“Another Beginning”

lynn-martinjpeg

CHAPTER SIXTY

ANOTHER BEGINNING

Frazier had just worked out an agreement with Jack Linn regarding the dissolution of their partnership. There were certain difficulties.

Lynn Martin was the current Vice-President and General Manager of WWCK/WLQB. It was rumored that he was about to join Jack Linn in an investment to the south, in Charleston, West Virginia. FR2 asked how I would feel about replacing Lynn. Are you kidding? I held my enthusiasm in reasonable check as we discussed possible scenarios. I suggested that it would be best if Lynn Martin thought it was his idea. I predicted that he would contact me as soon as Frazier started directly reviewing the Flint operation and Lynn’s own plans for relocation were completed.

Lynn Martin and I had come to regard each other as amicable adversaries and would often enjoy a few drinks together after work, having spent most of the day trying to destroy each other’s professional efforts in as many ways as possible. Well-waged competitive combat should not  preclude mutual admiration and respect. Additionally, every radio station faced common foes.

Advertising money spent with the Flint Journal, local television stations and outdoor media were dollars out of all radio pockets. There were areas where cooperation between stations would be to the advantage of all. Lynn and I were in complete agreement on this and other issues as well. We thought much of the older advertising establishment was pathetic. We were amazed at how much business was based on traditionally accepted purchasing patterns, without any thought given to emerging opportunities and trends. At the 1980 Flint “Addy Awards”, we hid behind some curtains and smoked several joints. No one noticed. No one cared. Everybody was too busy being seen. We were bored.

WTAC won several “Gold Awards” that night for station promotions, including the “Amityville Horror House” campaign. WWCK won a Gold Award for a television spot which Lynn had commissioned. We both made excellent acceptance speeches and refrained from giggles. Until later.

In early April, Frazier phoned me and said that Martin had tendered his resignation and had made the expected suggestion. Minutes later, Lynn called me and asked for an immediate meeting. Over coffee at Wally’s, he offered me his assistance in replacing him. I expressed my appreciation.  Things went very smoothly, except for Mr. Martin’s refusal a few weeks later to return a company vehicle, wishing to retain same for bargaining purposes in negotiations over a final settlement with Reams Broadcasting. I was furnished with an extra set of keys and personally grabbed the car from his parking space at Bishop Airport. He had gone flying. I left a note of explanation and ten dollars for a cab. He called me at home and was pissed, but pleased. I was a good replacement. We remained friends.

I had concluded nearly fourteen years of employment with Fuqua Communications as I joined Reams Broadcasting on Friday, April 18th. There were a number of understandings which had been discussed with both Mr. Windsor and Mr. Reams prior to the official announcement. I had spent considerable time in examining numerous options and had reached many fundamentally important initial decisions.

Bob Vanderweil would be appointed Vice-President and General Manager of WTAC. I would not bring over any additional WTAC employees for at least ninety days, and only then after speaking first with Bob and Joe Windsor. Frazier agreed that this was an honorable and acceptable accommodation to a former employer. The matter of possible WTAC purchase was also not ignored in making this determination. I would work with the current WWCK/WLQB staff as it existed and would structure any organizational configuration that made sense.

My first programming meeting with the “105 FM” announcing staff was unexpectedly exhilarating. Their average age was almost a full generation lower than counterparts at WTAC. I was reminded of my earliest days at WNDR.

I was presented with the “Peter C. Dartboard” and a pound of baking soda marked “Rock ‘n Roll”. They awaited my response. I thanked them for their exceeding generosity and ran it all down. I waved the package of baking soda high in the air and told them they had stumbled on an accidental, but brilliant illustration of where we were and where we could go. The label said “Rock ‘n Roll”, but everyone knew the contents were a joke. WWCK would call  itself “Rock ‘n Roll”, but wouldn’t be a joke.

I stated that I would treat them fairly, expected their professional and personal best and that we were taking ourselves to a pinnacle. I guaranteed that their efforts would be handsomely rewarded and that WWCK would become the highest rated Album Oriented Rock Station in America.  I promised them national notoriety and individual recognition. They trusted me and believed in themselves. In less than two years, everything came true.

There were the usual unanticipated major challenges. One was particularly sad, the other merely unpleasant.

Gary Pfeifer had been WWCK General Sales Manager under Lynn Martin. At thirty-five years of age, he was four years my junior. A week before Martin’s resignation and my appointment was announced, he had visited his doctor with complaints of general malaise and recent weight-loss. He was certain job stress must be a key factor. Word of pending changes had been circulating for months and Gary was uncertain as to his own possible fate in the midst of sudden transition. Tests were given. He was dying of cancer. At the outside, he had six months left to live.

