RIP Paul Drew

5/17/2013

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.”

As if.

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.

Trick Or Treat

10/29/1999

It had been a hellish week.  No move I made seemed to have been the right one.  I was mentally and physically bankrupt.  My psychological credit cards were maxed out.  That’s life.  Sometimes you eat the bear…other times the bear eats you.  Tonight, I felt chewed.

I pulled into my driveway about 30 minutes before dusk.  That’s when it hit me.  Tonight was Halloween.  I let out a tired groan.  All I wanted was to have a California night… a bottle of cold white wine and a two hour jacuzzi.  I checked my watch.  If I hurried, I could actually get wet and half toasted before the first of the goblins rang my door whining, “Trick or treat.”

It didn’t take long to make it to the tub.  And since I was on a tight schedule, I skipped right past the wine and went straight for the Jack Daniels.  No need for a pistol when I had a cannon.

I felt the warm, wet bubbles wash over my shoulders and took down the liquid stress reliever in one shot.  That made everything much better.  I ducked my head under the water and decided to double-fortify.  I had another shot.

I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.  Just five minutes of relaxation.  That’s all I needed.

I awoke with a start, the incessant ringing of the doorbell in my ears.  It was dark.  The full moon was rising over the Hollywood Hills, dripping crimson as if decked out especially for Halloween.

“Damn it,” I muttered, “I could have drowned.”

I made it to the front door in time to find two ghoulish  figures decked out in their finest costumes.  The little boy, no older than five or six, was a miniature Darth Vader.  Beside him was a tiny witch.  Brother and sister, I assumed.

“Trick or treat,” they cried in unison.

I reach for the bag of candy I had purchased earlier and put on my happiest face.  “Here’s some treats for you.”

Darth looked askance at my meager offering.  “What’s this bullshit?” he asked.

“What’s the matter with you?”  I was dumbfounded.  “Neither of you can be more than six years old and you’re using that kind of language.”

The little girl gave me a wicked grin.  “You’re wrong, Gerry.  We’re timeless.”

She waved her wand and suddenly everything turned black.  Just as suddenly, I found myself in a dark dungeon, lit only by torches stuck in the rock walls.

A huge, hideous crone, dragging one leg in a slow shuffle, approached me.  A large, crooked beak hung in the middle of her face.  Warts covered her cheeks.  Saliva dripped from a slash that passed for her mouth.  Her eyes flashed fire.

“Happy Halloween,” she muttered.

The stench from her breath washed across my face and I almost puked.

“Who are you?”  I stammered.

She showed me her yellow, pointed teeth.  “The Wicked Witch of the West.”

I was doomed.

“You’re here with your friends to pay for your sins.”

I looked around.  Burt Baumgartner was changing the tires on an 18-wheeler.

“What’s his crime?”  I asked.

“Having too many cars.”

There were more.  Richard Palmese was eating pounds of unleavened bread because he dropped out of the priesthood.  Brenda Romano was being kept apart from Chris Lopes.  John Boulos and Phil Costello were being forced to grow hair.

“They’ve all been bad and now they’re paying for their sins,” The witch cackled.

I saw Andrea Ganis wearing rags.  “Why is she dressed like that?”  I questioned.

“She’s been way too fashionable,” the witch replied.

Garnett March was doing the bat spin, Michael Plen was being forced to work an easy record, Dale Connone was shining shoes and Ron Geslin was only allowed to answer questions with one sentence.

“This is Hell!”  I cried.

“Wait until you see what’s in store for you,” the witch said in a menacing tone.

I shivered with dread.

“Bring her out!” the witch shouted.  Standing before me her head bowed was Cindy Crawford.  She was dressed in a sheer gown that barely concealed her body.

“Take her to the bedroom and do with her as you wish,” the witch said.

I was astounded.  “That’s my punishment?”

“No, fool,”  the witch snarled, “it’s hers.”

I awoke in the jacuzzi, my nose barely above the water.  I took a deep breath.  It had all been a dream.  Then I heard the doorbell.

“No way,” I muttered.  “They can set my house on fire before I open the door.”

Then I thought about the dream and Cindy Crawford.

“Hold on,” I shouted. “I’m coming.”

