This is going to be a tough one.
I lost a mentor and friend yesterday with the death of Paul Drew. His passing has left me feeling mortal, melancholy and full of memories.
I first met Paul in the early ‘70s. I was programming KRIZ in Phoenix at the time and had accepted Buzz Bennet’s offer to put Y100 in Miami on the air. I had already packed my bags and the moving company was due to pick up my furniture in three days when Paul called. He asked that I fly to Los Angeles to talk with him about programming WRKO in Boston. For those who weren’t in radio at the time, it’s difficult to describe what it felt like to get a phone call from Paul Drew. It was every PD’s dream to program one of the powerful RKO stations. It was like hitting the lottery. I was no different. I explained my dilemma to him and he agreed to fly me out the next day.
I met him at KHJ. That was another chest-tightening moment. Here I was, a young boy not long out of a small town in Mississippi meeting one of the most famous programmers in the business at one of the most famous stations in history. Hollywood couldn’t have written that script. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that were running through me.
I was escorted into the program director’s office (KHJ was without a programmer at the time and Paul was acting as PD until he found someone) and told to wait. Five minutes later a short, bald gentleman wearing an American flag in the lapel of his suit walked in. I assumed it was the sales manager and didn’t get up.
“Hello, I’m Paul Drew,” the short man said.
Somehow, I managed to stand and shake his hand.
As we only had a couple of hours, we left immediately and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. He was peppering me with questions the entire time. Truthfully, I didn’t have any good answers. I wasn’t expecting such a detailed interview and the explanations of my programming philosophy rang shallow, hollow and self-serving. I felt out of my league.
As the meal drew to a close, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I used the cover to call my wife back in Phoenix. I told her the trip was fun, it was great to see KHJ, but there was no way in hell this guy was going to hire me. Other than the fact that I thought I was fumbling the interview, I also had hair down to my waist. The comparisons between us weren’t complimentary. There was no way I would fit into his plans. I returned to the table, resolute and relaxed, glad I had Y100 to fall back on.
When we returned to KHJ, we talked some more in his office while I waited on the cab to take me to the airport. At one point, an uncomfortable silence filled the small room with tension as thick as soup. I didn’t know what to say and he seemed not to know either. He stared right through me for several long seconds, then stood and held out his hand. I did the same. The interview was over and I was headed back to Phoenix. I actually felt relieved.
Then he said the words that changed my life. “I would like to hire you to be the program director of WRKO in Boston,” he said. “If you would like to work for me.”
There began an odyssey that colored the fabric of my life.
Working with Paul Drew wasn’t always the most pleasant of tasks. But it wasn’t without rewards. His tenacious pursuit of excellence drove all of us who were in his army to achieve success unparalleled in radio history. With the RKO chain dominant in markets across the country, we ruled the business. At the height of our success, a record couldn’t make it in the top ten unless the chain was playing it.
At the risk of sounding egomaniacal (something I’ve never been accused of), you really couldn’t appreciate Paul Drew unless you worked for him as a program director. The special group that Paul nurtured, tutored and drove relentlessly is an elite club with a bond that exists past space and time. As disparate a group that ever was, we existed in a special world that few attained or understood. We hated him and loved him, but strove to please him in ways that made us better…even if we didn’t know it at the time. Through the ups and downs, there was an immense amount of respect that never wavered, whether we were being praised or penalized. Paul held us all to higher standards, thereby making each of us better than we dreamed we could be.
Paul didn’t make me who I am today, but he molded me into the person I became.
There were two kinds of programmers in those days: Those who worked for Drew and those who wished they did.
I was one of the lucky ones.