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Monday, December 06, 2010

Classic Rock Still Rocks

One of the great successes of my radio career was the 5+ years I spent as the morning man on WCXR/Washington, one of the first major-market classic rock stations. The format had been launched in 1985 at WMMQ/Lansing by consultant Fred Jacobs, who brought it to DC in January, 1986 (exactly one day before the Challenger exploded).

The station was an almost-instant ratings success except in morning drive, where it had trouble gaining a foothold in a heavily-competitive daypart against competitors like Greaseman, Donnie Simpson, and Don & Mike. Meanwhile, I was floundering at WIOQ/Philadelphia, a station that was going through a major identity crisis and had clamped down on me just a few weeks after I'd arrived, forcing me to tone down the personality and content I'd succeeded with elsewhere, in favor of a stripped-down more-music approach. I was miserable.

Having met Fred the year before in New York, I knew he liked what I did, so I called him, but he was out. He called me back later that day and said his secretary had given him one of those pink "While You Were Out" message slips with my name and phone number and the one word message "HELP!" written on it. I explained my dilemma and asked if he knew of any stations that need a real morning show, and fast.

As it turned out, he had an opportunity for us to help each other and arranged for me to take the train down to DC (actually, Alexndria, Virginia) to meet WCXR's General Manager and Program Director, Bill Sherard and Doug Gondek. When I hit it off with them, and they assured me they wanted more than just a time-and-temperature-intro-the-songs host, the legal work began to disentangle me from my WIOQ contract. Six weeks later, I made my debut on WCXR.

The next half-decade was a remarkable one for me, the radio station, and the classic rock format, as we grew together to unbelievable heights (at one point, I had a crew of 10 working on my show). I left in 1992 when another station seduced me away with a lot more money and a new opportunity. WCXR's ratings suffered for awhile until it was eventually sold to another company which switched the format to smooth jazz. Ironically, the station has recently returned to classic rock and is trying to recreate some of our earlier magic, with mixed success.

However, classic rock is still thriving -- some 800 radio stations now play some version of the format that Fred created, and he's still helping guide them. Here's his explanation of why it still works.