By Bob Burnham
This continues my series on people in the broadcast world I’ve known, listened to, learned something from, or just admired and respected with no connection at all.
Catching up on old background info, Jeff was one half of the Deminski and Doyle drive time show that aired for eight years on CBS’ WKRK 97.1 (later known as WXYT-FM). The show made a brief migration to mornings then the duo walked away from a CBS contract offer that was unacceptable to them.
Abiding by a year-long no-compete clause, the show was off the air a year. With much fanfare, including a New Years blow-out, “D & D” were back on mornings but now at Greater Media’s WCSX 94.7. It soon became apparent, however, that the “new” show was developing into something that in no way resembled the old one, not necessarily by Jeff and Bill’s design.
WCSX is Detroit’s legacy classic rock station. There is also a tendency among broadcast executives to think listeners want to hear the same few low-rotation “power” tunes every day, less talk and by playing more music that their chance increases to catch the listener who happens to be scanning the dial. This is apparently guided by inherently flawed “research,” new ratings technology, and taking common sense into account. I would normally not be critical of a station, as there are an incredible number of positive things (and people) going on at the station. But this actually is true of the broadcast industry in general, in my most humble opinion.
“D & D” are an example of a softer version of “hot talk.” “Hot talk” has not worked in many markets, although D & D’s version scored major success in drive time on 97.1.
In my world of people who know how to do “good radio,” the people behind the microphone (of which I was one long ago) are just “regular folks.” The best of them have little or no ego nor do they think they are better that the guy working the counter at McDonalds.
In D & D’s case, the radio show basically amounts to two guys hanging out at the corner pub and swapping stories with listeners. They’ll do outrageous things from time to time and special appearances, but mostly they go to great lengths to make the listeners comfortable. In fact, the listeners on-air involvement as well as the support people become crucial parts of the show success. After eight years of show and audience development, we do not have an example of merely good radio. What we have is great radio!
Why? Because it’s personal one-on-one radio. The listener feels like they know everyone on the show without having ever met them.
I was on hand for an eight year celebration at their former radio station during which huge numbers of D & D fans were ushered in and out of the studio while Jeff and Bill did their thing, wrapped up with a hilarious in-studio contest featuring listeners. Many of us had to park across the street at a corner drugstore and gingerly cross the street to the radio station in "that building" that resembled a furniture store. When I was there soon after the start of the show, the crowd was enormous.
Much later, Jeff’s on-air slip of the tongue regarding “Super Bonus Points” (which really didn’t exist) resulted in another fan gathering. "Super Bonus Points" compelled Jeff to feel personally responsible to the listeners. This resulted in Southfield’s “Mr. Joes” being packed for Deminski's “free $3 burger and fries” paid for out of his own pocket.
During the afternoon drive run, listeners lived through high and low points of both Jeff and Bill’s personal lives and watched the show and the station itself evolve. As in life, there were tremendously hilarious times, deeply sad and moving moments, as well as segments that made listeners think. It wasn’t all slap-happy, but it wasn’t all serious either.
Listeners actually cared when Jeff yelled on the air at another 97.1 host at the time, Michelle McKormick, for being such an insane parking lot driver. Sounding a little tearful, Michelle said something like “You’re being a little mean to me, aren’t you, MISTER?”
It’s life, folks. It’s REAL RADIO.
My career was essentially handed to me by the late great Jack Hood. Jack would have approved of what the Deminski & Doyle Show was all about. Jack was best known for his work in Flint, central Michigan and WJR, but he hired me in Ann Arbor for my first radio gig in that city. He denied being a “programming genius” in a later conversation, but through his mentoring, he in fact taught us all what good radio was all about. The guy knew how to motivate us to be our best. When we were the best, we knew. When we screwed up, we knew, but when we needed a friend, Jack was there as well. We were the “WJR West”, damn proud of it, yet made no big deal about it. We had the on-talent and family atmosphere to show for it, featuring many names you might recognize today.
Detroit was actually lucky to have D & D on the radio for as long as we did. That’s especially true when I think about much of the way radio is today -- the sameness, the boring and repetitive music formats, the over-produced promos fairly shouting how great the station is SUPPOSED TO BE, I have only one reaction: Stop SAYING how great you are and how much your listeners LOVE your “new” format (which is the same old songs over and over ad nauseum), and just DO IT. Just BE IT.
There are no overnight “stars” or ratings giants ESPECIALLY in talk radio. This is especially true in a re-building situation when talent has to sit on the side-lines for a year, and ESPECIALLY in today’s climate where the largest radio group owners are struggling for survival.
Prior to his untimely death, Jack Hood became a pioneer in the video tape rental business, operating a hugely successful chain of stores before Blockbuster got into the business.
He would have liked to have given radio “one more shot.” In a quote from Jack, however, during one of our last conversations, he said “The best thing about radio – even if you can’t BE on it, is you can TALK about it.”
With the last of his “beer money,” this is EXACTLY what Jeff Deminski did, long after the WCSX morning show had expired.
Long-time show sponsor, Snookers of Utica, was the site. It was a very casual setting with a handful of hard-core Deminski & Doyle fans on hand.
Despite being ridiculed by Jeff for hating pizza (which was hilarious!), it was a great time.
A bit of congratulations might've been
in order for the past success. But mostly now, it’s a thanks for changing the lives of so many in the listening area for the better. In person, let me assure you, this guy is the real deal: The same one you heard on the radio.
Like real people in real life, either you like a host or you don’t. But if they’re “believable” on the radio, and you give them just a little time in your life, they will change it for you for the better… like any good friend on the radio, or not.
- Bob Burnham