State of the Site Message
LARadio.com is about to enter its 11th year in the bold, not-so-new world of Internet news that moves at the barely heard click of a mouse. New visitors join this site every day and I thought I would review the history of the site, how it came about, where it has been and where it is today. But first, it occurred to me that I know a lot more about you than you know about me. I would like to get on equal footing and share my experiences so that you may be able to understand the genesis for LARadio.com.
Life Is But a Dream
I grew up on the beach in Santa Monica – an only child who befriended my imaginary friends on the radio. I surfed in Malibu but the real treat was surfing on the radio. In looking for the defining moment when my love affair with radio began, it was the discovery of doo-wop songs by bird groups like the Crows and the Orioles. Before long the groups were named after cars.
One morning I turned on the radio before going to school and it wasn’t just the music. I discovered the man who was playing the music, Earl McDaniel on KPOP (1020AM). Little did I know that Earl would become and has remained my mentor for over 4 decades. Pulling up to Santa Monica High School each morning there was a cacophony of forbidden rock ‘n roll music coming from every car radio. Overnight the young people had abandoned KMPC’s Dick Whittinghill and adopted the "new" music playing on KPOP and KGFJ.
I met Earl (r) at the Hollywood Palladium and he adopted me into the radio fraternity. I tagged along to a meeting with Elvis. I drove Bobby Rydell and Fabian from one of Earl’s dances to a secret location. I "handled" a hop in Palm Springs while Earl was doing one at the Rendezvous Ballroom. We even recorded and released a novelty song, The Astronaut by the Volkswagens. (We couldn’t make up our minds in 1957 if we should call ourselves the Volkswagens or the Beetles.)
I wanted to be a rock ‘n roll dj so Earl told me to go to college. He didn’t want to take the fun out of my radio dream, but he wanted me to prepare for management. So I did. When I graduated from college, Earl was pd at KEWB-San Francisco. He had an incredible staff that included Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele. Somehow I naively thought he was going to give me a job on the air. What he did was to give me more direction. "Get a 1st Class FCC license," Earl directed. Ok. Ok. Off to Ogden’s in Burbank and six weeks later I passed my examination.
Got the 1st Phone. "Hello. Earl? This is Don." I waited for the job offer and he still had more advice. He told me to load up my Karman Ghia with all my belongings and head in any direction and every time I saw a radio antenna, go knock on the door and ask if they needed a disc jockey. I wondered what kind of advice was this after spending years getting a college education and then a 1st Class License?
"You’re on the Air"
On March 10, 1965, I headed North: Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara. "Sorry we’re looking for someone with experience," was the consistent rebuff. At 1 o’clock I pulled into the parking lot at KNEZ in Lompoc. Cal Cannon, former mayor of Glendale, was the owner and gm of KNEZ. "I want to be a rock ‘n roll dj," I said for the fourth time that day.
"I just fired the program director an hour ago and I have no one to go on the air at 3," said Cal. "The problem is I need someone with a 1st Phone." (Photo: Dressed for success in KNEZ mobile unit.)
A big grin came across my face. That Earl McDaniel was right. I remember raising my arm like a schoolboy and muttering, "I have a First Phone." I was on the air that afternoon in afternoon drive and embarked on an incredible journey.
Within a few months I was the pd and a year later Rich "Brother" Robbin hired me to work mornings in St. Joseph, Missouri. Going from a 25,000-population market to 100,000 sounded like a leap. No disrespect to those of you who love Missouri, but it turned out to be a tough adjustment after growing up in the Southland. I went on to anchor the late news on the local CBS/TV station.
A Homerun in Dallas
In 1967, an ad in Broadcasting caught my eye. Gordon McLendon, the Father of Top 40 radio, was looking for "The Magnificent Seven," seven young men to learn under his personal tutelage and then be dispatched to his seven FM stations.
Following a strange battery of tests and examinations, four months later I was winging my way to Dallas as one of the "Magnificent Seven." I was flying on blind faith. Homer Odom, one of Gordon’s lieutenants, greeted us one by one and when we totaled seven we climbed in a van and headed to Lake Cielo, Gordon’s 500-acre ranch, which was going to be home for the next month. There was a party going on. After dropping my bags in Chill Wills’ bunkhouse, I headed for the action. There was a best selling author, an astronaut, an honest-to-god movie star and a couple of Dallas Cowboys. How did I get here? Less than three years ago I was knocking on the door of a Lompoc radio station. But where was Gordon? I waited for him to appear like those who must have waited for Jay Gatsby to appear and then disappear in the flash of a second.
I spent five years with Gordon. I traveled with him to FCC hearings. I was Bill Stewart’s last hire for Gordon as pd at KABL-San Francisco. National pd, sales at XTRA/KOST and eventually general manager at WWWW (W4) in Detroit, all before I was 30. Earl McDaniel was right again.
After a short stint as gm at WDRQ-Detroit, I returned to the beach in Southern California to launch KIQQ ("Psst…K-100FM…Pass It On"). I was able to return the Rich "Brother" Robbin favor and I made him pd at K100. Once the station was sold to Drake-Chenault I joined the motion picture business, working as a marketing executive at Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures and MGM/UA.