My response was automatic.

I appointed Gary as Vice-President and General Sales Manager of WWCK, adding a new corporate title to his position under my new administration. We would work together in building the finest radio sales team in Flint. He would take as much time away from the station for chemotherapy or other necessary health measures as might be required, without loss in compensation and with all medical care completely funded by the company.
As long as he so desired, he would remain an active, productive, decision-making member of radio station management. His efforts were nothing short of remarkable. He would leave the station one sunny Friday afternoon in mid-October, having spent much of the day with me on planning and strategy. His parents called me early the next morning. Gary had left us in his sleep.

Ron Shannon was a remarkable performer and we had to make an early-on choice. Ron was doing an exceptional job as morning disc-jockey on WWCK and was fulfilling an equally impressive role as Account Executive. He had wanted to replace Lynn Martin as General Manager and had contacted Frazier several times in this regard. I admired this fact and everything else about Ron.

A Wall to Wall Crowd for “The Killer” — Ron Shannon — The Light — Flint, Michigan -1981

Ron Shannon was a no-bullshit, straight-ahead, ass-kicking, ball-breaking mother-fucker. Ron had a dead-eye for the danger-zone. He was a former rock musician who had commuted one entire summer, each and every weekday, between a resort bar at Houghton Lake, where he played guitar, and Lansing, where he did mornings at WVIC-FM. What matter if the round-trip was almost two hundred miles and he rarely slept? It was Rock ‘n Fuckin’ Roll, Man!  Ron still lived in Lansing and drove over a hundred miles a day between home and WWCK. What the fuck. It was closer than Houghton Lake!

WWCK/WWMN Vice President & General Manager Ron Shannon

I spoke with Ron after meeting with Gary and hearing his dreadful news. My proposition was simple. Ron would leave the air and become Local Sales Manager, a move with which Gary had concurred. Ron would handle direct sales training and development under Gary and would be responsible for picking up any slack which might develop should Gary’s condition begin to deteriorate. Nothing more was promised or mentioned. Both Ron and I understood the rest without need for discussion. Ron undertook his new duties with dedication and commitment. Lisa Olsen became an immediate pain-in-the-ass.

Olsen had been brought on board by Lynn Martin to act as Ron’s “partner” on the WWCK Morning Show. As was true of Ron, she also sold advertising time on the station. Her talents clearly belonged behind the scenes. She resented Ron being her boss in Sales. She regarded selling as a unmotivating bother and would have preferred just being a radio legend. She was always stirring-up shit. She was a woman of superior intelligence and inferior self-esteem. When I told her she was going off-the-air into full-time Sales, she quit. Her final question regarded what her fans would think. As far as could be determined by audience research, she had none.

She sued WWCK-FM on grounds of sexual discrimination. She became President of  N.O.W. in Flint. She failed to prove her charges with the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and sued in Federal Court. She lost there and appealed. She lost again. She had claimed that she had been fired because she was a woman. Her replacement was another female who eventually rose to the position of Vice-President and General Manager of the Flint stations with Reams Broadcasting, then moving up to the same position at WIOT/WCWA in Toledo.

Nancy Dymond and I have always agreed that Lisa Olsen was as much of an asshole as any male who ever qualified for such noble designation.

WWCK-FM was fortunate in being consulted by Burkhart/Abrams out of Atlanta. Kent Burkhart was the “face man” for the organization and theoretical senior member of the team. Kent had been around for years, was a extraordinary bullshitter in an industry fueled by same, and recognized a promising possibility when it saw it. What he had seen was Lee Abrams, my rock-pissing buddy from that Colorado radio gathering in ’73. Lee was the operational genius in the consultancy and had assembled a small staff of excellent assistants, most of whom had titles with which to impress clients. Lee Michaels was one of these and was an extraordinary programmer in his own right.

I had arranged to meet Lee Michaels in Toledo just a few days after starting at WWCK. In less than thirty minutes, he completely outlined Burkhart/Abrams’ programming philosophy, marketing concepts and music rotations. What he described was, to little surprise, at substantial variance with WWCK’s then current formatic contour.

