Post-pop MOR Radio
A bad break, well, maybe. Local-radio audiences seemed satisfied. Middle-of-the-Road (MOR) radio was okay. Its diet was mostly mature big-band music and ballads from crooners presented by vapid disk jockeys (DJs). MOR fit most communities, well. Then rock and a new style of pop music appeared.
The audience for rock and pop radio overwhelmed the MOR format. Rock and pop radio gave advertisers a fast-growing audience of younger listeners, with money to spend; they loved the music and DJ antics. MOR appealed to listeners happy with family, home and a long-term mortgage.
A great many local radio stations, mired in low ratings, switched from MOR to a rock or pop music format. There was an endless stream of new product. At the peak, more than 200 rock and pop records released each week; at least ten percent of the releases caused a stir, of some sort; if not nationally, then regionally.
The rock and pop formula was simple. Play music supplied by record companies, at no charge. Jam-pack every hour with commercials. Pay DJs as little as possible; let them develop outrageous on-air persona to attract listeners and help earn money outside the station, but because of the station. Never mind airing much news or public affairs.
Rock and pop radio was a brainless way to make money. Thus, many morons made millions with the format. Only a fool couldn’t make money with rock and pop radio.
For MOR radio, the going got rough. Younger listeners avoided the format, which held much for their parents, but not for them. Ratings stalled, the tyranny of rock and pop radio smothered most MOR stations. Rescuing MOR called for much insight and imagination, rare characteristics in radio, at any time.
Harvey Glascock, a station manager for Metropolitan Broadcasting, saw a way to renew MOR. WNEW-AM, in New York City, prospered despite rock and pop radio. Success, he seems to have thought, as the devil, resided in the details.
In 1958, Glascock hired Dick Carr to dot the eyes and cross the tees on a renewed MOR format at WIP-AM, in Philadelphia, PA. Post-pop MOR arrived. Glascock had a vision and Carr possessed a unique skill, making the vision of another into a practical reality, successfully.
Dick Carr didn’t consider radio before university. Print journalism was high on his list for school and career. His grandfather, a tireless reader of newspapers, advised he “Take something useful.”
Carr majored in Economics at St. Bonaventure University, a small, Franciscan school in Allegany, New York. He was a walk-on for the basketball team, says Carr, “maybe not all that good." At university he was always looking to fill time.
“At St. Bonaventure, Jim Arcara and I started the campus radio station; that was 1952.” The station is now WSBU-FM. Arcara later became President of the ABC Radio Network.
“I was on-air, most days,” says Carr. “I discovered I could do it. I enjoyed radio.
“My confidence and awareness of radio and the skills involved soared. I couldn’t know enough about radio. Now, I was thinking, seriously, about a career in radio.
“I had an idea. I might ease the financial strain of university with a part-time radio job. WHDL-AM, in Olean, New York, was about a mile from campus. The Olean “Times Herald” newspaper owned WHDL-AM. One day, I walked into the station and asked for a job.
Chief Engineer, Wally Taylor, interviewed Carr. "He asked if I’d work as janitor. I said sure. When I graduated, from St. Bonaventure, three years later, I was doing the morning show on WHDL-AM.”
Carr stayed with WHDL-AM after graduation. “Not long though; my career was on hold, from 1956 to 1958,” says Carr. Military duty called.
At St. Bonaventure, Carr won a scholarship from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). "This paid my tuition," he says, "but meant active military service, on graduation." He worked, as an office assistant, for the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS).
After full-time military service, Carr joined WBNY-AM, in Buffalo, New York. “It was the first rock and roll station in Buffalo,” says Carr. “I did the midday shift, four hours weekdays; five on Saturday.”
“WBNY-AM woke up the Buffalo radio market,” says Howard Lapides, of Lapides Entertainment, in Los Angeles, and survivor of Buffalo radio. “The station was 250 watts, but the first in town to commit to a Top 40 format. WBNY-FM moved to Middle-of-the-Road (MOR) the day WBNY-AM went Top 40.
“Dick Lawrence developed the WBNY-AM formula. Fast-talking DJs, punchy jingles and the latest rock and roll hits. Teenagers, the fastest growing radio audience, at the time, loved it.
“Many of the legends of Buffalo radio worked WBNY-AM. Dan Neaverth and Joey Reynolds worked the station in the late 1950s as did Art Roberts, Jay Nelson, Cas also worked WBNY-AM. The station had A-list DJs, always.
“WKBW-AM perfected the Buffalo style of Top 40 by polishing the WBNY-AM format. WBNY-AM definitely walked that path first. About 1966,” says Lapides, “WBNY-AM became WYSL-AM, when the McClendon Group bought the station.”
Dick Carr moved, briefly, to WCUE-AM, in Akron, Ohio. That was 1960 and he was the Programme Director (PD), for a time.
“Harvey Glascock, General Manage (GM), of WHK-AM, in Cleveland, wanted to hire me as a DJ. He told me his employer was expanding. It was buying stations in Cleveland, New York City and Philadelphia." Soon, the company became a public company, Metromedia.
After a time, Glasock changed his mind. "He didn't want me as a DJ," says Carr. Glasock thought I was a better fit for what he had in mind at WIP-AM, in Philadelphia." WCUE-AM became placeholder, while the buys completed.
In a few weeks, says Carr, “I was on-air, at WIP-AM, but mostly I was PD. I developed the format, set up music policy, oversaw news, although Paul Rust was the New Director (ND); hired DJs and managed promotions."
When Metropolitan bought WIP-AM, Harvey Glascock became its GM. His goal was to reposition station in the highly competitive Philadelphia radio market. For WIP-AM, Glascock faced two choices. Follow WHK-AM, the Top 40 station, in Cleveland. Follow the MOR format used by WNEW-AM, in New York City.
Metromedia owned both stations. Both stations were successful, but Philadelphia was not Cleveland or New York City. A cookie-cutter approach to WIP-AM, simply imposing a format from another market, would not work. The Philadelphia radio audience is staunchly independent.
“After much research,says Dick Carr, "the the WNEW-AM approach to MOR was favoured. WIP-AM would focus on music with a strong melody; mostly vocal and some instrumentals. Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and, maybe, Bobby Vinton were MOR singers, of the day.”
“Philadelphia radio offered no such format and listener demand for MOR seemed obvious. Advertisers were open to MOR, too. Perhaps most important, there was a steady flow of new content.
“At the time, record companies were increasing album releases by artists, such as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn. The Beatles came later. Singles released before albums to test how well albums might sell.
“I came up with a balanced music policy,” says Carr. “I used a ratio of three new singles to one album cut. This kept WIP-AM fresh and listeners tuned.
“Glascock likely decided to follow WNEW-AM long before I presented my format details. He used me to sell the idea. No one thought the format imposed from on high, which was good. Glascock set station policy and I made it work,” says Carr.”
Paul Rust came from Miami radio to build the news service at WIP-AM. “News,” says Carr, “was as important to station success as was the music; no question. WIP-AM aired two newscasts an hour, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. [Rust] developed news policy, staffed and trained the news team.”
The WIP-AM news staff averaged about twelve. “The news area was small,” says Dick Carr, “a desk for Rust and three or four news people, at one time. Telephones and wire services, from Associated Press (AP) and United Press (UP), provided our news content.
“The WIP-AM news staff wrote every word, of every newscast; that’s twice an hour, 24/7/365. Unaffiliated, WIP-AM wasn’t part of a radio news network, such as CBS. The telephone provided most of the local news, supplemented by the wire services; street coverage was rare.
“Rust set up a News Hotline. WIP-AM paid twenty-five dollars for the best news tip of the week. The station didn’t need reporters on the street; it had tens of thousands of listeners watching for news, ready to call the Hotline.”
Community involvement was another part of the WIP-AM success. “In those days,” says Dick Carr, “no station got a licence without showing a strong commitment to its community. A station had to find ways to involve itself in the community, ways to improve the community, ways to make local involvement an important part of station content. I think this made stations more responsible.”
High-end news was an easy way to show involvement. Sports play-by-play was another way. “WIP-AM,” says Carr, “built on community involvement as well as music, news and sports.”
Involvement solves many issues. “It protected the licence,” says Carr, “Listeners could tell us, directly, if we played the right music. On-air staff went into the community, having face-to-face contact with listeners, who enjoyed putting a face to the voice. Their comments were important, the best research we had. We used it well."
