Chuck Roy Bio, continued
From the fall of 1968 through the fall of 1973, in every Arbitron rating book, KROY was number one. In l972 Dwight Case left for Los Angles to take a senior position with RKO and management of KHJ radio. By then, we had a fabulous radio station, run by some very capable individuals. (Understand, outstanding GMs lead more than they manage, and they grow their people by allowing them to run the station. Besides, it would have been no credit to Dwight Case had we floundered and collapsed the day he left.) KROY would eventually fall from dominance because of the popularity shift to FM. After serving as program director for the last two years of KROY's dominance, I said goodbye to the station I loved in December of 1973. That fall book was the last number one Arbitron KROY ever had.
I still make my living in the radio business, the last 23 years as general manager for stations in Grass Valley, Dallas, and now Pittsburgh, Pa. Even though there were a few years in preparation, my real beginning was when I met Johnny Hyde. He liked me, and I liked him. He was a big name disc jockey then. It was in 1965 at KXOA that program director Les Thompson offered to hire me as his “gopher” - “go fer this, go fer that.” My first attempts behind the microphone were not promising. When they let me read the news, even I wasn't sure what words would come out. (I have a highly developed ability to focus intensely on precisely what I am not doing.) Needless to say, I was fired. It wasn't long however, before I was hired by the biggest PD of them all, Lyndon Johnson. So I spent two years in the Army (our side). When I came back to Sacramento in the Spring of 1968 things had changed. I had lost the war and my girlfriend. Johnny had moved across the street and was now program director of rival KROY. He convinced me to either join him at KROY or he would destroy me. Given the option, his offer to work midnight to 6 sounded pretty good! Johnny had two unique attributes that positioned him for the success that was to come. First, he had a very sensitive intuition about where the pop culture was and where it was going. Second, he had the ability to hire "talent" from among those not usually considered normal people. I don't think Johnny ever hired anyone who was "safe." I certainly wasn't. There is one more indispensable attribute that he shared with the best program directors in radio. He had the patience to allow talent to develop (assuming you had any). It is for these reasons and more that I will always be in his debt.
I'm not sure that I actually had what you would call talent. All I know is that I had a sense of rhythm; I grasped the essential genius of the Top-40 format, and I just loved being silly. I brought a little baggage to the party as well, but why mess up a good story? It was the summer of 1968. Johnny had me working all the vacation shifts, which gave me a lot of daytime exposure. KROY was in a definite period of transition from what it was to what it would become. Johnny was trying a number of things to make KROY different. One of them was a unique way of introducing the newscast by asking a question. For reasons I can't recall, I was asked to read the news for Bob Sherwood. The story I had selected to begin the newscast was about a theater in San Francisco in which some pranksters had set off a stink bomb. Even though I was brand new to the station, I had already developed a great affection for Bob, so making small "contributions" to his show gave me great pleasure. When it came time for the news I simply asked, "What smells in here?" His reaction literally changed the course of my career in radio. He began laughing. I began laughing. His laughter became uncontrollable. Mine became uncontrollable. For a moment in time, neither of us cared that we might be fired on the spot. Apocryphal versions of this story are many; but we must have laughed non-stop for at least 5 minutes. Any longer would have required CPR. That incident taught me that I didn't need to be funny, I just had look for opportunities to create a platform for laughter -- something I loved to do. Bob Sherwood was and is a very funny guy. He could festoon a story like no other, although sometimes in order to follow them, a program guide would have been helpful. What I remember most about Bob Sherwood as a professional was his shameless gift of promotion. I mean that as a sincere compliment, and to recognize the talent that he has used to build a magnificent career by helping others become famous.
That summer was all preamble for the launch of the new Music Power format in time for the Fall Arbitron. The big break of my career was Johnny's announcement that I would take over afternoon drive. Johnny moved to morning drive, Bob Sherwood was 9-noon; the Wonder Rabbit was noon-3, then me. If I remember correctly, following me were Jack Hammer, T. Michael Jordan, Gene Lane, Dave Williams, Terry Nelson, and others. (Was I that hard to follow?) I followed a guy who actually enjoyed being known as the Wonder Rabbit. He was a little different, but of course he said the same thing about me. KROY actually did develop a sense of wonder about it, so to call him the Wonder Rabbit was not as odd as you might think. Martin Ashley and I became friends and still remains in my affection.
Johnny worked all of us very hard that fall. It seemed like every day we were out at some high school driven there by sales rep Ron Harrison in the KROY fire truck. Fortunately for Ron, those were the days before the passage of vehicle safety laws; otherwise he would still be in prison. Our job was to serve cups of cold Seven Up to cold high school kids on cold days. It must have looked like a hokey PR effort to the people at KXOA -- in fact it was; but what no one could see or have predicted was that it united us, and created a camaraderie that lasts until this very day. As simple as it sounds, we had been through something together. We were becoming a force greater than our individual selves. We discovered that we had been transformed and united into a Team! When the fall ratings were published, we had demolished KXOA. The center of gravity had moved to 977 Arden Way. KROY's five-year market dominance had begun.
