There are just some things that stay with you. Like the items in this picture. These treasures were made by my daughter over 30 years ago and they’ve adorned my desks from radio stations across America.
Yesterday, as I was having lunch with a bunch of old guys, I got a phone call from Michael O Lareau. Mike is my mentor. He, along with Jim White, hired me to program WSPD in Toledo. Speedy – as it was called, was Toledo’s big news and information station and it was owned by WOOD Broadcasting out of Grand Rapids. I’ll get into the Toledo years a little later down the road. Mike and I had a nice 30 minute chat on the phone. He still sounds the same and he’s still very much interested in what I’m up to. After the call, I decided I would take a little blog detour and write about the man most of us refer to as MOL.
One day, as I was sitting at my desk overlooking South Superior Street in Toledo, Mike called me and asked me if I would move up to Grand Rapids to take over programming of WOOD AM/FM. Eureka!!!! I love Grand Rapids to this day. I had spent nearly 10 years in GR at WGRD Radio (and, I’ve got a lot of great stuff coming about the 70’s in Grand Rapids in later blogs). So going back “home” was a dream come true. And, wow, WOOD Radio – the crown jewel of Grand Rapids Radio would be the canvas for my so called radio artistry. There was one problem. Mortgage rates in the early 1980’s were hovering around 18%. I had no idea how I would afford a home. The home in Toledo was at an 8% VA assumable mortgage. Mike solved the problem by adjusting my salary to cover the difference between what the house payment in Toledo was to what it would be in Grand Rapids.
Working with Mike day by day was quite a bit different than working for him from 150 miles away. Lareau was Mr. WOOD Radio – period. He had made the station what it was with great on air talent like Bruce Grant, Tom Quain, Bill Struyk, Gary Allen, and Mark Roberts. Plus a news team second to none. Make no mistake, Mike had his critics. A lot of people thought he was ruthless. He was stern to be sure. But you always knew where you stood with Mike. No bullshit.
I’m not sure why Mike took a liking to me but he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He had some sayings that have now become a part of my lexicon..like “there isn’t one problem this station has that can’t be solved by increased revenue” or “nothing is easy”.
I always knew I had Mike’s back. I never worried that he would throw me under the bus. For instance, I got into a little riff with one of the owners about programming. I was “encouraged” to develop a Broadway Musical Feature . I told Mike I wouldn’t do it and they’d have to fire me first. Mike defended me and backed me up..and I stayed on at WOOD..but the powers that be wouldn’t let Mike give me a Christmas Bonus. It would have come in handy because the transmission went out on my car. Mike suggested I use his mechanic..and, when I went to pick the car up, the bill had been paid. By the way, Mike never told me he paid the bill. But that’s the kind of guy he is.
Many years later, when I returned for a 3rd stint in Grand Rapids as the Regional Market Manager for Clear Channel, one of the stations in the cluster was WOOD. And it was Mike who helped me navigate through all of the intricacies of being a General Manager. I’m in his debt. If anyone who is on the board Michigan Association of Broadcasters is reading this, I hope you induct Mike in the Hall of Fame. He deserves it.