Always on alert, the unexpected rarely caught the WIP-AM newsroom off guard. “Kennedy is a great example,” says Carr. “The voice of Dave Crane crashed through the music, that Friday, during the noon hour. ‘Shots fired at a presidential motorcade, in Dallas, Texas,’ he said. Wisely, DJ Jim Tate let ND Paul Rust take over his show.
“Ike Pappas, of WNEW-AM news, was in Dallas. He filed live reports. WIP-AM set up a direct, full-time hook-up to the WNEW-AM newsroom.
“Music and commercials stopped for the weekend. Every moment devoted to the assassination. Most USA radio and television stations did the same."
Good radio news is more than good journalism. “You must polish and adjust,” says Carr, “there’s no room for lingering or languishing. The on-air staff must grow, with the format.
“Listeners, too, must grow. They must develop faith in radio news. They must learn they can depend on it.”
This takes time. “The payoff is huge,” says Carr. “A listener comes to accept the station as a part of his or her life. The first place they tune in an emergency or crisis is the station believed to have best newsroom in town.”
About the time Carr joined WIP-AM, Metromedia assumed ownership of the station. “In the early 1960s,” says Carr, “the company went public, as Metromedia. John Kluge was at the helm.”
John Werner Kluge (pronounced KLOOG-ee) was different, but good. An immigrant from Germany, he paid his tuition at Wayne State University teaching dancing at an Arthur Murray studio; he transferred to Columbia University on full scholarship and living expenses. Kluge was a millionaire by age 37.
In 1946, he and a partner started WGAY-AM, in Silver Springs, Md. During the 1950s, Metropolitan Broadcasting, which began with WGAY-AM, bought radio stations in St. Louis, Dallas, Fort Worth, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Toledo, Tulsa, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Orlando as well as New York City.
“Forbes” magazine, in 1986, named Kluge the second richest man in America. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, topped the richest-in-America list that year.
Kluge didn’t care for executives who liked in the limelight. His companies had no public relations officers. Kluge did business behind an unmarked door. He loved the woodwork.
Kluge never denied fear of poverty drove him. In college, he said, his friends aspired to the law or medicine. I aspired to money, so I’d never been poor.*
Metromedia, in short order, bought David Wolper Productions, Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters. “Talk around the water cooler, at WIP-AM,” says Carr, “was mostly, ‘What did Kluge buy today?’”
Carr moved to WNEW-AM, also a Metromedia station, in 1968. “It was impossible to contain my excitement,” he says. Metromedia billeted me at the Waldorf Astoria, the most luxurious hotel in New York City." He returned to my home town, PD of the station that best represented the City.
The first day at WNEW-AM overwhelmed. “My office,” says Carr, “was huge and looked down on Fifth Avenue." If an office reflects how the employer values you, he was multiplatinum.
Says Carr, “I soon learned my office was the best place to watch parades going south from Central Park, down Fifth Avenue. At first, I left my door unlocked. After a parade or two, I locked my office door, all the time.”
The talent at WNEW-AM was remarkable. “Growing up on Staten Island,” says Carr, “my family listened to Gene Rayburn and Dee Finch doing the WNEW-AM morning show. Now it was Gene Klavan and Dee Finch. I was their boss.”
At 10 am, William B. Williams did his version of “Make Believe Ballroom.” Martin Block originated the show, in 1935. Williams made it his own.
Frank Sinatra said, “William B. Williams is no more a disc jockey than van Gogh was a brush jockey.” Williams played Sinatra records after Sinatra went out of style. Sinatra claimed Williams revived his career. The Friars Club named Williams its Man of the Year, in 1984. Sinatra hosted the ceremony.
“William B. Williams stands out,” says Carr. “Listeners knew the pretend part of the show title meant little to him. As important as the music he played, Williams befriended most of the artists and his listeners, too.”
“Willie B taught me everything I needed to know about being [on radio],” says Dick Summer, podcaster and radio legend. “One time, Willie B interviewed Vic Damone. Vic was talking, passionately, about a charity with which he was involved. Willie let him talk. Then, quietly, Willie B said, ‘You know, I like you.’
“The comment stunned me; so simple and honest. Thinking about it, all these years later, I still get the chills. Now, I realize why. Willie was talking to Vic, but he included me, Dick Summer, the kid, with big ears, from 61st Street, in Brooklyn. I was hanging out with Willie and Vic.
Willie’s voice put an arm around you. He gave you a pat on the back. He gave you a play punch on the shoulder.”
“Williams was classy, bright and smooth,” says Carr. “His humour was dry. His passion for the music and artists was deep.”
“He placed the ‘Count’ on Basie,” says Bill O'Shaughnessy, owner of WVOX-AM and WRTN-FM and a life-long fan and friend of Williams. “Billie Holiday was ‘Lady Day.’ Ella Fitzgerald was the ‘First Lady of Song.’ Louis Armstrong was ‘Pops.’ Sinatra was ‘Francis Albert,’ the ‘Chairman of the Board.’ Nat ‘King Cole was simply ‘Nathaniel.’”
“Williams’ voice,” Carr says, “was horse or husky; maybe a bit guttural. Confidence was his most durable trait. Unassailable, Williams presented in a compelling way.”
“The voice, of Willie B, was that way because Willie B was that way,” says Dick Summer. “He was strong, self-confident and undeniable. He knew he was the best at what he was doing, but never made a big deal of it.”
“I first heard Williams about 1945,” says Carr. “I was in primary school. He did AM Drive on WOV-AM, 1280, in New York City. Something about Williams stuck, even though I was, maybe, twelve years old.”
Fred Robbins did evenings, on WOV-AM, in 1945. He was a lawyer, by training, and a snappy, wisecracking DJ by nature. Robbins opened his show, the “1280 Club,” with a riff: “Hiya cat, wipe your feet on the mat. Let’s slap on the fat and dish out some scat.”
William B. Williams, as Robbins, was politely irreverent. “Early in his career, about 1947,” says Carr, “a station manager noticed Williams in the studio, during his show; his shoes off, his feet on the consul. She could see he was wearing red socks. She fired him, thinking him too eccentric, with vulgar taste.”
Born William Brietbard, his first on-air name was Bill Williams. By 1950, he used William B. Williams on-air. “Off-air,” says Carr, “he was William B or Willie. I called him Bill.”
Says Carr, “I often walked by the studio, where Williams was on-air, and saw him on the phone. Such distractions weaken any on-air show. I reminded Williams, often, where to focus." Sometimes he took the advice.
“One day," says Carr, "as I gave Williams a gravely disapproving look through the studio window, he pointed to the phone. He mouthed the words, ‘It's Frank,’ as in Sinatra. Another time, Ava Gardner was getting an update on Sinatra, her on-again, off-again love interest for two decades.”
WNEW-AM dropped "Make Believe Ballroom," in 1972, but revived it 1979, with Williams at the helm. Editorializing, on-air, Bill O'Shaughnessy called, "Make Believe Ballroom," "an oasis of style and taste" and William B, "an icon, properly restored."
Pete Meyers followed Williams at 1 pm. Meyers was one of the original radio “Screamers,” a model for the likes of Jackson Armstrong, later. The screamer character, “Mad Daddy,” began at WHKK-AM, in Akron, Ohio, in 1957. Meyers played the character on WJW-AM and WHK-AM, in Cleveland, as well as WINS-AM, in New York City.
Meyers was an MOR DJ, at heart. “Harvey Glascock, then GM of WNEW-AM, brought Meyers from Top 40 WHK-AM,” says Dick Carr. “At WHK-AM, Meyers did two shifts a day, a straight afternoon show and an evening show, on which he used the name, ‘Mad Daddy.’" Eight years later, he's doing afternoons on a calm, MOR station in the number one radio market, in the world.
WNEW-AM intimidated Meyers. “During my first meeting, with him,” says Carr, “Tom Jones, the singer, joined us. Jones, at the station to promote a show and record, picked up our conversation, right away. Meyers couldn’t believe his luck, as they went off for a drink and more talk.”
When Carr joined WNEW1130-AM, Ted Brown was doing PM Drive. “He thought he was AM Drive material,” says Carr. “He was, but Klavan and Finch locked in that shift because of their success and connections.
“Brown and William B. Williams feuded, even if it’s not as well-remember as the Fred Allen and Jack Benny feud. ‘Williams dunks doughnuts up to elbow,’ Brown might say. Williams would call Brown, ‘Tubby Teddy.’ It went that way for years.”
Mike Prelee says Brown was a wonderful man and great talent, but he could rub people the wrong way. He used to say to me, “Do the news in English, not Italian.” Brown was a radio legend in New York City, during the heyday of WNEW-AM.
