Top 40


Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

With all due respect to whoever did that song, none of us has a clue.  If anyone did, that person would immediately be declared Queen or King and would be living in Maui.  And I wouldn’t have a thing to write about.

In the past few weeks, a couple of trade magazines have written articles about the future of music and radio.  I thought perhaps I should bring up the subject so the industry as a whole would be aware of it.

The number of Top 40 stations has been in a free-fall comparable to a Value Jet flight.  In the past decade, that number has gone from over 1,000 to just over 300.  Figures don’t lie.  The Top 40 format doesn’t seem to be the darling of the ’90s…at least not so far.  But before we hoist up the white flag and completely abandon ship, maybe we should look inside those numbers for the real story.

Quite simply, a lot of Top 40 radio stations are doing really well.  There are few examples of formats that can generate the numbers and dollars that a successful Mainstream Top 40 station can do.  When done well, and without a splintering from competing formats focusing on a piece of the pie, Top 40 out performs most others.

It is, however, an expensive format to run.  Just like being half-pregnant, one can’t operate a half-assed Mainstream Top 40 station.  You either do it well or run the risk of getting buried.

Unfortunately, some other factors influence the success of Mainstream Top 40.  Advertising agencies and station sales teams are not forcing cume numbers into the mix. Although cume is a consideration in most buys, it isn’t the main consideration.  In the case of Mainstream Top 40 stations, cume should be.  For the future of radio in general, and Mainstream Top 40 in particular, we should all begin to trumpet the glory of using and buying the big cume…especially when we have it.

Quarter-hour numbers are certainly important, but bringing more of the spotlight on those heavy cume numbers and how they can influence advertisers by generating sales is something we all need to concentrate on.

With the extreme examples of music being sampled by the Mainstream audience of today, Top 40 is sure to grow.  Different formats have narrowcasted specific slices of the American pie into portions not big enough to eat.  In the past, songs were capable of jumping across formats because the fences were so low.  Those barriers have been raised much higher.

There was a time when songs zoomed across those barriers like bats flying through a chain-length fence.  AC/DC and Guns ‘N’ Roses could have huge records in Rock and Top 40.  Michael Bolton  could score big Urban, Top 40 and A/C.  The artist formerly and currently known as Prince hit all of them.

What happened?

I don’t know exactly, but it has a lot to do with too many signals, too many stations cutting into the cake, too many programmers finding a niche that would last a second and too many other choices for the radio audience.

The music certainly had something to do with it.  It always opens the doors for new formats.  Radio doesn’t create the music…it takes advantage.  Album Rock was created by musicians in spite of there being no radio outlet.  So radio created a format.  Disco was a child of the same invention…and the Disco format was born.  The latest on the family tree is Alternative.  And there’s another incubating even as you read this.

That’s the great thing about music.  It can’t read.  It doesn’t know about format restrictions and available airplay.  It doesn’t know from promotions and double-bonuses.  It doesn’t know it can’t possibly fit.  Music doesn’t know it is a part of a corporate entity.  It doesn’t know it’s expected to generate a certain percentage of a return for the stockholders.  Nobody ever asks music’s opinion.  Music never graduated from college.  Music didn’t even take the SATs.  Music doesn’t know any of this.

Neither does the audience.  We make a lot of decisions about our audience.  We put names on formats and restrictions on who will like what simply because we know what it is…or at least we believe we have correctly identified it.  The audience doesn’t know.  They only know if they like a song or not.  That’s it.

Music dictates new formats, but we dictate the decay of the old.  Because as soon as we are completely surprised by a musical shift, we suddenly become experts at identifying and copying the original concept.  Then, we beat it to death.

Of course, the audience becomes bored with specific formats after a while, because (with the exception of Top 40) it all begins to sound alike.

In the beginning, Rock was on the cutting edge.  You heard things on Album radio you couldn’t hear anywhere else.  Then we refined the process to include the obligatory Rock ballad to try and cross formats and bring on the really big sales and it all began to run together.  Disco was the same.  In the beginning it was bright, exciting and pumped full of energy…totally off the wall.  Then we dissected the sound…determined the exact number of BPMs that would coordinate with the heart, mixed and remixed until it all began to sound the same.  Alternative was true cutting edge. The very name implied it.  However, as soon as Alternative began to gain mass acceptance, it wasn’t Alternative any more.  Instead of creating something different, record companies began to sign bands that “sounded like” Pearl Jam rather than acts that broke new ground like Pearl Jam.  And now Alternative songs are beginning to sound alarmingly similar.

Which brings us full-circle as Mainstream Top 40 is now the only format with the capability of generating airplay for acts that don’t fit a specific mode.  Today’s audience seems to want to hear Celine Dion, Tracy Chapman, The Fugees, Hootie & The Blowfish, The Philosopher Kings, Garbage, Coolio, The Nixons, Bone Thug-N-Harmony and Oasis in the same break.  Like the music, the audience doesn’t know that maybe these songs don’t fit the same format.

Isn’t it odd that a format that doesn’t target a specific audience is the one that might again provide the perfect forum for Mainstream music?