My young staff was working off a general interpretation of a hypothetical understanding of a vague comprehension. Following my return to Flint, we were on exactly the right track in less than forty-eight hours. There were no real “secrets” to the Burkhart/Abrams approach. It was basic radio, creative promotions and familiar music, all presented with consistent execution. The Burkhart/Abrams client list included over fifty of the top AOR outlets in the country, mainly in the largest markets. I was determined to make our mark.

The early morning of July 3rd, I was determined to get one last drink. I had been elected First Vice-President of the Flint Advertising Federation and had attended an informal Board Meeting which ran late into the night. Intoxicants had been served and consumed in abundance. I was in one of those what the hell moods and pulled into Aladdin’s on Corunna Road,  a major WWCK bar client and, by happy coincidence, only a single mile from my house. By unhappy coincidence, Aladdin’s was also directly across the street from the Flint Post of the Michigan State Police. Aladdin’s was packed with clientele. I joked with the owner for a few minutes and then mixed with the crowd until closing time. I pulled my new company car out onto the highway and headed for home.

My Lincoln Continental was on the far right side of a three-lane highway. There was a stoplight and intersection ahead, after which Corunna Road abruptly became two lanes. It was a dangerous design, since the far right lane just disappeared at the light. I knew the turf well. The traffic light was green and I was preparing to move left. There were sudden flashing lights and a siren. A State Police car had suddenly materialized to my immediate left, cutting-off the road. I was halfway through the intersection.

Although I had instinctively slowed significantly; a curb, a bank lawn and a tree loomed straight ahead. There was no doubt in my wild Irish mind as to who was blocking whom.  Fuck it. I took out the cop car.

There were no injuries, nor was any serious property damage done to either vehicle, give or take a few thousand bucks worth.  Both vehicles were probably doing under ten miles an hour at impact. I decided to be sweetly polite and asked the arresting officers how I could be of assistance. I blew .023 on my first breath-test, later scoring a .025 at the station. I was taken into Flint and spent the rest of the night in a drunk tank. I had a wonderful time.

The holding cell was a cheery-gray and seemed to take up half a block. There were several dozen of us inmates, only three of whom were White.

I was extremely verbal and highly entertaining. I’m certain I was up to a .029 by then, having ended my night with two triple-shots of Wild Turkey at Aladdin’s. I actually knew many of my Black cell-mates from WTAC years and they were extraordinarily pleased with my presence and performance. At a number of points, several uniformed guards came by and screamed at us for quiet. As soon as they would disappear, they naturally became subjects for further comedic abuse. I speculated loudly on their ancestral history, secret proclivities and basic sexual orientation. I was a one-man-laugh-attack. After awhile, the show ended and I caught a nap on the concrete floor. At 7:00 a.m., I arose with the inescapable realization that I had really fucked-up. We were all finger-printed and handcuffed and led before a judge for arraignment. I entered a plea of “Not Guilty” before my charge was read.

My only real and deep dread was calling my new employer and relating the incident. I did so immediately following release. Frazier was amazing. He said he was just glad I wasn’t hurt and to absolutely not worry about it. He said it was nothing to be concerned with. He said it could well have been him who ran into a police car the prior evening since he had been on the road after “a few belts” himself. With those few words, he gained my personal gratitude, unswerving friendship and sworn loyalty for the next dozen years.

Given my championship, major-league, world-class breath-test results, the Prosecuting Attorney refused to consider any charge other than the much dreaded “Driving While Intoxicated”. I presented my case to the judge with sincerity and humility. I spoke for more than twenty minutes. I told of my near death due to the irresponsible actions of the Michigan State Police in forcing me off the road. I stressed how sad a day it was when an honest citizen could not enjoy freedom on the highway, even after a few adult beverages with friends and associates. I questioned the quality and validity of the tests given and mourned my inability to contact a personal physician so that a professionally administered blood analysis could have provided instant vindication. I was almost in tears as I recounted the guards telling me to “shut my fucking mouth” when I attempted to obtain their cooperation in proving my innocence. After careful judicial deliberation, I was acquitted.

It was clear that times were changing. Although I had narrowly escaped a nasty conviction, the fact remained that I had undeniably placed myself in a highly vulnerable position. The new “Drinking Laws” stated flatly that anything over a .01 reading of alcoholic content in breath was legal proof of intoxication. Factors such as tolerance level, general behavior or “cultural conditioning” were completely irrelevant in the eyes of the law. By this standard, I had driven drunk thousands of times without incident or misfortune. More care and caution would be exercised in the future.  It would be lovely reporting that I learned a lesson about drinking. It was more a lesson in thinking. Social intolerance requires skillful toleration.

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