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Scandal At Wrif: Abc And You

Scandal At Wrif: Abc And You image
Parent Issue
Day
26
Month
November
Year
1971
OCR Text

When a radio station consciously tries to relate to a community of people and does so successfully, that community is affected by changes that go down within that radio station. In the last two or three months sweeping changes have been happening at the strong Detroit ABC owned FM rock & roll station WRIF, and people in the Rainbow Colony have been hearing, and feeling, the effects. In this story, the Ann Arbor SUN tries to analyze those effects. They had to be pretty big. The most recent events which led up to this story were the firing of Barbara Holliday after the nightime sister had done a somewhat drunken and so called "obscene" show one night last month, and the subsequent canning of the other nightimer, Paul Greiner. Barbara was locked out of Broadcast House and went East, sending a letter here which blasted ABC and RIF management and added weight to rumors that Greiner 's firing had something to do with dope smoking in the studios. All of this came after news had leaked that WRIF had been slowlv abandoning the "Free Form" method of programing that had held sway on Detroit FMs for over 4 years in favor of a more AM type of "Format" radio. In trying to find out whaf really happened and is happening at RIF- and what it means - we interviewed disc jocfdes Dan Carlisle and Jerry Lubin at Broadcast House last week, and on the same day talked to station manager Dick Kernan. Holliday was contacted by phone in New York and Ann Arborite Paul Greiner was interviewed at the Rainbow House, where the story was edited and put together under the charge of David Fenton. For analysis we turned to brother John Sinclair, who at Jackson Prison is probably RIF 's most avid listener and long a sharp criüc of the media which helps shape our lives. John's Dragon Teeth column on WRIF is on page 13. Why was Paul Greiner fired? It depends on who you ask. Station Manager Dick Kernan says Paul was fired simply for breaking the rules and insists that he didn't want to fire Paul claiming, "I had no way out. " Kernan and WRIF'S official reason is that Greiner was falsifying the logs, a Federal offense. Danny Carlisle, still with the station, had a different idea, "I think basically they looked for a reason to fire him, " Carlisle said, "because he wasn't cooperating with the managment as to what kind of music they feit he should be playing and how. " Paul admits that he juggled the logs but says that "it's afairly common pracüce in radio. Transmitter logs are juggled all the time. especially where the djs have to take transmitter readings- it gets to be too much of a bother to keep checking the meters so they just put down an average. " Greiner says what he did was "the same kind of offense yet they represent themselves as saying, 'Well this is such an unfathomable crime against humanity that you're fired. ' " Paul says that almost all the commercials for his show were scheduled in the logs to be played during his first hour on the air. "When you first get there you know, you're all excited and you want to do a good job and get everybody up. But in the first hour of my show I had to stop a whole lot and interrupt the music for commercials. So I'd do all these commercials in the first hour and then for three hours 1 wouldn't have hardly any. It just didn't seem logical; it seemed that it would be more coherent and a better flow across the board to spread them out. " "None of these commercials were payed for to be played at a certain time, ' Greiner says, and they were Usted for the first hour sixnply because his show went from 11:00 at night to 3:00 ia the morning. "It was just convenience on the station 's part so they wouldn't have to deal with two log books, since a new log book starts after midnight. " Kernan says that he warned Paul before fíring Mm, but Greiner says that the only warning he ever got was for not doing a scheduled newscast, which also comes under falsifying the logs, in radio terminology , but that "after that I made sure I did all the newscasts. " "It never occurred to me that they'd get pissed off about the commercials, " Greiner says, and he really never knew what he was getting fired for until after it happened. "The day I got fired I was sleeping and Kernan called and said would you stop in this afternoon. So I went in there. . . I walked in the room and Kernan had this glum look on his face and said, "Well, this is going to be very hard, but whatever you did Monday night cost you your job. ' and I was sitting there wondering what I had done Monday night. " Why was Barbara Hollida_y fired?' Kernan; "Barbara was fired because she came into work and did about as near as I can figure about an homof a show which contained a number of obscenities. I mean you can 't say fuck on the radio and she knew that and I don 't know what else I can say. " There's no doubt to those who were listening that night that Barbara did, indeed, say the nasty word. Barbara says that there was a whole series of events that led to the situation where she feit that it wasn't worth staying on. She sums up her feelings about the station with remarks like this, "I wasn't going to be a paid slave and have to kiss ass for the money I was making each week, " and Kernan says he was hip to it. "Barbara found it harder and harder to live with the playlist and I think she found not being able to do editorial s on things like John Sinclair hard