I had given up a promotion to be Program Director at WISN in Milwaukee. When I announced my resignation, my General Manager, Lee Dolnick tried to persuade me to stay with a $10,000/year raise and a company-paid move to the suburb of my choice because he knew I wasn't crazy about where I was living. Still, I said, no. Stokes offered Debbie and I less pay than we were making in Milwaukee, but I was offered a 3% share of station profits at WCVR, 5% ownership of the company's next acquisition, and the title of General Manager. This was all done on a handshake.
It was a significant offer and a great quality of life move.
The FM station that we had worked so hard to get on the air had actually debuted a week after I left for Milwaukee and I had a sense of unfinished business.
The broadcast professional who became General Manager that Ed had hired in anticipation of the FM's debut was no longer employed there after a December 1982 billing month of about $8,000. The properties were in distress.
When I came back, the station was in the hands of a Program Director who had eclectic musical tastes and was not administratively-focused. My first task was to ask him to find a job elsewhere. Then, I filled over 43 large green trash bags with junk and perishables strewn about every room of the station. We had to rent a dumpster. The Program Director's office was akin to an archeological dig. When I got down to the final piece of paper on his desk, it was a message for me that came in the day after I left in October of 1982. He also had not done a single affidavit for any of the station's syndicated obligations. That was over 10 months of paperwork which I promptly and diligently dispatched. He even thought it was a good idea to run the Dr. Dimento Show. It was probably the only country music station in the world that ran the show. Even though I loved it, I cancelled it. It didn't fit the format.
They had even let a cat live at the radio station before I came back. Pretty nasty. Apparently it had a health issue that required ear drops. That was part of the overnight jock, Tim Hoehn's duties. I think it included litter box maintenance, too. I don't know how sad Tim was the day he was coming in to work and saw the cat lying beside the road on Route 66, dead.
With the former Program Director's full-time airshift slot open, I moved to afternoon drive and my wife Debbie, who had worked at WMIL and WBCS, the country stations in Milwaukee, became our midday personality. Debbie was the best Music Director I ever worked with, regardless of market size. She knew how to get record service even when the station had no cachet.
I moved Art Baker (Art Steinberg) from Middays to overnights and moved Tim Hoehn from overnights to 6pm to Midnight. Art left two weeks later to work for M106, a rocker in Claremont, NH which became Q106, where he stayed for years. So, I hired Ed Perlberg from WLPX in Milwaukee to fill that slot. Ed was on the air as Bob Winters.
This was the lineup:
Mornings: Steve Todd
Middays: Debbie Price
Afternoons: Greg Price
Evenings: Tim Hoehn
Overnights: Bob Winters
Jeff McKee, with whom I worked in Milwaukee at WISN, provided us with a big voice in terms of station drops and ID's, as well as promos.
Ira Wilner was our contract engineer.
We used wire copy from the Associated Press for our Vermont and New Hampshire news, which the jocks read themselves and had the audio news services of the Associated Press for our World and National, as well as sports and other features.
During my absence, ownership had decided it wouldn't pay the monthly $90 for the rights to play music licensed by SESAC. After I arrived, I insisted that we pay them again.
Steve Todd was (is) a fabulous human being who worked as our Morning Man until June of 1985. I'm in touch with him to this day. Tim Hoehn was my Assistant PD and a tremendous asset. It was Tim's first fulltime job in radio and he made the most of it.
It was then that WCVR-FM became Vermont's first radio station to be locally programmed, operating 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
Unfortunately, Ed Perlberg broke his leg in a motorcycle accident and ended up heading back to Wisconsin. After that, we had a number of overnight jocks including Bill Scott Hopbell who was on the air as Bill Scott. Tom Tamney was Tom Lambert. Peter Shamin also did overnights as "Just Plain" Peter Shain.
A number of people also served as weekend air talent; Skip Peters, Eric Sakai, Paul Dugan, Lucy Allen, Stefan Hard, "Wild Willie" Stone (Tim Holtby), D.B. Fuller (Debra Tucker), "Caveman" Don Steele (Don MacAddams) and Ted "Coach" Hunt. Wild Willie replaced Tim Hoehn when Tim went to WCNL AM/FM as their Program Director. Don MacAddams became a full time air personality after I left the station.
As I mentioned earlier, Steve Todd left in June of 1985. He went to WQIC in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where he is until this day. I hired Jim Workman (my best friend and Jim Russell on WQIQ) as his replacement to do the morning show. On Valentine's Day 1986, "Big Jim" got married on the air!
Starting out the second time around, we had four solid players on the sales team; Chris Sluicer and Kenny Worthington, who were mentioned on the "WCVR Page" and Sherry Ackerman Ballou and Connie Pritchard. It was a blow to the staff when Chris decided to explore greener pastures at WJJR in Rutland, but it was a move that made sense for him. Ken wrote a lot of very creative production and was the brainchild of the Jake and Elrod commercials for the Trading Post (link to the right). Kenny was the longest continuously tenured employee for Stokes Communications.
Ultimately, NorthCountry 102 was a huge ratings winner. It was not only #1 in its coverage area, but it was the 6th most listened to station in the entire state of Vermont. About 90 stations showed up in the book and the only ones with larger audiences were in the Burlington metro where the bulk of the state's population resided and we had no coverage.
I produced a short sound bite saying, "Thank YOU for making US Number One." Since we controlled a huge portion of the local production in the market, we would spin off each dub sent out with that at the beginning of the tape. I did get feedback. The other stations HATED it.
We were able to displace WSNO as the Radio & Records reporting station. NorthCountry 102 became a Cashbox reporter. We also were finalists for Billboard Magazine's Program Director and Small Market Country Station of the Year in 1984 and achieved additional National notoriety for our promotional efforts.
In November of 1984, we were the first in the nation to hold a radiothon fundraiser for the victims of famine in Ethiopia. This was the brainchild of the station owner. I was responsible for it's on air execution and aired it on WCVR-AM only, raising about $22,000. When the radiothon was announced, the first phone call I took warned me that the money would never reach the famine victims. It would be used by Communists to buy guns and promote unrest. For that we won a "Station of the Month" award for promotion from the National Radio Broadcasters Association. It was pretty cool that next month to look at the Promotions section of Billboard Magazine and see four stations commended for their promotional efforts; WABC New York, WROR Boston, WLS Chicago, and WCVR Randolph. Famine relief or shameless promotion? I'll let you decide.
In 1985, WCVR AM/FM billed over $500,000.
In May of 1986, when I was 29 years old, I left the station to become General Manager of WCNL AM/FM in Newport, NH as well as their Corporate Director of Programming for the Lowe Group of Companies which also included WCOU-AM, WAYU-FM Lewiston, ME and WHIM in Providence, RI.
Sometimes, a handshake isn't worth the paper it wasn't written on.