“Spiro Who?”

225px-spiro_agnew
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

SPIRO WHO?

The second week of February, after completing work on our “hippy” TV pilot, John and I met with the owners of Mt. Holly. Bob Dell had automatically assumed that Mt. Holly was a permanent lock.

Our basic proposition was that Sherwood Forest had become established as the hottest rock entertainment venue in the area during the Winter months as the slopes of Mt. Holly were covered with skiers. We had big plans for the Spring and Summer. We would be scheduling sporadic “one-time” concerts and four major all-day outdoor events to be called “Wild Wednesdays” from June through September. Rather than compete with Mt. Holly, we preferred to become associated. We could therein coordinate scheduling, booking, advertising and overall strategy. We would contribute our time and effort on Mt. Holly’s behalf and everyone would benefit from the combined leverage of joining forces. Otherwise, necessity would require that we counter every Mt. Holly presentation with one of our own and split attendance between us. We would also request a two month “exclusivity” option be included with any future bands contracted to play Sherwood Forest. This would sharply curtail entertainment availability elsewhere in Southeast Michigan. We would offer everything that Bob Dell had in the past and put the agreement in writing. We would also seal the bargain with ten thousand dollars upon signing as a guarantee against future net profits.

The Mt. Holly owners thanked us for our proposal and said they needed time for review and proper consideration. They also felt, in all fairness, that they should speak with Bob before making such a significant change. This was not unexpected and fully appreciated.

Two weeks before we made our call on Mt. Holly, the station had received a copy of a letter written to Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew by one Frank Patrick. Although in his late fifties and not part of the “g-g-g-generation” sung of by The WHO, Mr. Patrick was an astute businessman and had entered the rock concert promotion business himself. He ran a place called “Daniel’s Den” in Saginaw and bought advertising time on WTAC.

The rambling, bitter diatribe sent to Spiro complained of favoritism, conflict of interest and unfair competition. Patrick’s chief bitch was that the disc-jockeys of WTAC were getting free publicity on the airwaves for all of their endeavors, while he had to pay for his. He specifically cited Bob Dell’s Grand Funk Railroad campaign the preceding summer, an appearance by Neil Diamond which Bob had presented in early January at Flint’s Whiting Auditorium, and all Sherwood Forest activities of Messrs. Peter Cavanaugh and Johnny Irons.

In unusual concurrence, John and I agreed with Dell that Patrick was a “whiny little bastard”. Charlie thought the “letter to Agnew” was particularly unsophisticated and tossed it in the trash. WTAC had always encouraged its air personalities to become involved in outside activities. The dances and concerts contributed greatly to WTAC promotional visibility at no cost to the station. Extra outside income to staff members so involved made requests for raises from that group almost non-existent. The “radio stars” were happy being paid like engineers, providing they could double or triple their personal cash flow with lucrative activity on the side. Everybody won!

The WTAC “D-J Datebook” ran hourly and was provided as a “service to listeners in the community”. Any WTAC D-J could list his dances, “sock hops” or concerts within the body of the “Datebook” at no charge. Why charge? It didn’t cost the station anything and it kept the call-letters in front of the public. Should employees wish to purchase additional commercial time, a fifty percent discount was standard. After all, the employees were actually paying their employer and should be encouraged in doing so. WTAC air personalities were also allowed to make brief live mention of concerts or appearances as long as a notation was made on the programming log. In fact, everything relating to the “Datebook” or dances or concerts or wedding receptions or high-school reunions or the like were always logged. The station operated in complete conformity with established FCC Rules and Regulations in this regard. All of the activities were totally “legit” with the Commission. Fuck Frank Patrick. Spiro WHO? There was unanimity in the ranks on this one.

Evidentally, Spiro had a bit of time in between counting paper bags of secret payoff cash delivered to the Office of the Vice President. He read some mail.

Official correspondence from the Federal Communications Commission hit Charlie’s desk three days later. They had sent a “Letter of Inquiry”. It would not be an overstatement to suggest it was was a “Summons from the Inquisition.”

