When my friend Big Ron O'Brien died in 2008, I put out a call for friends and co-workers to record their remembrances of him. I got so many emails it was overwhelming; people I knew and many I didn't wrote to me and included recordings.
One of those people was Bobbie Hill. She lives in San Diego and worked, briefly, with "Big Ron" O'Brien, at KKBH-FM, The Beach, in San Diego, California. That was in 1995.
San Diego was always one of my favorite radio markets. Its stations, such as KCBQ-AM, KFMB-FM (B100) and KGB-FM, are famous, across North America. At KCBQ-AM, Programme Director (PD) Jack McCoy used only the top DJs, such as "Shotgun" Tom Kelly, Dave Conley and Charlie Tuna.
Almost forty years ago, Jack McCoy created "The Last Contest," out of KCBQ-AM. Franchised to stations in the USA and Canada, "The Last Contest" was renowned for production style and values, which are as A-list, today, as forty years ago. The "Contest" also offered outrageous prizes.
"A matching set of fire-engine red Corvette convertibles," was a typical prize package. The best and most unusual prize package in the set was, "Dinner for you and fifteen thousand of your closest friends at McDonalds." "The Last Contest" became so important to radio success, some stations paid the franchise fee, but didn't run the contest; this kept the competition at bay.
KFMB-FM hit the big time as B100. Bobby Rich was the PD. KFMB-FM was the first Top 40 station FM, in California. One of the weekend DJs, at B100, was "Beaver Clever," the on-air alias of Ken Levine.
Levine was one of the original DJs at KNTQ-AM, in Los Angeles. He also worked KHTZ-FM, K-Hits, also in LA and, today, hosts "Dodger Talk," on KABC-AM, in Los Angeles. Levine collaborated with David Isaacs to write episodes of "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "Frasier" and many other sitcoms.
The reason I mention Levine is something Bobbie Hill told me, when we talked, on the phone, the other day. She said she once told Ken that she listened to him when she was in school. I'm not even going try and figure out her age. Was Ken flattered that she remembered, but did it make him feel old?
Bobbie started her radio career as an intern, with "Shadow Traffic," in 1994. Bobbie got the internship because of her Journalism background. She earned degrees at Grossmount Community College and San Diego State University.
After two weeks, she went live, on the air. Some staffers didn't show up for their shifts. This is a common gateway to a radio career: be on-site when someone doesn't show up for work.
Of her first show, her boss said she "didn't suck." High praise indeed, but it's typical from a radio boss. The usual comment, after a first shift, is unprintable or "You're fired."
The ironic part is that Bobbie wanted to get into photojournalism. She stayed in radio, mostly in San Diego, for fifteen years. Radio careers emerge from happenchance, too often.
After doing traffic reports for four years, Bobbie went to KKBH-FM. She worked that station for about two months. Then new owners changed the format and fired everyone; does this sound familiar?
She moved to KXGL-FM, for a year before finding a long-term home at KHOL-FM and KGB-FM. She worked the latter two stations from 2000-2009. How many DJs hold jobs for so long, in any one market, let alone at any one station; not many.
In 2009, I wrote to Bobbie asking if she would record a Bryan Schock shift, on KGB-FM, for me. He had recently left WRXP-FM here in New York City. I wanted to hear what he sounded like on KGB-FM.
Bobbie wrote back. She said KGB-FM, owned by Clear Channel, released her and Bryan Shock was her replacement. My foot goes in mouth, at this point.
Bobbie then asked if I could edit some air checks for her. She needed demos to look for a new job; I was happy to do it.
During the first week of April 2010, I saw Bobbie on Facebook We started to chat about radio. I asked her if she would record an intro for my site, Big Apple Air Checks. She said she would be happy to do this favour Along with the intros, for my site, came some photographs and it's always nice to put a face to a voice.
We finally talk on the phone, for a while. I discovered we share many of the same thoughts. We also shared a mutual disdain about corporate radio.
Bobbie realizes that her radio career is finished. She talks freely about how radio sucks, big time. She agrees how Bill Clinton pretty much killed radio with deregulation.
Seems we both read about Alpha Broadcasting, in Portland, OR. The company decided it no longer needed Music Directors (MDs). We wondered why Alpha Broadcasting picked on the MDs.
We also wondered if only the title, MD, was eliminated or the women and men working as MDs. Will the Assistant Program Director (APD) now handle music duties, too. Here's a new title that Alpha can start using for the APD qua MD: underpaid and overworked indentured servant. I had better be careful, John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio, might lift the wording.
We also read, somewhere, Alpha Broadcasting was going to start hiring people. It would keep their stations live and local, on minimum wage or using permana-lancers. There would be no more MDs, though.
Bobbie also said how radio no longer has a talent pool to pull from anymore. Will a minimum-wage permana-lancer, running a board, how can she or her develop into a top-notch air personality? No way, not in the radio climate, of today, with the restrictions PDs, vampires and beanies put on stations.
What is Bobbie doing now? She works for www.animalradio.com, and is concentrating on developing a career as an artist. If you can't use one talent, use another. Her other voice is painting original artwork and commercial graphics. Talk about reinventing yourself! It sure beats flipping burgers, where her j-degree would morph into spatula.
A word to all you Cheap Channel employees: beware. We all know about the layoffs of the last couple of years. I'm sure more are coming. When is the next joyous holiday, Christmas, maybe. On the Eve, as you leave the station, say, to take Tiny Tim sledding, maybe for the last time, the evil empire will hand you a layoff notice.
A $700 million debt payment is due in May 2011, and $4.5 billion in July 2014. Can Cheap Channel make these payments? The answer is almost surely not.
The New York "Post" reports Cheap Channel, the evil empire, has $2 billion on hand. They can make that first payment. What about the second payment, will the money exist to make that one?
Will the owners, of Clean Channel, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, try to sell stock, sell the company or file bankruptcy? Get your parachutes ready and prepare to jump. You might not have a job if Clear Channel misses those loan payment dates. You might not have a job, anyway, if you work for the evil empire.