“Wild Wednesday Win”

wildwednesday1

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

WILD WEDNESDAY WIN

In April of ’69, WTAC General Sales Manager Don Mayle approached Charlie Speights with the idea of having the station assume sponsorship of a major client promotion he had pioneered the previous year on a small scale when he had been in charge of WTRX. WTRX had been sold to Eastman Radio and the new ownership had installed the President’s son as General Manager. Although he had been offered demotion to General Sales Manager responsibilities at WTRX, Don told them to shove it. He crossed the street to WTAC. Charlie was glad to have him on board.

The concept was to hold an outdoor event to be called “Wild Wednesday”
at a place called “Sherwood Forest”. “Sherwood Forest” was located in Richfield Township, just east of Flint and north of Davison.

A farmer named Don Sherwood had purchased several pieces of property adjacent to his own homestead. Over several years, Don had chopped-down trees, leveled-off fields, excavated a small “lake”, put in a baseball diamond and brought in a number of miniature rides and games. “Sherwood Forest” was a self-assembled Amusement Park. It had plenty of space to set-up booths, erect tents, and stage just about anything anyone might wish. Don was also completing construction on a ten thousand square foot hall with a twenty-five by ten foot stage “just like the one he’d seen in Vegas”. Don was a big man. Had he jumped decades ahead and fought in the Gulf War, he might easily have been mistaken for General Schwartzkopf. Sliding in time, they could have been twins.

It was Don Mayle’s idea to sell sponsorships to car dealers, clothing retailers, food concessionaires, motorcycle shops, auto accessory outlets, jewelry stores and whoever else wanted to participate. All would display wares or sell goods at “Wild Wednesday” with the Amusement Park thrown-open for free rides. WTAC would heavily promote the event and Don Sherwood would make all the money he could off crowds attracted to his own fast food areas, swimming facilities and games of chance. Don was still seeking to put “Sherwood Forest” on the map. Three weeks of heavy WTAC advertising for “Wild Wednesday” was sure to offer long-term benefit. The missing key ingredient was a rock band line-up for a fenced-in patio area between the lake and the yet unfinished new hall.

Don Mayle approached me about throwing some groups together for “Wild Wednesday” and hosting the program. He mentioned that he was not adverse to charging an extra two dollar admission price for the show if the groups were of sufficient magnitude. He suggested I assume responsibility for fifty percent of all costs associated with the concert in return for fifty percent of any profits generated. This spread the risk around a bit and ensured my enthusiastic participation. I was grateful for the offer and excited over the opportunity to help the station as well as myself. I knew exactly whom I would book and what it would cost. This would be a no-brainer. I was even more turned-on at the prospect of being first on the scene at a brand new hall which just might be available in the future for who knows what?

But, I knew the turf.

Bob Dell had left the station at the end of his morning show and headed home.

I called him and ran down Mayle’s request, offering him half of my action if he wanted to come along for the ride. I figured that Bob could be helpful on the booking front, might be of even more important assistance down the road if the venue became promising and would be highly pissed-off if I grabbed something of this nature without his knowledge and assent. I felt it was common courtesy and rightfully respectful. Bob was incredulous.

“Asshole Don Mayle wants you to do what?”

I repeated a summary of what had been discussed and tried to ignore what Bob was evidently interpreting as a complete breakdown in corporate protocol. He wasn’t interested in having anything to do with something “Asshole Don Mayle” had proposed.

I don’t like to be in the middle of this shit, Bob!”

“Fuck you. You are in the middle! I’m callin’ Charlie!”

“Bob, wait!”

“Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

Fuck me. Fuck me? FUCK ME????

How deep come divisions from words hurled in haste.

I stormed out of the studio area and into the Sales office, heading for Charlie. The door was closed. Kelly Gildenstern, Charlie’s secretary, said he was on the phone with Bob Dell. Fine.

I headed for the back of the building where Don Mayle had his office. The door was open. There was Don. Excellent.

I ran down my conversation with Bob verbatim, including the “asshole” and “fuck you” parts. Don went ballistic.

Politics, be they in a Washington Senate office, corporate conference room or radio station corridor, is strictly a numbers game. Whoever lines up the most right numbers wins. Right or wrong. Good or bad. Truth, justice, honesty or integrity have nothing to do with outcome. It’s “nice” to have virtue on one’s side, but functionally unnecessary.

Past emotion, I realized that I had a clear choice.

Hopeful faith is no substitute for confident trust.

While the surface power struggle was between Bob and Don, the real issue was WTAC’s organizational configuration as it extended to all levels within the building.

Charlie’s initial instinct was to seek amiable resolution. All Bob needed to do was “back-off”. Don properly was trying to garner extra income for the station. Peter had even agreed to share with Bob. Charlie simply couldn’t understand the conflict.

“What’s the big deal, Bob?”

The “big deal” was that Bob had disliked Don Mayle from the day he walked in the door from WTRX. He was a former Chief Engineer, of all things, and a “shithead” to boot. And “asshole”. With this new outrage, Don had ascended to the rank of “cocksucker.” In Bob’s lexicon, this was pretty much top spot.

