After fourteen years, I am leaving 98.7 KLUV. Saturday, September 14th will be my last day on the air with the station.
Lots of people have asked questions. Too many to answer one-by-one, hence this. But where to begin?
As I’ve said before, I am not retiring. In fact, I loathe the idea. I like to work, and always have. What I will do next is uncertain, but I have plenty of ideas. Nor was it my decision to depart. Ownership simply decided it was time to go in a different direction, and declined to renew my contract. It’s a business, and I understand that. But there are a few things now that I feel it’s important to address.
For starters, my departure from the Morning Show nearly a year ago. That also was not my choice, but it was the right thing to do. Going to bed every night at midnight and waking up at 3am is not a good thing, but that’s what I’d done for years – spending almost every waking hour looking for material, coming up with ideas, and trying to figure out how to win in a very competitive environment. Most days, I was getting by on four hours of sleep (or less). Prior to leaving morning drive, my normal blood pressure stood at around 210/110. For years. It got to where I took delight in frightening the nurses in my doctor’s office. I would tell them my engine simply ran hot. Truth be told, my health has always been way down my list of concerns. More important to me was seeing that the job was done right, whatever it cost.
Then my first grandchild Ella was born.
That’s when I started looking at the future. Not only that of the broadcast industry itself, but my own. Heart disease runs strongly in my family. My birth-father succumbed to heart failure at a very early 72 years of age. My daughter Madi was already in junior high school, and time was passing faster than I liked. Fiona and all three of my children started encouraging me to think of the consequences of pouring energy into a show that increasingly had become more stressful and less enjoyable. Burning the candle at both ends has always been my nature, and still will be – but it became obvious how this was likely to end. The Ticket’s Mike Rhyner once said that every year a deejay does mornings takes two years off his life. I believe that. So, I opened my big mouth.
One night, I off-handedly told God I wanted just one thing. I wanted to be there when my little girl grew up. Maybe to walk her down the aisle if someday she chooses to marry, or when she starts her own family. When Ron Chapman asked me to succeed him as host of the KLUV Morning Show, that was why I took the job in the first place. In spite of appearances, I’ve really never cared about being “the guy”, or a “star”. I’ve never especially cared about money, either – because to me, financial rewards are also down the list. The reality is I’ve always preferred working behind the scenes – because my ego and the spotlight haven’t always mixed well. But anchoring and reporting the news for CBS11 – a job I also loved – meant sacrificing soccer games and cheerleading and school events and being there to tuck Madi in at night. Doing morning radio meant I could be there, so in 2005 I left television for KLUV. Barely a decade later, the entire industry had undergone a total revolution – changing more in three years than it had in the previous thirty. And as the changes in radio’s environment accelerated, doing radio as I’d been taught became all but impossible.
You’ve probably heard the expression be careful what you ask for? It’s no joke. The Good Lord heard my request, and said okay. What surprised me is that his first step was ensuring I no longer had to get up at 3am. It’s hard to quibble with his plan. One year later, my blood pressure is 120/70. As my youngest son said after my last day doing morning drive, “Dad, you never would have left if they hadn’t made you go.”
I also think it’s important here to say that had I been asked for input into who was going to succeed me, Jeff Miles is exactly who I would have chosen. I didn’t know Jeff well prior to the switch, but I do now. He’s a good man, a talented man, and I consider him a friend. He values the same things I do. It bothers me immensely that some listeners hold it against Jeff for not being me, because I’ve been there. Not everyone was happy when I followed Ron Chapman. One listener at the time complained that Ron was caviar, while I am only barbecue. That’s accurate – though I did point out that more people enjoy brisket than fish eggs. Fortunately, Ron and I had a history together – and a month on the air together again at KLUV before he retired. That halo helped me enormously. But industry philosophies have changed a great deal since radio could afford the luxury of long goodbyes, and Jeff didn’t get the benefit of a transition such as the one I enjoyed. Despite that, he’s done wonderfully well – and I know he’ll continue to enjoy success.
