The Radio Station
Posted by SwampyMeadows, Features Contributor,
Friday, July 14 2006
BEVERLY HILLS (MI) –- It’s not everyone that can say that they were able to land their ideal job straight out of college, but I’m one of those ‘fortunate sons’ John Fogarty sang about. As a long-haired, mustachioed, recently-minted graduate of UD’s Communication Arts program, I faced the same dilemma as many of my classmates –- do I spend more of my old man’s money going to grad school or should I start making some of my own? The Chairman of Comm Arts was the old horse trader himself, George Biersack. George made the mistake of mentioning when he spoke to one of my classes that he would be happy to assist any and all graduates in finding work in TV/Radio land. Being the naďve, optimistic hippie that I was, I took Biersack at his word and proceeded to pester the living sh*t out of him about helping me to find gainful employment. Finally in mid-June of 1972, George got sick of me bothering him and asked me a fateful question:
“We’re looking for a salesman at WVUD –- would you be interested?”
Ahhh, VUD. My roommate Steve Downes had been a DJ there for several years, as had many of our Comm Arts compadres. That was one of several unique things about FM 100: all of the announcers were undergraduate students, while George and the rest of the small staff did what they did for a living. Clearly, VUD was not your normal college radio property -– it was a 50,000 watt, commercially licensed FM station. Translation: unlike most low power, non-commercial college radio entities, VUD could make money, but up to that point, it hadn’t.
WVUD was actually licensed to Kettering, beginning life as WKET and was owned by Speidel Broadcasting Corporation of Ohio, which received a permit for 99.9 FM with an ERP of 32,000 watts in 1960. Speidel did not put the station on the air until December 1962. Speidel Broadcasting was based in Columbia, SC and I had been told it was owned by the watchband company of the same name, but I can’t confirm that to be true. FM was a new-fangled thing back then and WKET programmed classical music from a basement studio in the Hills & Dales Shopping Center. After suffering significant losses, Biersack convinced Speidel to “sell” the station to University of Dayton for $25,000 in 1964, but at the same time, donate $25,000 to UD’s endowment fund; in effect, giving the station to the university. The call letters were changed to WVUD or “The Voice of the University of Dayton.” The WKET call letters live on with a low-power station run by Fairmont HS. The VUD format would become “Stereo with Brass” which was, to my young ears, essentially unlistenable.
That would change when George made perhaps the most critical hire in his new station’s history -– Program Director Chris “Cage” Caggiano. Cage was a walking radio encyclopedia from Niagara Falls, NY who worked weekend shifts at local Top 40 AM station WING and later at the 50,000 watt clear-channel powerhouse, WLW in Cincy. Cage literally lived and breathed radio and he started to tinker with VUD’s format while I was still an undergrad. Folks like Pete Acquaviva, Ann DeStefano and Kevin Kehoe toiled on-air spinning Herb Alpert, Burt Kampfert and the rest of the “Stereo with Brass” all-stars during the day. Then at night, 99.9 transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a heartbeat and Downes and Phil Eckert would play tunes that anyone enrolled at UD was dying to be able to hear on the radio, rather than relying on their stereo or 8 track player. And listen they did.
George was the master of the hyphenated job: he himself was Chairman of the Comm Arts Department/GM of WVUD; Cage was PD/Sales Manager/Comm Arts Teacher; Brian Quirk and Jim Minarik were both Account Executive/Teachers. I would be the first full-time salesperson at WVUD and for this I was to be paid the princely sum of $50 a week –- draw. For the uninitiated, ‘draw’ means you have to reimburse your employer any monies paid out to you from your commissions before you got to keep them. $50 doesn’t seem like a helluva lot now and it wasn’t much back then either, trust me. George wasn’t exactly betting his horse farm out in Bellbrook here –- if I didn’t work out UD would only be light a couple hundred bucks. Still to this day, I haven’t figured out exactly what Biersack saw in me, but I am eternally grateful to him for giving me a chance.
By the time I had started right after the 4th of July in 1972, WVUD was really hitting its stride. Cage had convinced George to ditch “S w/ B” and go soft AOR (Album Oriented Rock) during the day and full-tilt AOR at night. The bridge between the two was the highly innovative “Wax Museum” that aired every weeknight at 7:00pm and played entire albums for the purpose of allowing people to record them. “Wax Museum” was the Napster of its day and anyone with a reel-to-reel or cassette recorder could own the latest albums without having to pay a dime for them. Hell, the DJs used to even play tones so that listeners could properly set the levels on their recorders! Hard to believe the record companies let VUD get away with that back then, given today’s environment.
One of the key moves that Cage made was to convince one of his co-workers at WLW, baritone Bob McAllister, to cut WVUD’s station IDs:
“W…V…U…D…the radio station.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard people imitate Bob’s slow recitation of VUD’s call letters and slug line. It was simple, but it gave VUD an identity which is, after all, what an ID is supposed to do, right?
My first sale as a WVUD AE was to Athena’s Bridal Creations in Kettering. Athena bought a $150 schedule and I quickly learned how to figure out what 15% of any dollar amount was, because that was my commission rate. I called on car dealers, concert promoters, soft drink and beer companies, record stores -– you name it. Perhaps the two most memorable advertisers from that era were The Forest Books and Records on Wayne Avenue, with owner Tom Weiser voicing his own spots and Gene Whipp’s Carlin Audio, with the former hydroplane racer doing likewise. We were only charging these guys a couple of bucks a spot and sponsors like Tom and Gene got the media buy of a lifetime when Cage’s AOR format kicked in and took hold of the youth of Dayton.