The Commission covered the highlights from Patrick’s complaint and then requested that specific information and/or materials be submitted to them within thirty days. Their shopping list included:

(1) Copies of all WTAC Programming Logs for the preceding twelve months.
(2) A complete list of all activities mentioning WTAC air personalities which were broadcast over WTAC in the prior year.
(3) A further list indicating the nature of each activity mentioned, the number of times broadcast, the amount charged to the disc-jockey in every instance, details of any financial arrangement between the disc-jockey and other entities, total compensation to the disc-jockey and method of payment utilized.
(4) A complete list of all activities not involving WTAC employees which related to live-music promotion for the prior twelve months, complete with invoices indicating rates charged and schedules run.
(5) Recordings of all “live-music” announcements carried over WTAC for the last full year, whether or not employee-related. In the absence of such recordings, written copy of all scripts used could be substituted, acompanied by an explanation as to why recordings did not exist in each case.

The shit had not only hit the fan; it was whaleshit into turbo-props.

We hadn’t even been found guilty of anything, yet we had to spend literally hundreds of hours putting together dozens of exhibits and thousands of bits of information. In terms of incentive, the more we assembled, the more we might be constructing an ultimate hammer of just retribution with which the Commission could pound our collective nuts. If we left anything out, it would even be worse. Would they share this stuff with the I.R.S.? Did I log all those plugs for Alice Cooper at Sherwood when I might have been secretively taped? How long does it take to establish residency in Quito, Ecuador?

The President of Fuqua Communications was Asa Stallworth. Asa was a big, balding, heavy-set man from the world of television. Even on a good day, he thought of radio as a simple pimple on the illustrious ass of broadcasting. He would painfully visit Flint once a year from Communications Division Headquarters in Augusta, Georgia.

Fuqua Communications owned big television properties in Columbus, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee and Evansville, Indiana. Television revenue accounted for more than ninety percent of Communications’ profit line. The other ten percent came from WTAC radio in Flint and WROZ radio in Evansville, Indiana. At least WROZ was a Country station and didn’t played music that made you want to throw your receiver into the nearest manure pile. WTAC’s programming with “Rock ‘n Roll” exactly fulfilled that dubious distinction for Mr. Stallworth. The disc-jockeys had long-hair and even the General Manager was starting to look a little shaggy below the ears. He was also under suspicion of playing trumpet. Then, too, the whole operation was up North. In the best of times, even though operating at a forty percent profit margin, WTAC was bothersome and annoying. Now this!

Any FCC investigation theoretically put the license of a station in jeopardy. An FCC license was the only significant asset of a radio property. Highest level executive presence was mandatory in such a situation. It was the middle of Winter. Mr. Stallworth hated “Yankee Winters” with the snow and ice and sleet and hail and terrifying roads. He arrived at the station in the foulest of moods.

Da yew all reahlahz this hawshit is gonna cost tweny gran jist in lawyahs?”

Actually, he was wrong. It was more like thirty-five.

For two solid days, there was constant repetition of a continuous theme.

Gawdam Dis-Jockahs” “Gawdam Dis-Jockah Dayances” “Gawdam If-See-See”

Asa would have just as soon fired everyone and blown-up the station for insurance value, but there were complications.

Fuqua attorneys had reviewed our vast assemblage of data and were perplexed. According to FCC law, everything seemed in order. The exhaustive retrieval of factual data had uncovered no “smoking guns” or improper behavior. It was true that WTAC disc-jockeys might obtain certain benefits from their employment unavailable to others, but they were employees and entitled to receive non-cash compensation at the discretion of the company. Everything had been logged. This was a critical requirement and one with which WTAC had completely complied over the course of the entire year reviewed. The only viable position recommended for Fuqua to take was that the corporation and WTAC had done nothing wrong. If the “D-J Datebook” or the employee discounts were abolished, this could be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Asa pissed and snorted, feeling thwarted, but hopped on a plane at Detroit Metro and headed back to his warm, sunny South. It would take the Commission a full year to decide that, while WTAC had abided by all governing Federal rules and regulations, there was a vague, anti-competitive quality to the practices questioned which should be addressed. A two thousand dollar fine was levied along with a vague admonition to remember the spirit of the 1934 Radio Communications Act in matters of future policy. It was not even a slap, but a tap on the wrist. None of our attorneys knew what the hell the decision meant in terms of direction and had been unofficially told that the Commission was “loath to pursue the matter any further”. The fine was paid and nothing changed.

Even as Mr. Stallworth’s plane crossed the Mason-Dixon line and he heaved a massive and heart-felt sigh of relief, another potentially more injurious and far-reaching problem had arisen.WTAC had suddenly started to encounter strong competition, and not from other Flint stations.

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