to live with. I had told her that I understood that the premises on which she was hired had changed, and if she wanted to leave I would help. " Holliday: "I told him that I was going to let everyone in the media know what was happening with ABC and what kind of bullshit they were pulling on us. He just got really uptight and started saying, Well, if you want a good reccommendation for another job, don 't do that. ' They don 't want that exposed. They don 't want people talking about it." FORMAT ARRIVÉS Although their time at RIF taken together amounts to a little less than a year, both Greiner and Holliday were mainstays of a trend that had made stodgy oíd WXYZ FM into the highest energy Motor City FM this summer. It started when Penthallow, then Lubin, Malone, Carlisle, Greiner, and Holliday, in that order, took over from computerized tape ABC 'Brother John" radio with what's called "Free Formi' A system that functions well when the individual disc jockies work hard at being responsive to the community, Free Form was being instituted by ABC in all seven of their stations to attract the dollar in the Rainbow Colony. As of two months ago, Free Form was a dying horse at WRIF. The new mandate from ABC was the "playlist. " The list is one tooi of "Format" radio, radio in which the music is imposed with a form in which it has to be presented. Jerry Lubin explained the playlists that are used to make up the format of WRIF: "The system 's basically one of rotation. In other words, they have tunes which fall into different categories - like there's tunes that are just smash 'hits', then there's another category that's really big albums, then there's that whole massive library, and old tunes, and new tunes. They give each of these categories an alphabetical designaüon and you play things from the different categories. About 35% of what we play is of our choice; the rest come from a pile of less than a hundred albums." Greiner says that the Format forces 80% of what's being played to be new, "That means that all the rausic history that carne before the last few months is given 20% of each hour on the air. So obviously you can 't present too comprehensive a view of the musical spectrum. "A lot of records don 't fit their set categories - blues records, jazz records, anything they would consider esoteric, anything thatwasn't a 'pop record'. Old rock & roll was esoteric. Chuck Berry was considered an esoteric artist at WRIF. And consequenüy a lot of people don 't really know his music. "In my case it was too many old records, too many black records. The traditional fear of radio stations is having too much black music on the air. It's an age-old radio problem. " All the DJs we talked to pointed out that the staff could help influence the selections on the playlist, but as Paul put it, "It was the kind of thing where the game was all written out anyway, and if we 're going to participate you have to do it according to their rules. " Jerry and Danny said, "we can both be overridden, there's no question about that, " with Carlisle explaining, "sometimes we have to play total shit, but what happens is we go in there and fight for the rest of them. That's as much as we can do, " Greiner: "One of the major points they made to us was that th'ey wanted to stop presenting music with a thematic concept behind a set of tunes. They didn't want any kind of a thematic progression between one tune and the next. You couldn't even play an innocuous thing like say "Rain" by the Beatles and then play "Good Day Sunshine, " the obvious connection being that they 're both about the weather. You just play one song and then the other. " Thought control? Greiner: "It is, exacüy that. The least thought the better, as f ar as they 're concerned. . . We don 't want to get involved in any of these concepto'. " SER VING PEOPLE? ? Kernan: "You teU me who is serving the people, a station that aUows individual people that go on the air to run their own personal hypes, and that 's all they are- under the circumstances that are totally uncontrolled- or one that is making a concerted effort to ñnd out what people like. And they are telling you what they like by going out and paying dollars. " Holliday; "It's obvious you can put people in a position with advertí sing where instead of going into a store and picking out what they need they piek out what's been blasted into their minds the most. They ain't serving the people by keeping them down in the same state of mind and insulting their intelligence. They want people to be pacified. They don 't want to raise any kind of spirit in the people. " Another controversy at RIF surrounds the policy concerning having visitors on the air. Kernan supports his boss. "What's wrong with it is that most people who listen to the radio don 't give a shit about what you have to say, " he says, and "the tendency to play records for the person sitting with you in the studio is very strong. But we have to work at pleasing this diverse audience out there. "And the only way you can please an audience that is anonymous is to do it in the most intelligent possible way. " Greiner feels that "there wasn't anything wrong with having visitors in the studio, " and insists that he was never told that he shouldn't have visitors because he'd play records just for them. "The reason I was told was that ABC in New York had heard tapes of us that had people talking in the background while the announcer was talking. The problem was that these people made noise while you were on the air. "It's a type of Format