Sorry, Dawg, It’s A No

2/14/2007

I watched the Grammy Awards with, as usual, anticipation and trepidation. It’s Music’s big night and along with the highs, you can always expect the lows. It could be a rapper saying “thank you” with uncensored street slang or a diva unable to perform (and making a superstar out of her replacement in the process), but whatever, the Grammy Awards can be as unpredictable as a new PD.

 

This year, the Grammy Awards stooped to a new low.

 

How can an institution that honors past achievements in music hold open auditions during a telecast for some “hopeful” to get to sing with Justin Timberlake? Hopeless is more like it. The audience was inundated with promos to stay tuned for the “winner” of the competition. Other than the winners’ family and friends, who cared? Instead of more opportunities for viewers to hear or see “real” artists, we were hyped with the Grammy’s own version of “American Idol.”

 

Sorry, dawg, it was a little pitchy.

 

What kind of mentality orders more shots of three unknowns and less time for Mary J. Blige to thank her supporters? By the way, the Grammy’s should be ashamed for cutting any artist short on their “thank you’s.” Nobody would be watching this program without the artists. So if Mary J. wants to thank her 22nd cousin twice removed on her mother’s side, let her. But the Grammy’s chose to cut this superstar off so we could find out who to vote for in this ridiculous contest. The producers were more interested in generating ratings (didn’t happen) than honoring music.

 

Grammy, you should be ashamed.

 

I guess it’s just a reflection of the record business in general. It’s been style over substance for quite a while. And record company executives seem quite content to continue to do business as usual while record sales plummet to all time lows. These are the same executives who were convinced that traditional sales would return once pirating was deemed illegal.

 

Nice try.

 

The record business is too busy looking for alternative ways of presenting artists instead of concentrating on the music. A&R now seems to stand for “Always Wrong (with an R).” Artist development does not exist in the halls of very many companies. Why?

 

Simple answer: Record executives aren’t paid to find artists. They are paid to meet quarterly expectations. That’s easier done by repackaging The Beatles than by spending time and money developing a new artist. Why should a record company president look past his own future?

 

The true giants developed the record business because they owned the companies. They were less interested in short term profits than long term growth. That’s not the case today.

 

Thank God for Clive.

 

He’s the first to take advantage of new platforms while continuing to make sure the music is most important. That might take time, but it brings success. Isn’t it interesting that the oldest mogul in the business is the one who is looking far into the future? When he calls it quits, the record business is in big trouble.

 

May you live forever, Clive. And may the last voice you hear be mine.

Time Passages

12/26/2006

 

The passing of time brings the passing of people. It is no great secret that the older you get, the more people you know who die. It’s a fact of life…and death. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you get smarter, I’m living testimonial to that truth, but it does mean that your circle of knowledge widens. Put simply, you know more people, which means you know more people who die.

 

The death of someone you know can be tragic, life changing, terribly sad or a milestone, something which marks a particular phase of your life. The latter, to me, was the death of James Brown.

 

I’ve known a lot of people who have died…famous people…infamous people…and people who were important to me in one way or another. Because I have a forum, I’ve written about some of those deaths and shared the lives of those who passed on. But this Christmas marked a particular milestone.

 

James Brown, the self-proclaimed hardest working man in show business, Mr. “Please Please” himself, has passed on to the great theatre in the sky. His death touched me deeply.

 

As a white kid growing up in Mississippi, it wasn’t fashionable to like “R&B” music. If you didn’t like country music, by God, you just might be a communist. And if one showed a delight in Black music (of course, it wasn’t referred to as Black music in those days and times), you were a conspirator or a rebel. I guess I proved to be many of those things.

 

The growth, acceptance and wider marketability of the music of James Brown marked my growth as a person and solidified many of my beliefs in the process. Of course, I just thought it was the music.

 

Late at night, long after my family went to sleep, I used to turn on my radio under the covers and tune in exotic locations to hear music our local radio station would never play. I listened to Big John R on WLAC in Tennessee and Wolfman Jack skipping in from Mexico. Besides selling baby chicks and crosses “blessed by the Saints of Jerusalem,” these famous Dee Jays pumped in the latest from artists like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Lee Dorsey, Little Richard, and, of course, James Brown. I was forever, wonderfully corrupted.

 

Music became the beat to which my life danced.

