Live Radio Rules:  What makes it successful
(Common sense thoughts from past experience)

By Bob Burnham
02-08-2008


“Good luck on your radio career” an old friend wrote on the back of her high school graduation picture, “even though we always teased you… “

We won’t discuss how many years have since passed, but some of us – myself included — haven’t changed much.  Hopefully, we’ve gained some knowledge and certainly common-sense smarts, but we still like companionship we get from RADIO.

One of the lifetime activities I’ve pursued is collecting tapes of radio.  For example, I had airchecked Warren Pierce’s “return” to Detroit on WJR, sometime BEFORE the occasion of that old friend wishing me well on my career.  I still have that tape. 

Warren Pierce is one of the guys who worked on the “original” WCAR (which is now WDFN, the Clear Channel sports station), 1130 on the AM dial.   Back then, people like Dave Prince, H.B. “Huggy Bear” Philips and Dan O’Shea did daily programs.  The sports format and Gregg Henson wouldn’t arrive there for several more years.  

One of the original WCAR jingles went something like this:

 “It’s knowing you… Are going to…  get some pretty songs all over you.

And knowing when you are….    on C-A-R…  They care about the folks they’re talking to…”

That last line should still be a philosophy of ALL radio stations today. But the difficult economy has been a favorite excuse for stations to routinely take people off the air and replace them with someone at half the salary or worse, a bland satellite-fed program. 

In the WCAR 1130-AM days, Warren did the nighttime shift and while he played music, he intermixed interesting interviews -- similar to what he still does -- in with the time and temp. On Sunday nights, he played “old time” radio comedy and drama.  I listened to the Sunday night shows religiously and started collecting those shows myself on a large scale. Warren’s closing theme was Gene Autry’s western prehistoric oldie, “Back in the Saddle Again,” which Pierce merrily sang along with on the radio  (I would love to hear him do that on WJR).   

I was quite upset when the station changed format and Warren left, much like we all feel about Deminski and Doyle today.  Warren arrived at a station in Canada: CKSL in London, Ontario, but he also worked at the “later” version of WCAR, 1090 on the AM dial, where I worked throughout the 1990s.

He was, however, long gone from WCAR by the time I arrived at “The Mighty 1090.” He was already a WJR regular by then.

But even during my time there, we had many interview and talk type programs on WCAR.  Some originated from remote locations and I was the site engineer as well as the Chief Engineer of the station.  On the occasion of one of those shows, Warren Pierce was the guest and we met briefly. 

The show, “You and Your Business,” was originated from a small restaurant located in the famous Fox Theater in Detroit.  The host, Marty DeWelt, was an enthusiastic, upbeat and incredibly bright woman who owned the program herself. She was convinced that Detroit was undergoing a massive growth spurt, and she had people on the air like Warren Pierce and Ernie Harwell who certainly lent a level of support to her enthusiasm.  Ernie hadn’t retired yet and the Tigers were still playing in Tiger Stadium. All was well.

Well, that program, format and those days, of course, are LOOOOOOONG GONE (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), but fragments of memorabilia from those years still exist.  Some of those fragments include airchecks. 

Warren Pierce would also briefly host a daily show with his wife on Bob Hynes’ ill-fated WYUR-AM, but would retain his association with WJR.

Playing some of these old tapes can really take you on a mind trip to the past and make you feel like you are there again, especially if you WERE originally there in the first place.

What every single one of these tapes prove  -- and I don’t care how far back the tapes go – is CONTENT and CONTENT ONLY is the key to its success and we are talking about content on a very personal level. 

It will never be safe watching TV while driving a car.  But the companionship that RADIO provides, or SHOULD provide is priceless.  

Whether it’s Jack Benny, Warren Pierce, or Jeff Deminski, such talents provide us with a vital link to OUR sanity.   These people lived their lives on the radio and we got to know them as People just by their providing that companionship.  

That’s why we get upset when they get taken off the air.  It’s no different than having a friend leave town… or… die.

I thought guys like Joe Sasso; the wisecracking New York-accented drive time guy on the old WXYZ "Music Radio" (before they became a talk station) was hilarious.   Ted The Bear, whose return we recently celebrated, as I have stated, was The Cool One.  Perhaps there is hope for the industry now that at least he’s back.

Before Technology and Accountants ruled the air, there were Real Live People speaking over microphones rather than a hard drive obediently retrieving a previously recorded voice-tracked show.   Today, computers rather than people also select songs from a microscopic play list backed by millions of megabytes of research.  

I have nothing against voice-tracking and using technology to make radio more cost effective to deliver.  But I’d like to see a little more pride taken in what is handed out to the public, rather than just proverbial hash shoveled out such as at dinnertime in a prison.   

“You’ll eat it and like it.”   No we won’t!   

Life is not a prison.  We’ll ABANDON The Hash Meal, or listen to our old friends on PODCASTS, which apparently is the newest form of RADIO (The form of delivery doesn't matter as much anymore).

Give us something TASTY and we just might leave the Ipods and the CD collection at home where in my case, the old tapes of the way radio “used to be” are also stored.

Bob Sena
3/28/2008 00:51:26

Bob B.,
Have you had any recent contact with "Huggie Bear" Philips (former WCAR DJ)?
He taught a Broadcasting class I took at U of D back in '71-'72. Nice guy!
He had us come down and see part of his show "live" at the OLD WCAR studios at 7 Mile Rd. and James Couzens a couple times.
I had read somewhere that he spent some time in the Lansing market shortly after he left Detroit. When is the last time you heard from him?
I enjoy reading your blog!

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Steve Brown
9/8/2013 01:57:02

I remember the "Old " WCAR as well..."You've got Detroit turned on" was their top of the hour station ID slogan...Ray Otis, Dave Prince, Dan O'Shea, Warren Pierce, and Ed Busch were the jocks. Great radio, great format. Unfortunately it didn't last long and 'CAR tried to imitate CKLW and that was a big mistake.

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Bob
4/8/2008 03:19:03

I didnt know any of the original WCAR gang including Huggie Bear, but I remember them well. The station I was at was in Garden City at 1090 AM -- the sister to WBRB (call letters WERB) then WTAK, the first all-talk station in town, then WIID....and finally went Golden West (Gene Autry) purchased the original WCAR it became country, the call letters got freed up. WIID switched to WCAR. In 1979, the station acquired its 24 hour license (daytime only before then) and added six more towers to the four it already had. The facility is still in operation today with the WCAR calls and now programmed by MICHIGAN CATHOLIC RADIO.

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Frank
5/21/2008 10:14:40

I remember avidly listening to WCAR and Warren Pierce, HB Phillips, et al. What a terrific line up. If you have tapes of that era, especially Pierce, I'd love to obtain copies. I have a collection of those Chuck Blore jingles I could offer in trade!

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