There’ve also been many comments regarding KLUV’s music. When I started at KLUV in 2005, we mostly played music from the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. Fans of those eras don’t want to admit it, but our playlist had to change. KLUV’s audience was aging beyond what advertisers wanted or could support, and fast. To stay competitive, we had to evolve. Those 80s songs that sound too “new” are now 30-plus years old. That 40-year-old driving her kids to school every day before work? Her senior year was 1997. Last year, my daughter’s junior high school had 90s Day. Chew on that for a bit. We still play what most people call “oldies” on KLUV-HD2. You should also try KLUV-HD3, which has a vastly expanded playlist that I find to be one of the best formats I’ve heard in years. But we stopped calling what we play “oldies” more than ten years ago – and had we tried to keep playing 50s and 60s songs over the air? We would have been out of business before I’d have been at KLUV six months. So, we began moving our music “younger” almost from the day I arrived. It’s a hard fact to face, but the Classic Hits KLUV now plays from the 80s and 90s are someone’s “oldies”. If your business still offered the same unchanged product that it did twenty years ago, there’s a good chance it would go under too. Radio is no different.
As discussions unfolded as to what I might do after leaving the morning show, several ideas were proposed. I was invited to develop new content for the station, which I did. Among other ideas, the Saturday Night Special and “Dusty Attics”, both of which I enjoy doing immensely. I’d like to thank management for giving me the past year to play in the sandbox with both. It’s incredibly rare to find live deejays anywhere on the radio dial on weekends anymore, and particularly on Saturday nights. But KLUV permitted me to do exactly what I wanted to do when I got in the business 47 years ago: play what people wanted to hear. Within a short time I was getting calls and requests from all over the country, so there is clearly a market for the concept (which isn’t original by any means). “Dusty Attics” might be the most worthy thing I’ve ever done professionally. Sandi Hopkins’ idea of understanding each other through our favorite songs was genius when she created it in 1984 and it’s genius now, which is why I brought the show back after more than three decades. In both cases, KLUV management allowed me the latitude to do pretty much whatever I wanted with those hours on Saturday night, and for that I am most grateful. There is some interest in perhaps continuing the Saturday Night Special as either a network or syndicated show, so the idea of a deejay simply taking requests may not quite be dead yet. I hope not. That’s pretty much all I was doing as the club deejay when Chapman found me at Billy Bob’s Texas in 1981, and it’s just as much fun now as it was then. As for “Dusty Attics”, I remain convinced there is a home for it somewhere – but I can’t necessarily do it online. Playing copyrighted material on the radio is what radio stations pay a fee to do. Playing someone else’s copyrighted material on the internet? That’s a different story.
What else I might do is still up in the air, but I have tons of ideas. Writing, for starters. I’ve had discussions about children’s books, and I’m working on a screenplay that tells a story I sincerely believe the world could really use right now. One thing I have long said is that if I ever do write another book for grown-ups, it will be funny – unlike the first one. Voice-acting is also something I’d love to do, and one of the reasons Fiona and I built a tiny house in our backyard containing a recording studio. I’ve also had cursory discussions involving returning to TV. Public speaking has long been something I’ve enjoyed, and we may run into each other at a chamber luncheon or church sometime. I hope you’ll come say hello. Theater is something I’ve always loved, and the place I feel most at home is on stage. Podcasting has also been suggested – and of course, there’s this website. More than anything I’d like to teach at a local college or university, preferably one where even enrolling in school is a hardship. I’ve spent decades being around people paid not to listen. For a change, I’d like to be in a place where people actually pay to do the opposite – and appreciate the opportunity. Think John Houseman without the bow tie. Plus, I like young people and kids. A good friend once told me you can’t make money doing it. I replied that I prefer to make a difference.
