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Tom Tradup Took Journalistic Route to Becoming Salem Radio’s VP of News/Talk

“Political jobs weren’t easy to find in D.C.,” Tradup explained. “They wanted people like Karl Rove, John Dean, people like that.” 

Jim Cryns

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There are instances where being a bull in a China shop isn’t the worst thing.

“I’m kind of a bomb-tosser,” said Tom Tradup, vice president of news and talk programming at Salem Radio Network.

Tradup majored in political science at the University of Alabama. What he really wanted to do was go to Washington, get congressmen elected, and write some laws. Radio broadcasting wasn’t a blip on his radar. 

“Political jobs weren’t easy to find in D.C.,” Tradup explained. “They wanted people like Karl Rove, John Dean, people like that.” 

Admittedly, his entry into politics was a bust. 

“The first and only politician I worked for was in the 70s,” Tradup said. “He was an investment banker in Boston and he asked me to manage his congressional campaign. He was running against Paul Tsongas.” 

Thanks to Tradup’s fledgling skills and neophyte approach, his candidate lost by a landslide, running against future presidential candidate Paul Tsongas. 

“It’s good to be known for something,” Tradup jokes. “We lost by the largest landslide of Massachusettes, which dated back to the Pilgrims. And with a breadth of responsibilities within his network, Tradup finds time to smile. 

In the first election, Tradup admits he didn’t vet his opponent well enough. 

“Tsongas never held a real job in his life,” Tradup said. “He went to Dartmouth, then joined the Peace Corps. That’s not a real job. He was on the city council of Lowell and quit to become Middlesex County commissioner.” 

That dubious experience prompted Tradup to exit hands-on politics for good. Still, he wondered where he could still harness his love of affairs of state, so he decided he’d cover politics as a journalist. He started working for WCNY, the public radio station in Syracuse. 

“I covered state and local news, and was a regular on All Things Considered. I didn’t get paid much, but I got all the free tote bags I wanted. I became a connoisseur of Ramen Noodles.”

His first stop in commercial radio was in Columbia, Missouri at KTGR, the Tiger. This was the beginning of what Tradup termed his recurring ‘two year plans.’ Essentially spending two years in each job until he ended up with Salem, his tenure nearly three decades. At the time KTGR was a country music daytimer. That wasn’t where the fun ended.

“At the top of the hour for the legal ID, we had to growl,” Tradup recalls. “You know, like a tiger growling. We’d say, “It’s 1:30 at KTGR…(insert growl here.)”

Tradup was less than thrilled. 

“I told the station manager that I knew I was just a young guy, but as the station’s news director, it was humiliating to have to growl. I asked if there was some kind of sound effect of a growl we could use instead. He screamed, ‘No, you S.O.B. Folks love that.”

After he’d had his fill of growling, Tradup moved down the road to KCMO/Kansas City for two years, then on to New York and WMCA AM as a morning show producer. The station had legendary hosts like Bob Grant and Barry Farber. The station was owned by R. Peter Straus doing business as Straus Communications. Straus was director of Voice of America under President Jimmy Carter.

“We were a little radio station in the middle of Midtown Manhattan,” Tradup said. “We were small, but there were a lot of ears tuning in to our station. We had everybody on that station; Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, David Dinkins, Rudy Guiliani. It was great for me because I loved politics.” 

Then he got a call from WASH FM and John Kluge. He told Tradup they needed an operations manager. 

“Kluge told me they wanted a new morning show and asked if I’d create it,” Tradup said. “I did and it was called Continental Breakfast with Arthur Crofton and Linda Sherman.

Crofton was American, but he had British parents and had the Alistaire Cooke accent working. “It was a soft rock format. Crofton was the British touristy type, and Linda had the American perspective. We’d do a different remote every month. The show did well, it punched through. It can be very hard when you’re doing something new. Harden and Weaver ruled the roost in the market, but we were a strong second.” Harden and Weaver Show was the top show in D.C. for more than 38 years.

