Monday, July 27, 2009

Dick Downes, Stuart McRae, KAAY and WZEW

What a small world...come to find out, Dick and Stuart both worked for two favorite radio stations of mine! As mentioned in a previous post, Dick was the last KAAY P.D. who kept Beaker Street going. Stuart McRae was one of the last Beaker Street deejays...and both wound up in Mobile, AL at WZEW. Here's Dick's recount:

"I put the Zoo on the air. Stuart McRae, my old "Beaker Street" jock from KAAY was the PD. He recommended me to Dick Oppenheimer for the GM job, I got it and his first order was - fire McRae. Oh S***! Stuart was great about it, knew it was coming. He and Oppenheimer weren't getting along.

I supervised the build-out of state-of-the-art studios in the penthouse of a midtown high-rise office building, really nice. Came up with the (almost) free promotion that caused a lot of chatter - we gave away the opportunity to become Miss 92-Zoo and have her bikini-clad image on a huge billboard to jump-start her modeling career. (I personally felt it necessary to supervise the photo shoot ;<) Strange after-story, I needed foot surgery several months after the promotion. I walked into the podiatrists office and there was our winner! She was the receptionist. So much for the modeling career.

The (now) famous Randi Rhodes was our nite, then morning, jock.

We also were the first station to wrap a bus. Only it wasn't a wrap - they hadn't been invented yet. I hired a couple of local illustrators to paint Zoo characters from Disney's "Jungle Book" all over a city bus. I think we got the bus for free because the transportation agency was so excited about the concept. We also traded out an old Winnebago and painted it in the same scheme. Parked it at every WABB promotion we could find and broadcast live; even from the concerts they "welcomed."

If we'd had a signal... no tellin' where that station would be. I might still be in Mobile. I still think we had the best ratings they ever enjoyed.

Another anecdote, I probably cut the best deal in Arbitron history for that station. In the day, ARB based your next three-year deal on the previous couple of books' cume. Well, it HAD been a religious station with hardly any listeners. We killed 'em. I think I got two books a year for three years at less than $10k total. Unheard of in a top-75 market.

Unfortunately the signal never got past downtown and that's not where the WASPs we targeted lived. So, despite our promotions giving away those little round loop FM antennas for their home stereos, you couldn't hear us once you left your car or in most offices. Still can't. We looked into moving the stick to the west side of the bay - nope. Erecting it on a barge in the bay - nope. Adding a repeater or translator - nope. Let us put up a taller stick or bump the power in Fairhope - nope. Make it a B - nope. We tried everything and got shot down every time.

Eventually I attended a manager's meeting with Dick Oppenheimer and his board at HQ in Texas, plus all the other managers. When it was my turn, I suggested they sell the station because of the signal problems. I had another job lined up. What a load off my back. Three months or so later they sold the station. To the best of my knowlege, it's never done as well as the original 92-Zoo.


And I agree with that last sentence...and since Catt Sirten is recently back at The Zoo with his Jazz Brunch on Sunday mornings and with Radio Avalon in the evenings, I occasionally tune in. In my opinion, Catt is the jazz version of Clyde Clifford....

Bud S. (

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