 

In 1963, I bought “Live At The Apollo” and my education continued. One year later, I attended my first concert. It wasn’t the Beatles (that would be my 2nd), but it was James Brown and the Famous Flames. I had no idea when I bought the tickets that I would be one of only five white people there. The concert at Jackson State University preceded the demonstrations on the campus by a year, but that evening, there was no racial tension…only R&B harmony as we all, black and white alike, were mesmerized by the music, the dancing and the antics of the Godfather of Soul.

 

Did the influence of James Brown lead me down the path that became my life? Without the influence of his music, would I have participated in the demonstrations a year later at Jackson State and in the process stand on the opposite side of the segregation question from many of my friends? Would I have become the flash point for the KKK when they burned a cross in front of the radio station where I was working as a Dee Jay because I played too much “black” music? Would I have made my mark in radio by the “crossing over” of many R&B records that my competition wouldn’t play?

 

I don’t know. It’s hard to argue that James Brown’s influence wasn’t great. I have no idea if it was the key, but it definitely was part of the pattern of the fabric of my life.

 

Years later, when I was programming in San Francisco, James Brown came to town. I took many of the people working at KFRC to see him live. Afterwards we went backstage. We all tried to connect with James, but he only had eyes for my assistant, JJ. For the next several months, James Brown was in the studios at KFRC as much as I was. He did all he could to convince JJ to marry him…he even asked for my intervention…but he couldn’t pull it off.

 

During those conversations about love and life, I watched my life come full circle as the man who had influenced me so much as I was growing up was now seeking my help. Unfortunately for James, he did more for me than I for him.

 

Perhaps that is the moral of James Brown’s life. He did more for us than we did for him, whether it was a listener or one of the many performers who claim James as an influence. And I’m sure James will continue to influence, both here and in the hereafter.

 

No doubt, Heaven just got a little funkier. I’m sure James Brown’s cape was waiting for him.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2006

1/1/2006

 

2006 was a great year for the music business and an okay year for the record business. It is interesting how an industry that exists on such an exciting and hot product can be luke warm in its approach and down right chilly in the results.

 

 

Record companies are still struggling to grasp the future of digital downloads, while all signs are pointing to diminishing hard copy sales, fast approaching extinction. Brick and mortar record stores are becoming a thing of the past. Soon, they will be as difficult to find as a 45. Remember those?

 

Downloads rose 65% over last year. Although that is down from a 150% increase in 2005, there isn’t a business model in the world that would predict an increase of such drastic proportions. It’s growth other industries can only dream of.

 

Nielsen SoundScan tracks music purchases in the US exceeding 1 billion units for the second year in a row. 1.2 billion units were sold in 2006. That includes albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks. This reflects a 19% increase over the previous year.

  

A telling item in this multitude of figures is Album Sales. Albums, and this includes digital downloads, fell nearly 5% from a year ago. This, while individual downloads increased 40%. It proves that the audience remains unsatisfied with the quality of most albums. Record buyers still find their favorite songs, they just don’t find as many on individual albums.

 

It seems like such a simple thing: make better records. If it were just that easy.

 

Breaking records is much more difficult than in the past. With the restrictions on promotion now in place at all major labels, throwing product at the wall to see which will stick just doesn’t work any longer. Radio programmers are increasingly reluctant (if allowed) to go out on a limb and play new music. It’s a statement of fact that more new music is broken on the Internet than on radio.

 

 

However, there is a light, if only a vague one, on the horizon. Radio companies are cutting back (yet again) on expenses of individual stations. The biggest cutback this year will occur in the line item entitled: Call Out Research. The bane of both industries, call out research is going to be diminished significantly at most major chains. Some stations won’t do it at all for new music, only for oldies.

 

With the changing landscape comes the search for more information to provide a perfect picture for songs that should be programmed. That is why Music Biz is taking significant steps to better reflect the environment. Reporting industry news and gossip, although fun and entertaining, doesn’t really get the job done. What programmers want to know is, “Which records should I be playing.” What record company executives want to know is, “How do I get my message to programmers.” Music Biz will endeavor to do both.

 

With strategic partners unlike any other source, Music Biz will begin delivering a daily informational piece that covers sales, Internet activity, music in alternative medias (movies, TV shows, etc.), iTune action, BDS actual plays, uTube and myspace hits and downloads, plus a variety of other pieces of information to provide programmers with instant information that will help make decisions more informed, if not easier.

 

We welcome your feedback as we try to improve our resources to make Music Biz your source for information vital to the success of our industries.