“Jim Lowe, a songwriter, did evenings on WNEW-AM,” says Dick Carr. “He knew the music, well; as well as did Williams. He was an able DJ, talented for more challenges than he sought.”
As a singer and songwriter, Lowe had much success. In 1955, he had a hit, "Close the Door." In 1956, he had a number one hit, “Green Door,” a novelty song, of a sort, he wrote with Bob Davie.
“I thought Lowe could do a daytime shift, maybe even PM Drive,” says Carr. “He preferred evenings and continued in that time-slot.”
"Dee Finch and Gene Klavan were an endless work in progress," says Carr. Finch is a radio legend. When Jack Lescoulie left “Rayburn and Lescoulie,” the AM Drive team on WNEW-AM, Finch replaced him. The show became "Rayburn and Finch.”
Gene Rayburn left in 1952. Gene Klavan joined Finch. The show, renamed to “Klavan and Finch,” aired until 1968 and was a remarkable source of income for the station.
Klavan [had] a “slicing wit,” with “a knack for voices and peppery irreverence.” A slamming door signaled the arrival of a character. “When Klavan threatened to fire Trevor [, a fictional character], the station was deluged with calls.”
Klavan was a pioneer shock jock, tame by current standards. Finch, a great straight man, balanced the show. Together, they created about one-third of the 24-hour revenue of WNEW-AM.
Finch played to Gene Rayburn and Gene Klavan. Rayburn and Finch liked to drop odd dialogue into the music. During a vocal pause, in a record, listeners might hear a voice, with a strong French accent, saying, ''Ah, Hedy, let me take off my shoes and run barefoot through your hair.''**
Klavan and Finch featured mock interviews. Klavan would devise a quirky character, often modeled on a WNEW-AM executive, which Finch would interview. “It was all ad lib,” said Klavan.***
“My second day at WNEW-AM,” says Dick Carr, “I asked Klavan and Finch to talk with me. I had no agenda. I wanted to meet them, get to know them and nothing more.
“Klavan said, ‘We’re wondering what to expect of you. We know you worked with [Glascock], in Philadelphia, and were effective. We figure you’re his guy and we can expect the same from you as we expect from [Glascock].’
“I wondered, aloud, what they meant. Finch says, ‘You must know we hate [Glascock] and he hates us.’ I asked what might help ease the common hate. Klavan says, ‘Maybe you as PD and maybe not.’
“I agreed. We shook hands. I said I’d provide the direction I thought they needed. We smiled. I felt the room become unusually chilly.”
“The next morning,” says Carr, “Klavan and Finch had an audience of advertisers, station executives and sales staff. Klavan polished a willing Jack Sullivan, President of Metromedia Radio, by making fun of his Irish brogue. Klavan also did a good imitation of John Kluge, Chair of Metromedia, that was a bit too inside for the typical listener.
“The message aimed at me, not listeners. Klavan and Finch awarded attention to those they thought deserving. Sullivan and Kluge liked them, personally, and the DJs honoured their loyalty.”
In April 1968, Herb Alpert, without the “Tijuana Brass,” topped the “Billboard Magazine Hot 100,” with “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The record caused a huge riff between Carr and Klavan and Finch. After playing the record, the first time, Klavan says, “[That] is the worst record I’ve ever heard in my life.” Finch said nothing as a commercial started.
“The WNEW-AM switchboard lit up after the comment by Klavan. Roughly, ten per cent agreed with him. Nine-in-ten listeners expressed disappointment over his comment.
“Instantly, the phone on my desk rang,” says Carr. “Glascock, the GM, my boss, said, ‘I can’t wait to see how you’re going to handle this one.’ Silently, I agreed.”
Carr drew the line. “As Klavan and Finch left the studio,” he says, “I invited them into my office. I closed the door. We sat down.
“‘The Alpert comment wasn’t necessary,’ I said. ‘Listeners will think you’re forced to play it.’
"Klavan said, ‘I am.’
“‘Damn right,’ I said. ‘You’ll continue to play the Alpert record. You’ll say nothing about it or, if you wish, tell your listeners I force you to play it. Tell them I don’t know what I’m doing, forcing it on to your show.’”
Finch didn’t care for my idea. “I said, ‘Alpert airs on your show every day this week. He’s an important artist for this station. The record is a huge hit. Say nothing about it or condemn me, not the record.’
“Glascock howled with laughter when I told him,” says Carr.
“Later in the day, a representative from A&M Records, which released the Alpert single, called. The comment, he said, hurt." Carr told him to listen, again, tomorrow morning.
“The record aired for a week. Klavan identified it, but made no other comment. His earlier ‘we got juice’ message had no effect.”
News was the crown jewel of WNEW-AM. “The newsroom was full of seasoned news people, with a strong work ethic,” says Dick Carr. “As PD, I could watch, laugh at jokes, drink coffee with and enjoy the company in the newsroom. I could not interfere.”
The news staff included many legendary radio news people. “Sam Hall, worked the WNEW-AM newsroom,” says Carr. “So, too, did Marlene Sanders, Reid Collins, Ike Pappas, Mort Crim, Jim Donnelly and many others.”
Jack Sullivan, President of Radio at Metromedia, joined WNEW-AM in the late 1940s. Milton Biow and Arde Bulova owned the station, at the time. Sullivan had a great sense of how the station fit the pace and filled the needs of New York City.
About 1957, Sullivan decided WNEW-AM would become the gold standard of radio news. “After that decision,” says Carr, “there was no more ‘ripping and reading’ wire service copy. Carefully crafted and well-presented news, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was policy.
Sullivan wanted to paint pictures with the spoken word. He wanted listeners to tune to WNEW-AM for news and music. He wanted a complete listening experience. "Limit the shared audience,” says Carr, “and keep the standards high, with a top-notch news staff.”
The success of radio news is in the writing, claims Mike Stein, ND of WNEW-AM, during the 1960s. “Most stations,” he says, “have newscasters talking in what I call ‘newscasterese.’” At WNEW-AM, the goal was for news people to talk the same way on and off air. “Great writing,” Stein says, “makes such delivery possible."
WNEW-AM became the model for the Metromedia Radio News Network. The network wangled a skybox, at the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention, in Chicago. Between the CBS and NBC skyboxes was the upstart network. “It was a coup,” says Carr.
In early summer, 1968, Dick Carr returned to WIP-AM, as GM. “WNEW-AM became a fond memory, quickly,” says Carr. Two critical staffing decisions hung over his head.
Joe McCaully, who did AM Drive on WIP-AM, was ill, unlikely to return. “If McCaully couldn’t return,” says Carr, “who might replace him? Did I need to look outside the station? Might I move a current DJ into AM Drive?"
As well, Chuck Dougherty, on air from 10 am to 1 pm, was leaving for WNEW-AM. "Again," says Carr, "do I go outside the station or use a current DJ. Allocating DJs across time slots is a tricky puzzle."
Before he could think about staffing, he received a teletype message from Bob Pantel, Metromedia Vice-president for Personnel. He was to go on-air at KLAC-AM, in Los Angeles, the next day. Metromedia expected the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to strike KLAC-AM. Union DJs would come off-air. "Last one to arrive does overnights," said Pantel.”
Metromedia didn’t cave to threats. “Often,” says Carr, “I dropped everything to rush to a strike-threatened station to cover an on-air shift. At KLAC-AM, I covered middays for two weeks before the strike settled. During those weeks, I thought about staffing WIP-AM.”
Staffing decisions are intricate. “A DJ is much like a bird,” says Dick Carr. “Hold him or her in your hand firmly enough to prevent escape, but not firmly enough to crush. I stole that idea from Sam Snead, the golfer; he used the metaphor to describe how to hold a golf club." It worked better for DJs than it did for golf clubs.
“I decided," says Carr,'that Bill Webber would replace Chuck Dougherty, 10 am to 1 pm. Dick Clayton would take over PM Drive. I would move Ken Garland to AM Drive, if Joe McCaully did not return.”
Moving Garland to AM Drive was the key decision. “He’s a marvelous performer,” says Carr. “Still, I needed a delicate grip, with him, always.
“The strength of Garland was talking. Occasionally, he talked too much. Other times, he didn’t talk enough. I learned how to tell Garland he was talking too much or too little. A well-balanced grip worked wonders."
Whatever Garland did, he did with much verve and devotion. WIP-AM benefited greatly from his on-air work. "I can only say the best about him,” says Carr.