Just like music, Mainstream Top 40 doesn’t know any better.

Frank’s Way


“Start spreading the news…I’m leaving today…”

In case you haven’t heard, Frank Sinatra died last week.  In the over-hyped world of journalism, the magnitude of print and television footage devoted to Frank’s  passing has gone way past overkill.  In an era where a worthless, ignorant nobody can garner national air time and newsprint just for refusing to pull over on a Los Angeles freeway, the passing of someone as monumental as Frank Sinatra seems somehow trivialized.  That’s too bad.

I find it sad that so many people are mourning Frank’s death.  There should be no tears for Frank.  We shouldn’t be sad that he’s gone on to that big band in the sky.  What we should be doing is celebrating his life.  Frank was “the kind.”

Let’s face it.  Frank wasn’t really a part of our generation.  He belonged to our parents…or grandparents.  At least, that was what we thought.  But Frank had the unique ability to transcend space and time.  The older we got…the better Frank sounded.  My grandfather loved Frank.  My daughter loves Frank.  Who am I to break the chain?

No matter how old you are, Frank Sinatra is cool…always was…always will be.

His music is timeless.  When you bring a date back to your house, dim the lights, light the fire and turn on Sinatra, it means only one thing.  You want to talk?  Turn up the Jazz.  You want to dance?  Try Disco.  You want to close the deal?  Put on Sinatra.

Frank always works

Frank lived a hedonistic lifestyle of the most outrageous order…and later had time to repent, reflect and become an elder statesman.  Who could ask for anything more?

Frank did it his way…asking no quarter and giving less.  It was his way or the highway…in business and pleasure.

Although glorified in The Godfather as part of the Mafia, it wasn’t true.  He had all of the positives without the downside.  Frank wasn’t a part of the mob.  He was the mob’s favorite singer.  How cool was that?

Much has been made of Frank’s friendship with Sammy Davis, Jr.  I don’t know how many specials I saw this weekend detailing the events surrounding Sammy’s plight and Frank’s rescue.  Most highlighted how Frank struck a huge blow for civil rights by refusing to perform at clubs that wouldn’t hire Sammy.

Those stories miss the point.  Frank wasn’t using his formidable pressure to advance the cause of civil rights.  Frank did it because Sammy Davis was his friend.  End of story.  If you liked Frank, you had to like his friends.  If you caused  one of his friends pain, Frank would be your enemy for life.  Frank didn’t care whether Sammy was black or white.  Color had no bearing on his friendship.  That says more about Frank than any civil rights message he could have delivered.

I had the good fortune to meet the man in the perfect setting…Las Vegas.  Frank was performing at Ceasars in the late ‘70s.  In  those days, when Frank headlined, high- rollers from around the world descended on Ceasars.  You couldn’t find a $5 table if your life depended on it.

I was with Wes Farrell, who was married to Frank’s daughter, Tina. After the show, Frank wanted to play blackjack.  Walking through the casino with Frank was like walking with Moses.  We were surrounded by bodyguards and the people parted like the water in the sea.  Nobody asked for autographs.  Nobody shouted, “You’re the man!”  It was if a deity was present…and indeed, one was.  The crowd was quiet and respectful.

Frank drew every ounce of energy out of that huge room.  All the focus was on him.  The dice rolled “snake-eyes” just so they could get a look.  And Frank didn’t seem to notice.  He was cool.

The three of us sat at a private table and began playing blackjack.  Frank and Wes were talking.  I didn’t say a word.  I was just happy to be there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t last long.  I was not yet 30, unseasoned in the world of finance and gambling…and way short of being cool.  I dropped the $300 in savings I brought in less than 15 minutes.

I mumbled something to Wes about just being a spectator for the rests of the evening.  Frank said,  “What’s the matter, kid? Don’t you want to play?”

I was embarrassed.  “I don’t have any more money,” I stammered.  “I’ve lost every hand.”

Frank flipped a $25 chip in front of me.  “Let’s see if this will work.”  He looked up at the dealer.  “He isn’t going to lose any more, is he, Bernie?”

I didn’t lose another hand.  I won all my money back and then some.  Frank always worked.

My other story is much less personal.  Or maybe not.  It shows how Frank’s music moves across all barriers.  Not long ago, my good friend Harry Nelson and I spent a wild Saturday night in Atlantic City.  Tapped out, blind and half-crazy, we jumped in the car at 7 am Sunday morning and headed for New York City.  We tuned in a radio station as we cruised past some tiny town.  Frank Sinatra was singing, “The Summer Wind.”

We both smiled, alone in our thoughts.  It was the perfect background to our weekend.  As the last few notes began to fade, the deejay segued into “The Core” by Eric Clapton.

I looked at Nelson.  He stared back at me.  “The Summer Wind” followed by “The Core?”  How could that work?

Five seconds later, we exchanged high-fives.  The segue was perfect.

Fore! (Part Two)

November 12, 1999

Usually, an article about golf is interesting only if you’re a player.  This Editorial, although about golf, is helpful to those who play and those who don’t.  Whether you swing a club or not, you need to be on the cutting edge of today’s terminology so you’ll be able to keep up with discussions about the sport.

