“A Dead Beaver and Nigger Music”

tn_beaver_2
CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

A DEAD BEAVER AND NIGGER MUSIC

WWCK AM/FM was sold in December of 1988 for 2.25 million dollars.

Nancy Dymond was transferred to Toledo when Bob Lafferty jumped the fence with four salespeople to become General Manager of WRQN.
Bob had seen the writing on the wall. It didn’t say “Stick Around, Sucker!”

Nancy brought Tammy Kinzer back from Boston as General Sales Manager. Tammy had left Reams to work in Chicago and then had moved out East.

Nancy and Tammy increased WIOT revenue thirty percent over the prior year.

WCWA’s conversion to “Oldies” was a smash. AM billings jumped forty percent.

Combined WIOT/WCWA radio revenue not only led the market in every category, but was a full twenty-five percent ahead of our closest competitor. In listenership, WIOT climbed to first-place and became the highest-rated AOR in the country. Reams Broadcasting had achieved such distinction now in both Flint and Toledo.

Jeff Lamb returned and just did “voices” while a gentleman named Mark Benson played disc-jockey on our WIOT morning show. The ratings rocketed.

Neil Kearney took “The Beaver” to the top for the first two years of Reams’ ownership. Monthy revenue went from $20,000 to $200,000 in eighteen months. The competition didn’t stand still. WUBE grabbed the audience back with millions of dollars in promotional expenditure. WBVE’s advertising budget had disappeared. All available cash was going to pay interest on the loans.

Frazier decided to sell Cincinnati. Joe Field of Entercom offered 5.8 million dollars for the property. We signed the agreement in October of ’89. We flew to Washington on March 12th of1990 to close the deal. Gary Stevens told us we were “catching the last stagecoach out of Dodge”. Radio station prices were crashing everywhere. Mr. Field pulled-out at the last minute. I sensed he was practiced at the act. Neil Kearney had already accepted a new position in Fort Wayne and was leaving. I had a dead “Beaver” on my hands.

I would commute to Cincinnati every week for the next two years. It was certain that bankruptcy and foreclosure were just around the bend. I wanted to go out with a scream.

“VALHALLA!!!!

I AM COMING!!!!”

In a radical move which was approved on high only due to pressing circumstance, I drove to Cincinnati without warning on the morning after Christmas ’90 with a number of Toledo-produced “IDs”, “Promos”, “Comedy Inserts” and a CD library containing nothing but hard-core, screeching, screaming Rock ‘n Roll.

At High Noon, I commandered the studios without prior notice to the audience (all pretty much 35+ “Country” fans) and went straight from Buck Owens into six solid hours of an ancient and mildly hypnotic rock classic from the late ’50’s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away ” was repeated over and over again, backwards and forwards, on a tape loop. We ran some vaguely detectable audio in the background closely approximating snarls and growls of suggested evil incarnate as might be aurally experienced in a Steven King nightmare on acid. We generally offered the impression that the station had been taken over by alien invaders who had seized the building with questionable intent. A deep, mysterious, tortured voice could be faintly heard beneath the din warning, “Don’t call the police!”.

The WBVE parking lot was quickly surrounded by squad cars. After discussing the matter with the sergeants, I willingly agreed to add a broadcast disclaimer every fifteen minutes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!”

“Nothing is wrong with your radios!! “

“There is absolutely no cause for concern, panic, terror or alarm!!!.”

“BUT!”

“THE BEAVER HAS LEFT THE BUILDING!!”.

After six hours, we went directly into new call-letters “WZRZ-Z-ROCK!!!” and played four solid days of pure Led Zeppelin.

Image--Z-Rock--Cincinnati

WEBN’s proud mascot was “The Frog.” Every half-hour, we would execute “The Frog” by blowing him up, mixing him in a blender, dropping him in a grinder, drowning him in the Ohio, garroting him with a piano wire, pulling-out his eyes with tiny fish hooks, sawing him into painful pieces or crushing his little frog nuts in a vise. It was all done with sound effects. Our production team creatively outdid themselves with wildly imaginative, savagely diabolical terminations.

There was a “WBVE listener comment line” which was recording observations on our Led Zeppelin music from former “Beaver Fans”. More than half the calls profanely condemned our playing “all that nigger music”. I hadn’t heard such expression in relationship to rock since my earliest days at WNDR. We played many of the calls on-the-air between Zeppelin cuts.

After four days of getting the Led out, we linked with satellite. From that point forward, WZRZ blasted nothing but “Flame-Throwing”, “Ass-Kicking”, “Name-Taking” Rock music. It was exclusively and narrowly aimed at a young male audience. On the proverbial scale of one to ten, if WIOT was a “4”, “Z-Rock” was an “87”. “Z-Rock” was programmed by Satellite Music Network in Dallas, Texas. It was a creation of Lee Abrams.

On the first day of change, we had wound up with front page headlines in both Cincinnati newspapers and extended television coverage of the format shift. There were a number of concerned meetings. Phone banks had been jammed. People had panicked. It all had been very disorderly. Riots could have broken-out. Farmers might have run through their fields. Mice might have been trampled.

The general consensus from the authorities was that I had broken no local, state or federal laws during the exercise. Still, I had taken things to the edge of the envelope. They were still getting calls. I was a naughty Peter, even if nothing had really happened with which they could prove the point.

I met with the authorities. I agreed to let them know ahead of time if “similar things” were ever in the offing. They were delighted with my promised accomodation and particularly happy with the brand new “Z-ROCK” T-Shirts each and every officer received. It displayed the picture of a shark eating a frog.

