With Mark Adams riding Wild 94.9 to the top rank in San Francisco, and watching yet another failed station launch last week (“We’re going to play 10,000 songs with no commercials or DJ’s!”), I thought it would be fun to boast a little. And also remind you that:
1. Great stations usually had great launches.
2. We’re in Show Business. If you’d asked Monty Hall to launch a station or asked Steven Spielberg to rebrand a station, they probably would not have gone into spots playing Kenny Chesney and come out playing Ludacris and hoped that people would magically discover it. (Citadel in Memphis in 2004. It was so successful that they were out of the format in 10 months)
3. The first five hours are the most important fives hours in the life of a station.
In Fall of 1991 I was the Director of Fun ‘N Games at WCKZ/Kiss 102 in Charlotte. It was maybe one of the greatest “sounding” stations anywhere. Jo Jo Wright, at one point, had something like a 28 share at night. But my spidey senses were on high alert and when Jerry Clifton reached out and said “We need someone who is nuts to be the Promotion Director at KSOL in San Francisco” it seemed like the right fit.
I loaded a truck, towed my car and headed west.
And my spidey senses were right: when I got to my hotel in Cheyenne there was a message that the station in Charlotte had just been LMA’ed with big changes in the building about to happen. Whew.
Calling Bob Mitchell, the KSOL PD, he said that he was excited for me to arrive and that all the pieces of the puzzle were coming together: “We’ve got a guy named Jo Jo coming in from Dallas and starting the same day as you.” Bob didn’t know that Jo Jo and I had started on the same day in Charlotte and been roommates so I ended the conversation with “Oh man….I hear there have been some issues with him…and….well…little boys” and ended the call.
KSOL had been the preeminent Urban station in the Bay Area since the 1960’s but in the 1980’s Keith Naftaly took KMEL and turned into this absolutely amazing Rhythm station and cut KSOL off at the knees. It flailed around for a few years trying to find its place but it was over.
Driving west and topping the ridge near Fairfield, I tuned into KMEL…and almost turned the Ryder truck around. Only people who actually heard that station in the late 80’s and early 90’s can truly know how ridiculously great they sounded. “Bay Area” oozed from the speakers. It was in everything they did. It was how they talked. It was so complete that they didn’t even need to do a legal ID and you would still have known what market they were in.
Four months into my tenure there, Bob and Clifton had found a guy named Mancow who’d been fired in Monterey for saying “ass” on the air. Boom. Another piece of the puzzle. So, on a Wednesday afternoon and just hours away from flying to corporate meetings in LA, Bob and I were summoned to the GM’s office, Scott closed the door, Clifton was on the speaker phone and he said, and I quote: “This station sucks. Let’s blow it up next Friday. I’ve always wanted to call a station ‘Wild’. Let’s call it ‘Wild’.” and after some formatic directives to Bob, the meeting was over. I went back to my little over-priced hovel, packed a bag, went back to the station and stayed up all night typing up a thing I called “How To Be Wild For Dummies” that included an action plan for the first 90 days of the station.
The winner of “Show Us You’re Wild”, the first promotion on the station. They got a trip to the wilds of Australia for turning on lights in an office building so it displayed “Wild 107”
This was my first launch and it kind of seemed that it would be important if it was kept a secret in the building. We were going to have enough problems as it was going up against the Monster At 106.1, so it was only me, Jerry, the GM and the imaging guy who were aware of what was planned in a little over a week. The Sales Manager was looped in while we were at the corporate meetings that weekend in LA when Scott the GM broke it to his bosses what we were about to do.
Before heading for SFO I washed my hair in the public bathroom sink at 55 Green Street, rolled on some deodorant, faxed my battle plan to Clifton, made sure there was nothing incriminating left around for people to find on my desk and called 102 Jamz in Orlando and spoke to the Marketing Director. They had a great logo. Could their guy in TOTAL confidence work up some designs for a station called “Wild 107.7”?
Only people who worked at United Broadcasting can fully attest to how fucked up that company was. “How fucked up?” you ask? The corporate gathering, on its last night, gave me a heart attack. Yup. At the age of 30 I was in a cardiac unit in Marina del Rey and was there for the next three days.
On Tuesday, 72 hours to launch, and hooked up to an EKG, Mickey Johnson’s guy in Orlando Fed Ex’ed me seven logos. I brought in the 18-34 female nursing staff, focus grouped it on them and from my bed called Mickey back to have his specialty item dude make us a few boxes of boxer shorts and UPS them to San Francisco so we’d have at least something for the kickoff. Using my one copy of the logo, I Fed Ex’d it to place in Stockton, told him to keep it close to the vest and that someone would drive our one and only down on Friday morning EARLY for a quick wrap.
Joss Taylor with Entercom/San Diego holds her original pair of Wild 107 boxershorts, won in the first week the station was on the air.
I was deemed fit two travel and with 48 hours to launch flew back.
The “Wild Circle Of Trust” was still at five on Friday morning when Ann the Sales Manager told her team that something really exciting was going to happen at 5 pm and “Don’t freak out because we’re going to make lots of money.”
KMEL of course knew about this by noon, which is why you never tell anyone anything that they really don’t need to know.
Pizza + Airstaff at 1 pm with basically the same message and at 4 pm, everyone got in the studio and the countdown began. At about 4:30 I was able to call the entire staff over to a window in the Sales area and point at our van, newly wrapped and sitting outside Bayshore Center: “That’s the station” and everyone got shirts to celebrate.
Tony Valera the Imaging Director had promos, sweepers and Dave Ferguson voiced stuff ready to roll when, at 5 pm on the nose, a button was pushed and “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc started. And would continue until Monday morning.
“But that’s a turn off! People will listen twice and not come back!” Uh…no. Actually that’s not how it works. They continue to tune in waiting for the punchline.
The Gavin Convention was in town and KMEL was throwing their annual “Brown Nose The Record Labels Party”, on the air, because listeners actually care about record reps, while the Radio People, hearing that something big was happening in San Mateo, cabbed down to join the party on the air. People like Rick Gillete introducing himself as a Program Director from Detroit who had rushed to the airport and hopped a flight because he’s heard that something seismic was happening in the Bay Area.
Rick Gillette joins the new station for champagne 35 minutes into the Life of Wild
“Wild Thing” kept playing and by 5:30 the audience was in on the joke: each repetition was prefaced by a caller demanding to hear the song. Oh…and champagne was a’flowin. While KMEL was doing an awards ceremony on the air and presenting plaques to record reps for “Best Breaking Of A New Artist”, we were all getting hammered and having a party.
Three hours into the station I was on my way to an impromptu “Farewell KSOL” event when I stopped at an ATM near the airport to get cash…and the people in line were talking about it.
We’d won. It took Arbitron two years to catch up but we’d won in the first few hours. Monday morning “Wild Thing” went away, “DMSR” by Prince played and the station was complete.
27 years later and with a new dial position, they’re still on and kicking ass. And it all started with a kick ass launch.