The Snead metaphor worked at WNEW-AM, with Williams and Klavan and Finch, among others. “I learned when to come down easy,” says Carr. “I learned when to come down hard. Mostly, I learned delicate works best.”
An off-air coup, of sorts, happened in 1970. “There was tradition at WIP-AM,” Carr says. “In the spring, it hosted a dinner and dance for advertisers." He wanted to put his stamp on the event. After some wangling, he did.
“WIP-AM was doing well, in the ratings," says Carr. "We knew most everyone invited would attend. How to make them extra happy to have attended?"
“I wanted to cause talk about the station, the next day and the next year. I called Willard Alexander, in New York City. He managed Count Basie.
“I hired Basie for the WIP-AM dinner dance. The catch was I didn’t want anyone to know Basie would perform; Alexander and Basie agreed to keep it secret. Few people knew what was going on.”
Event day, the hotel staff built a riser, with a draw curtain around it. The curtain hid the band. Basie set up behind the curtain. The effect, of pulling the curtain to reveal Count Basie, was ready.
“When the time came for dancing,” says Carr, “I gave a brief talk, thanking everyone for coming. The curtain disappeared as I introduced Basie.
“I think the first view of the band was the moment I said, ‘Count Basie.’ No one noticed the curtain move as the bad readied. No one expected Basie. Everybody was surprised.
The response was incredible. “John Kluge, chair of Metromedia, was at my table that night,” says Carr. ‘Nice touch, Dick,’ he said. I said, ‘There’s more.’
“I asked Kluge to lend me his limousine and drive. We drove down the road to a nightclub, the Latino Casino. It was a popular restaurant, dinner theatre and showplace.
“Tony Bennett was appearing at the Latin Casino. I arranged for a backstage contact to call me when Bennett finished his first set. When he did, we were off to the Casio.”
WIP-AM aired many Bennett records. Bennett is also an artist and Kluge owned many of his paintings. Bennett likely expected someone from WIP-AM or Metromedia to visit him, backstage.
“Bennett and I talked,” says Carr. “I told him Count Basie was performing down the street. ‘Did he have time to say hello to Basie?’
“Yes, he did. Bennett and Basie glad-handed. They talked as I hoped.
“Basie asked Bennett to do a song or two, with the band. They worked out an arrangement on one or two songs, saying they’ll fake it, on other songs.
“Before the band starts its next set, I tell the audience about the special surprise: Tony Bennett will perform with Count Basie. Out saunters Bennett, in a sweater and casual pants, not his trademark tuxedo. The reaction is startling.
“I impressed Kluge. I impressed our advertisers. Everyone talked about Bennett, Basie and that WIP-AM dinner dance, for years.”
By 1968, the importance of FM radio was clear. “Metromedia owned WMMR-FM, in Philadelphia,” says Carr. “I managed that station and WIP-AM. As more listeners tuned to WMMR-FM, issues arose.
“Dave Herman hosted ‘The Marconi Experiment,’ on WMMR-FM. The PD, Allen Hotlen, told me some listeners took exception to some lyrics heard on the Herman show. New problems seemed inevitable.”
The music and lyrics were part of the subculture surrounding FM, at the time. The anti-war sentiment, expressed by many DJs on FM, raised new issues. Adult-oriented Radio (AOR) was the name of the developing FM format for good reason.
“I talked with George Duncan,” says Carr. “Duncan managed WNEW-FM, which was at the forefront of the new FM format. He faced issues similar to those that arose at WMMR-FM.
“Duncan was a buttoned-up guy, a former Marine, in his middle thirties. Wise enough to see and understand what was happening, Duncan, knew the low-cost format was ideal for cost cutting. By investing in FM rock, at the time, as well as young listeners who wanted changes, Duncan found a success formula for the FM stations owned by Metromedia.
“After talking with Duncan, I saw it, too. I hung in for the ride, determined to make it work. Still, I realized I couldn’t run both stations.
“WIP-AM was conventional MOR. WMMR-FM was radical AOR. On-air issues, at WMMR-FM, were new, different, not a variation on an old theme.
“WMMR-FM needed full-time attention. Someone needed to focus on how to develop revenue from those issues. I didn’t have the time.”
After a year back at WIP-AM, Dick Carr returned to New York City, as GM of WNEW-FM. “I replaced George Duncan,” he says. “Handling the talent was a big job. They squabbled, endlessly, especially Alison Steele and Rosko.
Steele, the Nightbird, did the all night show. She had a huge following. Walk down any neighbourhood street, late on a warm summer night, in 1970, say, and from the open windows wafted the voice of Alison Steele.
Rosko was outspoken. Mostly he spoke out about US military involvement in Vietnam. He was fired for his on-air rants about Vietnam.
“Most stable was PD, Scott Muni," says Carr. "Zacherley was a monster-like DJ act that worked well. Jonathan Schwartz, son of Broadway and Hollywood composer, Arthur Schwartz, was trying to adapt to the format; often I thought WNEW-AM suited him more.
“As great as the on-air talent was, my timing wasn’t good. Years earlier, when Metromedia went public, it went on a buying spree to increase share price. Metromedia bought many companies related to advertising and entertainment.
“The buying spree eventually led to troubles. In 1970, when a much sought after merger with TransAmerica, the insurance company, didn’t materialize, a remarkable slide occurred. The Metromedia stock price suffered.
“Investment bankers lost confidence in the company. There were cash flow problems. To protect share price and restore confidence, the company cut costs, quickly and deeply.”
“On a tear, in a tangle, Metromedia released top executives, such as Harvey Glascock." Most of the on-air talent had AFTRA contracts; it was less expensive to keep them on the air than buy them out. The venerable, John Van Buren Sullivan, who guided WNEW-AM, for twenty years or more, was out of a job. So, too, was Jack Thayer.
Thayer is most widely known, perhaps, for bringing Don Imus to New York City, in 1971. “Thayer,” Dick Carr says, “was a jovial man with a big body and a big face. He was always ready to laugh."
On 7 March 1969, the WNEW AM and FM staff went on strike. “I remember walking the picket line with Teddy Brown,” says Dick Summer. “The news writers, members of AFTRA, walked out. The DJs had to follow.
“I think management was surprised how fast local sponsors pulled their spots. ... [they] wanted Willie B, Ted Brown or Klavan and Finch doing their spots, not unfamiliar voices, many from other cities.”
“During the four-day strike at WNEW-AM,” says Dick Carr, “Thayer helped in the newsroom. He helped, mostly, by hanging out in my studio. I filled in Williams B. Williams, on ‘Make Believe Ballroom.’
“About ten minutes into my first show, then Metromedia Radio President, Jack Sullivan, stuck his head into the studio. I was talking too much, he said. ‘My mother is listening from Staten Island,’ I said; ‘I want to impress her.’ Thayer roared, with laughter, Sullivan did not.”
Carr lasted about six months, as GM of WNEW-FM, before becoming a victim of cost cutting. “Radio is a cash flow business,” he says. “When business is good, stations hire. When there’s a downturn, stations fire.”
A recent example is the Cumulus pogrom, of December 2011. “That’s the nature of the beast,” says Carr. Still, a company can cost cuts humanely or not. Metromedia, it seems, opted for the latter.
“On the fateful day," says Carr, "George Duncan asked me to join him in his office. I was out of a job. The timing of my move to WNEW-FM, my return from WIP-AM, made me vulnerable.
The company went about cost cutting in a seamy way. As Carr hadn’t moved his family to New York City from Philadelphia, Metromedia avoided that extra cost. Trying to take away the cost of moving his family, which was part of our agreement, was small.
“Worse, yet," says Carr, "Metromedia wanted us to return to our old jobs, but for a great deal less pay. The answer was ‘No.’ Not one manager returned.
“I thought I’d spend my working life at Metromedia. Then my ten-year career there ended, rudely. The company trampled my walls.
“I was thirty-five years old. I had a family. I had no job or prospects, at least for the moment.”
Carr comes back better than do most. “From WNEW-FM,” he says, “I joined KCMO-AM, in Kansas City, Kansas." He had taken an insane hit at WNEW-FM, harder than a November rain. His future was a mystery. " Then," says Carr, "Wally Schwartz, GM of WABC-AM, in New York City, called.
“Schwartz says, ‘I spoke with Ralph Beaudin, yesterday. He says he knows you.’ I had met Beaudin when I worked WBNY-AM, in Buffalo, New York, all those years before.
