On a spring night in 1986 Louisiana State Police get a strange call. There’s a traffic jam, a big one, on a remote stretch of highway in a sparsely-populated area between Lake D’Arbonne and Arkansas. There are only 3,000 people in the nearby town of Farmerville, Louisiana—but there are more people than that partying at the lake with a radio station from West Monroe.
For two days and one night during the Magic 106 “Weekend On The Lake,” Lake D’Arbonne seems more like a Florida beach during spring break than a lake in the woods in North Louisiana. The State Police send reinforcements to handle traffic.
Magic 106 is the station people listen to even when it’s off the air. (Before we pull the plug to install a new antenna and transmitter, we promise a free camcorder to the first person who calls when we go back on the air. Days later, the moment we resume broadcasting, the phones start ringing... proof that people were listening to our static--waiting for us to come back on the air-- rather than listening to our competition!)
We have a 1961 Pink Cadillac named Gertrude.
“When you see Gertrude in traffic, if you
roll down your window and yell, 'My radio sticks to 106!' the deejay driving Gertrude will give you $50.” Drivers follow Gertrude everywhere. Every time we take her out, it’s like a parade! People drive down the street trying to get our attention, leaning out their windows yelling, "My radio sticks to 106!"
We send housewives, librarians, preacher’s wives and the like to rock concerts. We call it our “Wild Women’s Tour” and they eat it up.
We bring the rock group Cinderella to town just to have lunch with a girl who wins a Magic 106 contest. We get a gold record from 10,000 Maniacs for being the first station to play their hit “In My Tribe.” We’re the first station outside of Florida to play “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and other stations nationwide follow our lead.
Even after I become General Manager, I continue my old job of programming the music for Magic 106. Unlike other stations, we play no slow songs. My secret formula, never before revealed: I play music to please one person--the lonely, bored housewife that my wife Sherry used to be when she would call me while I was on the air and beg me to "play something fast." Common wisdom was that "housewife music" was the smooth, slow, calming, middle-of-the-road stuff, but Sherry had taught me different. She'd say, "I feel so bad. Play something to get me going. Play Crocodile Rock." And I'd play one fast song after another. She said that always helped her through the day. So, all these years later, when I am in charge of KNAN's music, I select the songs we play based on how I think the 'old' Sherry would have responded.
We play only the fastest, funnest dance tunes, the hot hits. No oldies! No soft stuff! We grab the listener, pick her up, squeeze her, shake her, never let her go. (Figuratively, of course.) Roger, the owner, hates it. He calls me into his office and berates me for playing “Oh, Sheila" (by Ready For The World) and says he never wants to hear anything like that on his station again. The next morning his wife and daughter come to the breakfast table singing “Oh, Sheila” and Roger comes to work and apologizes to me and never interferes with music selection again.
I convince him to subscribe to the ratings, which cost more than the salary of a fulltime employee. When he doesn’t see an immediate increase in advertising revenue, he calls me in for an ass-chewing. “We haven’t made one red cent from national advertising because of these ratings. I was stupid to take your advice and I promise you it won’t happen again.” At this moment—this very moment—our lovely red-haired secretary pops in and says, “Randy, Lay’s Potato Chips wants to buy some advertising. Do you want to call them back?” Roger never reins me in again.
When I’m spending $19,000 per month running his station, we're bringing in $40,000 in sales. When I spend $40,000 per month, we make $60,000. When I increase spending to $60,000 per month, our income rises to $165,000 per month.
January is the toughest month for selling ads. But, in consecutive Januarys, we bill $19,000, $42,000 and $126,000. These increases aren’t due to Monroe being a thriving, growing market, because it isn't. We succeed because of our creative ideas and winning attitudes –which are the main ingredients in the “magic” of Magic 106.
One of our January campaigns is “A Winning Attitude Is Magic,” in which we talk about business owners’ winning attitudes and then run their ads. “Joe Sixpack started with a wheelbarrow and two shovels and now he owns shops in six states….” Followed by, “Shop at Joe Sixpack’s store today for….” whatever. That one idea results in a 150% increase in business in one month.
I hire a country disk-jockey, Chuck Redden, for the morning show. He thinks he’s supposed to be laid-back, sophisticated on an Adult-Contemporary station. I tell him to be himself—act a fool. He does. Which makes him a phenomenon. Chuck can talk like Governor Edwin Edwards, writes a song about Edwards (“The Edwin Shuffle”) and we sell hundreds of copies of it on cassette. “The Edwin Shuffle” gets noticed as far away as Dallas. The Dallas Morning News does a story about it.
Imagine a little station in a converted laundry building in West Monroe, Louisiana, getting press coverage from the Dallas Morning News! Damn! Geez! What’s going on?
