THE MADAGASCAR HISSING COCKROACH

By Randy Reynolds


When I became disgusted with living in a migrant worker cabin in an orange grove in central Florida, managing an AM radio station with no potential for growth, I decided to apply for a job in the radio market I least respected and in which I thought I could have the greatest impact: Alexandria, Louisiana.

After my success in Monroe, Louisiana—a similar size market that, like Alexandria, had 13 radio stations and a stagnant economy—I thought that if I ever got a chance to manage in Alexandria, I’d set that market on its ear. And so I looked up the name of the owner of KZMZ-FM (a powerful station with a signal that could be heard in almost every parish of Louisiana) and, not knowing that he was deceased, wrote him a letter.

His widow, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, had no clue what planet she was on, much less that she was in a fight with her church over who was to inherit her husband’s oil wells and broadcast properties. The judge in the succession battle bent over backward for the church, even allowing members to search the dead man’s home and take apart some walls looking for secret compartments, but no new will was discovered and the widow with the vacant windows got everything.

The judge appointed an executor for the estate. The executor hired a consultant from Washington. The consultant studied the market and decided that he needed one Randy Reynolds to manage the big radio station in Alexandria. But, in those pre-Internet days, Randy Reynolds couldn’t be found.
That’s when my letter to the dead man arrived on his desk.

“I’ve been searching for you all over the country,” said the consultant.

That seemed logical to me. I knew I was the best at what I did, despite the fact that as we spoke, I was sitting on the floor of a living room that had no couch in my shack in the orange grove.

There had been some articles about me in Radio & Records and Sound Management. My station had had some of the highest ratings in the nation (for mid-sized markets) in 1986 & 1987.  Sales-wise, my Monroe station had posted unimaginable year-to-year increases, increases that came directly off the books of the competition.

When the consultant had tried to buy us, he had seen those numbers and learned a few things about Randy Reynolds—most significantly, that I was (as the Monroe owner said in his recommendation,) “… the epitome of today’s ultra-competitive radio manager.”

We met at the Atlanta airport, the executor, the consultant and I, and they told me what they wanted most of all was someone who could turn the tables on the biggest, baddest bully on the block in Alexandria—the station known as the Q.

They said: “We put out some bumper stickers and deejays from the Q collected them and stuck them to the back door of KZMZ. It sealed the door shut and our people couldn’t get out.”

And: “When we do a remote, they bring the Q remote van to our location and broadcast live, for free, ridiculing us for the size of our crowd.”

And: “When we run Louisiana Tech football games, the Q’s deejays go on the air and say, ‘Quick, if you want to hear what a real rock’n’roll radio station sounds like, turn over to KZMZ right now!’ And then people turn to us and hear the game and go right back to the Q. They’ve made us a laughingstock.”

And (most importantly): “Randy, we want you to do to them what they’ve been doing to us.”
Ironically, five years later (in 1993,) when the Q hired me as VP, Station Manager and Sales Manager for the four stations under their roof, they used almost the same words: “Randy, we want you to come do for us what you did to us.” (But that’s another story.)

I renamed KZMZ “Power 96.9”. I inherited the best deejay in town, David Atwood, but he wanted to get out of radio and get a real job, so he left for LSU soon after I arrived.  That left me with (mostly) a staff of druggies, so over my first few months I got rid of them or they got rid of themselves.  I brought in a harder-working, more talented staff, including a few guys who had worked for me in Monroe.

We turned Power 96.9 into a sales- and ratings-powerhouse and gave the Q a taste of their own medicine. I gave $96.09 to the person who could make the biggest ball out of Q bumper stickers, so our listeners went all over the city collecting Q stickers for the Q-Ball contest. One little boy with more-than-average chutzpah even went to the Q studios and got all the bumper stickers from their counter. A station exec furiously grabbed the stickers back and tried to escort the kid to the front door, but they stumbled and the kid claimed he fell down the steps. He came over to our station and told the heart-wrenching (!) story of how the people at the Q were mean to him.

We established a litmus test for new salespeople: they had to put Power 96.9 bumper stickers on the Q van and the Q owners’ cars before I would hire them.

The Q’s mascot was a gorilla, so we gave $96.09 to the person who could draw the best picture of us defeating a gorilla and then we published the gruesome entries.

Not everything revolved around the Q, though. We needed a part-timer, so we gave away the job in a contest.

A drunk superior court judge running for reelection stopped to relieve himself in the middle of the street one night and a cop caught him and called it in but didn't arrest him. At the time, Janie's Got A Gun by Aerosmith was a big hit on our station. We changed the song to Judgie's Gotta Pee and one of my jocks sang it and it became a smash hit! What could the other stations do to compete with totally local/outrageous/funny stuff like that? Nothing.

The free world was ostracizing South Africa and we, for what it was worth, used the phrase “Free Mandela” on the air at least once every hour.

It sounded like we were on a mission—numerous missions at once—“Free Mandela,” “Beat the Gorilla,” “The Q-Ball Contest,” “Win a Job,” "Judgie's Gotta Pee," “Bring us a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.”

Huge hissing cockroaches were, according to the news media, spreading through America after entering the country in shipments of bananas and oranges at seaports such as New Orleans. Although we didn’t say that any had been reported in our area, we offered $96.09 to the first listener who could bring us a live one in a jar. And a soldier from Fort Polk did it. We had a good time with it on the morning show—the cockroach hissed and we oohed and aaahed about the size of the thing and its ferociousness and the soldier collected his $96.09 and carried the cockroach back to the lab he’d borrowed it from at the fort.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and held some Americans hostage, our News Director Clifton Riley (who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew everybody in the world—think two degrees of Kevin Bacon) got the only interview in America with the Iraqi ambassador to Washington.

Our ratings doubled, our income tripled, the old lady with Alzheimer’s died, other people wanted to hire me away, the consultant warned me it would be dangerous to mention this to the board, which had reneged on a promise to invest me with part ownership in the station…

So, in due course, I accepted an offer to become manager (and part-owner) of some stations in Texas…which is a whole other helluva story that hurts my head to think about….


(Photo: The best Newsman I ever had: my great friend Clifton Riley. I hired him at three different stations. His news-writing flowed like poetry. He did a wicked Ronald Reagan impression and so did our deejay Steve Aldrich. Together, they were "The Reagan Brothers"--and they put the bumbling old President into hilarious perspective for our Central Louisiana audience.)

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Later…after 96.9, after my Texas misadventures and after coming back to manage four stations for three years in Alexandria…I became a Morning Man again…(with my imaginary podnuh I.B. Flyin’)
http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2011/02/aaaaaiiiiiyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee.html


Earlier…as gangsters would phrase it, I “made my bones” in Monroe
I worked at 30-something stations and moved 59 times. (I changed houses more than jobs because every time my station got more successful I moved to ever-better lodgings and spent ever-more money and—a major factor in my story—aroused ever-increasing interest from the I.R.S. ) I probably won’t live long enough to tell about each stop on my journey…and it would certainly be boring to tell it in chronological order, so I’m doing as Mark Twain did—telling whatever part of the story interests me most on a given day.