Because so many of us in the industry are golfers, and because so many of us actually believe we’re good, I thought I should compile a list of record and radio terms that refer to the game.  Because we certainly play a different brand from that on tour, we must have our own descriptions of golf as we play it and say it.  We all have hit enough “fore” irons in our time.

The following terms refer to “our” game.  It’s only a beginning.  I hope you’ll contact me with more phrases that you’ve heard or invented so I can update this “primer” from time to time.

Linda Rondstadt: When you hit a ball past another in your group, as in, “That was a Linda Rondstadt.  My ball blew by you.” (Referring to her hit: Blue Bayou, for those of you who are a little slow.)

Chilliwack: When you hit a ball out of bounds, as in, “Gone, gone, gone…”

Carpenter: When you hit a ball near your partner’s, as in, “Close To You.”

Milli Vanilli: When you can’t find your ball, you wait until your opponents aren’t looking and drop another.  Since you didn’t really hit it, your partner will say, “I that a Milli Vanilli?”

U2: If you hit a ball into the rough or woods and are having trouble locating it,you tell your group to wait, you’re U2, as in, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Peter Gabriel: When you ask your caddy for the driver, you say, “Give me The Peter Gabriel” (“Sledgegammer”).

Eddie Floyd: When you hit a ball into the trees and it bounces off a limb, It’s an Eddie Floyd, as in “Knock On Wood.”

Queen: If you hit a ball out of bounds, drop another and hit that one out of bounds too.  The second shot is called a Queen, as in, “Another One Bites The Dust.”

Dolly Parton: A person who cheats and takes less on the card than the actual strokes.  In other words, if the person changes a “9 To 5,” it’s a Dolly Parton.

Christopher Cross: A ball hit into the water, as in “Sailing.”

A Commodore or a Tony Orlando: When a person birdies a par four, as in, “Three Times a Lady” or “Knock Three Times.”

Paul Simon: If your score for nine holes is a 50, it’s a Paul Simon, as in, “50 Ways (To Leave Your Lover).”

Silver Convention: If you hit a ball that needs more distance, it’s a Silver Convention, as in, “Fly, Robin, Fly.”

Billy Preston: If a person makes a putt that spins around the hole before dropping, it’s a Billy Preston, as in, “Will it Go ‘Round In Circles.”

Ode To Billy Joe:  When you hit a ball into a lake, It’s an Ode To Billy Joe, as in, “…dropped in the water off the Tallahatchie bridge.”

Jan And Dean:  When you hit a ball into the ocean, it’s Jan And Dean, as in, “Surf City.”

And it’s not all about famous artists or songs that make the rounds on the golf course.  If you play with enough people in your business, their personal habits become a part of golfing lore, particularly when their actions are consistent with others on our “tour.”

Here are but a few examples of people whose names have become synonymous with their routines.

A “Kid Leo” is when a person hits a ball out of bounds and immediately drops another.  To be a perfect “Kid leo,” the second ball must actually be in place before the first one crosses the out of bounds line.  Example: “He did a Kid Leo before the first one cleared the tee.”

“Fontaine” or “Morris” (for Justin and Rob) is any kind of intense whining.  Example: “He was Fontaining (Morrissing) so badly, I wanted to quit after the first nine.”

A “Louis Kaplan” is a very short backswing.

To hit an iron off a tee is to “Kilgo,” (John) as in, “I was afraid I would hit my driver in the trap so I Kilgoed.”

Anytime a new club is purchased during a round, it’s called a “Grierson” (Ross).

A “Kiely” (Dan) is when you improve your ball position in the rough.  Example: “I was in a hole so Kieleyed it.”

A “Fitzgerald” (Rich) is a person who takes a long time to explain the last shot, as in, “I don’t have time for the Fitzgerald, just tell me what club you used.”

Then there’s the famous “Gary Bird.”  When you take many strokes on a hole or pick up entirely and want to enter some kind of respectable score, you ask for a “Gary Bird,” as in “Gimme a six.”

And finally, when you hit a ball 300 yards right down the middle with a slight draw, thats a “Gerry Cagle.”

Footing The Bill


If you’re interested in an Editorial about the record or radio business, skip this one.  One of the nice things about writing an Editorial is I can choose whatever topic that interests me…and hope it will interest you.

One of the problems in writing an Editorial (other than coming up with a subject every week) is to hope that it’s topical.  I’m writing this in the midst of the Presidential sex scandal…what a great title for a book.  Whether or not this is still news by the time you read it is a crapshoot at best.

So what does the sex scandal have to do with the record and radio industry?  Substantially, very little.  But the effect on our lives and the lives of those around us can be profound…if only on a shallow level.

Bill Clinton is accused of having sex with an intern in the White House. Surprising?  Possibly.  Shocking?  Hardly.

Clinton has been accused of extramarital affairs for years, so this latest revelation is certainly not out of character.  Face it:  Our President is a dog.  Anyone who has trouble believing that can be sold the Brooklyn Bridge…twice in the same week.

