I knew we had to make aggressive changes at WOOD in order for the station to maintain dominance. There was an inherent attitude that the stations (both AM and FM) were impenetrable but I knew otherwise. I think one of the more brilliant moves that started bringing the station into a new era was when news director Greg Moceri hired Paula Drake to be the morning news anchor. Moceri was always smarter than me and we both knew it. Paula, paired with Bruce Grant! Who would have thought that would work..but it did. During this time we mounted an aggressive TV campaign called “The Janitor”. created by Chuck Bloor Productions. In the commericial, the night time janitor goes into the control room and has a fantasy of being on the air. Out of his mouth are the voices of Bruce Grant, Paula Drake, some WOOD Radio jingles, etc. I went out to Hollywood to produce the spot. It worked and we started to see the ratings improve. Of course things can turn on a dime. I thought Paula would be with us forever..but she got an offer in a bigger market.
I don’t recall who replaced Paula in the morning news anchor chair, but about this time I cut a deal with the Grand Rapids Police Department to do traffic reports on WOOD. We set up a little broadcast center at the police department and hired retired Captain Charlie Tichon to do traffic reports on the Bruce Grant Show. I had to coach Charlie a lot….but eventually the credibility of reports from the police department eclipsed the delivery shortcomings.
Of course, WCUZ was not going to lay down and let this go. They started a big stink that the police department should not be used for traffic reports unless ALL the Grand Rapids radio stations could benefit from these reports. So, we just moved Charlie down to the studios of WOOD. By this time he was already established. So, where he did the reports was of no consequence.
One morning I was tipped off that our contract with WOTV Channel 8 weather services was in peril and that WCUZ had offered them a more generous compensation deal along with promotion to move their weather from WOOD Radio to them. This meant that one of the city’s popular broadcast personalities, Gary Bazner, would be going to WCUZ. It also meant that we were without a weather service. There were, of course, options. I would have gone with WZZM’S meteorologists. Craig James and Bill Steffen were considered the tops in town..but they were not available to us. And I don’t remember why. There were weather services like Accu Weather, Pinpoint weather, and John McMurray’s weather services. But I wanted to do something different.
Peter Chan was a brilliant meteorologist who had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin. I was tipped off that he was looking for his first professional job..and here’s the clincher. Grand Rapids was his home town. This was no-brainer..we hired Peter. With the purchase of weather forecasting equipment, including a color radar weather unit, WOOD Radio was arguably the first radio station in the country with it’s own weather department.
With traffic reports, weather reports, more news updates in the morning, Bruce’s show became more of a news wheel. But Bruce was also sending signals that he wanted to retire. He felt that many of the things he did..were no being done by somebody else. We began the steps to replace Bruce and I felt the best option was to hire the WCUZ morning team of Andy Rent and Dennis Sutton. We made them the offer they couldn’t refuse..but they did. Back to the drawing board.
Next…bringing a 747 into Grand Rapids..Road Shows…The Baz..post Bruce WOOD..and WOOD-FM changes..and so much more. But for now, this is Skip Essick, signing off from San Miguel de Allende.