After that, it was KRLD in Dallas, a 50,000-watt station with rating problems. 

“On Sundays we had the Cowboys, but they said they needed someone to juice things up during the week,” Tradup said. Tradup was the juicer. 

“One of the first things I did was replace an operations director who had been there for 17 years. They were doing a lot of things by rote, them saying things were always done that way. I think if you bring in a fresh perspective it always helps. We brought in full-time news staff, helicopters.” 

Tradup said that was when the station produced features during Cowboy games. Shows like Coaches Corner, and shows with Preston Pearson and Bullet Bob Hayes.

“When I arrived I remember listening to former Cowboy player  Bob Lilly’s show, which was sponsored by a local grocery store. I thought it was kind of boring. The KLRD guy was asking him a lot of boring questions and I realized the show had to go.”

It’s not easy to tell “Mr. Cowboy,” a fierce defensive tackle, his show was going to be axed. It turned out to be just fine with Lilly. 

“He was living in Colorado, a very nice guy, a professional photographer at the time,” Tradup said. “I called and said, ‘I said I hate to do this to you, but I was thinking I have to cancel your show.’”

To Tradup’s surprise, Lilly was totally cool with it. He told Tradup he couldn’t understand why the station had him doing the show in the first place. He didn’t really know or relate to the younger players. Lilly said they’d just wanted him to talk about the ‘old days.’

This was also about the time Jerry Jones had just come to Dallas, and everybody knew he was going to fire Tom Landry and bring in his pal Jimmy Johnson. 

“I don’t think you could argue from a business decision, but it was the way he handled it that bothered me,” Tradup said. “I remember picking up the now defunct Dallas Herald and there was a color photo of Jones and Johnson celebrating their new era at Mia’s Tex-Mex Restaurant. The reason this was not appropriate is this was Landry’s favorite Mexican restaurant. It was his place. Not very classy.”

Then came the storied WLS radio in Chicago. He’d gotten a call from the late Norm Schrutt, at the time the ABC group president who oversaw the station. He asked Tradup if he wanted to come to WLS. Tradup was dating his future wife Lori and didn’t want to mess that up with a move. 

“The first question Norm asked me was whether I wanted to come to WLS and I answered ‘no.’ The second question he asked was, ‘are you stupid?’”

Not the beginning of a great interview.

Schrutt told Tradup he was offering him a 50,000-watt radio station owned by Capital Cities/ABC. Reminded him they owned ESPN, and that they even had cable deals in China. 

Schrutt continued. “Don’t you understand? Chicago is the third largest market. You’re in Dallas.” 

Tradup knew what market he was in. He got the trade magazines. As you may have guessed, Tradup eventually went to WLS. 

“Norm introduced me to the staff. He told me while I was running the station that it’s my baby. It’s nice nobody can tell you what to do, but it’s your butt on the line when things go bad.” 

After unpacking at his new home in Chicago, Tradup had his first experience with Sun Times media columnist Robert Feder.

“Norm had told me there was one guy I should never talk to. That was Robert Feder. My first reaction was ‘why?’ I was taking over a new station and it was in everybody’s best interest if I got along with this guy.”

Schrutt told Tradup that Feder was the guy who destroyed WLS.  When Tradup came to WLS, they were 27th in the market and were hemorrhaging money with a 1.3 share. 

“Feder operated on the theory that when there’s smoke there’s fire,” Tradup explained. “When salespeople saw bad writing on the wall, they’d jump ship, and he’d write about that. Other people would get nervous and leave. Feder would attack the station on this and that. When I got there Don Wade and Roma were there. They’re the only people I kept when I came on board.  The station was still playing music when I got there.”

Tradup said during a typical hour on that incarnation of WLS, you’d hear a Dean Martin song followed by a Phil Collins song. It was a big bowl of dirty soup. When WLS flipped to talk, Robert Feder flipped too. He grew up with Dick Biondi, John Landecker’s Boogie Check, Old Uncle Larry.