I still believe that the original concept of Top-40 is the foundation on which all great stations are built: The concept of playing the hits, concise listener services, and memorable personalities. I can still remember Grahame Richards' booming voice preaching, "Familiarity and Consistency; get that right and your station will be right." Or to reverse it, if these two attributes of your programming are missing, the audience will be missing. Like two great lighthouses shining on our station, it guided us well. But anybody can play the hits if they want to work at it. Any smart PD can hire credible disc jockeys, devise music rotations, and design hot clocks; and with enough money, anybody can buy television, direct mail, or a multitude of clever promotions. It takes a lot of brains, talent, time, and money to develop a station that will be a viable contender. KROY had all of that; at least most of it; OK, some of it. (I don't remember ever having a big promotion budget.) And even now, I still suspect that excessive promotional budgets are often an expensive substitute for the one additional ingredient that we did have. What money could not buy was the intense mutual regard and affection we had for each other. KROY was one of the best internally promoted stations ever. That is what made it different and made it great. I had five other disc jockeys promoting me with imagination and brotherly love (and zingers), every day. And I was doing the same for them. All of us promoted all of us. Everybody at KROY became famous. And the audience noticed. The more we shared our audience, the bigger it became. The kind of camaraderie we enjoyed could not have been predicted or engineered. I'm not sure any of us saw it coming. But I do know this: The environment that allowed it to happen was incarnate in the amazing personality of Dwight Case.
Even though I truly enjoy people, my natural temperament is somewhat introverted; so sitting in a room alone while talking to thousands of people did have a strange logic to it. That said, my early attempts to relate to Mr. Case always seemed to end in disaster. His intellect, his mastery of the language, and his passion, always left me both wanting to excuse myself and stay at the same time. I found him intensely attractive, yet I wanted to avoid the appearance of an incoherent fool in his presence. He had (and has) a force of personality, which in lesser men, would be dangerous. Fortunately for mankind, he also has a very tender heart. He could be ruthlessly honest. An encounter with Dwight Case would result in only three possible outcomes: Hatred, envy, or love. I loved him, and still do. Most men endowed with the mind, creative talent, and energy like he has, will inevitably become a success, at least as world counts success, and then subtlety brag about the all the vanity wrapped baggage that comes with it. But that's not a description of Dwight Case. His most compelling quality was that he made you feel as if helping you move forward was his only justification for existence -that everything else he was doing just took second place. Whether we knew it or not at the time, those who loved him were responding I think to his essential humility. He was brilliant, loud, tender, passionate, and humble; but never tame.
As far as I know, I am the only one of the KROY guys who is working as a general manager in radio today. Dwight launched my management career when, after the departure of Bob Sherwood, he appointed me program director. He left for Los Angeles less than a year after that, but those months with him were some of the happiest in my career. For Johnny, Bob, and any other PDs who worked for him, as a matter of fact, yes, I did experience first hand some of Dwight's "learning opportunities." Here's one that he told me never to forget (and I haven't). Unlike most Program Directors, occasionally I would get into a directionless fog. And I shared as much with his secretary Barbara Shlinger, who informed me that Dwight had gone to lunch and that he was alone. So I went over to the Arden Fair Food Court to talk to him. I have no memory of what I said; but I do remember what he said. "Chuck, the secret is motion." I waited patiently for him to make his point. Then, unable to sustain silence, I began to explain my difficulty. Again, "Chuck, the secret is motion." "That's very good Dwight, now I've got this problem . . ." "Chuck, the secret is motion." By that time, it occurred to me that I wasn't there to tell him anything; I was there to learn something. Dwight (wisely) was always big on symbols. After returning to the station, he went to the prize closet and presented me with a tiny radio and said, "Chuck, when you look at this radio, what should you remember?" "It's a Sony?" "No, either get the right answer, or I'll fire you." "Dwight, the secret is MOTION!" That may be the single most valuable (and profound) lesson about station management I have ever learned.
I remember only one occasion when I thought my career (and possibly my life) might be in serious jeopardy. Bob Sherwood had agreed to tow the Chuck Roy Radio Raft in the Young Life Raft Race on the Sacramento River. His boat was a little underpowered for the task. The result was, that he burned up the engine. I don't believe that the English language has sufficient words to describe Bob's wrath. Nor do I recall how we settled up, but I do remember baby-sitting his kids a lot. That's a true story, but a better one about Bob's character needs to be told as well, not because it's funny, but only because I need to tell it. Although I was a top rated DJ, and my name well known to thousands of people (as we all were), inside I was suffering from loneliness and even despair at times. I wasn't married, so when I got off the air in the evening, I went home to nothing. Bob's response was to invite me to join his family for a Sunday afternoon boat outing and picnic at Folsom Lake. We just played and had fun. For a few hours my loneliness was gone, life was as it should be. Yet, I could not seem to grasp it for myself. I didn't even know what the "it" was I was looking for. Not everyone experiences this, (nor wants to) but I began to realize that the Hound of Heaven was stalking me, and He was closing in fast. My fortress was cracking. Finally, one night alone in my apartment I knelt down and simply said, "God, help me." I had yielded to Jesus Christ. Finally, the hole in my soul was gone. And, although stumbling badly at times, I have been following Him ever since.