“Schwartz says, ‘Beaudin consults the Radio Division of Meredith Corporation, the ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ publisher. He’s looking for a GM for KCMO-AM.’ After talking with Beaudin, I knew where my career would resurrect.”
KCMO-AM had unusual coverage. “During daylight hours,” says Carr, “the station had a 50,000-watt, non-directional pattern at 810. At night, coverage formed a figure eight. Listeners in midtown Kansas City sometimes found it hard to tune KCMO-AM.”
The draw of Meredith was hard to beat. “Ted Meredith, the company chair, and Bob Burnett, the president, seemed good people,” says Carr. They were different from what you found in the big cities on the east coast.
“KCMO-AM was an ABC Radio Network affiliate. Meredith, Burnett and Beaudin were proud the station aired University of Missouri football and basketball as well as the ‘Chiefs,’ of the NFL. The city also appealed to me.”
Kansas City was a busy metropolis, without pretence. A memorabilia collection, in the Muhleback Hotel, recalled Civil War days. The quaint airport was 15 minutes from downtown, then. Hank Stram coached the “Chiefs.” The “Royals” always contended for the American League baseball title.
“Beaudin wanted Country Music as a compliment to the sports,” says Dick Carr. “KCMO-AM had huge daytime coverage. It’s commitment to news and sports called for more than Country Music. I sensed a need to mix Country with Southern Rock and Folk."
It didn’t seem like much of a change. "The station," says Carr, "needed James Taylor as much as it needed Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson. A typical hour, I thought, might include Cash, Joan Baez, Loretta Lynn, Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Haggard, Crystal Gale and Taylor.
News was a big part of KCMO-AM. “Station news,” Carr says, “was a mix of local and ABC Radio Network news. A mix of Soft Pop and Country Music seemed to fit, well.
“That’s how we’d go at WHB-AM, the top station in Kansas City, which aired mainstream contemporary music. My idea, of a blended music format, Country, Soft Pop and Folk, held promise. A few years later, the blended format was everywhere.
“Still, working out the kinks took much effort. I needed a few weeks to convince Beaudin. The minor changes I put on air had far-reaching effects.”
Solid, MOR DJs, with excellent voices, were a central part of the KCMO-AM success. “The pace, of KCMO-AM, was bright and cheerful,” says Carr. “That style worked, well, at WIP-AM, in Philadelphia. I took it with me everywhere.”
Carr took presentation to a new level. “Most of the new DJs knew nothing about Country Music,” he says. “How could we teach the DJs about the music? I didn’t want them to seem foolish, on-air. I opted for a simple idea.
“To introduce the DJs to Country Music, we developed background files. Updated regularly, these files provided material for the DJs to use on air, to talk about the music and artists. This way, they’d learn and inform, at the same time.
“Our goal was knowledgeable DJs. They might become local authorities on the music. This is how we established credibility, for the DJs and the station.” It’s a simple idea.
Luck found Carr. “Syndicators, of ‘The History of Country Music,’ contacted me,” he says. “Hugh Cherry created, produced and voiced ‘History.’”
“[Cherry],” says Chuck Chellman, founder of the Disk Jockey Hall of Fame, was a walking encyclopedia of Country Music, with strong, honest opinions backed by an immense body of facts.”
Would KCMO-AM air the show? “Yes, I would air the show, with a single condition. I wanted my DJs to voice a version, of ‘History,’ only for KCMO-AM.
“I meant no disrespected to Hugh Cherry,” says Carr. “I thought if KCMO-AM had its own version of ‘History,’ it was a great way to introduce the DJs, who came mostly from MOR formats, to Country Music. Surprise, the syndicator agreed; we had a half-homegrown, original and respected show that fit our needs to a tee.
“Scripts started arriving, daily. We rushed to record ‘to be continued’ segements for immediate use. Adapting ‘The History of Country Music’ became a Country Music Book of Genesis for DJs, listeners and the station.
“Stories behind the stories stirred much audience interest and gave KCMO-AM credibility. I took great DJs from MOR stations and turned each into well-informed Country Music personality, with many listeners. The mix was successful.
“The localized show was a way to tell the story of Country Music that made sense to Kansas City. We tailored the scripts to the KCMO-AM target audience. The DJs told the story to Kansas City, which meant more to listeners than did the esteemed voice of Hugh Cherry.”
A fraud, of sorts, a psychic, “Dr David Hoy,” with a syndicated show, gave KCMO-AM big boost, too. “We gave him an hour, every day, after Paul Harvey. Hoy attracted women listeners.
“A caller would plead for help finding her wedding rings. Hoy would ask where she last saw the rings. The caller would say, ‘When I was digging in my purse for the car keys.’"
After a few moments of ponder, backed by eerie music, Hoy would tell the woman to check her purse closely and call him back. "The rings," says Carr, "were obviously in the purse." Hoy was a slick, medicine show huckster, with a deep theatrical voice used to great effect.
Would the FCC allow Hoy on radio, today? “I don’t know,” says Carr, “but in 1972 he had a great act. KCMO-AM benefited from his show.”
From innovation came success. “Despite the horrible signal,” says Carr, “KCMO-AM roared out of the pack of stations in Kansas City. Quickly, the station was number one in adults, 18-plus." Stations across the Mid-West copied the approach.
Dick Carr moved, briefly, to WIL-AM, in St. Louis, Missouri, but he won't comment beyond that. WIL-AM was an original station. It went to air as WEB-AM, 31 January 1922, that’s ninety years ago, with 500 watts. The call letters changed to WIL-AM, in the late 1920s.
Before he unpacked in St. Louis, Meredith asked Carr to be Vice-President and Radio Group Head. "That was 1973," says Carr. "My focus turned to WGST-AM, in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The State of Georgia owned WGST, a stand-alone AM station. When a government sells anything, it’s through auction. We needed to develop a bid.
There was internal resistant, at Meredith, against buying WGST-AM. “Some believed television was the way to go,” says Carr. “Inside the company, WGST-AM was a hard sell. Many insiders didn’t see the possibilities.
“We came up with a five-million-dollar bid, ten per cent down. When Meredith got a case of buyer’s remorse, the threat of losing the ten per cent deposit likely kept the deal on track.”
Meredith won the auction. “There were two or three low bids,” says Carr, “and one close to our five-million-dollar offer. Meredith completed the purchase of WGST-AM, in 1974. The next day, I moved to Atlanta to ensure the decision paid off.”
Atlanta has deep, traditional historic roots. “The city,” says Carr, “exploded, in the 1970s, as an urban area. It’s a Sunbelt city without limits. There’s no ocean, no mountains, to constrain growth.
“Construction boomed. New homes and office buildings were rising, everywhere. Rapid transit was in place. Two interstate highways, 85 and 75, converged on the downtown area.
“Atlanta, at the time, had four major sports teams. The building of two arenas just completed. The city was a gold mine for radio.”
WGST-AM was a 5000-watt station at 920. Its daytime coverage was good. At night, station power dropped to 1000 watts. Unlike KCMO-AM, the WGST-AM coverage remained good, despite the weakened signal.
“WSB-AM,” Carr says, “was the only 50,000-watt, 24-hour radio station in Atlanta. It aired news, music and agriculture, the Atlanta “Braves” and University of Georgia football. WSB-FM used a beautiful music format.
“WQXI-AM and WQXI-FM aired contemporary music. WPLO-AM played the usual type of Country Music. WAOK-AM played R&B.”
WGST-AM got rights to carry Georgia Tech football and basketball games. “The affiliates for those games formed the basis of a state-wide sports-on-radio network. Later we added affiliates of the Atlanta ‘Falcons’ to the network when WGST-AM won those rights. The ‘Falcons’ gave us an immediate and huge bump in ratings.”
The Georgia News Network grew from the sports network. “WGST-AM news staff were gathering, writing and airing news,” says Carr. “Why not sell news to sports affiliates. This was a good way for WGST-AM to recover the cost of its news operation and lessen the financial load for the affiliates.”
The network quickly became a valuable property. “We aired news on the hour. The cost of the network was minimal; the news came from the WGST-AM newsroom. We packaged it conveniently and efficiently.”
Carr decided to add an FM station to the Meredith holdings in Atlanta. “FM was taking off. If WGST-AM was to flourish,” he says, “we needed a paired FM station. There was only one choice.
“WPCH-FM, a beautiful music station, had plenty of airtime available for sale. WGST-AM was the opposite, not much airtime available for sale. The price was right, about $5.2 million, and the match worked well.”
