VUOLO, TED THE BEAR AND D & D
Content rules in radio, and it still can be found if you know where to look...
by Bob Burnham
Art Vuolo is best known in the Detroit area as “radio’s best friend” and his now defunct columns in the Oakland Press.
His commentary can still be read on the web at www.michiguide.com and he has a business that offers airchecks and programs he has produced over the years about and for radio. Just go to www.vuolovideo.com/
Video featuring just about any air talent you can remember can be found in Art’s offerings.
He is also known for his rock Radio Guides which always greeted me at the cash register at Big Boy restaurants. It was a listing on all the radio stations in Michigan along with their formats and cities. Last year, however, the Guides were sorely missed, due apparently to a lack of sponsorship.
During our rare in-person encounters, he rarely remembers who I am. Our first meeting in the 1970s was at his Ann Arbor apartment during which he proudly played a University of Michigan documentary he was working on – from his Sony reel to reel tape decks.
As I have mentioned in these blogs in the past, I worked on-air at Ann Arbor’s WAAM, back when the station had live talent around the clock playing music, but for a couple years in the early 1980s, I was also WAAM’s Production Director.
Art and I had something in common in those days: We knew how to do fine editing on reel to reel tape!
But I also collected rare moments on the radio, including moments people probably would prefer I erased!
In the 1970’s, the original WDRQ had a Public Affairs talk show on the weekend during which they put the music format on pause.
“Speak Out” was hosted by broadcast veteran, Don Zee and produced by Lee Scott.
In May of 1973, Art was a featured guest talking about radio station jingles, promos and playing some of his recordings like “The Un-Contest” a take-off on 7-Up commercials.
I have in my possession a tape of this program, during which Art and Don talk radio then take questions from listeners. A few days ago, I listened to that tape in its entirety.
It’s interesting to hear today, realizing that radio was in general more important to more people at the time, and still had a youthful audience. WDRQ was apparently doing well at the time as an FM station that was giving serious competition to the previous market leader, CKLW (which had its own problems as well). The public was switching to FM.
Today, the Detroit FM band actually has a few bright spots if you know where they are and if the type of programming appeals to you.
While Art has lowered himself to trying to sell bricks from torn down transmitter sites, he is still present at all the major broadcast events. Most broadcasters appreciate his efforts to promote a business that like so many others, is struggling today.
Another rare “Art” audio nugget in my possession was “filler” material I stumbled upon on a tape with some other material:
You won’t find “WARV 91.7” on any of his Radio Guides or any lists of Michigan radio stations but apparently it could be found in Art’s home many years ago. It was a DJ show hosted by Art himself! I’m not going to say anything bad other than Specs Howard’s tuition in those days (late 1970s) was a real bargain that might have been a good investment for Art!
But we can cut the guy some slack! He has been known to support today’s Specs Howard in various ways and obviously, we appreciate it!
Even though Art claimed WARV “played the best music” on the aircheck, I can’t say exactly that his “station” rocked MY world <chuckle!>.
As far as bright spots on radio that DO rock my radio world…
Ted “The Bear” Richards (veteran CKLW-AM jock of the 1970s-80s), just celebrated a year of being back on the air in Detroit. Catch him afternoons on WOMC 104.3. The playlist of this station is microscopic compared to what “The Big 8” aired back in their heyday, but Ted is better than ever. In the midst of tough times, Ted’s show is always bright and upbeat. I don’t know how to describe the jock style that is typical of most of the talent on WOMC to people who haven’t lived through it. They feature strong personalities that are allowed to do more than just read liners. The program elements are no-mess-around-TIGHT much like they were in the days when hit radio formats could be found on the AM band. It’s easier to do today because computers take the place of mechanical cartridge machines that at the biggest stations, even required a separate engineer to operate.
A more laid back “classic” approach is a little further down the dial at 94.7, Greater Media’s classic rocker, WCSX.
The painfully-long awaited return of Jeff Deminiski and Bill Doyle made its WCSX debut on New Years the very second their old contract allowed them do. Mornings with “D & D” are now a fixture on WCSX having now completed a full month of being “back.”
Ted Richards’ WOMC show basically sounds exactly the same as his CKLW days. The same for D & D comparing their “old” show to the “new” one. Their old station went through a variety of “flavors” before finally becoming a sports station, but D & D never changed, and the current show, although airing mornings and now having more of a classic rock edge (what ever that is!), still sounds like a bunch of people chatting at the corner pub, and not much different from the “old” show.
The shows (Ted the Bear and D & D) both sound “real” --not phony. It’s not about formats, it’s not about how many spots run per hour, what the “cume” is, how many “power” oldies are played per hour or how many listeners spend money on what products. These things all translate into money, but good radio is about good people.
The numbers and statistics (and money) will follow IF there are good people delivering good content. That is the very bottom line.
Deminski and Doyle are perfect examples I have pointed out in the past. No other hosts on their old station lasted from beginning to the very end the way they did. Good, consistent ”real” content will generate good numbers no matter hour good, bad or indifferent the rest of the broadcast day is. Sometimes it takes time to develop a following and sometimes a station cannot afford to wait it out in these tough times.
Somehow, D & D beat the odds. There must be a reason for that. It has been said they were and are hard workers.
These winners of Detroit radio have made the best of it merely by doing their jobs to the best of their ability. That’s all it is. Captain “Sully”did it making an emergency water landing on the Hudson River. No one died, but it wasn’t any big deal to him. He was merely doing his job as a professional pilot. He saved lives, but no big deal! Every day occurrence. Heck, a doctor saves lives for a living.
Meantime, Detroit radio had been making a severe sucking sound for several years.
That is until people like Ted, Jeff and Bill came back. They saved Detroit radio.
“Aw shucks,” they would probably say, “We were just doing what we love to do – doing what we get paid for to the best of our abilities.” (Those shows btw, SOUND like these people are having fun every single day).
There’s still a lot of dead space on the bands, including stations that come entirely out of a computer that runs from morning to night without human intervention. If someone is making a profit from that computer – so be it – but it’s not my kind of radio.
And I suspect it’s not Art Vuolo’s kind of radio, either.
Like myself, Art comes from the days when hundreds of top 40 stations with live talent could be heard on medium powered regional AM stations, all of whom sounded like they were top 5 markets. Today, if they still exist, they are infomercial-based and/or satellite driven stations with the same shows that are heard in every other market.
Radio has already done damage to itself that may be beyond repair. But there are still those of us around that still love radio. There are still people around like “Radio’s Best Friend,” Art Vuolo, who kept that title for a reason.
The talent is also still around who remember when you had to be REALLY REALLY GOOD to have a chance to do weekends at a radio station or even sweep the floor.
As the saying goes – Content IS KING – but today it will cost more than a minimum wage salary to find the people who know how to deliver that content. Luckily, there have finally been some management in this market who realize that and gave the listeners what they wanted for a change.