, who was in the late 1980s a news reporter for one Fred Heckman!
Dave is like a lap-dog to the Indiana Broadcasters Association board, most of whom hate WIBC/WNAP from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s.
The i.B.A. board has total control over the approval of every nominee to the Hall of Fame.
Geo: It’s a damn shame, Jed. I’ve been asked a few times what I attribute the success I’ve had in my career? The answer is easy, the air talent.
Hey, when most of the on-air folks I was lucky enough to have worked with both in Canada and the US ended up in Radio Hall Of Fames, how tough could it be? In fact, I have two more going in this month, Bill Gardner in Texas, and Brent Farris in San Francisco.
As I look at the list above of who’s going into this year’s Hall Of Fame in Indy, I realized that even though I spent over ten years in Indianapolis, I never heard of any of them. However, I sure heard of Gary Todd, Chuck Riley, Jerry Baker, Bob Lamey, Orly Knutson, and Buster Bodine and a few others that should be in there.
As for Jim, me, Roy, and Dick, I’ve always believed that the Hall Of Fame should be for the stars so I’m ok with not being included as I’m sure they are too.
What I don’t understand is how Jeff Smulyan who was sleeping on Mickey Mauer’s couch when I lived in Indy, gets to use Mr’ Fairbanks’ money to veto who should or shouldn’t be in Indiana’s Hall Of Fame. Tell him to use his own.


4 thoughts on “Geo’s Media Blog (Running Back To Saskatoon) New 8/17/20

  1. Bill Gardner: I may be partial, George, but “Running Back To Saskatoon” might be your best yet! Terrific read. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of when you and Jim Hilliard hired me for “a M.O.R. radio station in Dallas,” and I’m just months out of mornings at flame-throwing KCBQ San Diego with Jack McCoy, and I’m figuring they want ME for “M.O.R.??? This guy George Johns MUST know what he’s doing.” Especially since my old WFIL Philly PD Jim Hilliard hired him. But I IMAGINED I was heading to a radio station that was EXACTLY like what you describe in Saskatoon ….but BEFORE you got there! Look out, American Radio! Little did we know you were about to create the multi-million dollar Adult Contemporary Radio! (Running Back To Saskatoon)

  2. Aloha from Maui,

    Dale Parsons: Loved the Saskatoon story, George. Far too many of us have been in that situation at one point or another in our careers.
    And, even though I have nothing to do with the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, you should, without a doubt, be included. You have been an important and positive force in this business for many years. (Running Back To Saskatoon)
    Geo: Thank you, Dale, but as I said, I think the “Hall” should be for the performers. WIBC/WNAP had the best air talent in town yet very few have been inducted and I wonder if Mr. Fairbanks who financed the Indiana Hall Of Fame if he were alive today would think about his air staff being snubbed.

  3. Bruce Walker: Good one George. Jim sure was a great help in your career. Isn’t it odd how things come together sometimes in life? I never really had much contact with him at CKY, but it was plain to see that he was very good at what he did. When all the gang left for greener pastures it was quite a disappointing experience. )Running Back To Saskatoon)
    Geo: It sure was, Bruce. I learned a lot from Jimmy Darin, (Hilliard) Gary Todd, Chuck Dann (Riley), and Daryl ‘B’ and I still use what they taught me back then, today.

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