What concerns me is the immediate feeding frenzy exhibited by the media.  I haven’t seen anything like this since Jaws.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not about to defend Bill clinton or his actions.  I believe anyone who cheats on his wife is morally bankrupt.  To betray that special trust and risk the emotional devastation that follows is unforgivable.  This statement comes from one who ended a marriage and jeopardized a family for exactly that same behavior.  Having said that, let me also say the behavior and outcome should be between the husband and wife.  Period.  It’s nobody else’s business.

Should we hold the President of the United States to a higher standard?  It’s an interesting question.  When polls show that a majority of the married people in the United States are unfaithful to their spouses, who is going to throw the first stone?

Did we agree to marry Bill Clinton or did we vote for him to be President?  Does our President have  to share our morals or should he just make decisions that impact favorably on our daily lives and our future?

Here are the $64 million-dollar questions:  Can a person who cannot be trusted by his wife be trustworthy to a nation?  Can a person who cheats on his wife be expected not to cheat on normal citizens with whom he has no personal relationship?  Can a person who acts immorally–when it comes to sex—be expected to act morally when it comes to questions of national security?

Is the soldier who cheated on his wife, yet gave his life to defend his country, a hero or a bum?

I don’t have the answers.

We all have our faults.  Nobody comes close to perfect.  Maybe that’s why we take such glee in torching someone who is accused of wrongdoing.  It makes us feel better.

It’s interesting, but it has been my experience that those doing the accusing are the ones who are usually guilty.  The ones who are blameless usually don’t care.  Hmmm…

Should Bill Clinton be having sex with a 21-year-old intern in the White House?  Of course not.  And, by the way, her age and job have nothing to do with it.  It’s just terrible judgement.  Is it too much to ask that Bill keep it zipped up for eight years?  Hey, we’re not insisting on a lifetime of monogamy, but for eight short years, with a country to run, can’t he just take cold showers?

Who is more stupid, Clinton or Castro?  You want that Cuban embargo lifted?  Don’t invite the Pope for a visit; bring Bill down.  Smoke some cigars…bring on the strippers.  And Hussein should stop refusing to allow Americans access to his palaces.  Bring Clinton to your house.  Have him take a hit off the nerve gas bong (he won’t inhale) and bring on the dancing girls.

But I digress…

The nation is upset because not only did Clinton possibly have a sex in the White House sans Hilary, but he lied about it.  Oh, my God.  Clinton told a lie.  Five thousand reporters are jostling for position on the White House lawn.  Talk shows are being invented to provide space for special coverage.  Newspapers are printing extra pages to interview people who might have known the girl when she was in college.

Its all about space and time.

Forgive me, but am I missing something here?  Whether Clinton had sex with someone other than his wife in the White House will have absolutely no bearing on our lives.  Whether or not he told the truth about his libido won’t make one, small change in our day-to-day lives.

This is the same guy who promised that if he was elected President, he wouldn’t raise taxes.  We voted for him…and he raised taxes.

He lied.

Where were all the reporters, talk shows and newspaper when this happened?

Forget Clinton for a second.  Our values are out of whack.  Politicians habitually lie to get elected and we wind up paying the “Bill.”  We should hold them all to higher standards about the things that affect us.  We should demand credibility on issues that will make a difference in our lives…and when they don’t, let’s see the same coverage we get when the President unzips his pants for another “non-affair.”

Maybe when we begin to demand that credibility, the land of the free won’t be so expensive to those of us who live here.

Big Shot


You went uptown riding in your limousine in your fine Park Avenue clothes.  You had the Dom Perignon in your hand and the spoon up your nose.

We work in the most seductive industry in the universe.  If you’re a record executive or a radio programmer, the world is yours…and everything that’s in it.  We dine in the most expensive restaurants, fly first class, see the opening of any Broadway show, jet away to paradises far away, drive the sportiest cars, sit in the front rows of the biggest concerts, have our pictures taken with Rock stars, hang Gold records on our walls, take stretch limos wherever we go, drink the finest wine, smoke Cuban cigars, walk the red carpet and enjoy the high life.

We live under pressure that would crush the average human.  There’s no such thing as nine-to-five in our business.  We stay until the job is finished, then start all over again.  We can’t rest on our laurels.  There’s always another rating period, another record, another opening, another show.  We work hard.  We play hard.  Why shouldn’t we enjoy the fruits of our labor?

Because some of us actually believe we deserve it.

They were all impressed with our Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s.  And the story of your latest success kept ‘em so entertained.

What’s wrong with us?  We’ve become the epitome of those we despise the most.  We’re the biggest bores on the planet…an obnoxious group of loudmouth ingrates who actually believe the hype we’re paid to spread.  We’ve been told we’re great so many times by the sycophants who surround us that we’re buying into the bullshit hook, line and sinker….not to mention the boat that was paid for by the record company.

Who are we to take pride in our shallow success?  We’re a group of mostly uneducated over-achievers who are full of sound and fury…signifying nothing.  Had we been born a hundred years earlier, we would be little more than snake oil salespeople, traveling from town to town in a covered wagon, pimping Holy water blessed by the saints of Jerusalem to the sinners who would stumble into streets to listen.