“Robert Feder figured if Norm hired me I must have been a bad guy,” Tradup said. “I asked my assistant Lanette to get Feder on the phone. The color drained from her face and she asked me if I knew about the bad blood between Norm and Feder? I said I did, and she got him on the phone. ‘What the heck is your problem?’ I said to Feder.”

‘I beg your pardon?’ was Feder’s reply.

Tradup asked Feder why he had such a bone to pick with WLS.

Feder told Tradup he grew up necking with his wife on WLS along Lake Michigan. He talked about all the history of the station, including WLS being the station that ran the Hindenburg disaster. A whole lot of colorful radio history and necking. And he saw ABC as an out-of-town, absentee landlord that didn’t appreciate WLS as a Chicago institution.”

“I told him I’d hoped he’d find I was a  good guy, even though he didn’t know me,” Tradup said. “I had a lot of good ideas. It wasn’t like Chicago really needed another talk station. In those days, Chicago didn’t need another friendly WGN. You couldn’t be hipper than The Loop.”

“I told him I’d make a deal with him,” Tradup explained. “I’d give him complete access to what I was thinking or planning. If I was going to change talent in a day part, I’d tell him. I promised I’d never say ‘no comment.’ I only asked him two things; Don’t take something I say out of context to make me sound stupid. I could do that well enough on my own. I also told him I’d give him a heads–up if something was coming down the road. We agreed and we’re still friends to this day.”

Tradup said his Christian faith and background in journalism have taught him candor, integrity and truth-telling always are the best policy in the long run. 

“If people learn anything from this interview, I hope they’ll take that advice to heart.”

BNM Writers

Andrea Kaye Learned Tough As Nails Attitude From Her Marine Corp Parents

“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”

Jim Cryns

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Her mother called her ‘dynamite in a dress.’ Andrea Kaye had an explosive energy and temperament. Her mother may have been right about her daughter’s intensity, but she was wrong about the dress.

“She thought I was going to be like my older sister, in a dress, playing with dolls. I was a tom-boy as a kid,” Kaye continued. “I was riding a bike with no shoes, riding like a crazy kid, and scraped off all my toenails. Our neighbors, ‘the Reen sisters’, comforted me while Mama wrapped my feet in bandages.

“We called them the Reen sisters because all four of them had ‘Reen’ at the end of their names; Doreen, Maureen, etc. Another time I jumped off an air conditioning unit and almost bit my tongue in half. To this day, my family still laughs about that stuff.” 

Her tomboy ways kept her a regular fixture at the Camp LeJeune emergency room. But even when she wasn’t getting into scrapes while playing, she got into scrapes and arguments over politics.

Also as a kid, Kaye would have intense conversations with her Uncle Jake, a Colonel at Fort Benning. “All the adults in the room would ask why he was arguing with a child,” Kaye explained. “My Uncle said, ‘Because she’s making a darn good point.’ He made me feel respected. He never treated me like a child.”

Both parents were in the Marine Corps. Kaye never seemed to shy away from being called a ‘military-brat.’ The kid was tough as nails. She brings some of that toughness to The Andrea Kaye Show, which broadcasts on Monday-Friday from 6:00-8:00 PM on The Answer San Diego.

Her mother grew up on a dairy farm in a little town near the Mississippi and Louisiana border. Not far from where Kaye went to high school, Slidell High. “Mama knew what hard work was,” Kaye explained.

Her mother worked extremely hard each day, especially after her mother Mary Lee got burned in a house fire. She had to help raise her younger sister while running the farm. “Compared to what she had to do on the farm, the Marine Corps was a vacation,” Kaye explained. “Mama has a tee-shirt that reads, ‘Not as Mean, not as Lean, but still a Marine’. Could be why she beat four cancers in three years. Not what you would call a ‘fluffy’ life.”

Kaye’s grandmother on her father’s side, worked in a textile mill in Opelika, Alabama. This was the same mill in which they filmed Norma Rae, starring Sally Field.