Another Opening, Another Show

May 6, 2003

 

 

The first few days of MusicBiz are now under out belt and we’re excited. How different from most in the music industry.

 

Those of us working with the P/C Alliance have such a wonderful canvas on which to write the next phase of our professional lives. Our offices are located in the post production facility owned by our partners Mike Post, Steven Bochco, Steven Cannell and Dick Wolfe. We get to watch episodes of “NYPD Blue”, “Dragnet”, “The Practice” and more as they’re put together. Watch closely and you’ll see us in the background on the different episodes. We’ve had lots of practice going to showcases, so we naturally look good in a crowd! We even got to see all the parts of “Charlie’s Angels II” that didn’t make it on the final reel.

 

Most of all, we are involved in a part of the entertainment industry where a premium is on talent. Movies and television are hard work. The hours are long. But the faces on every member of the production and executive unit are full of confidence and excitement.

 

This business is still fun!

 

Economic concerns plague all of us. However, instead of long faces and tales of doom and gloom, I hear producers and production managers arguing for more money…demanding extra time to get it right…insisting on a larger budget to make it worthwhile in the end.

 

An unfortunate trend has encompassed the radio and music industries. The talented people in our business are drinking the Kool Aid and seem to be enjoying the taste. Program directors and promotion executives used to fight tooth-and-nail for every dollar, then spend more anyhow. We used to find innovative, creative ways to accomplish our goals in spite of the dire consequences threatened by the “suits.”

 

We’ve become the people we once despised. I understand the complications of today’s business…we’re starting a new company in bleak economic times. I understand that we all most be conscience of the realities of the economy within our own companies and divisions. But I don’t understand how we’ve become part of that debilitating, depressing group. Instead of fighting for our right to party, why are we putting on the long “accountant” faces and speaking of P&L like it was the Holy Grail.

 

Spare me.

 

I didn’t study accounting…didn’t want to be one. It’s important, but it’s boring. I believe in music. It’s necessary and extraordinarily joyful.

 

I believe involvement in music should be invigorating…exciting… exuberant…and most of all, I believe it should be fun. I want to find ways to succeed, I don’t want to look for ways not to fail.

 

So spare me the long faces. Save your new cost cutting measures for the head of finance. Tell me about your favorite new song.

 

Let me tell you about mine. I just heard a recording of a James Taylor cut he’s done for a charity album. It’s a remake of “I Can’t Help It (I’m Still In Love With You).” Find it. Listen to it.

 

It’ll put a huge smile on your face.

 

Then call me and I’ll tell you about this fantastic new idea I have…

The Network™

I was driving home late last night, talking on the cell phone to a redneck friend of mine when I looked up and saw a blinding light in the sky. I was completely freaked out. It isn’t often we Los Angelenos can even see the sky, much less see something in it. After I tipped the Jeep up on two wheels, took out a stand of mailboxes and stalled out in the ditch, I realized I was looking at the moon.

Imagine that. Me. A hopeless romantic fooled by the moonlight.

Continue reading “The Network™”

The Network, Part 2

Week two of the grand experiment called The Network continues. Our phones, faxes and E-mails have been off the hook with comments, running the gamut of emotions.

Some love the new look. Some believe the combination of “all things music and radio” into one easy read was long overdue. Some welcome the change as a part of the continued evolution that has become our business.

Some think we’re fucked in the head.

Continue reading “The Network, Part 2”

The Next Step

To quote my good friend Jerry Garcia, who lives on despite not being with us (was he ever really?), "What a long strange trip it’s been." A decade ago, I first walked through the doors of the Network Magazine Group. My career before then had been made up of a series of programming and managing jobs at radio stations as apart geographically and formatically as KFRC San Francisco and WAPP New York. Who knew the job of running Network 40 would turn out to be one of the most stable in the radio and record industries?

Continue reading “The Next Step”

Bye Bye

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But february made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

It was a subtle change, begun years ago, probably innocently. Some Sr. VP Promotion hired a local promotion manager who gave a great interview, had the drive and the proper work ethic and looked the part. Only one thing was missing. This LPM wasn’t passionate about music. No big deal though, right? One LPM who wasn’t passionate about music made no difference in the big picture. However, this LPM probably worked his way up to a position of prominence and began hiring other LPMs. The last thing this person looked for in a prospective employee was passion for music. He had none and it hadn’t held him back. Why was it needed in others?

Continue reading “Bye Bye”