We’re the first ones to complain about our seats to the sold-out superstar concert when we should be thankful just to be there.  After all, we didn’t pay for them. We gripe about waiting in line. We’ve pissed because someone else’s name is higher on the guest list than ours.  We go ballistic at the slightest hint of indifference.

“Don’t they know who I am?”  is the biggest catch phrase of our existence.

Well, it’s no big sin to stick your two cents in if you know when to leave it alone.  But you went over the line, you couldn’t see it was time to go home.

Before you think I’m taking shots at everyone else, I use the collective “we” because I’m just as guilty as anyone…maybe more.  Okay, what if I did set the curve?  I have no patience, I refuse to be placated, I expect the best and demand the rest.

So, what’s my point?

Our behavior has become so over-the-top that simple courtesies are ignored.  We are the rudest people in the history of industry…and it needs to stop.

I can’t make people deflate their egos, act their age and stop their ignorant behavior, but I can draw one tiny line in the sand.

Bitch about your concert seats.  Whine about your lack of respect.  Cry about industry indifference.  Don’t return phone calls.  Talk ugly about others.  Brag about yourself.

But stay off the fucking cell phone when you’re spending time with me.

What kind of gall do you exhibit by going into someone’s office or sitting down for dinner only to constantly answer your cell phone as it rings away?  Nothing shows greater contempt.

Turn the thing off.  What can’t wait for a few minutes until you’re finished with a meeting?  Are you trying to show us how important you are?

We aren’t impressed.

You had to be a big shot, didn’t you?  You had to open up your mouth.  You had to be a big shot, didn’t you?  All your friends were so knocked out.  You had to have the last word, last night, so much fun to be around.  You had to have a white-hot spotlight; you had to be a big shot last night.

I once refused to play golf with anyone who carried a cell phone.  But I let it go.  A round can take five hours.  You might need to take a call…particularly if your boss thinks you’re actually working.

But do you really need to be in instant communication when you’re meeting with someone who you pretend is important?  If you can afford a cell phone, you certainly can pop for voice mail.

I can’t stop all of the boorish behavior exhibited by many semi-important posers in our business, but I will make the commitment to end the irresponsible, childish actions of the cell phone freaks.

I’ll make this open promise to the industry…and I urge you to do the same.  Take a cell phone call while you’re meeting with me and I’ll rip it out of your hand and throw it out the window.  It’s the least I can do.

That’s one small toss for good manners and one giant throw toward responsibility.

And when you wake up in the morning with your head on fire and your eyes too bloody to see, go on and cry in your coffee, but don’t come bitchin’ to me.

Trick Or Treat


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.”

B. M.


The last thing I wanted to write about this week is Bill Clinton. I was determined to write about some jagged edge that was cutting through the entertainment business, but alas, the biggest story in radio and records is the President and the intern. Plus, everyone I ran into this past week said they couldn’t wait for my Editorial on the subject in Network 40.

I was doomed before I started.

It’s on the front page of every paper. Newscasts lead with it. People in supermarket lines are spouting their opinions on the subject. I went to my dentist and he played a record he had just produced called, “Oh Bill, Oh Monica.”  (That’s right…my dentist.  Don’t you just love L.A?)

I have no choice but to chime in with my two cents worth.

What does this have to do with our business? It’s about life…actually, lifestyle. And if this isn’t Mainstream lifestyle, I don’t know what is. Any radio station that isn’t doing promotions about Bill and Monica are way behind the curve. 15th caller for stained blue dresses.  Forget about Cuban cigars. What about Monicans? The Monica Lewinsky look-alike contest is a natural. Oval office kneepads and condoms? The beat goes on.

The release of the Starr Report changed my opinion, but not the way you think. I always believed Clinton was a liar. Who among us didn’t? But I was wrong. The Starr Report made me believe he was telling the truth…as strange as the may seem. Most say the report confirms Clinton as a liar. Consider the facts. During the campaign, Bill Clinton was asked if he ever smoked marijuana. He said he had smoked a joint, but didn’t inhale. Was there one person who believed that answer? Now I believe him. The Starr Report quotes Monica as saying she performed oral sex on the President…but he didn’t ejaculate. This confirms two things: Bill was telling the truth about not inhaling and he’s probably the sickest puppy among us.

What is the weird logic behind this act? If he didn’t come, it didn’t really happen? That’s like dropping bombs without warheads. They crash through buildings, but they won’t explode. What’s the point?

I give up, Bill. You wouldn’t ejaculate, yet you “penetrated her vagina” with a cigar. Did you really think Hillary would buy, “Honey, I didn’t come in her mouth, I just used a cigar dildo. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

I could pontificate for pages about whether or not Clinton’s actions are impeachable. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that isn’t the point. The founders of our country provided an opportunity for impeachment if the President comments acts of high crimes and misdemeanors.
How about being stupid?  Shouldn’t that be first on the list?

Not only did Bill have sex with Monica, but he wrote her letters, gave her gifts and engaged in phone sex with her. It’s insane. “Yo, baby, what are you wearing?  Oh, sorry Yeltsin, I thought you were someone else.”