“With nothing but sixth grade education there weren’t many options,” Kaye said.

The work took a toll. Her grandmother lost most of her hearing and got black lung. Her dad grew up on a dirt floor and dreamed of a better life with travels to foreign lands and was thrilled to join the military as a way out. He believed in the American Dream and instilled that inspiration in Kaye.  

“We’d drive around and he would show us the neighborhoods we could live in if we got an education and worked hard.”

They had a lot of love while growing up in the family, but Kaye wouldn’t call it an emotionally nurturing childhood. Marines who were battle weary and from tough and impoverished childhoods aren’t necessarily the types to coddle. 

But they were the types to play lots of board games and cards, like gin rummy. Rides at amusement parks across the country were a family staple.

“We’d watch lots of movies and TV, especially musicals,” Kaye said. “Who knew two Marines could love The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof so much?”

One time her mother bribed Kaye’s brother and his friends with cookies and cake if they would watch her perform songs from The Sound of Music.

“Mary Lee was my mother’s mom. She had to be tough because her husband died while my mom was in the womb,” Kaye said. “She didn’t have time to be nurturing with four kids and a dairy farm to run.”

She said Mary Lee would babysit often.

“She didn’t believe in sugar-coating for kids,” Kaye said. “One of my sisters asked her what a dead person looked like?”

Mary Lee packed the kids into the car and took them to a viewing with a dead man in a coffin and said, ‘This is what a dead person looks like.’

“You asked her a question and you got an answer,” Kaye said. “Mama was the same.”

That didn’t mean her parents didn’t love them, Kaye explained.

“They didn’t believe like today’s parents that everyone should get a trophy and everyone had to be happy every day. We were raised with the pragmatic truths of life. They were all about supporting what we wanted to do. There were no barriers to those dreams. That was instilled in my sister, brother and me.”

Kaye was born at Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, living in the base housing Tarawa Terrace, also known as “Terrible Terrace”. They moved around a bit but settled in the New Orleans area.

“I loved everything about the military,” Kaye said. “I loved the bases, uniforms, marching, the regiment, the chain of command. I loved the military bearing and authoritative presence they had at all ranks. I was mesmerized by it all. Daddy was a Vietnam vet and when he was deployed, multiple times.

“Me and my siblings and Mama went back to the dairy farm with grandma,” Kayes said. “My father never talked about his time in the service. We had no idea what he did. My sister, Donna, who we just called Sister, asked Daddy once what he did for a living. He said, I shoot the bull all day. So when she was asked once what her dad did, she told them, “He shoots bulls.”

The mystery of the military was part of the allure. Kaye was so enamored with the military, she gave some thought to how great it would be if she could attend West Point after the family had visited. Her mother and father brought the military with them when they took a break from the base.

“Even though I love the military, I had a love and hate relationship with regiment when Dad and Mom took us on a vacation,” Kaye said. “We had to get up at 4:00am. It wasn’t like my father was harsh like the pilot Bull Meecham in The Great Santini. Still, we had a very specific way of doing things. I learned to fold clothes according to regulation”

Kaye was always interested in going to college, imagining where she might enroll. She ended up choosing Louisiana State University to study political science.

 “LSU was an amazing experience,” she said. “Louisiana is like being in another country. The language, food, culture. LSU is the perfect educational community of the unique culture. I embraced every aspect possible. I joined a sorority and lived in the house. Spent Saturday nights in the famous Tiger Stadium called Death Valley, and ate my weight in crawfish. I wanted the big university experience, and I got it.”

She’d thought about becoming a lawyer, perhaps a Supreme Court justice.

“I became obsessed with politics during my teen years,” Kaye explained. “I studied political science at LSU, admitted as a 17 year-old. I also gave some thought to becoming an attorney. In my family there was a constant theme of justice, of right and wrong. I have always been fascinated by true-crime.”

