Spring 82 I was recalled to Grand Rapids to program the company’s flagship stations WOOD and WOOD FM. Program Director Bill Struyk was stepping down after a long and successful run at the stations. He was purchasing his own stations in Grand Haven, Michigan.
Times were changing. WOOD 1300 was facing a serious direct challenge from WCUZ, a country station that took some pages out of the WOOD playbook. WOOD Broadcasting President Mike Lareau asked me to come back and take the programming helm. A look at the ratings and there was no doubt WOOD AM was in deep trouble. WCUZ had mounted a direct challenge to WOOD’s seemingly impenetrable news department. They also brought former WOOD personalities Andy Rent and Dave Randall on board. Rent was teamed with Dennis Sutton and the pair began chipping away at Bruce Grant on WOOD. Of course it didn’t hurt that WCUZ carried the Detroit Tigers. For the first time in my relatively young career, I was about to get beat.
For two years I was pretty much a caretaker PD. I wanted to make big changes on both the AM and FM. The AM was old sounding. The FM even older playing elevator music. But the owners of WOOD broadcasting were not about to support any big change. There was too much concern about music. It seemed that music dominated every program discussion about WOOD AM. But the ratings success of nighttime’s Talknet and our weekly Sunday Morning Talk Show clearly showed the strength of news and talk. Still, the charge was to program middle of the road music mixed with personality chit chat, news and information. At one point I was ordered to develop a broadway music feature. The wives of the owners were a part of a music committee that apparently had a penchant for that sort of thing. Meanwhile WOOD FM continued to chug along playing instrumental “beautiful music” produced by Jim Schulke out of New Jersey. Schulke’s “matched flow” format had unbelievable success. WOOD-FM was the first FM station to be number one in a market…and they did it with elevator music, limited commercials, and non intrusive production. I really wasn’t the program director of WOOD FM. Schulke was. Every time the ratings came out I’d go into the master control room at pat the automation machine saying “nice job.” But even the FM started showing erosion. The audience was literally dying off.
And WOOD AM was on a downward spiral. 1984 was serving up a cocktail I didn’t like the taste of. WCUZ FM, helped with a winning Detroit Tigers, and a lot of brilliant promotion, kicked my ass.
Next – digging out.