The parallels of the movie business to the radio business are unique. You are selling an intangible. You can’t touch it, feel it or squeeze it. I was part of the marketing effort on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Out of Africa, E.T., Rocky movies, Thelma & Louise, Back to the Future, and James Bond films. (Left photo: Sydney Pollack arrives at premiere of Out of Africa; right photo: Rerelease premiere of The Glenn Miller Story with Jimmy Stewart and June Alyson)
In 1994 management changed once again at MGM and I didn’t make the cut. I figured that God was finished with me there and had another plan. Rejection is God’s protection was advice I so often passed on to others and now I was going to have to see if it actually worked. I opted to start my own consulting business.
A Book Is Born
One day I was thinking back to those early formative days when radio was but a dream. I wondered what happened to the original seven swingin’ gentlemen at KFWB/Color Radio Channel 98. Ted Quillin was a teacher and motivational speaker living in Las Vegas. Gene Weed had gone on to tv producing and directing. Elliot Field had been mayor of Palm Springs and owned an ad agency. Bill Ballance was at KFMB in San Diego and he was still doing the Feminine Forum. I then tracked down the KRLA 11-10 Men. Friends were fascinated with my findings and encouraged me to write a book.
The structure was born. I called my first book a booktory. It wasn’t a book and it wasn’t a directory. It was…a booktory. Los Angeles Radio People was published in 1994 and it chronicled where the djs came from, where and when they were on the air and where they went when they went. It was a big enough hit to spawn a larger, more complete book that not only updated the djs, but also added news and sports people, talk show hosts, program directors and general managers. It ended up being 400 pages profiling over 3,000 personalities and boasted 500 photos.
I was really proud of Volume Two that was published in August 1997. There was an enormous amount of support from radio people. I knew the book was always a "work in progress," but I was not expecting a major jolt, especially so soon.
Within days of the book being published, The Real Don Steele died. How could that be? He was so young. He was voted the second most popular personality in the 40-year period between 1957 and 1997. Until a few months earlier, he was working his magic in afternoon drive at "K-Earth." My book seemed outdated before it hit the shelves. Within a few more months we lost Roger Barkley, "Emperor Bob" Hudson and Robert W. Morgan.
Wild Wild Web
LARadio.com was born in 1997 to be an appendix to my book plus maybe sell a few copies on the Internet. Almost immediately, djs, and other radio people, past and present, gravitated to the site. I was euphoric when 100 visitors each day came to read the current news. Before long I passed 1,000 visitors a day and by 2000 the site reached an amazing milestone – 15,000 visitors each day. Obviously the site is much more than "stuff" for radio people. Fans of radio have made the site a daily visit. My email count averaged 300 a day (in the days before SPAM). Before long I was averaging 30,000 unique visitors and over 100,000 hits (the volume was generated by the fascination with Where Are They Now). Radio Web sites grew: Chris Morales at 16 had a very feisty L.A. radio site. His age didn't prevent him from uncovering plenty of scoops. His father, Mucho Morales, passed on the radio gene to his son, Chris. Tomm Looney wrote L.A. radio news for the national Radio Digest. Sandy Wells was a contributor to the printed L.A. radio news magazine, the Radio Guide. Joel Denver's AllAccess.com was well on its way to becoming "the" all-encompassing national radio information site that it is today. AllAccess.com is truly a full-service Radio Web site. It is the MOR of radio cyberspace.
What my site was then is not what it is today. Except for AllAccess, the others are gone. LARadio has struggled to make a difference in the daily lives of those who toil in the radio minefields, fans of L.A. radio, along with a nostalgic tribute to those who have entertained us over the decades. The column has had some major help in the editing process, first from Anita Garner and more recently from the Insane Darrell Wayne.
I consider myself a photographer taking a snapshot of the radio landscape. Sometimes it is pretty, sometimes it is pretty stupid. It is not everyone's cup of tea. I'm thrilled with the hundreds of ad agency folk (here, New York, and elsewhere) who have come to rely on LARadio for a true assessment of the radio market. One out-of-town buyer thanked me profusely for a market analysis that explained a station package to her that was up for consideration.
LARadio is my livelihood. I spend 10-12 hours a day providing news on those who are on their way up, those who have made it, and those who have fallen. In the end, LARadio is about community - a place that reflects what is going on. It exists because of your support through subscription. The bursting bubble of the Internet a couple of years ago prevents this site from being advertising supported. It is a niche. The volume of traffic just doesn't provide the attractive number of eyes for a Coca Cola nationally, or a local car dealer locally. The modest 10 cents a day seems reasonable, but there are still many who think the Internet should be free and will "borrow" the password code from subscribers.
The perch from where I have listened to Los Angeles radio is unique. I’ve been here almost forever and I’ve heard the changes. I have an almost Old World dogma and desire for L.A. radio to be a better place. One former gm described my site as written by someone who would do therapy. I’m not sure what that means, but my stream-of-consciousness daily column provides a rich reservoir of information about L.A. radio. I love L.A. radio. LARadio.com has been, is and will be a tribute to those men and women who have entertained us over the years. I have invited those who are not in radio but love it like so many of us to come along for the ride. I have been told by many that LARadio.com is accessed before checking email, which I consider quite a compliment.
I would like to think I am a mirror of what we want L.A. radio to be, which gets more troublesome as the large corporations gobble up each other. We’ve somehow become complacent with a 2 share. Is anyone willing to take a chance without first hiring a research focus group, or better yet – is anyone able?
LARadio.com will continue to evolve with new features and new perspectives as we continue to trudge the road through 83 broadcast signals.
Thanks for all your support!
Send mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments about this Web site.
Copyright © 1997- 2009 - Los Angeles Radio People
Last modified: April 8, 2009