A Long Strange Trip


The Conclave in Minneapolis: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The initial concept was mind-boggling by itself. There I was, on my way to the Midwest, a section of the country designated as a disaster area because of the worst flooding in history. I’m not particularly enamored with Minnesota under the best circumstances and the weather forecast was calling for more rain. And the only non-stop flight from Los Angeles was on Northworst Airlines.

I was doomed from the start.

But tickets had been purchased, meetings planned, rooms guaranteed and fights picked, so I had no choice.

When I arrived, the hotel was filled with nervous energy. Everyone was expecting fireworks at the first meeting Thursday night when representatives from all the trades debated their validity on the Charts Panel. Unfortunately, there were no knockouts. Billboard’s Michael Ellis chickened out and sent Kevin McCabe in his place. Kevin blamed any Billboard problems on BDS and any BDS problems on Billboard and was the unanimous winner of the “We’re Perfect Because We Say So” award. His attitude and demeanor exemplified Billboard’s recent adaptation of a “Holier Than Thou” posture. And the gum chewing was a nice touch.

Joel Denver wouldn’t fight…and who could blame him? He did bring another excuse to the table. Joel first stated that he granted reporting status solely on ratings. Since everyone knew that was bullshit, Joel quickly switched tactics and stated that reporting status was determined by a committee. A committee? What committee? Does R&R bus in a group of radio professionals every month to cast secret ballots on which radio stations will make it? Give me a break. The “old boys” just go to the back room, crack open a bottle and decide who they’ll beat on next.

Joel did an admirable job selling the company line on their vaporware. With a straight face, he predicted R&R’s monitor system would be up and running this fall in three markets. Joel was the only contestant in the “Beat A Dead Horse” category, but he would have won going away, even with the competition.

Hitmakers’ Barry Fiedel was eloquent as usual. Barry has such a command of the English language that it takes you a while to realize he isn’t really saying anything. Barry exemplifies his “Conference Calls.” The idea sounds good at first, but the end result produces nothing but hype.

The “Will Rogers Award” went to Dave Sholin for the 10th straight year. As soon as he leaves Gavin and joins The Network Forty, he’ll go smiling into the Hall of Fame.

I was confused. In this group, that was to be expected. Neither Billboard nor R&R could explain how they decide who reports in what formats and why. After their feeble attempts, I was still confused. So was the room. Evidently Billboard is still confused as well. They added 10 stations into their Mainstream Format right after Kevin defended their exclusion in Minneapolis. Is it just me or does this sound suspiciously like R&R’s many flip-flops? Could Joel Denver and Michael Ellis be the same person in different disguises? Think about it. Has anyone ever seen Joel and Michael in the same room at the same time?

After the meeting, all of the participants sponged free drinks at The Network Forty suite and vocalized what they wished they had said. No one was listening.

Friday brought on more meetings, more discussions and gambling at the nearby Indian reservation. Sholin lost $40 and cried all the way back to the hotel. Wayne Coy’s favorite number is 14. Tom Barsanti kept searching for the guy wearing feathers from the Village People and Joe Ianello still doesn’t understand why he couldn’t hit on 20.

A luncheon concert by Lisa Keith was well received as were the opening remarks by Rick Stone and the newly appointed Perspective VP Promotions Randy Spendlove. Nighttime found half the attendees avoiding the bowling tournament (the other half brought their own balls). The best-attended dinner was Steve Leavitt’s reserved table at one of Minneapolis’ finest restaurants, T.G.I. Fridays.

KWIN’s Bob Lewis hosted a simulated music meeting featuring input from both radio and record people. Although many points were made, the most notable was Bob’s remark that “this is why we don’t take record calls.” The reason? The session lasted over two-and-a-half hours.

Saturday morning’s Top 40 Format Breakfast was packed with people and questions. A funny thing happened at this meeting. We actually heard some answers. WKSE Program Director Brian Burns gave an effective explanation of how to conduct aircheck sessions; KDWB PD Marke Bolke told us how to successfully plan and execute promotions and WNVZ’s Wayne Coy went through the audience, giving jocks the opportunity to impress the programmers with their ability to do a break using what they had in their pockets. I think two of the guys were hired.

The least-attended meeting was “Time Management.” Most people couldn’t find the time to go.

Saturday afternoon, Dave Sholin and Joel Denver did a radio show on KDWB-FM. Dave did it for kicks. Joel did it because it was the largest market he ever worked in.

Most gratifying was an independent survey commissioned by The Network Forty. Mainstream radio people attending the Conclave were asked by an independent contractor, “What is your favorite trade magazine?” Respondents were allowed to choose more than one, which explains the percentages, but we sure liked who finished first:

The Network Forty                  74%

Gavin                                      51%

R&R                                        37%

Hitmakers                                13%

Billboard/Monitor                   08%

Hits                                         03%

Absent from the Conclave was the usual hype present at most other conventions. The good part was that most of the panels were well attended and well presented. The down side? A lot of heavy radio programmers didn’t show. But is that really bad? Most people at the Conclave are on their way up. They’re anxious to learn…willing to be trained. They aren’t afraid to ask questions. Quality time is actually possible. Friendships made in the congenial atmosphere will last. And many of those at tiny stations today will be in the majors tomorrow.

The bottom line? This was my first Conclave. It won’t be my last.

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