Welcome Ted The Bear Richards back to Detroit Radio!
Radio and techie stuff are very important parts of my life as I have said. It is like an old friend: I get angry when it doesn't give us what I think it should, I get bored when it gives me predictable boring content that doesn't make me think, laugh or otherwise become emotionally involved. But when it's good, I mean REALLY good, it's the highlight of my day.
I have my own ideas of what constitutes "good" radio, and the people who have the talent or at least the knowledge I have about what makes "good" radio -- in my opinion of course -- are heroes.
I have a very cool job that is mostly behind the scenes at Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, in Southfield, Michigan. I help to make the "magic" of the equipment work day in and day out for students and instructors. Although I am a bonafide, on the younger side "baby boomer", I try to keep up on the latest stuff technically and what is GOING ON in the business itself. I love classic technology, but I embrace everything new that comes along. I also have very strong ideas of what constitutes good and mediocrity in terms of programming as well. What worked in the past still works.
Growing up in northwest Detroit, I was a fan of several different radio stations, including WXYZ, WKNR and CKLW -- all AM stations. AM radio would later be the mainstay of my career both on the air and as Chief Techie.
As I began taking my career more seriously and began having some early success myself, CKLW was always the station that caught my attention. This was a hit radio music station that also played oldies, had a top notch news department, had the best signal, and the best and loudest "sound" of any station in Detroit. No other station could touch it. I have tapes that prove it to this day.
Although they played a wider range of music than anyone does today, the format was tighter than anybody else (figure that out, but it was true). The air talent was also second to none: They had the most energy, the smoothest delivery, and from the sound of it, they had the most fun! It was a tight machine tended to by talented HUMANS long before radio automation and voice tracking even existed.
For a period of time, I was on the air doing the 6-10 PM air shift in Ann Arbor. I've told the story many times. Our format was more contemporary but I had my on-air heroes I had grown up with who were part of me developing my "schtick." One of the biggest heroes I emulated was Ted Richards at CKLW, AKA "The Big 8," who coincidently, was also their 6-10 nighttime jock (yeah, The Bear blew me away every night, but I loved every minute!).
Ted was the coolest jock on the radio, hands down. He knew Detroit and Windsor but he also knew THE MUSIC -- not just rock, not just Motown and R & B, but EVERYTHING better than anyone, and he knew how to talk around every tune on the air better than anyone. I started doing that myself by listening to Ted, but I was also a musician so I had a strong sense of rhythm as well.
Mostly I loved the guys' attitude. Still do. What can I say, he was COOL.
He was why I wanted to be in radio.
J.P. McCarthy and Dick Purtan were both well on their way to gaining their legendary status, but Ted was the COOLEST.
In my office at Specs Howard, there is a framed publicity photo of Ted Richards which he signed to me: "Thanks for listening to CK," Ted wrote in 1983. Now I can point out to those who weren't around in CK's heyday just who this guy is!
The 1980s actually brought the demise of CKLW. Ted was pretty much there to the end as I recall, as competition from FM stations and pressure from Canada's version of the FCC eventually brought the station down. But I never forgot Ted, and neither did Detroit.
The Detroit radio market has actually been smouldering for years. It has had its highlights, but some very serious low moments.
Can the highly depressed economy even support the level of radio talent we are accustomed to? Eight years ago, Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle arrived in town and while the "hot talk" format overall, tended to be a flop in Detroit, Jeff and Bill worked their butts off with a "working class" type show and won this town over in afternoon drive. Big Time. Unfortunately, they went OFF the air this past December along with the format of their old station and again, I wondered again "Can the economy of the Detroit market support great talent?"
Next, legendary broadcaster (who also goes back to the CKLW days), Tom Ryan was taken off the air at WOMC. It seemed like the only way to hear our radio friends was via podcasts produced by radio talents who were out of work.
Gregg Henson is best known for such podcasts via gregghenson.com and greggandmichelle.com. Henson, a former co-worker of Deminski and Doyle at the ill-fated "hot talk" station, has developed a massive listenership via "Blog Talk" radio. Nobody gets paid, but everybody has fun.
So I had all but given up on so-called traditional radio that I could listen to in the car when D & D went off. I love classic rock and all the legendary jocks I also grew up with on WCSX and WRIF, but hearing the same songs every day can get old.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I need some serious excitement or at least to laugh with old friends like D & D, Gregg and Michelle, or… Ted Richards. I don't need to hear the same 30 year old song 10 times a week.
On Friday, February 1st 2008, the Motor City was hit with another winter blast. Some of us actually got the day off from work! But more significantly, Detroit Radio also got IT'S biggest blast in many years. The afore mentioned Ted "The Bear" Richards' returned to Detroit radio! His much anticipated, heavily promoted arrival on WOMC 104.3 kicks off his tenure as their new 3-7:00 afternoon drive guy.
The show began with a drop from Detroit's most beloved voice, Ernie Harwell, the legendary voice of the Detroit Tigers...and of course Ted "The Bear" kicked it off reciting the first verse of McFadden and Whitehead's 1970s disco hit, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" over the intro of the song right up to the post. He proclaimed "It's official! The Bear is back in town in the month of love in the Motor City, and I love YOU, Motor City, yes I do..."
From that point on, no matter how bad the weather was outside, having the Coolest-Jock-On-Radio on one of the most powerful FM stations in the state, we knew everything would be OK. You can't help but be in a good mood with this guy on. I would suspect it was a surprisingly emotional experience for Detroit listeners to have this old friend back.
Later, the original CKLW traffic girl, Jo-Jo was heard as well as a welcome from the Mayor of Ferndale, where the studio and transmitter is located, and at one point, a hilarious burn-out call "Hey Ted, you introduced me to Alice Cooper!"
Ted made later reference to the fact that the phone lines were knocked out obviously due to the volume of calls, but that the phone company had apparently quickly fixed the situation. Thanks phone technicians!
As a colleague of mine remarked who was listening to the internet stream in another market, "the music is actually made to sound BETTER by the talent between the songs." I couldn't agree more.
Back to back hits mean nothing. Any office computer can do that. But give me someone we can get to know, who actually cares about the City, has something intelligent, witty or otherwise down-to-earth to say, and I'll listen everyday and buy every product that is advertised on that station.
Is he one of the "heroes" of my career, such as it is? Absolutely.
But mostly it's great to have an old friend back -- someone on the air who is the very definition of a broadcast PRO in light of the what has happened in this radio market and industry-wide during the past year.
Welcome back Ted the Bear. Don't leave us again!