Clinton is a twisted, perverted dog. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect a little more from the leader of our country. People say that many of us have done the same and worse. True, but we didn’t run for office. Clinton could be the most twisted person in the country…right behind Monica Lewinsky.

Many called for Clinton to apologize to Monica and her family. Hey, what about an apology from Monica? This ultimate groupie has brought down the President of our country with it. She admitted that her initial “flirting” with Clinton included her showing him her thong underwear. What happened to a wink and a smile? Why not just sell tickets and start the strip show? This sleaze should have her own stage at the Mitchell Brothers.

This bar-fly not only allows her “lover” to use her most private part as an ash tray, but then shares this intimacy with a grand jury of total strangers. What’s up with that?

And now she’s been offered $2 million to pose for Penthouse. They’ll have to come up with a new centerfold. It’ll be called the “Double Wide.”

Congress is now calling for Clinton to resign or be ready for impeachment. But Bill won’t go softly into that good night. White House aides are already digging up dirt on all those who will throw the first stones. I’m sure in the very near future we’ll be reading about who likes to dress up in latex, get tied to a wheel, greased like a pig and whipped into a frenzy. And don’t be surprised if Ken Starr is first on the list. Do you really believe nobody in his past has ever told him to squeal like a pig?

Starr has done something thousands of companies have been unable to accomplish. He’s gotten more people on the Internet than all efforts up to this point combined.

But at what cost?

Washington D.C. At least we now know what the D.C. stands for: “Disappearing Cigar” or “Didn’t Come.”

I could have reduced this Editorial to the two letters that best describe Bill and Monica.


But then you would have nothing to read when you were having one.

Walls And Bridges


It was 20 years ago today…Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…

More like 25, I guess, but time flies when you’re having fun.

In the space of a few short weeks, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, or as some know them, The Beatles, will have a revival.  Not that their music ever died.  The remaining Beatles are releasing a new album on Capitol next month in conjunction with a television special.  The anticipation has already begun and will build to a fever pitch by showtime.

Who would have thought it when they were first signed? A four-piece band playing pubs in Liverpool would become the greatest musical event ever.  Nearly 30 years after their first release, The Beatles still rock.  Several of their albums go Gold every year.  Their catalogue accounts for a huge percentage of Capitol’s yearly sales.  All of this from a group that stopped recording together in 1969.

Together, John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed the most prolific songwriting team in the history of music.  Not only did they write hits, but their songs changed the face of music.  The same guys who wrote “I Want To Hold Your Hand” also wrote “A Day In The Life. “  They wrote “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Eleanor Rigby.”  Go figure.

Their recording techniques were way pas the cutting edge.  They introduced feedback, overdubbing, backward masking and a ton of other recoding innovations long before anyone else ever thought about them.  Today, studios routinely use 48-track machines.  The Beatles did all their creating on four.


I first heard The Beatles when I was in junior high school.  When I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was done.  I bought a guitar, grew my hair long and was first accused of being, what they called in the South, a juvenile delinquent.  My father called me a reprobate.  I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded cool.

I got to meet my favorite Beatle (everyone had a favorite) some years later.  I was, coincidently, in New York at a Billboard convention.  It was about midnight and I was in bed in my room when the phone rang.  Al Coury, then VP Promotion for Capitol Records, was on the line, inviting me to the lobby for a drink.  I was programming KHJ Los Angeles at the time and I figured Al was all revved up to hammer me on the latest Anne Murray cover.  I quickly refused, citing exhaustion as a lame excuse.

Al said, “Aw, that’s too bad, Gerry. I was going to take you over to the Record Plant and introduce you to John Lennon.”

I was in the lobby in three minutes.

John Lennon, my favorite Beatle (did I already say that?), was deep, deep undercover at the time.  He was dodging extradition from the U.S. and had been hiding out in New York City.  Few had seen him in the previous years.

Standing in the lobby, waiting for a cab, I was as nervous as a schoolboy on his first date.  My breath was shallow, my heart was pounding in my chest, my face was flushed and I was using all my energy to pretend I didn’t really care.  Those emotions were minor compared to what was coming.

Al introduced me to an agitated John Lennon in the studio where they were mixing the Walls And Bridges album.  Lennon shook my hand quickly and told me to have a seat on the couch.  Al stepped outside and I sat there in a coma, listening to John argue with the engineer about how the sax should be mixed.  He wanted it high, the engineer wanted it low.  I was in heaven.

Suddenly, Lennon swung around toward me and said, “What do you think, Gerry?”

I almost wet my pants.  “Loud,” I managed.  Like I was going to disagree with John Lennon.

He clapped his hands and shouted.  “Fine then, we’ll let you mix it.”

It was the start of a long friendship.

Several months later, Paul Drew and I were discussing who would fill in for the KHJ morning man while he was on vacation.  Drew suggested asking recording stars to host.  This was long before acts appeared on Top 40 stations.  It had never been done before.

I called record companies and managers for days.  No luck.  Nobody wanted to do it.

So I called John…not to ask him.  Certainly John Lennon wouldn’t want to be a deejay, but to get his advice.

