It’s Time for This Broadcaster to Sign Off
My first day at WBCK was on my 31st birthday. A guy named Bill Ashford hired me. I’d been doing news for a year on WELL-FM in Marshall. He said they wanted a woman, but when that fell through, they decided to give me the job, because he didn’t have time to mess with it. “We’re involved in a big project right now,” Ashford told me. “We’re going to flip the format on Magic 95 to Top 40 B-95, and I just need you to hit the ground running on WBCK.”
Ashford, a witty and seasoned radio vagabond, had dragged his family from town to town like most people in radio. I loved radio, but not that “vagabond” part. I hoped that working for a community-based information station like WBCK might allow me to work a few years in the same spot.
What a birthday that was on September 23rd, 1989. That day, I realized that it was actually possible for somebody to find their dream job. I couldn’t believe my great fortune to be working for a great station like WBCK, alongside great broadcasters like Dave Eddy and Tom McHale. And it didn’t take long to realize what a great and loyal listening audience I inherited.
Ashford told me, “Just play the songs, read the news, sports and weather, and call up people and do an interview a couple of times an hour. This talk radio format is about to take off, and it’s time to start moving in that direction.” I loved it. I came in at 9 am, hit the airwaves from 10 to 3. I had a full-time, 9 to 5 job in radio, working for a great station in a great community. I realized the scope of it right away. I was hosting “Ad Radio” and a man called up to say he desperately needed tickets to the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway. He’d promised to take his grandson, but the tickets were lost. A few minutes later, State Rep. Don Gilmer called. He’d been listening and was able to pull a couple of strings and get the tickets for the guy. That’s when I realized that WBCK was more than playing the songs and reading the weather.
In 1989, the WBCK Studio had no windows. It had wall-to-wall racks of songs on cart tapes, which were similar to the old 8-track tapes. We played a dozen songs an hour or more. There were no computers. The newswire printer was perpetually ticking away in the newsroom. We had an announcer on duty 24/7. If there was breaking news, the NBC News alert box went off in the studio, and we went on the air with it. We were there for every weather situation.
A couple of years later, and WBCK added the Rush Limbaugh Show, and shifted to the talk format. I soon had Program Director and Operations Manager duties added. In 1996 the government de-regulated the industry and eliminated caps on the number of stations a company could own and we found ourselves owned by Clear Channel, the largest radio broadcaster. In those days, Clear Channel was a great company. They gave local stations the equipment and people necessary and as long as ratings and sales were ok, they never interfered with local stations.
Just when things are going great, everything changes. 2008 brought two big changes. Cumulus Broadcasting bought the Battle Creek stations, and in those days they were not a good company. (They’re better now) They started cutting staff, paid terrible wages, forced horrible corporate programs like “Geraldo Rivera” on stations, and rarely spent a dime on equipment.
The other big change in 2008 was the iPhone coming on the market. Be careful what you wish for. In 2008, I had a Palm Pilot in a holster on one hip, and a Nextel i90 clipped to my belt on the other hip. I looked like some ridiculous nerd-gunslinger, and said many times, why can’t they invent one thing to do all of this. Well, they did, and that’s completely changed everything in our world, including radio and all media.
Townsquare Media bought the Battle Creek stations a few years ago and rescued us from Cumulus. They are truly committed to doing local radio and are pretty good people. But radio these days means a lot more than just radio. It’s multi-media now, (thanks iPhone). We’re on the air, on the internet, on social media, writing for the internet, taking pictures for the internet, answering 200-300 e-mails and texts every day, doing Zoom meetings constantly, and still have to do all of those radio things we used to do. And between all of those other media sources competing for advertising dollars and the loss of revenue during the pandemic, it’s become just about impossible for stations to find a way to adequately staff for all of the things they have to do. And for me, the job has become all-consuming and not very healthy.
In 2008, we had more than 50 people working at 390 Golden Avenue. But with cuts, and jobs being consolidated and outsourced to other markets, we’re down to just 5 people. It’s pretty much true of all media these days. Battle Creek’s TV station has been gone for years. How many people used to work at the Battle Creek Enquirer? Here at WBCK, we had an estate sale and the building is up for sale. The station will be moving any day. Hopefully, they’ll finish a satellite studio in Downtown Battle Creek soon. Townsquare has rented space in the Battle Creek Tower.
You know, there are some nasty people on the far-left and far-right these days. We are such a polarized society right now, and we’re rapidly losing civility. I’ve been wondering why I would want to be sitting in the middle of it every day. And we’re getting to the point where people no longer seem to value or understand the importance of freedom of speech. Former talk show host Neal Boortz used to say, “You were not born with any right not to be offended, and I’m here to recognize that you that you don’t have that right.” Sadly, a lot of Americans don’t see it that way. It feels like all reason has been abandoned and I’m tired of worrying every day that I’ll make a mistake, say the wrong thing, and be crucified by the cancel culture. Believe me, none of us in media get paid enough for that.
So, after thinking about it for quite a while, it’s time for me to step aside and see what else is out there. Lacy and Brad will still be here, and WBCK will soon be announcing another member of the morning team, and it’s someone you know and I believe it’s going to still be the local station you know and love.
I’ve had the great fortune to work with hundreds of great people at WBCK over my 32 years. I’ve thought of many of you these past few weeks.
I won’t miss all the e-mails, corporate reports, zoom meetings, and social media. I won’t miss getting up at 3:30 am and being on 24-hour call. But I will miss you. Thanks for letting me be part of your day for these many years. It has truly been my privilege to serve you.
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