Our news guy Clifton Riley writes news that flows like poetry.
Clifton does a perfect imitation of Ronald Reagan. So does Steve Cannon, my midday host. Together, they become the Reagan brothers, pretending that Ronald Reagan is twins. They do hilarious spoofs of the bumbling old President.
Our night man, Paul Piro, sounds like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. We name him the Piro-maniac and he sets the night-time on fire with the highest ratings on the station--more than 40% in all age-groups.
Tom Ross (Tom Gombossy) is a Hungarian refugee with a Psychology degree from Louisiana Tech. I hire him as a deejay but he’s so good at making people like him that he drifts into sales and makes the transition from $6.00 an hour to (sometimes) hundreds of dollars an hour, from the slums to a big house in a fine subdivision in less than a year.
I first hire Tripper Lewis (Louis Lowentritt III) when he’s 17. The kid does superb production, runs a tight show and has incredible sales abilities. He does so many different things so well, I sometimes have trouble deciding which slot to use him in, but—one way or the other—I’m counting on him for the long-haul. The kid’s practically a genius. How could I go wrong with a genius? His one big drawback is insecurity—constantly asking if I’m going to fire him. Fire him? Hell, that’s the farthest thing from my mind. I’d never fire him in a million years. Except for the power of suggestion.... except he never lets up. Before I realize it, I'm thinking about it as much as he is so I have to fire him. Seven times in six years. However, I hire him eight times in those same six years and he’s still there when I get fired by new owners.
Although I’m GM and don’t have an air shift, I write and produce many of our commercials. (My record is 136 in one day.) (Steve did 35 that same day.)
We develop a “sharp angle” sales pitch in which our sales rep says, “Mr. Businessman, if I can get a commercial for you in the next five minutes that makes you laugh or gives you chill bumps, will you spend X amount of dollars with me next month?” To prove there’s no pre-recorded spot, we let the customer—not my sales rep—call and give me a few details. I write and produce the spot and call him back within five minutes. If he laughs or gets chill bumps, we get the sale. It never fails.
We’re good at selling our customers. We’re even better at selling OUR CUSTOMERS’ customers. Some examples, from one of our brochures at the time….
IDEAL APPLIANCE: “The remote we ran on 106 DOUBLED the largest day we ever had!” (Martin Thibodeaux)
ARCTIC SCOOP: “More than 1100 people came in and asked for our special IN ONE DAY, after 21 ads on Magic 106!” (Don Spatafore)
TRENTON HOUSE BRIDAL REGISTRY: “After 16 spots on Magic 106, over 700 people attended on Saturday, when normally about 40 come in!” (Martha Rogers)
SUBWAY SANDWICHES: “Our customer count increased by 125% when we did the remote with Magic 106. The following day doubled!” (Shane McOmber)
TWIN CITY HONDA: “Spending $2,000 per week on a Magic 106 promotion, we did over $415,000 of business in 4 weeks…doubly impressive since it occurred during and after the stock market crash.” (Lannie P. Henley)
No other station before or since has ever gotten results like this. Because no station was ever as exciting as Magic 106—the station people listened to even when it was off the air.
When I find out that Roger has secretly sold the station, after promising me throughout the past five years that he’d never do so, I tell him how disappointed I am. Then I get the biggest break of my life when Roger gets sued by some former employees, forcing him to postpone the sale until he settles the suit. He tells me if I’ll stay till the sale goes through, he’ll let me do everything my way. And he keeps that promise. He goes back to the tire business and I run the radio station.
I do everything I ever wanted to do in radio—with billboards, giveaways, hot music, fun-loving deejays, commercials that are so good they’re part of the entertainment, not an interruption of it, huge promotions (like the afore-mentioned Weekend On The Lake.)
We toss 10,000 wooden nickels from our float in the Monroe Mardi Gras parade. The nickels are numbered and one is worth a new car, which we give away a week later at Pecanland Mall. The giant mall is swamped with Magic 106 listeners. There’s standing room only—barely breathing room—around the Magic 106 stage where we announce the winner of the car. There are so many people in attendance that mall merchants close their doors and lock their grates to keep our crowd from standing in their stores. The whole event is broadcast on live TV.
In the first ratings period after Roger has given me complete control of the station, something incredible happens: the ratings company (Birch Radio) refuses to release the survey on the announced date because one station’s ratings are so high they can’t believe it. They review the data, double-check with respondents, re-calculate and, finally, announce that Magic 106 has scored the highest ratings ever tabulated in a 12-station market: 37.2% .
In those days—Chuck, Tom, Tripper, Steve, Clifton, The Piromaniac, me and (most of all) Sherry, who started with no accounts, making calls on her lunch break at her day job, and ended up outselling all the rest of the 13-station market COMBINED—walked on water. We were magic.
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