Kaye said her parents were always concerned about justice, committed to their beliefs of right and wrong. Always looking to improve her circumstances, instead of working her normal summer job at Fasulo Drugs in Slidell, she got a job in the French Quarter selling timeshares.

“I was able to make more money in six or eight weeks over the summer than I’d make all year working at the drugstore,” Kaye explained.

It was then Kay recognized she had an aptitude for sales. During her third year at LSU, she decided to switch her major to business. “I’m glad I did. There’s such an intersection between politics and business. I already loved politics and needed to learn more about business.”

She visited La Jolla, California after she graduated from LSU. It was a quick vacation but she fell in love with the area, and state. After graduation she started her first corporate job with No Nonsense panty hose.

“I was going around to K-Marts and other retail stores around Louisiana,” Kaye said. “I traveled around the state. It was a great first out of college job, but not a life choice. I earned my bones at No Nonsense. It was a grind.”

She couldn’t shake her love for La Jolla and San Diego, so she quit her job at No Nonsense and moved to San Diego, where she was hired by Xerox.

“Xerox sent me to Las Vegas, a branch of the San Diego office,” she said. “You have no idea how hot it is to be in a suit in Las Vegas when the temperature is 115-degrees. Still, I’d take it over the Florida heat and the mosquitos in New Orleans.”

After a year in Vegas, Xerox relocated her to San Diego.  Xerox is where she made her bones, working in one of the toughest industries, and for a legendarily tough company.

Kaye said she may live in California, but her soul is on the New Orleans Bayou.

“I love, love, love Louisiana,” she said. “Down to the core of my being. One of the reasons I left was because after the oil industry crashed, so did the economy. There was a not so funny billboard outside Lafayette that said, ‘Last one to leave, turn out the lights’. The economy had completely tanked.”

At the time she left for California, Kaye said she didn’t understand her soul connection with New Orleans. “I didn’t know how much I’d miss it. I try to get back at least once or twice a year and still have family and friends there.”

The transition from sales to media wasn’t all that difficult for Kaye. She said every company she worked for required her to do some kind of media work.

“When I was with No Nonsense, I would join radio stations on the air when they were doing promotions from a parking lot. They’d talk to anyone. I would say, ‘I’m Andrea from No Nonsense. Come and check us out.’ It wasn’t difficult for me. I just wormed my way in and identified myself and the product on the air.”

She has ‘acted’ in corporate industrial videos and some infomercials. Again, this came naturally. She ended up getting an agent.

“It’s different in New York and L.A.,” Kaye said. “In those cities you can get an agent for particular things. An agent for acting, and agent for modeling. In San Diego, they only had agents that were a one-stop-shop. You were required to do any medium the agent put you up for. You’d be called upon to audition for commercials on TV, or a model in print ads, even some acting gigs.”

Kaye appeared in one movie, Lore Deadly Obsession. The film was about real-life serial killer and cannibal Richard Chase, who killed six women and drank their blood in the late 70s. He was dubbed ‘The Vampire Killer.’

“That was the first time they used the term ‘serial killer,” she explained.

Kaye is married but never had children. “It just wasn’t my dream,” she said. “I never had the fantasy of staying home and starting a family. That was Sister’s dream, and she fulfilled it. So did my brother. My fantasies were about living a life that was different. Bigger and brighter than my folks and their folks before them. Just as each generation behind me lived a bigger and brighter life than those before.

“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”

 Fantasy achieved.

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BNM Writers

Should the Media Support Police?

BNM’s Rick Schultz writes Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack, so where is the media?

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Creator: Ringo H.W. Chiu | Credit: AP

Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack. 

So where is the media?

This past weekend, Fox News @Night hosted a discussion about public support for the police and, in doing so, highlighted a group dedicated to wounded officers and their families.

Retired Las Vegas Police Detective Lt. Randy Sutton of TheWoundedBlue.com joined host Trace Gallagher to discuss the current state of affairs from law enforcement’s perspective.

