I’m not quite sure how to feel this morning—angry, sad, disgusted or worried—with the news in the Oakland Press that longtime Detroit radio legend Tom Ryan was fired yesterday after his show by WOMC-FM after 25 years at the station. Ironically, he began his career as an intern for his morning co-hort Dick Purtan some 42 years ago at the iconic “Keener 13,” WKNR-AM 1310. Last year, ‘OMC also jettisoned another Detroit radio “classic”—Tom Force. More recently, WNIC parted ways with 30-year midday veteran Gene Maxwell.
Anyone who knows me knows of my love of traditional radio borne of a childhood listening to AM radio personalities in the early 1970s. These giants of the airwaves also played the hits, but that was just a bonus (if not, at times, a distraction). We listened to hear our heroes talk up a song intro or banter with a listener on the air. It was larger than life, magic. Today, like the dodo bird, that ethereal “theater of the mind” is moving towards extinction, and for what? Better margins?
Across the country, sales-focused managers making programming decisions have always been a recipe for disaster. The quest for larger profits, in turn, has led to consolidation, and the misguided “vanilla-izing” of local radio. Where once radio was filled with on-air “Superstars” with a true connection to their respective markets, now we have “cost-effective” card readers who play songs from ever-shrinking, over-researched music playlists. Is it any wonder the next generation of radio listener continues to leave in droves for satellite receivers and MP3 players?
I would suggest today’s radio decision makers be required to take a few courses in radio history for proper perspective. Live, local “Personalities” in all dayparts—not just morning drive—are a vital ratings resource that should be cherished, not discarded. What should be thrown away are the playbooks from which these suits and their corporate consultants continue to operate from. It is time to go back to basics or risk irreparably ruining this medium.