“T-Town”

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CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE

T-TOWN

I was extremely touched when the Flint Journal recognized my departure with a front-page story headlined “Goodbye, Peter C.” The article by Dave Guilford tracked my history in the market since the “Beatle Days” almost twenty years earlier. It was more than generous with praise and positive comment. I’m sure I’ll never live to see a finer obituary.

The reorganization of WWCK/WWMN was made relatively easy with the management talent available. I appointed Ron Shannon as Vice-President and General Manager, Nancy Dymond as Regional Sales Manager and Neil Kearney as Local Sales Manager. They had earned their promotions with grace and distinction and were completely familiar with established policies and procedures, many of which had been of their own initiation.

From a corporate perspective, my elevation was perceived as the “pirate frigate” taking over the fleet. In spite of common ownership, Flint had remained organizationally isolated from WIOT/WCWA in Toledo. This was due to well-deserved paranoia on the part of a former General Manager who regarded our Flint configuration as a threat to his empire. While Frazier Reams, Jr. was President and owner, his direct involvement with day-to-day operations was minimal. The position of Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer was a new creation. I would also function as Vice-President and General Manager of the Toledo stations until such time as I felt it appropriate to elevate another to handle those responsibilities. My first morning in Toledo, the only person I knew well was Frazier. Everyone else was a mystery, but not for long.

WIOT was doing quite well financially as an Album Rocker. It was also consulted by Burkhart/Abrams and Lee Michaels. “FM 104” had gone through the ratings roof as a result of this association and no real competition, soaring from a 9.7% to an astounding 19.7% total audience share in the Fall of 1979. Since then, it had dropped back down to an 11.3% performance level, although remaining Toledo’s top-rated radio station.

WCWA-AM had gone through a number of format changes in recent times and crashed trying “Controversial Talk” to a 1.8%  share in 1980. It was now realizing substantially more success with a “Big Band” approach and was showing stronger overall listenership, although the actual WCWA audience tended to be much older than what most advertisers considered attractive demographics.

In terms of physical facilities, there was hardly any fair comparison between Flint and Toledo.

WWCK/WWMN were housed in a rambling structure of undetermined and antiquated architectural design. It was not unlike a large garage with wings. It was right next to an expressway in a district which had seen its best years decades before. We often had floods in the rear of the building and broadcast equipment was functional, but hardly flashy. I had installed a new production studio during my tenure and was fortunate in having young engineers who could fix anything and/or make due with what they had available. Technically, we sounded great on the air.

WIOT/WCWA and the corporate offices of Reams Broadcasting had just moved into Fort Industry Square, a string of old buildings which had been renovated and restored at a cost of some thirty-five million dollars. We occupied the entire fourth floor of the largest section. Fort Industry Square represented the heart of a downtown Toledo undergoing fabulous change and renaissance.

We were right on the banks of the Maumee River, next to five acres of Promenade Park. Frazier was a partner in Fort Industry Square and had participated in other new investments as well. In less than three years time, nearly two hundred million dollars had been commited to construction and restoration projects in a five block area. There would be a new “Festival Marketplace” and “Sofitel Hotel” on the Maumee, next to a new Toledo Trust Bank. Towering above all was a sparkling glass edifice housing world headquarters for Owens-Illinois. WIOT’s programming was fed by microwave to its 50,000 watt transmitter and antenna right on Lake Erie, ten miles distant.  Similarly, WCWA was linked by microwave to a tower site five miles away on Toledo’s South Side.

Our surroundings were upscale and expensive at Fort Industry. There was an extraordinarily-appointed restaurant in the building called “The Boody House”, named after a famous Toledo landmark. Beneath “The Boody House” was “Digby’s”, a lovely jazz-bar offering excellent accomodation and copious supplies of alcohol. One didn’t even have to venture outside Fort Industry to find generous drink and congenial companionship. Oh dear!

My first discovery at WIOT/WCWA was that many employees weren’t speaking to one another. There were little kingdoms everywhere. The former manager had ruled through division. The staff was playing “baseball in the dark”. I turned on the floodlights.

Bob Lafferty had been General Sales Manager under the prior regime and was to remain so. Bob was quite smart and seemed eager to contribute whatever might be required in establishing a new order. He was understandably used to political intrigue from his years at Reams and had been more than a bit confused and bewildered by perplexing twists and turns of fortune. These had been largely generated by Frazier’s former partner, Jack Linn, before and during Jack’s time of departure. Another source of corporate confusion had been and was Grover Lewis.