A Chief Engineer promoted within any radio organization to the position of Vice-President/General Manager is about as rare as a Protestant Pope. One can be safely assured that such a person climbing the ladder from transmitter wrecks to signing checks is no dummy.

With acceptance of his new position at WTAC , Don had quickly noted the peculiar position Bob occupied and had taken his time waiting for the appropriate circumstances to present themselves wherein resolutions and new definitions could be evolved. Don had not initiated his “Wild Wednesday” idea and approach to me purely as a provocative catalyst. Yet, it was most unlikely that the possibility of conflict had not crossed his mind, along with ready options to be exercised if such an eventuality occurred.

It is for final decisions that General Managers exist.

Mayle had stated his case strongly and with sincere conviction. The right thing was to approve “Wild Wednesday” along with my participation in it and set Bob straight. It was good business.

Dell was self-immobilized by pure petulance. Charlie’s singular option was to tell Mayle to “shove “Wild Wednesday” up his ass” and, by the way, remove Cavanaugh from the “Underground” program. That was now required.

There are few trumpet players who become radio station Vice-President and General Managers, perhaps even fewer than former Chief Engineers.
Charlie called me into his office.

I was more than a bit shocked and surprised to learn that Bob had moved to displace me from “The Underground”. He had erroneously perceived that I had irrevocably taken sides against him. This then became a reality, as perceptions usually do.

WTAC announcing schedules were arranged into four or five regular Monday through Friday assignments. There were also two full-time “swing-shifts” which covered weekend hours and odd hours on three weekdays.

I had been hosting the “WTAC Underground” for more than a year and had reaped full benefit of the exposure and networking opportunities it had afforded, except for really cashing in. Bob had unintentionally presented this B’rer Rabbit with a potential briar patch of plenty. Moving into a swing-shift would open Friday nights, always the most lucrative, for personal bookings, concerts and appearances.

There was another element.

Johnny Irons, one of the current occupants of swing-shift designation, was becoming quite active in his own promotional pursuits. A mutually beneficial alliance would not be out of the question. Since both of us could not be simultaneously assigned the same air shift due to scheduling structure, one of us would always be available “outside” to cover for the guy “inside” with broadcast duties or vice-versa.

Peter C. Cavanaugh & Johnny Irons 1970

Peter C. Cavanaugh & Johnny Irons 1970

“J.I.” actually hated Bob for a variety of reasons, some deserved. John had been hired for vacation relief work at the station. Shortly before the summer ended, full-timer Gary Raymond had accepted an offer from WKNR in Detroit. Irons had thus been accidentally “bumped” in seniority. Ninety days had passed since John had commenced employment and he was suddenly “locked-in” under the union agreement. Bob had made the mistake of sharing his frustration over not being able to replace Gary with “someone better than Irons”. It was mentioned to one of the union engineers. This rang through the WTAC grapevine like a shot.

Clair Bowser told John that Local 46 would protect him. Irons listened to the old guy with the food-encrusted flannel shirt. “If it’s good enough to eat; it’s good enough to wear”, would say Clair. He hadn’t forgotten those peanuts either.

I proposed a “compromise” to Charlie.

I suggested that “Wild Wednesday” proceed just as outlined by Mayle. This would please Don. I also volunteered to abandon my current schedule and accept a “swing-shift”. In confidence, I explained to Charlie why I actually liked the idea, but suggested that he present it to Bob as partial capitulation. This would temporarily placate Bob, albeit in a limited way, as “Wild Wednesday” was approved.

Charlie’s first hesitation over removing me from the regular night slot was from a ratings perspective. I suggested that I could still select the music for whoever was hosting, since that was what actually attracted the listeners anyway. I would relinquish only personal presence.

Charlie also was reticent to yield anything to Bob in the light of his conduct and attitude. I expressed opinion that the possibility of Dell’s resignation should not be ignored and that this would be bad for the station as well as for Bob. His morning rapport with the audience was extraordinary. Setting aside all other considerations, he happened to be an incredible performer.

Charlie met with Dell later than evening.

After that night, Bob and I never again exchanged a civil word between us until a dozen years had passed.

Johnny Irons and I entered into a partnership agreement wherein we would combine efforts and equally share in all proceeds.

“Wild Wednesday” was in the works. And it was just the beginning.

Johnny was in his early thirties and a native of Tennessee. He had broken into the radio business five years earlier at WPON in Pontiac with his nightly “Irons in the Fire Show”. When it became known in the industry that a position at WTAC had finally opened up, John had dropped his tape and resume in the mail and waited for a call.

After Bob Dell had reviewed dozens of applicants, John stood head and shoulders above the rest (even though he was actually only 5’6 in the flesh) and John heard his phone ring. In spite of the fact that this opening was initially only for the sixteen week “vacation relief period” which ran from May through August, WTAC was an excellent credential for an aspiring announcer and a hell of a lot more “major market” than working in Pontiac.
Besides, there was always hope that the position could turn into a full-time opportunity. For Irons, through chance, it did.