In 1977, the WGST-AM format changed, abruptly. “After protracted negotiation for rights to the Atlanta ‘Braves,” with its owner, Ted Turner, fell through, a drastic format change seemed the only way to go. I decided all news was the best shot. We would build the all-news format, for WGST-AM, on the Georgia Radio News Network. WPCH-FM stayed beautiful music.”
Meredith sold both Atlanta stations and the sports and news network to Jacor Broadcasting, in 1985, for twenty million dollars. The original cost, of the two stations, was $10.2 million. Development costs came from cash flow. Profit from the two-station, two-state-wide-networks package, in the final year Meredith owned it was $6.2 million.
By 1977, Carr saw his days with Meredith numbered. “I was managing the Meredith Radio Group,” he says. “The group seemed destined to shrink, not expand. Meredith sold WHEN-AM, in Syracuse, New York, but kept WHEN-TV.
The writing was on the wall. “Profits from radio bought new television stations. It was time to move on. Meredith was not a radio company as much as it was a television owner or magazine publisher.”
For a time, Carr became a foreigner to radio. “Staying with Meredith,” says Carr, “meant returning to New York City, working out of the Meredith head office and reporting to Jim Conley. Nothing, in this arrangement, appealed to me. I had enough of the big city and radio, at least for a while.
“I defined myself by what I did; that is, manage or programme radio stations. Now, I thought I might define myself by where I lived. New York City was no longer how I saw myself. Atlanta seemed more me, in 1977.”
Davison’s of Atlanta is an up-scale department store, owned, since 1927, by Macy’s Incorporated. Davison’s offered Carr a job. “Senior Vice-president of Advertising and Promotion is what they offered,” he says. “Davison’s had stores in Georgia and South Carolina. It was a great opportunity.”
Carr learned quickly. “Retail,” he says, “has one customer. That’s the woman or man who buys socks or linens. Radio has two customers, advertisers and listeners.
“In my experience, radio stressed listeners over advertisers. It didn’t always seem that way, especially to outsiders, but I realized, while at Davison’s, that’s how radio worked. Radio sold listeners in bulk: the largest possible audience, at the highest possible price, as often as possible.
“Much effort went into understanding or accumulating listeners. Often ignored, advertisers are as important as are listeners. Radio seemed to miss the advertiser part of the success formula.
“In retail, I realized how poorly radio time was sold. A radio sales staff sold rate cards or format changes. Their pitch based on a large or steady number of listeners or how many more listeners would tune the station due to a format change, say; discounting the rate card was common come-on, too. Whatever the pitch, radio sales people pushed or pulled advertisers according to station needs.
“[Radio sales people] had no idea how to present to an in-house agency, such as Davison’s. Advertising would appear in the newspaper, on Wednesday. The radio sales people would show up Thursday morning to sell time, but Davison’s had spent its weekly budget. Radio was a day late and many dollars short.”
Radio salespeople needed to pay attention. “Department stores,” says Carr, “advertise the same way, year in and year out. There’s always a spring sale, a fall sale and so forth. Retail has promotional calendars and repeated advertising patterns. Get in early to get your share of the budget; newspapers understand this, radio does not or so it seemed.
“Not long after I joined Davison’s, two radio sales people took me to lunch. ‘Why does the store spend so much money on newspaper advertising and none on radio,’ they asked. ‘I sure hope you’ll find a way to change that.’
Radio sales people seemed naïve. “I wondered if they had any idea how much the store spent on direct mail, the catalogues, flyers and so forth. Working for Davison’s, I wondered, a great deal, about radio sales; how the medium survived. I wondered why they didn’t show up before an advertising season, say, in January for March campaigns.”
“Radio time usually sells when the station gets around to it, not when advertisers need to buy. A new rating book sent sales people scrambling, as did a need to increase cash flow, a change in advertising rates, new management or the cost of format changes,” say Carr. These were reasons radio sales people asked a client to buy time. Seldom did they ask what the client needed.
“Radio sales people were into promoting audience," says Carr, "not how radio complimented Davison’s advertising mix. They had no idea. In those days, radio sales people spent too much time talking about themselves. They didn’t spend anytime wondering or talking about what advertisers needed.”
Hethought I shook jo,self free from radio. “After two years in retail," says Carr, "I was ready for radio, again. I joined Mutual Radio as Vice-president of Programming. I oversaw the entertainment shows. Mutual aired Dick Clark, country music shows and the National Symphony Orchestra, among others. Developing network shows was a challenge. Westwood One now owns Mutual.”
When Capital Cities bought ABC Radio, Carr joined as Vice-president of Programming for the radio network. Jim Arcara, from St. Bonaventure, was network president. Carr was responsible for “American Top 40,” with Casey Kasem, “Country Countdown,” with Bob Kingsley, and all ABC Radio Network Shows.
“I decided I was what I did, not where I lived,” says Carr. “It was back to New York City, with studios in Los Angeles. My job was to keep existing network shows fresh and develop new ones.”
A dust-up over a network show occurred in 1988. “It came down to this,” says Carr, “ABC refused to increase what it paid Casey Kasem to host ‘American Top 40.’ The show was mega-hit radio, from the moment it first aired, on 4 July 1970. When Kasem left the show, on 6 August 1988, ‘American Top 40’ was still mega-hit radio.
“Kasem, co-creator and host of the show, wanted his pay to reflect his contributions. ABC executives dug in their heels. They thought someone else could do the job. The idea any DJ could hold the audience and attract more listeners, for less money, prevailed.
“I spent time in Los Angeles, with Kasem and the ‘Top 40’ production staff. We worked together, well. The show grew better with time. Never was ‘American Top 40’ a drag on company profit."
Most ABC executives neither thought nor suspected. “Not for a moment,” says Carr, “did most network executives think Kasem would leave and pop up on another network, doing the same show, with a different title. Nor did they suspect his audience would follow him or new listeners find him.
“Aaron Daniels was now president of ABC Radio. He didn’t know much about network radio, having parachuted into the presidency from WPRO-AM, in Providence, Rhode Island. His smaller market insensibilities came along, intact.
“Kasem, I think, wanted one million dollars a year, on a multiyear contract. Flabbergasted, Daniels refused. Kasem, I argued, was worth the money because his show aired on more than one thousand stations, he had a loyal audience and, if he left, he would become our competition.”
One million dollars a year was not much, given what Kasem provided. If he did fifty shows a year, his asking price was $20 from each station, each week. This was a fraction of what ABC Network Radio Sales generated from the sale of airtime on “American Top 40.”
“I asked who could replace Kasem,” says Carr. “Rick Dees, perhaps, but he had a competing show. Daniels, I imagine, thought he could hire any DJ for, say, two hundred thousand dollars or scale, if there was such, and the show would go on, unfettered and forever.
“I continued to argue for keeping Kasem. Eventually, Daniels said to me, ‘What do you know?’ This, I figured, was a good moment for me to begin thinking about leaving the ABC Network and radio.”
Kasem left “American Top 40.” A year later, “Casey’s Top 40” appeared, airing until 1998, when Kasem returned to “American Top 40.” Ryan Seacrest began voice-tracking “Top 40” in 2004. Kasem retired from radio as of 4 July 2009. “American Top 40” continues to air, voiced-tracked.
Carr, again, wearied of New York City and radio. “Roy Park asked me to join his company, in upstate New York, near Syracuse. I ran his outdoor advertising division. It was much easier to sell billboards than to sell any part of radio.
“I spent 10 good years with Park. The billboard business was strong. During these years, I remarried, rediscovered my faith and found a new life, with my children and grandchildren.”
Old habits die hard. In 2001, Dick Carr returned to radio. “I retired and quickly became bored,” he says. “I had a good life. I didn’t have much to do. What I missed was the excitement radio offered.
“I’m huge Jazz fan. The FM station, at Syracuse University, not far from my home, needed a volunteer host for a Jazz show. I signed on for two hours, one night a week.
“I hadn’t been on the air in years. I thought it would be fun. I called the show, “Big Bands, Ballads and Blues” (BBB&B).”
He was as proud as a lion in his lair. “My skills started coming back," says Carr. "The phones began to light up. Then, this little screwball, do-it-for-fun show, I volunteered to do, was on WOR-AM, in New York City."
The late Rick Buckley, owner of WOR-AM, was indispensable in setting up the BBB&B network. The show aired on eighty stations, in every part of the country.
In a small-world story, the father of Rick Buckley once owned WNEW AM and FM. In the 1950s, he bought the station from Milton Biow and Arde Bulova. Buckley sold both stations to Metromedia in 1960.