restriction. They want the illusion that you're alone in the room toprevailat all times. That 's the image they want to portray on the radio. "So I told everyone that carne into the studio that they just had to be quiet while I was talking. But they feit there were too many visitors, so they issued a memo saying "No visitors in the studio' Lubin and Carlisle complained about that because they wanted visitors. So they issued another memo that said No visitors in the studio between llpm and 7 am' which is when Barbara and Iwere on the air. " Barbara relates that, "I had Leni Sinclair on a Sunday afternoon to say "Happy Birthday" to John. So after that for an hour and a half I had to sit in Kernan's office and be subjected to him saying, 'You're a weirdo, you're bizarre'. " MAKING MONEY As to the popularity of WRIF since the Format change, while both Carlisle and Lubin feit that listenership was growing, Kernan said that he wasn't going to mak e any predictions until a new survey was taken of WRIF 's "market area. " Kernan alluded that surveys which dictate the ratings that run commercial radio, are not entirely accurate as to who is listening, but "they're all we got. " And basically Dick was behind ABC in pushing that Free Form radio "just won 't work economically. " Greiner feels that, "Radio-stations could easily make substantial profits by operaöng a high quality service to their listeners, by presenting concepts that people had not been aware of previously, communicating information and knowledge more than just playing records and giving time and temperature. And our ratings were beginning to reflect this. " Everyone agreed that the station 's rating shot upwards after the hiring of Penthallow, Lubin, Malone, Carlisle, Greiner, and Holliday. ABC PREZ Greiner: "WRIF never served the people, in terms they never presented a coherent and organized image on the air that would suggest to people that there was any kind of really different conscioiu ness that they could opérate with in their daily lives. Everything that happened in that regard was taken on, individually by the Disc Jockies. They themselves, through what they said on the air, could project different ideas. And that 's important because people listening to the radio, whatever goes down, it affects them. " Will Lubin and Carlisle last on WRIF If so, for how long? Paul Greiner tells about Allen Shaw, New York head of the ABC FM stations and how he feels about his employees: "There was a really good article in Walrus, " Paul says, "where Shaw talks about the whole reason that ABC has reached this impasse is that the disc jockies were wild men, and they couldn't be con trolled. They wanted to go wild and teil people stuff and go crazy. " To Greiner, "The problem is that the way the people at ABC relate to the radio business is, well, they started off Top 40 radio in this country- WXYZ in Detroit; WABC in New York. ABC is one of the most notorious of all Top 40 radio stations, and one of the most noxious. They play about 13 different records and that's it, over and over. That's where they're coming from, that's 'what makes the most money', which is what ABC is most interested in-7not in having the highest quality presentation and reaping the benefits of that. " As Holliday and Greiner teil it then, the squeeze is between the corporate heads of ABC and their employees, with management people like Kernan in the middle playing on the side of the company, the game being big money. The new policy towards commercials at WRIF gives support to that analysis, too all record ads are accepted and played as is now, and the disc jockies don 't get the option of making them any less offensive or changing their content in any way, as in the past. Any moves toward a more progressive relationship between the employee and employer at WRIF were put down solidly, according to Greiner. He says "We told Kernan at one staff meeting that it would be an excellent idea to operate the station as a staff collective- all the djs supported this idea. We wanted all our voices to be heard equally including his. And there was a secretary working there, who deals with public affairs broadcasts and helped on Hank's show, and we wanted her to be involved in this idea. And Kernan couldn't handle that at all. He didn't even want to talk about it. It was an insult or something. They don 't want the staff operating together because it threatens their control of the situation. " Danny said that in doing radio, "You have to put up with a lot of bullshit. Two days ago Jerry and I were wondering to ourselves why we 're still here. I can 't really rationalize why I'm still here because I think what I'm doing in som e instances is immoral. And we 're not into complete format yet. They're telling us what to play now; maybe at some time in the future they 11 be telling us how to say what time it is. " Lubin agrees, "Yeah, you know, I feel restricted, but what do you do? Do I get out of radio? I don 't know how to do anything el se. And right now there are no alternatives. We just work for change while we 're here and try to make things as good as they can be given the situation. " In the space given here we arent equipped to talk about just how close we are to any of the alternatives of People's Radio station that John Sinclair speaks of in this issue 's column. Until People's Radio is a reality, though,the disc jockey number at RIF is still 354-WRIF, and Dick Kernan's number at Broadcast House is 444-1111. The person on the other end is suppossed to be listening.