In the aftermath of the WQIQ disappointment, I really wanted to find another programming opportunity. Just the week before it went off the air, I received a call from Jeff Asche, who was the PD at WRCP-AM and WSNI-FM in Philadelphia, offering me a part time position on "Sunny", the lite rock FM. It wasn't really my cup of tea, so I politely declined, explaining that the WQIQ gig was really a 70-hour per week endeavor. I did tell him that if he ever had an opening on the Country music AM station to let me know. He was surprised at this. I guess he didn't perceive me as the country music "type".
Unfortunately, a week later the "Sunny" position had been filled. Jeff told me I would be on his list for the next opening. Alex DeMers at WIOQ and Tom Bigby at WIFI told me they would hire me for their next part time opening. The programming opportunities that presented themselves were in Thibodaux, LA, Biloxi, MS and Malone, NY. I was not excited about any of them. It appeared that I might have opportunities in Trenton, NJ and Wilmington, DE, but those were jock gigs only, not program director positions. It was then that I got a call from my old PD, Peter Mokover, who was programming WJAR in Providence, RI. He told me that his Chief Engineer knew a guy from California who was buying a station and was looking for someone "who could produce a big market sound in a small market" and Peter said he thought of me. I asked where it was and he told me, "Randolph, Vermont".
"Randolph, Vermont?", I said, "That's not even a rated market. Thanks, but no!" Then I quickly mulled it over in my mind. I had never been north of New York City and by all accounts had heard that Vermont was beautiful. I thought if it didn't work out that at least it would be a sort of short, paid mini-vacation. So, I reversed myself and told Peter I would talk to this guy.
The new owner, Ed Stokes was thirty-six years old and had been in charge of the now-defunct Public Broadcasting Department in the State of California. His partner was his wife, Muffy. I went up to Vermont, stayed three days there, enjoyed myself and decided to take the job. I figured that I'd stay only for six months if I didn't like it. That six months became two years.
WCVR-AM 1320 was a 1,000 watt daytimer with a pre-sunrise authorization of 215 watts. Even though Ed said there were 30,000 people in the coverage area, there was really only half of that. The station had been in receivership when Ed bought it. Billings for the previous 12 months were about $77,000 and the product was reflective. I started in mid-November of 1980 and went back for my wife, Debbie, in Pennsylvania. We rolled into Vermont on December 8, 1980 (the day John Lennon was shot) and spent our first night sleeping on the floor at the radio station.
Ed had hired a News Director, Reed Upton, even though he had told me the decision would be up to me. It was a great hire and Reed and I became fast friends. While I wasn't there yet, it's my understanding that Reed had interviewed for the position wearing a jacket and tie, and then showed up for his first day at work wearing a tee shirt that said, "Question Authority". We put in Vermont's second radio station satellite dish in early 1981 to receive our World and National news from the Associated Radio Press network.
I hired one of Reed's associates (George Clissold) from a previous radio station and Debbie was to be on the air as a part time jock. She had college radio experience and was working in the billing department at WIFI 92 in Philadelphia at the time of the move. Ed liked Debbie on the air so much, that he let me make her full time. With a format change and revamped on-air lineup, the new sales staff was able to generate $181,000 in our first year (1981). That was more than the station had ever billed in its history. We were trending up both in ratings (from a Weekly 12+ Cume of 6,600 to 10,000) and in sales. In December of 1981, we billed $21,000. The future looked bright!
The on-air lineup looked like this:
6am - 10am: Greg Price (me)
10am - 2pm: Ann Peters (Debbie Price, my wife)
2pm - 6pm: Ric Harris (George Clissold)
Reed Upton was our News Director and Dick Lacaillade did Sports.
I'm including airchecks from the "Old WCVR" to provide contrast.
The number of people who came and went on the sales and office support side of WCVR was prodigious. But, there were three essential hires that occurred in sales at that time and they were Chris Sluicer, Kenny Worthington, and Andrea Whitcomb. Chris was fresh out of college and a buttoned-up sales professional type. Kenny was a large personality who told jokes and was more old-school in his approach. Andrea was an affable pro.
One day while Debbie was doing her shift, she came to me and told me that the station had just gone off the air and she wasn't able to get it back up using standard procedures. The owner and I both looked ourselves. We had the same issue, so I called our contract engineer, Howie Ginsberg and told him that we were down. The odd thing was that there was no antenna current reading. He couldn't get there for a few more hours, so Debbie and I hopped in the car and went to get lunch together. As I came out of the station lot and looked to my left, I could see the tower on the ground in three separate sections.
I wheeled back into the station and came through the front door and told the owner that I had figured out why we weren't on the air. He was surprised and ran to the back of the building, looked out, and saw what I said was true.
This was in February of 1981. We actually had a tower inspection the day before and passed. But, with wind gusts up to 60 mph that day, we figured the guy wires had been loosened by being tugged during the inspection. As it turned out, one of the guy wires was not embedded in the concrete as it was supposed to be. It was a construction flaw from when the station had been built in 1968.
We were off the air for ten days. Fortunately, we had business interruption insurance. Since we were sold out at the time of the incident, the insurance paid handsomely. We did try to get back on the air during that time before the new tower went up by stringing a long wire from the transmitter to a tree. It did give us a little coverage in Randolph locally. We continued that way for about 20 minutes until a guy stopped by the station to tell us that the tree was on fire.
Reed left the station in Spring of 1981 and took a job in Burlington, VT at WJOY. Ed declined to let me hire a full time replacement. This was painful. Ric Harris (who has come to be known as the "other Rick Harris") left in early 1982 and went to a station on Cape Cod. Ric's replacement was Drew Hastings. Drew was from WKRZ in the Wilkes-Barre, PA market.
During this time, I assisted Ed with preparations for his FCC application for an FM Construction Permit. WCVR-FM would be a 3,000 watt Class A FM station with a tower 1,500 feet above average terrain. It would operate on 102.3 FM and greatly expand our coverage area.
With the new FM station coming, Ed was intrigued with the idea of hiring a broadcast professional to run the stations as his General Manager. He hired Bob Russo, the Sales Manager of WCFR AM/FM, Springfield, VT. After several months, just prior to the FM signing on in October of 1982, I had the good fortune of being offered an opportunity to be reunited with my mentor, RJ Harris, in Milwaukee at WISN as the Promotions Director and Assistant PD.
BUT FIRST, Bob Russo wanted me to come up with 3 format options for the new FM. My three choices were: #1 Oldies-based AC, #2 Country, #3 Oldies. He and Ed decided it would be Country.
Also, before I left, Bob insisted that I come up with an identity for the station and design the country format. I don't remember what the three identity options were, except that when I gave him Option #3, which was NorthCountry 102, I thought his eyes would fall out of his head, he was so excited. I designed the new format, which they didn't follow anyway, but they did use NorthCountry 102. I was gone.
From that experience, I decided to promise myself that I would never give anyone four weeks notice again. I've since reneged on that decision and yes, that was painful, too.
Always take the high road.