Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Monday, June 30, 2014

My America Weekend Finale


Three years ago, my friend Kipper McGee, who I worked with at KTRS/St. Louis and WLS/Chicago, conceived of a new radio show that would be an antidote to the brokered programming that now dominates talk radio on the weekends – personal finance shows, fix-it shows, gardening shows, travel shows, etc.

Some of it’s good, most of it isn’t, but stations put it on because they were getting a check from those hosts, and as long as the check cleared, the shows aired, even when they didn’t get ratings. That’s the opposite of the way radio had worked when Kipper and I got into it, where the people on the air were paid by the radio station, not the other way around.

His idea was to offer stations programming that was compelling and entertaining enough to attract listeners, but still allow affiliates to bring in checks from those how-to shows.

With Kipper’s America Weekend concept, stations would run those sponsors in a two- or three-minute block each quarter-hour in between the longer segments of regular talk radio programming. And he made the show modular, so stations could take as much of the show as they wanted, or break away at any point to carry a baseball game or other sporting event.

So he called me, explained the idea, and asked me to help him figure out how to make it work and be the main host on Saturdays and Sundays. At the time, I was semi-retired, but open to doing the project on a part-time basis.

Because we wouldn’t be live in most markets, we couldn’t take phone calls from listeners, so I knew we’d have to find interesting guests, but booking 2 guests an hour for 3 hours each on Saturday and Sunday meant finding 12 guests every week with interesting things to talk about. That became my biggest challenge, but with the help of a wonderful guest booker named Ann Marie Petitto -- who has spent hours every week tracking down people I wanted to talk to, and often bailing me out when someone dropped out at the last minute – we have brought nearly 700 of them to you.

Kipper also hired two other talented hosts – Turi Ryder and Rob Carson – to fill the three hours of America Weekend that followed me every Saturday and Sunday. While we worked on the programming, Kipper set up the technical side of things, renting a control room at the Clear Channel facility in Milwaukee, where engineer Terry Kegley got us set up to handle the audio from our home studios in St. Louis, Chicago, and Washington DC, and send them to the satellite uplink facility in Denver.

Kipper also hired Samantha Walker and Shannen Oesterreich to run the equipment and push all the buttons, as well as cut up the show into segments that appear as podcasts on this website. I can’t say enough about how much Sam and Shannen have made my life easier by being so good at their jobs. I wish them well as their careers continue.

Meanwhile, our syndicator, Danno Wolkoff at Envision Networks, had people in Cleveland getting the word out to the industry, lining up affiliates, and selling commercial time, and a woman named Erica Everling at Guest Services in New York lined up some people, too.

In the end, I’ve been very proud of the shows we have done for you over the last 15 months. I have regularly discussed topics from a different viewpoint than the one that makes up most shows in the politics-obsessed world of right-wing talk radio. My America Weekend show has been out front on climate change science, marriage equality, income inequality, privacy issues, the NFL concussion crisis, corruption, corporate malfeasance, and green technology. We've had guests from the rock and roll hall of fame, TV shows, movies, books, magazines, newspapers, and websites. I have talked to reporters, inventors, authors, musicians, bloggers -- and some people who are just plain weird.

Not to mention all those Knuckleheads In The News.

But the one thing Kipper and I couldn't do was change the paradigm of weekend talk radio around the country. While we grew from our original two affiliates to about 30 from Alaska to Mississippi, we kept running into a brick wall with stations that only cared about putting on programming that gave them a check that cleared, even if it hurt their ratings. I even had a top executive from one of the major radio groups tell me that, although he loved the product we were putting on the air, he’d never be able to convince his sales managers to abandon the way they've been doing weekends for the last decade.

And so, I did my last America Weekend show yesterday. I’m returning to semi-retirement, which includes my regular Friday afternoon show at The Big 550 KTRS in St. Louis, where I also fill in for some of the other hosts when they go on vacation. I’ll continue to write and rant on this website -- where you can still find thousands of my podcasts -- and you can follow me on Twitter @PaulHarrisShow.

To close, my thanks to you for listening, to the crew that helped me put this show on the air every Saturday and Sunday, to all the guests who have joined me, and to the affiliates that were willing to try something different and carry America Weekend. Also, thanks to my wife, who works a real job Monday thru Friday but still had to deal with me getting up early on Saturdays and Sundays to do this show.

Lastly, thanks to Kipper McGee, the man behind it all, for his continuing belief in me, and for the opportunity to try something new. I hope you will continue to develop new ideas and try to make better radio -– if the industry will let you.