“BBB&B was a mix of Jazz and standards, with copious personality,” says Carr. “I did much research over the years. I knew if someone bought a Jazz album, there was always a standard on the album. Jazz players and listeners like standards.
“On my show, I combined vocal standards with Jazz instrumentals. A typical show featured artists, such as Count Basie, Woody Herman, Rob McConnell, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others. I used Diana Krail and Rod Stewart, as well as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Matt Dusk and Michael Buble, among others, for the standards.
“Along the way, I gathered an unknowable number of stories about the artists. On BBB&B, I did what the DJs on KCMO-AM did: I wove stories into the music. This kept the show fresh and interesting.
“The mix worked, well. The show was tasty. It aired for 600 hundred hours.
In 2006, BBB&B aired on public radio stations in upstate New York. “Last year, 2011,” says Carr, “I began streaming the shows, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. WOR-AM helped me get the shows online."
Then paperwork blocked the way. “A non-profit music-rights group,” says Carr, “watches music, online, and collects royalties from websites. “SoundExchange, as it’s called, is different from ASCAP or BMI, which handle music royalties on radio.”
Sound Exchange didn’t exist until a few years ago. Its purpose is to combat sensed theft of music on the Internet. Record companies thought Internet theft of music accounted for the drastic drop in sales and revenue; never did they consider product quality.
The record companies lobbied Congress, seeking laws demanding large royalties from web sites. Specifically, the record companies wanted to reduce free music on the Internet.
“The in-place rules for radio didn’t apply,” says Carr. The record companies, through SoundExchange, wanted to stop swapping among friends. Internet webmasters, unregulated, distracted and, maybe, unaware of the effects of SoundExchange, let it happen. They were easy marks for severe, ruthless laws.
“ASCAP and BMI, I knew how to work,” says Carr. SoundExchange demands more detailed record keeping than does ASCAP or BMI. He didn’t want to get booged downn dealing with the bureaucracy.
The record companies would stifle or seek royalties from friendly, on-air conversations that mentioned music. “I wanted to play the music," says Carr, "make it available. Preserving Jazz and the standards as well as the stories behind the music is my goal. I’m selling ideas, provoking memories and writing history, not selling music CDs.
He needed an outlet. "I needed a medium," says Carr, "to express my passion for the music. I started a blog, BigBandsBalladsandBlues.com (BBB&B), to write about the music.
“I’m like a kid a maze,” Carr says. “I get to tell stories, my way. The BBB&B blog is successful. There’s no bureaucracy, no paper work, no controls, yet.
“I stopped streaming the music, in early 2012. My focus is on the blog. The response is great and I enjoy writing about the music and artists.”
US commercial radio, born 2 November 1920, had two remarkable lives. First, it was a national network. Second, it was a local medium.
As a network, radio aired sitcoms, dramas and variety shows, news and public affairs. Content themes played up success, resolve, hard work, family, friendship and loyalty, among other ideas central to the US worldview. Each week, 130 million women, men and children heard more than forty hours of network radio shows. Networks thus formed and shaped ideas and worldview for Americans.
A general denominator, for the USA, took root because of network radio. Listeners heard the same actors, scripts and portrayals, the same messages, allegedly at the same time, each day. Networks filtered content for listeners.
Once, hundreds of local newspaper editors filtered information for readers. A greater or lesser emphasis on common values defined communities. By 1930, the loss of local editors moved apace.
A handful of network executives now decided what Americans could know. These executives worked in New York City, mostly, but decided for listeners in Peoria, Illinois, the mythical hometown of the make-believe typical American. Satirist Fred Allen called these executives “Molehill Men,” as they could make a molehill out of a mountain, in half a day, and always put their careers first.
In the 1950s, network television supplanted network radio. The affect, of television, was far greater than that of radio: the national denominator progressively moved down. Appearance, that is image, soon displaced meaning.
Given up for dead, radio languished. Then Gordon McClendon and Todd Storz, separately, had an idea to make radio flourish, again. The second remarkable life of radio began.
The three-part equation, devised by McClendon and Storz, focused on music, DJs and information. First, pop or rock music, provided, at no cost, by record companies in exchange for airplay. Second, poorly paid DJs, coached to become characters, that is, develop a persona, which could earn DJs money outside the station, at dances, concerts or new car dealerships. Third, news and sports play-by-play, which drew different listeners than did the music, completed the mix and made a difference.
The target listener was local. Once a hugely successful national medium, radio refitted to serve a town or city. National advertisers bought time on individual stations and paid the bills; local advertisers were a deep pot of gravy.
The format had a simple goal. Transport local listeners from one bunch of commercials to another. The cautionary note was to misplace as few listeners as possible along the way.
In this lay the potential to renew the local community. Women, men and children, linked by concrete issues that make a difference, form a community. When a radio station took a stand on property taxes or street repair, it helped forge a community. Taking a stand led to informed debate and informed passion.
“A law, the Fairness Doctrine,” Carr says, “went into effect in 1949. As a condition of licence, radio stations aired debatable issues, of local or national import. The Doctrine called for a fair and balanced treatment of these issues.” What licencees would not do on their own, government acting for citizens, made them.
The Fairness Doctrine meant a radio licencee had to show how his or her station helped forge a community, in their listening area. “Informed opinion was the goal,” says Carr. “Radio could meet the demands of the Doctrine through news, public affairs shows or editorials. News was the easiest way to satisfy the Doctrine.” Almost every station had a newsroom.
In the 1960s, local radio soared. Radio revenues exceeded the level achieved during the time of network dependency. Applications for new licences surged and FM took off. More than two hundred pop and rock singles released each week. Everyone made money, except the talent.
Dick Carr added much to the importance and the success of local radio. He, among a handful of ingenious PDs, bought a Middle-of-the-Road (MOR) format into the Top-40-dominated local formula for radio success. At WIP-AM, WNEW-AM and WGST-AM, Carr devised and nurtured what Serge Denisoff calls a Postpop MOR format.
On Postpop MOR, the music was largely big band, ballads, Jazz and Blues. Pop standards, from the forties, fifties and sixties, as well as instrumental versions of standards or pop hits filled out music to the format.
Postpop MOR appeal was strongest to listeners in the spending years and among the final decision makers about how a family spent its money. The format appealed mostly to listeners 25-to-54 years old. More women than men liked Postpop MOR.
Listeners to Postpop MOR clung to the music of their youth, as they aged. A 40-year-old, says Denisoff, enjoyed a pop hit, say, “Time of the Season,” sung by Andy Williams or Johnny Mathis. They hated the original version by The Zombies.
Music had changed the tone of life, dramatically, for those preferred Postpop MOR. It was hard not cling to Jimmy Dorsey or Frank Sinatra? By 1940, popular music was on radio, in the air breathed; it was no longer sheet music on a piano rack, in the living room.
By the late 1950s, rock and a newer, more distinct form of pop music helped wake up radio. Local stations followed the McClendon and Storz; second-rate knock-offs of their format appeared, almost overnight, on thousands of stations. Traditional MOR took a heavy blow.
At the behest of Harvey Glasock, Dick Carr devised a Postpop MOR base and built on it. The format wasn’t hip, groovy or a gas, in the 1960s, but Carr knew what many big-gun PDs did not: a large, loyal audience existed beyond Top 40 rock and pop. He continually picked-up what was unseen, such as having DJs weave relevant anecdotes into their shows, on his way to lasting success and influence that made a difference.
In the Sixties, a decade defined by Kitsch and Kulture, Dick Carr devised a radio version of the Tate. The artists of Postpop MOR, the singers and musicians, long passed dabbling and sketching, created works of lasting worth. Amid the loud, brash Sixties, Carr built quiet, classy and informative radio stations, with gobs of listeners.
Postpop MOR was viable and had strong legs. Frank Sinatra crossed into Top 40, in 1966, with “Strangers in the Night.” Dean Martin had likewise crossed-over, a few years earlier, if not as strongly. Sammy Davis, Jr., the best of the Rat Pack, had hit records on Top 40 stations, a few years later.
Old was bad and new was good, in the 1960s. Quality wasn’t an issue. Dick Carr made old good. Old, that is, airing the music of seasoned, practiced singers and musicians. Good as in an excess of practical wisdom that lead to mixing the music in such a way that it stayed fresh to listeners. As a classic cut in clothes is never out of fashion, neither is quality radio.