He said, “I’d love to do it.”

We spread the word that John Lennon (who hadn’t done a public appearance in years) would be on the station and everyone who had said no originally quickly changed their minds.  I had to give the morning man an extra week off to accommodate all of them.  The tapes of John’s show are unbelievable.  His appearance made national news.  Coury never forgave me for wearing a Warner Bros. jacket when NBC televised it.

The unique thing about this was that John didn’t do it for publicity or for a hidden agenda.  He did it to help a friend.

Before going on the air, he wrote me a letter listing his favorite records of all time, asking if he could play some of them.  (Like I’m going to disagree with John Lennon!)  I still have the letter.  Some people say it’s worth a lot of money.  To me, it’s priceless.

I spent a lot of time with John after that.  I was the booth when he did his famous Monday Night Football interview with Howard Cosell, was thrown out of the Troubadour with him when he put a Kotex on his head, listened for hours as he worked with Phi Spector on the Shaved Fish album and was there the night “someone” went berserk and shot up the A&M studio.  I drove him home after the incident.

It was the last time I saw him.

There are other stories to tell, but we’ve got time for that later.

This week, Hollywood Records released a tribute album of John Lennon songs entitled Working Class Hero.  It’s featured on our cover.  There’s also an interview with Lindy Goetz, the executive producer.

The album, and the season, have made me more than a little nostalgic.  Maybe it’s the full moon.  Maybe it’s the Billboard convention.  I haven’t been to one since I met John Lennon.

How could I top that?

I can’t imagine.

Why Is It?


Every week I sit behind the keyboard of my computer and try to “wow” the industry with my innovative words of wisdom.  Sometimes, I agonize for days on the subject of my Editorial.  Other times the ideas and words flow like the waters of the Mississippi River.  On rare occasions, I hit a complete block.  Like now. I could hide behind the easy writer’s crutch and write about the agonies of penning a weekly column.  Every deadline author has used this crutch at some point.  It’s an easy way out.  It’s not in my nature to take the easy way out.  Besides, why should I torture myself writing an Editorial for people who basically don’t read?  In an informal survey of programmers and record executives taken earlier this year, less than 5% had read three books in the past 12 months.  That in itself could be the subject of an Editorial.  But I digress. I find it interesting that the Editorials I spend the most time preparing are generally met with apathy, yet the ones I throw together at the last minute generate the most feedback.  Why is that?

Thus, the subject of this week’s Editorial.  I have no defining topic, just a potpourri of thoughts that have been on and off my mind for the past few weeks.

Why is it that our business is more about maintaining the status quo than striking out in new, innovative directions?  It seems we are more satisfied with maintaining our position rather than conquering a new and exciting goal.  Copying an existing concept is easier than inventing a new plan.  It’s easier to sell.  Using an existing plan as a point of reference is a much easier sell than an innovative idea that could be much better.  A business based on the ever changing wants of the consumer should reward those executives who predict social change and think outside of the box.  Instead of creating an environment for a navy led by those made from the blood of Christopher Columbus, who set sail for the new world, we have spawned a legion of pirates who plunder on those who travel the normal routes.

Poignant, yet vague.

Why is it that we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

Why is it that promotion executives spend more time behind computers than in the face of programmers?  There is a reason your job is called promotion.  What happened to the times when JoJo the Dog Faced Boy, Little Egypt, dancing chickens, trained donkeys and other outlandish options were exercised to bring attention to a record?  Are we too focused on our place in the company hierarchy to make complete fools out of ourselves to get attention?  Are we over-thinking the image of our artists, and in the process losing sight of the main goal of promotion…to get the record played on radio?  Are we too cool to resort to smoke and mirrors when in the beginning, it’s all we have?

Why is it that the person in charge of the outdoors is called the Secretary of the Interior?

Why is it that we don’t have fun anymore? Is it just my imagination, or did the rebirth of superstar artists fade the moment we became more concerned about research printouts than the sound of music?  Is passion possible without fun?  No.  You get excited when you hear a great record…it’s fun.  Promotion and programming without excitement and fun are passionless…And in the end, meaningless.

Why is it that packages sent by ship are called cargo and those sent by land are called shipments?

Why is it that programmers and promotion executives bitch about R&R’s archaic methodology and leeching operations, yet continue to support the hypocrisy by paying service to the limited number of stations R&R allows (without any industry input) in its reporter base?  Quit complaining and wallow in the hypocrisy or change you way of doing business.  If you have any doubts as to my feelings about R&R, check any earlier Editorial.

Why is it that programmers don’t listen to music any more?  (See earlier paragraph about the lack of passion in our business.  The sword cuts across both industries.)

While I’m on the subject, why is it that promotion executives don’t listen to more music?  You can’t be successful in our business if you don’t know what’s going on in the music industry…not just inside the confines of your walls.  Arista president CliveDavis regularly listens to every record that hits the charts.  If you expect more of yourself, should you do less than Clive?

Why is it that if you say “shit” at a crap table, they throw you out of the casino?