“Well, when it comes to America’s crime crisis, something appears to be missing in society and in mainstream media, covering and honoring law enforcement officers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty,” Gallagher began. “I want to know why it is that mainstream media, and that society, feels like, you know what, the war on police is not worth covering?”

“This news network is pretty much the only one that’s giving the truth out about the war on cops. Last year, 207 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Almost sixty thousand were physically assaulted in the line of duty, Trace,” Sutton responded. “They’ve been shot, they’ve been stabbed, they’ve been beaten. And yet, you don’t even see it in the newspapers. It’s barely covered because it’s not politically expedient for the political Left and for the mainstream media to even cover.”

Gallagher then drew attention to a graphic showing a mid-October statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police, @GLFOP, which read…

The spewing of anti-police rhetoric by some political and media figures as well as the failed policies of rogue prosecutors and judges, are placing our officers in greater danger. This culture of lawlessness must stop!

“A lot of people don’t know when officers get injured, not only is the officer affected. But the family and a lot of things change,” said Marcus Mason, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy, who was injured in the line of duty. “I spent about a month in the hospital, so my family had to drive to and from home, daycare, dropping off children, and doing different things to get people to work to get people to come see me and things like that. A lot of financial things are a burden put on your family. And so, The Wounded Blue was there to help my family in making those things easier. Whether it’s paying for gas or the increase in groceries and things like that, and making things easier for my family to be able to come and spend time with me.”

TheWoundedBlue.com’s mission, as stated on the website, is to improve the lives of injured and disabled law enforcement officers. They place a strong focus on de-stigmatizing mental health within the law enforcement community, in addition to providing peer support and community outreach. Their emergency phone number – (702) 290-5611 – provides “immediate trust, validation, and confidentiality, which breaks down barriers when a person is in a vulnerable state.”

Vickie Speed, whose brother-in-law was “executed in the line of duty,” joined the panel to share part of her sister’s recovery story after the violent episode.

“We got involved with Randy because he actually stepped in to help her with PTSD and trauma and I saw what he did,” she said, noting that she also lost her husband to cancer. “Just losing my husband alone, I just had a real passion to give back and not just help widows, but I’ve actually run into law enforcement that’s now retired, that’s reaching out.”

Gallagher pointed out that while the group’s mission is crucial to families recovering from such tragedies, the real shame is that Wounded Blue is needed in the first place.

“My peer team, amazing people,” Sutton said. “All of my peer team are officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten, run over. And you know what, but I fully believe this, that the American people believe in their police and want to help. They want to have an avenue to help. And now we’re giving them that avenue by supporting these wounded officers, by going to TheWoundedBlue.org and giving what they can, can make a difference. In fact, they might even save a life.”

The question posed by Gallagher, although never definitively answered, is whether the mainstream corporate media will ever reflect the widely-held sentiment of most Americans. The feeling is that law enforcement should be applauded and supported, especially on the heels of a violent attack.

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BNM Writers

The Power of Events and the Electronic Campfire

The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.

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Of all the people who have ever played music on the radio, Jim Ladd (currently heard on SiriusXM’s Deep Trax Channel) may be the most gifted communicator. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Ladd when I programmed KLSX-FM/Los Angeles.

Ladd referred to radio as the “electronic campfire.” Although he coined the phrase to describe FM progressive radio, it’s a terrific descriptor of radio at its best. When a radio station is firing on all cylinders, it becomes a communal experience.

I always enjoyed big station events. Surrounded by staff and listeners, in a shared communal experience that only a fantastic radio team could create, is when I truly understood Ladd’s term, “the electronic campfire.”

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The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.

The Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s Cinderella story this year, even if they turned back into a pumpkin two games short of the championship. What a ride for my Philadelphia friends and former colleagues.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and earned a return trip in 2009. We had station rallies before each game and lit the WPHT tower in red light. Because Philadelphians are so sensitive about comments made by national announcers (and there are no local television broadcasts), we synced the local radio broadcast to the national broadcast. The legendary Harry Kalas called the final out in a moment etched into many Philadelphians’ minds. Those broadcasts received some of the highest shares of the PPM era. 