By 1971, both Johnny Hyde and Bob Sherwood had moved on to pursue careers with greater challenges; Gene Lane had been asked to return to the mother ship; and PD responsibilities had fallen to me. I had enough sense not to tamper with what Johnny and Bob had built; besides, I thought the format was right. In that era there were a lot of big-share, high-flyer Top-40s all over the country. By comparison, KROY's sound was not particularly sophisticated; it didn't have that big city "produced sound." It was more homegrown, maybe even a little raw. Touch it and it would bark. An example of that was a little promotion that capitalized on the mysterious lyrics of Don McLean's American Pie. Being number one is both a good and a bad place to be. It's good to be on top, but there is always somebody planning to bring you down. This time my challenge was to outsmart the legendary Rick Carroll who was programming KNDE. Since he was reputed to be a genius, and I wasn't, I knew I had to careful. I got word that he was planning a promotion that would reveal the hidden meaning of American Pie. I called an emergency program meeting. At that meeting were Dave Williams, B. Winchell Clay, the Wonder Rabbit, Steve Moore, and music director Don Christie (please forgive me if I have left anyone out). The meeting went something like this: "KNDE is going to reveal the meaning of the lyrics of American Pie. It means people are going to tune in to KNDE. We, not them, must be the station that reveals the lyrics first!" "How can we do that, we don't have the information?" "We're just going to make it up!" Everybody got busy and listened to the song and wrote what they thought certain lyrics meant. Out of that session, promos were recorded and set to air the next day. Then I asked B. Winchell to do the impossible. "Bud, we're going to have a car rally, and we'll give clues and directions over the air. I don't care how you do it, but from anywhere in the city, write clues that lead everybody to the levee." He did it! None of us knew whether it would work. We bought some apple pies, stuffed them with ten-dollar bills, and took them to the levy and waited. Dave Williams gave the clues on the air. We waited. Just as the final "instruction" was announced, hundreds of cars began showing up from every direction. It got a little scary. The police were not happy. B. Winchell's rally had worked! Because we did it together, the American Pie promotion lingers in my memory as one of our very best.
There were other promotions of course, like the Haunted Mansion at 14th and P. Ted Smith and Dave Williams made that one happen. There was the KROY safecracker caper. Martin Ashley programmed it so well; he thought it would take a Cray computer to open it. As it turned out, for a number of soon-to-be-rich KROY listeners it was not much of problem.
After I departed KROY, I found myself again working for Johnny Hyde; this time at 1320 KCRA. While not part of the KROY story, I must mention David Kleinbart, who was the incredible wit for the Chuck Roy Consumer Report. (I was the audience.) I spent 4 years at KCRA, ending my time there as an account executive. Management and ownership was what I wanted. In retrospect my 7 years at KNCO in Grass Valley seems like a "timeout" from what would follow. (Once you have gone into small market radio, even as an owner, you have left what we normally think of as the radio business. It's a different world.) I do remember a time when I was in Sacramento for some reason and was listening to Dave Williams on KCRA doing telephone talk radio. This is Dave Williams? I was so impressed, I called the station and told him how compelling I thought he sounded. "Dave, talk radio is your future!" Needless to say, others agreed.
After Grass Valley, I wound up in Dallas as GM for KLTY, a 100,000-watt FM programmed in Spanish. (My, do they make a lot of money.) The owner acquired an AM signal and moved the format. The FM was reprogrammed Contemporary Christian. Top-five in 25-54 women. That was in 1988. Salem Communications now owns it. I bring that up because I have worked for Salem since 1991 here in Pittsburgh managing WORD-FM (our call letters say it all). Salem has been a very good company to work for.
This little KROY remembrance was written through the gauze that shrouds the details of a wonderful part of my life that happened 30 years ago. David Hinton and I have become close friends and have stayed in touch, though not necessarily with reality. (He arranged a surprise lunch with Dwight about five years ago that was very special.) All of us have grown up now (in most cases) and we have moved on from what we remember. What we consider important has changed. As for me, I'm grateful for everyone involved in this Internet reunion. I was shown a lot of grace along the way. And I wouldn't want to miss this opportunity to say thank you to my friends! Susan and I have been married 30 years. We have two fine sons: John, 25, and David, 15. Life is very good.
Well, I've got to go.
THE SPACE BELOW WAS INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK FOR FUTURE GROWTH
Chuck Roy Bio, continued