With that, I’d like to thank so many of the colleagues I’ve enjoyed spending time with for nearly a decade and-a-half. It’s hard to believe, but when I started at KLUV my morning team consisted of seven people. Some I’d known and worked with in a previous radio life, such as the magnificent Mitch Carr. “That’s how the angel got on the tree” remains the funniest outcue I’ve ever followed with a jingle. Jonathan Hayes was my only choice to do traffic, and he did a lot more for me than I ever could for him. Bernie Mac’s unbelievable talent and creativity floored me. Tammy Edwards’ day in the dentist chair still makes me laugh. Douglas Barriclow’s incomparable production abilities. Unsung heroes, such as Ian Baker – a name you may not know, but whose voice could sell water to fish. Legends such as Jim Zippo, who works faster and does more with less time than just about anyone I know. The wonderful Billy Kidd, these days of KLUV’s sister-station JACK FM. No one is more encouraging than Billy Kidd, and co-workers love him for it. Folks such as past-General Manager Randy Friend, and current GM Brian Purdy – who I suspect secretly believes I may jump him one day in an alley. Sales staff, like my dear friend Marty Cohen. Promotions Director Teresa Whitney-Thornton, who found the love of her life in a Waco cowboy who understandably stole her away for himself. Randy Capes, who probably still hasn’t recovered from being tazed live on the air. Program Director Jay Cresswell, who should have had that chair twenty years ago – and who gets what makes great radio. Supreme personalities and individuals such as John Summers, Jonathan Doll, Debbie Diaz, and Jenny Q – who might be the kindest on-air talent I have ever met. Jim Littrell, who joyfully kept our annual holiday fundraiser for kids on the rails year after year – and wept right along with us over the enormous generosity of the KLUV listening audience. And to all those many co-workers who found me irritating, annoying, incessant, intense and uncompromising – I understand. I’m not sure I would like me either, but the reason has always been those upon whose shoulders we stand. There’s not a day I don’t wonder whether we’ve done justice by the legacy they left us, and I apologize for those times when that was the only thing I thought of. I know no other way.
To all the advertisers who supported the show (and me), thank you doesn’t seem enough. I hope we helped your business. To all the guests who made the time to speak with us, from Anthony Hopkins to Betty White to Hugh Jackman and everyone in between. To the charities and causes who thought we could help, and to all those people who stepped up to see that we were able to do so – from Christmas Is For Children to Minnie’s Food Pantry to My Friend’s Place and more. You allowed us…you allowed me…to do something much greater than merely playing records, selling airtime, or giving away tickets. You allowed us to honor our obligations to our community and neighbors, which is ultimately what we are here to do. ‘Says so, right on our license. You gave us the means to serve.
The biggest thanks of all goes to you, the listener. One of the things I learned from Ron Chapman many years ago is that no one has an “audience”. You have a listener. Just as there is no such thing as “over” in Fort Worth, or “up” in Frisco, there is no “Good evening, everyone”. We talk to one person at a time. Sometimes that listener is having a great day. Sometimes that listener isn’t. But he or she chose to give us their time. In fact, you gave me and my family a better life – and let me do something I’ve loved for almost half-a-century. You called, you wrote, you showed up, you laughed, you cried, you made us…you made me…a part of your life, your morning, your day, and your family. I saw you in my mind’s eye whenever I turned on the mic, and I will see you if I’m fortunate enough to stand before a mic again.
And last but certainly not least, my family. My incredibly wise and and straightforward children, of course – who see more potential in the future than I can dream. How I ended up blessed with three like these, I do not understand. And Fiona, who in addition to loving me focuses me. Without her, I would not have been mentally or emotionally strong or mature enough to deal with the last few years. She is my best friend, my counselor, my advisor, my partner, and my love.
So with that, we’ll see where this thing goes. The man in the carpeted office is trusting me to be a professional through my last day, which happens very rarely in this business. And while I’m not sure I’d trust me that much, I am honored. It gives me a little more time with you, doing what I love. Standing high above the city as night falls, watching cars streaming down the freeway, the lights twinkling like loose diamonds on black velvet. You put on those headphones, crank the volume way up high, not caring who’s watching while you feel that rhythm, knowing that you’re playing the soundtrack to someone’s life, hoping that it carries them away from their burdens and cares. Some might say you’re just a deejay, but there’s nothing else like it in the world.
Again, thank you to everyone who has reached out with words of encouragement and kindness. More than a few folks have told me I’ve “got this”. Actually, no. I don’t. I never have.
But I trust the one who does.