John came on strong. If he liked you, you were “Ace”. If not, you were “Jim”, which was invariably pronounced like “Chimp”.

Listen, Ace. Let’s stop off for a few beers after we get done.”

“Check it out, Jim. You move that car or I’ll move you!”

Johnny also had a bite even worse than his bark.

He could be one mean little son-of-a-bitch.

Nothing stirred him up so much as draining a bottle of Jack Daniels and listening to The Band play “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. He would openly weep near the end of the song and slam his fist against the nearest wall or door.

His Southern roots went even deeper than Jason Hawkeye’s. When vacationing at his parent’s home just north of Memphis, he would call me at home in Flint and hold his phone high in the air, so I could hear the heavy rain pounding on a tin roof over his father’s barn.

“The sweetest sound in the world!”, John would exclaim. “Tennessee tears!!”

John had invested in some state-of-the-art sound equipment. I purchased his newest unit. It included twin-turntables and giant mounted audio cabinets, each five-feet high with three fifteen-inch Lansing speakers and accompanying “woofers” and “tweeters”. John, in turn, designed and constructed an even more elaborate rig for himself. For special occasions, we would combine systems and kick-out five thousand watts of ear-splitting, nose-bleeding, eye-popping Rock ‘n Roll.

I designed some brochures and “mailers” soliciting “gigs” for the next academic year. These went out to every high school in twenty counties.
Working with Don Mayle on “Wild Wednesday”, we lined-up six local groups and co-headliners “The Rationals” and “Bob Seger”.

When the big day came on June 25th, over ten thousand people turned out at Sherwood Forest for the rides, games, prizes, fun and excitement. WTAC sponsors who had chosen to take part in the event were more than pleased with their investment. Despite threatening clouds, four thousand rockers paid two dollars to attend the 8 ’til Midnight Concert on the Sherwood Patio. It all came-off flawlessly. After expenses and the “split”, John and I each pocketed a grand.

Managers for both the Rationals and Seger reported that Dell had threatened to drop them from his Mt. Holly line-up if they played “Wild Wednesday”. Both camps had rejected the attempted intimidation, being aware that construction of the new Sherwood hall was nearing completion and that WTAC was officially backing the event. We promised them this would not be forgotten.

As the summer of ’69 moved along, John and I started promoting regular concerts at the Center Building in Lapeer, the Owosso Armory, the Saginaw Auditorium, The “Big Wheel” Roller Rink in Bay City and the County Fairgrounds in Midland, Michigan.

The musical counterculture represented by all the Rock ‘n Roll we played and presented drew its greatest emotional influence from events unfolding far, far beyond the powerful WTAC signal.

In Southeast Asia, the Tet Offensive in early 1968 had proven costly to Communist forces with a high loss of life, but had been a major factor in turning American opinion ever more firmly against the war.

Rallies were being staged almost weekly at Wilson Park in the heart of downtown Flint against the conflict with the support and encouragement of WTAC. Each new week in Vietnam was costing a thousand American lives.
At the end of March, Lyndon Johnson had restricted bombing to pave the way for peace negotiations and also announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection.

Johnny Irons and his family joined the Cavanaughs on the 20th of July to watch Neil Armstrong step on the Moon. Daughters Laurie and Colleen seemed unimpressed. It was just more television.

In August, the three-day Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held in rural upstate New York. Half-a-million came. No one had anticipated the enormous turn-out. The gates came down. Some clothes came off. There was staring, daring, caring and sharing. The music reigned. The skies rained. It got muddy.

“Watch out for the brown acid, man”.

Bob Dell was still pissed from “Wild Wednesday” and a subsequent pronounced decline in Mt. Holly attendance. The crowds hadn’t vanished, they just weren’t what they used to be. Competition was picking up everywhere.

The Grande Ballroom and East Town Theater in Detroit were bringing in Superstars, including the WHO, Blind Faith, Creedence Clearwater and the Doors. Mt. Holly could squeeze in up to two thousand indoors at the most.
Many groups which Bob had promoted in the past had now become too big for the very venue which had launched them. Exclusivity and loyalty are often passing things.

Woodstock and another, less celebrated, outdoor rock concert in Atlanta provided Bob with a new spark of inspiration.

4 Responses to ““Wild Wednesday Win””

  1. forex day trading strategies Says:

    I enjoy reading an article that will make people think.
    Also, many thanks for allowing me to comment!

  2. Jeff Yepko Says:

    Hello I am the current owner of the Sherwood Forest property, If you ever want to bring back the past for many rockers out there, we should get together, please feel free to contact me.
    Regards, Jeff

    • petercavanaugh Says:

      Hi, Jeff!

      Thanks for checking in! There’s been much discussion through the years of doing “something” again with the location, but I fear that enormous logistical challenges involved in creating a venue compatible with today’s technical requirements would be quite daunting, to say the least. Nonetheless, I’ll keep your willingness to discuss such in mind should unanticipated future opportunities present themselves. Happy 2015!

      • Jeff Yepko Says:

        We want to do something with this property, it has a history that many share, If you have any other ideas that could work. Lets explore it!
        Have a great new year!

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