A version of Postpop MOR is the most popular radio format, today. Boomers desperately cling to “Paul Revere and the Raiders,” “Cream” or David Cassidy, the music of their pimply years. The format is a Mae West thrown to buoy boomers drowning in a chilly sea of ideas about age, the present and the natural order.
One GM, half-jokingly, said, “We came across bunches of old playlists, from the late 1970s and 1980s, in a storage locker. We use [these playlists], mostly intact, today. That’s why you hear so much Neil Young. It works, wonderfully.”
In the 1970s, Edd Routt advised that an MOR staff should include, first, five full-time DJs and one part-timer, all with a high quality voices. Second, each DJ must have writing and production studio experience. Third, as MOR DJs would not develop a persona, they could hold part-time jobs, outside station. Fourth, DJs handled all the newscasts, preparing said newscasts during the 12-minute music sweeps. Fifth, the PD would take a daily shift.
How boring was this idea? Elsewhere, Routt, McGrath and Weiss claimed MOR lived by the music. The MOR format rarely allowed DJs to identify themselves. MOR DJs read commercials and newscasts; mentioned the time and station call letters, perhaps, before introducing the next record, from a script prepared by someone else.
Listeners don’t like nameless announcers. In the 1920s, the nameless radio announcer was the rule. Stations received piles of mail, as listeners wanted to know the names of announcers; the familiarity, in a name, made listeners comfortable and more trusting. Station owners relented, often assigning the same fictitious name to a series of announcers.
Then and now, radio managers take the lead of David Sarnoff, founder of NBC. Talent, for Sarnoff, was only so much sweet noise. Radio managers thus became embalmers of talent. The inability to identify with talent allowed subconscious exploitation and nurtured common distrust.
The worst results, of failing to identify with talent, include pogroms of on-air staff by Clear Channel, Cumulus Radio and owners of other chains of radio stations. As KFC forbids use of the word, fried, in its stores, radio chains are now groups. Best to suggest voluntary association and freedom than ideas of DJs in bondage or stations shackled to the needs of shareholders, not listeners.
No mummifier, Carr broke from traditional MOR by developing DJs, such as Ken Garland, with on-air personas. “DJs,” says Carr, “have two sides.” On air, DJs present a persona, a mostly fictional self, such as “Mad Daddy,” as a way to entertain listeners. Off air, DJs present a personality, in this case, Peter Meyer, a genuine person.
The adage Carr borrowed from Sam Snead hints at the need to be aware of persona and personality. Accept persona and personality as valid: hold delicately enough to do no harm, but prevent escape. Know the difference and respond as needed.
Often, radio managers focus on persona, as do listeners. Managers treat a DJ as if she or he is the on-air fictional character, not a genuine person. Dick Carr knew the difference. He dealt with the personality.
Carr moved from talent to management, persona to personality. He understood what worked best when dealing with talent, that is, subtly. His handling of Klavan and Finch as well as William B. Williams, at WNEW-AM, shows how an even hand works much better than a hammer.
Carr chased the complete experience for listeners. In the right mind, a cliché trumps Shakespeare. A mix of music, news, sports and local involvement attracted and held listeners, close, for hours, not minutes, each day.
At KCMO-AM, Carr adapted Postpop MOR to Country Music. He hired talented Postpop MOR DJs and made sure they learned about Country Music. Approval to adapt “The History of Country Music,” to the needs of Kansas City, was a stroke of luck. Such luck comes only to the fully prepared.
Dick Carr ensured radio success mixed well with integrity. The ABC Radio Network dust up with Casey Kasem is a revealing example. A guileless executive allowed Kasem to slip from the network, huge profits with him, over a trifle and against the advice of Carr.
In the 1990s, radio became the Terri Schiavo of media. Its workers and listeners the victims of neglect and exploitation. Dickens and Marx would quickly recognize the state of the medium and point the cause: owners of radio chains exploit. Hope, for radio, dims, on the hour.
Dick Carr sees the lapse of law as a culprit. “When the FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine,” he says, “there was no need for radio to air news and public affairs or editorialize. Stations effectively abandoned their communities.” Fully servicing shareholders and pulling away from listeners, with automated programming and the wholesaling of huge blocks of airtime, was now the much easier tactic.
“When the Fairness Doctrine ended,” says Carr, “many radio newsrooms closed. News joined traffic, weather, music and sports reports as another way to fill time between commercials. On-air editorials ostensibly vanished.
“Today, news might come from a network. Maybe, once a shift, a DJ does a rip and read of wire service copy. Often, stations have no news.”
Most everyone forgot how news helped stations form and maintain community bonds; that is, an audience. “Listeners came to trust reliable radio news,” says Carr. “In a crisis or emergency, listeners turned to the most trusted station.” WIP-AM, in Philadelphia, during the assassination of President Kennedy is a good example. “News always showed in the ratings,” says Carr.
“The Fairness Doctrine translated into ratings and revenue,” says Carr. Rules can be good for the ruled. “Unfortunately, there’s no turning back the clock,” says Carr.
Today, at 92, radio languishes, tethered to life by the frailest thread. Listeners seldom use radio to find a laugh, editorial or new music. Though sports editorials or commentaries abound, radio covers local issues, such as a proposed toxic waste dump, as another news item, which could as easily be located in Iran as in a local neighbourhood.
Taking a stand on local issues might evoke discussion and thought. Radio management usually sees discussion and thought as debate. Debate hurts sales because disagreements may arise. Of no concern are the benefits of debate to the community and the lives of listeners.
Put another way, radio managers fear ideas. Talent trades in ideas. A joke is an idea. Editorials are full of ideas. A news item is an idea or three.
Stop ideas and none can decide. A lack of decisions means a vanilla world. Vanilla, devoid of taste, chokes debate, but makes selling radio time much easier.
The tepid ooze of debate would surely swamp revenue. A fear of ideas rests in the volatility of debate. Today, shareholders trump listeners; it’s a moment from the first shareholders meeting in the movie, “Network.”
Carr discovered, while working for Davison’s, the retail stores in Georgia, how radio salespeople too often showed up a day late and, thus, many dollars short. “Our budget was gone,” says Carr. “Radio sales people ignored the department store advertising cycle, although it repeated, yearly, for decades.” A fear of ideas affects cash flow.
Brief weather, traffic reports, time checks and sports scores are now the main reasons for using radio. Although about as many people use radio, today, as did, say, forty years ago, daily time spent with radio is now minutes not hours. Trained that it’s “Sports on the Tens,” listeners tune in at 20 minutes after the hour, for sixty seconds, and tune out.
Dick Carr elevated radio and listeners. He made a difference, traces of which remain today. Most important, the rewards Carr emphasizes, as a DJ, PD, GM and VP, are mostly intrinsic, but do not exclude monetary gain.
The end of radio nears. An absence of law and on- or off-air talent hastens its demise. Corporate exploitation ravages the helpless lamb.
Ocular technology is also to blame for the end of radio. Smartphones deliver all that radio can, even new music and a hippy-dippy DJ, if you wish. Transistors caused an awesome growth of the local-radio audience, in the late 1950s. Ocular-savvy phones knell the last bell for radio and the auditory subculture.
Dick Carr is not alone in sensing little hope for radio. Yet, he continues to lead music and information into the early twenty-first century. He writes about it, daily, on his blog, hoping niche listeners will carry his message forward. New joke: old DJs don’t die; they segue into the blogosphere.
*Marilyn Berger, “John W. Kluge, Founder of Metromedia, Diets at 95, in the New York “Times” for 8 September 2010.
“Billboard” for 16 August 1986: 10.
Serge Denisoff, “Solid Gold” published by Transaction Books in 1975.
Sasha Frere-Jones, "On Top" published in the “New Yorker” for 3 April 2006: 76-77.
Dwight MacDonald, “Masscult and Midcult” appeared in the spring 1960 edition of “Partisan Review.”
Dwight MacDonald, “Parajournalism” appeared in the New York “Review of Books,” for 26 August 1965 and 3 February 1966.
**Doug Martin, “Gene Klavan, Radio Show Host, Dies at 79,” in the New York “Times,” 9 April 2004.
***“Dee Finch, Disk Jockey with WNEW 26 years, in the New York “Times,” 31 March 1983.
E. Routt, J. B. McGrath and F. A. Weiss, “The Radio Format Conundrum” published by Hastings House, in 1978.
E. Routt, “The Business of Radio Broadcasting” published by Tab Books in 1972.
Mike Stein (1978) quoted in Routt, et al.