One holdover from the “Stereo with Brass” days was Fr. Norbert Burns’ marriage program. Norbert was a great guy and his show stuck out like a sore thumb, but it ran in mid-day, so who cared?
Two years into my tenure, Cage left WVUD. George made another smart move and hired a kid with glasses and a fedora from Parma, OH named Geoff Vargo as Chris’ replacement at PD. Vargo had worked as a jock while he was in school and then we hired him to sell and he became PD/AE/Teacher when he took over for Cage.
My wife and I saw a lot of great concerts while I worked at VUD: the Beach Boys, Elton John, Chicago and David Bowie, just to name a few. Concert Promoter Carmen Anastasia seemed to bring BTO to town every other month. Springsteen used to play the Victoria Opera House before he hit it big and all the UD kids from Jersey would flock there in droves.
So many people toiled on-air and behind the scenes at WVUD then: Jeff “The Turtle” Silverberg, the first AM Drive personality on VUD that anyone paid attention to; his pithy replacement, Patty Spitler; Art Farkas; Kevin Carroll; Tim Darcy; Rich Wieser; Bill Andres; Michael Luczak; Steve Weisberg; John ”Blump” Murray; “Doctor” Tom Conway; “William” Schulte: Tony Smith; Dan Covey; Steve Wendell; Kathy Ross; Bill Russell; Maggie Bowen; Louie Chelekis; “Dolby Joe” Reiling; Dan Ross; Chris “Foxy” Brown; Mike McConnell; Billy Pugh; Claude Henderson, engineer John Fudge and the one, the only Elva Mae McCracken, George’s sweet-talkin’ Southern secretary.
A special shout out to Martha Dunsky: we still have the stenciled cutting board you made us for a wedding gift, which was exactly 33 years ago today.
A couple of the more memorable on-air incidents and anecdotes:
-- Ever hear George Carlin’s “Seven Words You’ll Never Hear on Radio” bit? Its title alone tells you: this track ain’t suitable for airplay. Well, “Doctor” Tom Conway played it and got away with it during an overnight shift. Thank God Fr. Roesch and Biersack weren’t in the habit of tuning in late at night.
-- Steve Wendell’s nickname was “Wazoolie.” He held an on-air contest, asking listeners how long his ‘wazoolie’ was. The answer was 12 inches. Steve also managed to get himself videotaped by a Dayton TV station as he streaked thru the Ghetto at a block party.
-- Then there was the “Big Banana” contest that Cage came up with, our first real on-air promotion. The announcers gave clues out over the air as to the identity of the “Big Banana” and listeners were supposed to walk up and ask people if they were the “WVUD Big Banana.” The “BB” turned out to be afternoon kid’s show host Malcolm McLeod from Channel 22.
-- A year later, I came up with the idea to do the same promotion in reverse: we called it the “Electric Banana.” VUD staffers went out to pre-announced locations and handed out prizes to anyone who asked “Are you the WVUD Electric Banana?” We dyed some long-sleeved overalls yellow and the staff had a lot of fun with it, especially part-time AE Randy Johnson.
-- Vargo wanted to promote the opening of the Jaycees Haunted House on Alex/Bell Road in Centerville, right down the street from where Peggy and I were living at the time. So, he had the VUD jocks announce that there were some strange things going on in that vicinity. Kids flocked en masse to the area to see what the heck was going on; much like folks did when Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds” back in 1939. The story got covered by all of the TV stations, but I don’t remember there being any legal ramifications in the aftermath.
-- After Cage left, Vargo and I wanted to update the station IDs. We decided to use “Boomer” from WMMS in Cleveland (Vargo’s hometown) who was doing the voiceovers for one of my clients, an audio chain based in Niles, OH. Geoff and I were totally mortified when we listened to them: Boomer said “Dub-ya” instead of the super-annunciated “Double-U” like Bob McAllister had done on the previous renditions. The new IDs never aired.
-- Everyone on the VUD staff was totally geeked when engineer John Fudge told us of George’s plans to build a new tower for the station, to be erected right behind Stuart Hall, along with an increase to 50,000 watts. It would allow 99.9 to cover the entire metro Dayton area. The dudes who build radio and TV towers are a squirrelly lot and when one of the guys on the airstaff told them that “you’re building the tower crooked” they packed up and left. Biersack and Fudge had to sweet-talk them into coming back, which they eventually did.
-- Believe it or not, I still have my way-cool WVUD t-shirt with the dude blowing smoke rings and holding a doobie. Regrettably, I threw away a small stack of VUD bumper stickers when I left the station. What would one of those suckers be worth now, 30 years later?
Probably the one thing that brought the WVUD staff together and made us a tight-knit group was our softball team, “The Burnouts.” We would play anyone, anywhere and boy could that team party. When I think of some of the stuff we did, I am amazed that we didn’t get arrested. Then again, we were playing against our listeners, so they weren’t about to turn us in. My favorite opponent was a squad called “The Huber Heads” from Huber Heights. Their leader was a guy named Jake and I can still remember hitting a line drive home run over his head in RF when he basically dared me to try and go to the opposite field. Take that, long hair!
There are a sh*tload more folks and a lot more stories that I can’t remember right now that made “The Radio Station” the coolest place to be. It was a lot of fun…it never really seemed like work…which is the way it should be.
That’s it “From the Swamp.”