Grover was a handsome man in his late-fifties and had been with Frazier for a number of years. He was Vice-President and Treasurer of Reams Broadcasting. His only notable achievement, as far as I could discern, was maintaining a good relationship with Frazier in spite of minimal skills and abilities. Then too, he had divorced his wife of many years and married Frazier’s secretary, an attractive woman of younger age. That probably counted for something. He was of slender intellect and wandering ways. My Traffic Manager in Flint had asked me to suggest to Grover that “he stop grabbing her tits” while visiting the facility. This was a message I had forcefully and firmly conveyed.

Grover Lewis did all accounting with a hand-cranked adding machine on his desk. Profit and Loss statements were usually three or four months late, even though Toledo was finally computerized. Grover left it to others to handle the computer, which he resented almost as much as my presence in Toledo. Neither the computer or I had a crank. As far as could be determined, Grover contributed nothing whatsoever to the corporation other than incessant meddling.

He had tried to occupy the power vacuum left by Jack Linn with partial success. With my arrival, he was neutered. I was most cordial to him at all times and only asked that he operate in his own area of expertise, such as it was, and not interfere with our station managers. That he was chronically guilty of continuing to assert himself in matters outside his domain was more due to ineptitude than intent. I honestly believe that he tried, but always remained trying.

In the case of Grover and other issues which would face us in the times ahead, I had come to realize that working in Toledo would require a personal shift in focus.

At WTAC and WWCK, my fundamental goal had been operational success. Absentee ownership had placed me completely in charge. The owner’s office was now barely twenty feet from my own. My ultimate loyalty was to him. From a practical view, “pleasing Frazier” was now all that really mattered. He was, after all, “The President”. He had afforded me a spectacular professional opportunity.

Frazier generally agreed with almost all of my decisions and could not have been more supportive of my efforts on his behalf. At the same time, there were certain matters beyond serious discussion. These included particular prioritizations not necessarily parallel with clearly objective managerial practices. I was a hired hand. The boss owned the ranch. I was hardly in a unique situation. My salary had doubled. I now had six stations under my guidance. Frazier was as charming and delightful an employer as he’d ever been. I worked in a beautiful new building with a bar in the basement. Who was to bitch? It was Peter C. Paradise!!

The Toledo Speedway had become the site of major outdoor rock concerts on a grand scale. WIOT was proud to host Bob Seger in early July with over 45,000 in attendance. He came in by helicopter. We spoke briefly backstage.
We agreed we were both a long way from Sherwood Forest, he more than I.
He received $300,000 for his appearance. It was the last authentic “Toledo Speedway Jam” until WIOT would present “Guns and Roses” in 1991.

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I had been in Toledo two months when new competition broke into the market. A Bowling Green station moved their tower closer to the city limits and WRQN started rocking the town.

They stole our WIOT morning team and four salespeople. I found two guys who’d been together since high-school in the Milwaukee area working on a station in Kalamazoo. Bob Madden and Brian Nelson were highly gifted. Bob was perpetually “up” and found the world exciting in every way. Brian was almost manic-depressive and the essense of dedicated cynicism. Their chemistry was perfect.

We did a Toledo version of “Great Escape”, except we chose the destination.  I didn’t want another “Cape Cod”. Our Toledo winners accompanied Bob and Brian to Australia for a week. They brought back excellent video which we used for “post-promotional” purposes. Bob and Brian were proudest of their camera-work offering prolonged focus on a flushing toilet. They proclaimed with excited wonder, “The water goes backwards!” Bob and Brian were always asking Frazier to “buy them a pony.”

Bob Lafferty quickly replaced departed sales people with new hires of serious merit, including Tammy Kinzer. Tammy had worked with WCWA in times before and had been lured away from Reams by the local cable company. She returned to WIOT and was to set local sales records within weeks of her return.

All in all, we never missed a beat. WIOT ratings edged up to a 12.3%  audience share, even as WRQN debuted with a 10.0% . I took great personal satisfaction in having successfully steered us through a potential “crisis”. Frazier was happy. Susan was thrilled.

One Response to ““T-Town””

  1. mrred Says:

    Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

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