Why is it that radio stations are still doing adds on Tuesday?  The day was arbitrarily picked in the 1960s because of two reasons:  (1)  Weekend sales reports were tabulated on Mondays and  (2)  stations made up “surveys” (including the chart, a picture of an air personality, etc.) that needed to be in the record stores on Friday.  It took three days to get the “surveys” printed and delivered.  Is anybody doing “surveys” anymore?  Do the local record stores care?  Every PD knows new records should be broken in at night and on the weekends.  It’s safer.  The only reason music is done on Tuesdays is to maintain an outdated status quo.  Who’s going to be the first to add records on Fridays?

Why is it that Hits isn’t responsible for any?  Why is it that we can’t see the forest for the trees?  (Are those last two questions the same?)

Why is that the head of Human Resources paid me a compliment by saying, “That color looks good on you,” yet had I said the same thing to her, it could have been harassment?

Why is it that beer is sold at gas stations, yet it’s illegal to drink and drive?

Why is it that programmers don’t listen to the competition?  Too often, programmers only pay attention to their own station while the people across the street are making changes that will impact the market.  Each day, you should listen to a different station.  You might learn something.

Why is it that we ask for requests, but never play anything that’s requested?

Why is it that birds suddenly appear every time you are near?

And as to the answer of the original question and its author.  We talked to your girlfriend, Kilgo.

It isn’t



Sometimes, I like our business better than others.  This isn’t one of those times.  I lost a friend this week.  We all did, even though most of you reading this Editorial didn’t know Michael Atkinson.  Too bad.  You should have.

Michael was a promotion manager at Columbia Records in the 1970s.  He was one of the best.  He also was executive producer on a few albums for artists you’ve never heard of.  Like Michael Jackson.

I first met Atkinson when I was PD of KHJ Los Angels.  Columbia was trying to resurrect Sly Stone’s career and talked me into doing an interview with the “new and improved” version.  Michael brought Sly to the station.  Despite Columbia’s promises, the interview was a disaster.  I was angry and embarrassed.  Mike was 6’1” when he arrived at KHJ that day… much smaller when he left.

Out of this strained beginning, a wonderful friendship was born.  One of the great things about Michael was his ability to laugh in the face of disaster.  He always managed to find something funny about everything that happened around him professionally.  That was his life.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t so quick to find humor in his personal affairs.  That was his death.

Bob Sherwood, who headed up Columbia’s promotion team at the time, joined with Michael and I on some odd journeys,  Being a true son of the South, I was colorful.  These two California boys weren’t.  So they borrowed shamelessly from my life and vocabulary.  The three of us used the same greeting toward each other for over 20 years.


You had to be there.

“Son” took me to Las Vegas to see Charlie Rich.  We had to sit through his performance, so Michael and I began drinking heavily.  A very mediocre comedian from New Orleans opened the performance and we began to heckle him unmercifully.  When he started a bit about the great football team in Louisiana,  I screamed, “Go Tigers!”  The LSU Tigers are revered in the state.

The poor guy stared weakly into the audience and moaned, “I was talking about the Saints.”

This was extremely funny to Dr. A.  It must have been the booze.  For years, he sent me memorabilia from LSU…everything from pillowcases to stuffed animals inscribed, “Go Tigers.”

Michael left Columbia and joined a start-up trade publication that became his life.  For 17 years, Michael was the conscience of Radio & Records.  The publishers came and went, but Michael was a fixture.

When I was appointed captain of the ship of fools known as Network 40 six years ago, I tried to hire Michael.

“I love R&R, he said.  “It’s my life.”

Later, when I started beating R&R unmercifully, Mike would call when I went too far.  “Son,” he would begin, “although most of what you’re saying is true, accusing Joel of murder is a bit over the line.”

About a year ago, Michael was fired from R&R.  It was a tragedy.  Dr. A lost his job.  R&R lost its conscience.

Michael never recovered.

I immediately offered him a gig.  So did many others.  We talked to him of a new beginning.  He talked of betrayal.  We spoke of the future.  He couldn’t forget the past.

Inevitably, Michael became a statistic.  In our business, we are quick to apply labels.  If you have a job, you’re a winner.  If you’re out of work, you’re a loser.  The truth is, anyone who labels others is loser.

Michael was a good friend…always willing to go the extra mile to help out.  However, as good a friend as Michael was to others, he couldn’t accept our friendship in his time of need.  Ultimately, Michael cared more about what the creeps in our business said about him than what his friends thought.

It’s a sad commentary.

Sadder still is the fact that all of his friends did all we could.  We offered help.  He refused.  We called.  He never picked up the phone.  We knocked.  He didn’t open his door.  We sent letters that remained unopened.

In this instance, those of us who believe we can change the world were unable to save one life.

We are the losers.

The moral of this Editorial?  There are several.  We should all struggle to find the good in others as quickly as we point out their shortcomings.  There is more to our lives than our jobs…we need to judge our worth by who we are, not what we do. We need to learn how to accept help as well as we give it.  Labels are too easy to apply and we’re all better than that.

Michael Atkinson’s life and times are proof positive of all the above…and more.

Go Tigers?


Go Michael.