For 25 years, Philadelphia had a unique city holiday: Wing Bowl. The genius of Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti conceived this event for the Friday before the Super Bowl at a time when the Eagles were perennial losers. What started as a chicken wing eating contest in a hotel lobby became one of the WIP’s biggest annual ratings and revenue days. The morning show broadcast live from a packed Wells Fargo Center. Combine Mardi Gras with a chicken wing eating contest, and you have some idea of what Wing Bowl was. If you don’t know, look do a quick search.

I also was involved in three of Howard Stern’s victory parties, or as Howard called them at the time, the funeral for the competition. We did it in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – which was especially fun because we tapped into special effects available from show biz fans in Hollywood. The third time was in Cleveland, where I could enjoy the spectacle mainly as a listener.

When the Smashing Pumpkins came through the Twin Cities recently, it reminded me of the biggest radio event I’ve ever seen. In 1998 we had a struggling station in Minneapolis called Rock 100.3. We were trying to put the station on the map. Summers are short in Minneapolis, and the city celebrates with a week-long festival called the Aquatennial. Friday night is called the Block Party, with music on several different stages throughout downtown, sponsored by various radio stations.

Previously the biggest act the Block Party ever featured was The Black Crowes, drawing about 35,000. We promised to do better – even if we hadn’t figured out how. After a lot of hard work and even more good fortune, we found the Smashing Pumpkins were looking to do a free unticketed show. In 1998 there was no band bigger than The Smashing Pumpkins. 

We convinced then-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton that it would be good for the city and The Smashing Pumpkins played the Block Party in front of 125,000 fans on a 90-foot stage with a six-figure production budget on what was then a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. If we had a two-share, every one of those listeners was at that show – and they brought a friend!

There were no significant incidents at the show, except for the inmate convicted of murder who escaped long enough to see the concert and was then taken back into custody without incident after the show. 

Nothing like the free Smashing Pumpkins concert will happen again in Minneapolis. The site is now home to Mayo Clinic Square, which includes the Mayo’s Sports Medicine Clinic, the offices and practice facilities of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx, restaurants, office and retail space for Jack Links, and the 251-room Loews Hotel.

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Smashing Pumpkins

Not every event requires a six-figure budget, the most prominent band of the era, or booking the city’s NBA/NHL facility. It’s not even necessary to finish number one in morning drive and then engage in 1980s or 90s-style radio wars.

Stations that don’t have budgets must be more imaginative in creating events. It is not an option for stations to discontinue events – at least those that hope to continue to attract an audience. 

When I arrived at WIP, I found a station with a handful of morning shows. Each personality was an experienced entertainer and showperson. When we put them on the same stage together, it was magic. We did it in a public venue and held a debate about Philadelphia’s favorite topic: The Eagles. We dressed the stage like a presidential debate and followed a similar format (it was during the 2008 presidential election). It became an annual event. Over the years, everything from the podiums, timer, wardrobe, and challenge flags (yes, we even had challenge flags) became sponsored. Moments ranged from hilarious to tense. 

There were two total lunar eclipses this year. How fun would it be to get an expert from a local planetarium (or even an astronomy club) and invite listeners to share an experience in the middle of the night? Depending on the station’s format playing “Dark Side of the Moon” either at the event or on the air.

Events (and personalities) build equity and loyalty for radio brands. Find a great radio brand, and you’ll find a history of great personalities and big events. When Progressive Rock radio began, some, like my friend Jim Ladd, dubbed it the “electronic campfire.”

Despite never-ending budget cuts, radio brands must continue to create events. Radio will have more commercials and compete against more narrowly targeted competitors. Podcasters, streamers, and satellite radio can’t do local events. Few, if any, will ever create communal experiences the way radio has been for over 100 years. Fire up the campfire. The combination of personalities and events remains radio’s best bang for the buck. 

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