Within weeks, “Z-Rock” owned Cincinnati in Men (18-34), even beating WEBN in total audience by the end of two months. I have the March/April ’91 Birch Radio Report for Cincinnati in front of me even now. It says:

WZRZ—–8.0%
WEBN—-7.9%.”

That’s an historic fact!!

Tammy Kinzer had joined me from Toledo and was appointed Vice-President and General Manager of WZRZ. She turned the ratings into instant revenue.

My fondest “Z-Rock” memory is from the night of May 21st, 1992.

A young gentleman of whom I happily approved was marrying my beautiful daughter Colleen in Cincinnati on the 23rd. A group of his friends decided to give him a “Bachelor Party”. Since he and I were and remain on excellent terms, he asked that I be invited to come along. Although I would suspect deeply disenchanted at the thought of having to drag “Colleen’s Old Man around”, the group was kind enough to ask me to join them. I surely did so.

We met in an elegant Lobby Bar at The Omni Netherland in Cincinnati, where Eileen and I were staying. It was 8 p.m. I promptly ordered up “Kick-Starts” for the celebrants. “Kick-Starts” are a triple-shot of Jameson’s and a beer to wash it down.

We were soon all the very best of ageless friends.

I then gently suggested that I was certainly not attempting to plan out the evening for everyone. But, we could cross the Ohio River into Kentucky where “the radio station was doing a promotion” if there was any interest. I only slightly hinted of what might wait ahead. Since all were in an adventurous mood by then and open to anything, we crossed over.

WZRZ was broadcasting from a gigantic barge floating on the Ohio and anchored to a docking area directly across the river from downtown Cincinnati. The night of the 21st saw over four thousand gathered outdoors on the deck. They were crowded in tumultous assembly. It was “Z-ROCK BARGE NIGHT!!!” Live music was generously being provided at supersonic levels by a major Swedish rock band named “Shotgun Messiah”. Most importantly, I had scheduled the “official judging” that evening of over one hundred bikini-clad, amazingly-configured, nubile young maidens. These were contestants vying for the enviable and much desired distinction of being chosen “Miss “Z-Rock” Babe”. The contest seemed analytically, if not politically, correct.
I took the microphone at an appropriate point in time. I annointed and appointed all my fellow Bachelor Party attendees as “Our Official “Z-Rock” Judging Panel”. I further explained that they would be spending their next several hours fulfilling this critical assignment and that all contestants would be expected to offer complete cooperation and accomodation to the judges in their difficult, laborious efforts to arrive at a winner.

It was then that my soon-to-be Son-In-Law and his mates began to enjoy themselves beyond restraint, although certainly maintaining marginal propriety. They weren’t bothering with the beer anymore, taking whiskey by the tumbler. We collectively entered into the very best of extraordinary times.

It all took place under a full, bright, May moon. Temperatures remained soothingly warm well past Midnight. The majestic skyline of downtown Cincinnati soared in the background, its lights reflecting eerily across the dark, rushing waters of the mighty Ohio.

Much later, I arranged for transportation back across the river to the Omni. I obtained extra rooms. A dozen or so exhausted young warriors found restful sleep; many on carpeting, across chairs and in various tubs. I woke them all and hosted breakfast in the early morning, suggesting the excellent virtues to be found in narrating the prior evening’s events with substantial deletion for wives, girlfriends, or fiancees. It was a thought with which everyone enthusiastically agreed.

So it was I walked my radiant Colleen down the aisle the following day and gave her away with particular paternal pride.

WZRZ had two months to live.

Reams Broadcasting had entered “Chapter Eleven” in July of ’91. Frazier had hung-on as long as he could. Some thought much longer than he should.

He surrendered in January of 1992.

Brian McNeill would take things over.

Burr Egan Deleage would receive ninety percent of Reams Broadcasting and would cover monies still owed to Rhode Island Hospital Trust. Everything would close as soon as the agreement was approved in Federal Bankruptcy Court and by the Federal Communications Commission.

Brian and I met the following week in Cincinnati.

Understandings were reached. I would remain with Reams Broadcasting only through ownership transition. Frazier and John Reams would also exit at that time. I would broker the sale of WZRZ-FM for a handsome commission. Nancy Dymond would stay with Brian as Vice-President and General Manager of WIOT/WCWA. We shook hands. Brian’s Irish word was good as gold.

My last day at Reams was September 17th, 1992.

3 Responses to ““A Dead Beaver and Nigger Music””

  1. Scott Lanter Says:

    Ah, yes….I remember the last day of WBVE very well. It was the day after Christmas, that year. The last thing we expected was an axe, as a gift. But, you handled it with class, Peter, when you gathered all of us together and told us we were fired (without actually saying those words). It was a fun ride at The Beaver. Good people to work with.

    • petercavanaugh Says:

      Hi, Scott!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I remember you well and still communicate with Neil Kearney and Art Morrison all the time. My daughter, Colleen, and her family still live in the Cincinnati area, so we’re in town at least once a year to see them and have some Skyline. What are you up to these days?

      Happy New Year!

      Peter C.

  2. Scott Lanter Says:

    I remember Art very well, but I doubt he remembers me. Art hired me on staff in 1989, if I remember the year, correctly. He was only there about 6 months after I signed on, before leaving to take a position elsewhere, and Diane Palmer replaced him as PD. For the life of me, I remember the name, Neil Kearney, but I cannot place him. Seems like I only met him one time. As for me, I’m in the VO biz now and enjoying the country life, about 25 miles east of Cincinnati. I wouldn’t trade the country life for anything…although, I’ll be the first to say that snow is waaaaay over-rated.

    Happy New Year to you, too, sir!

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