WOOD FM was the first FM radio station in America to go number one in the ratings in a market. I became program director of WOOD FM in 1982 but the real program director was Jim Schulke, an eccentric radio programmer from New Jersey. I simply put up a schedule of what tapes aired and when they aired.
The FM, as everyone in the station called it, boasted a powerful signal. 265,000 Watts. The 2nd most powerful FM station in the United States. The FM antenna was perched on top of the WOOD TV Tower about 20 miles southeast of the city. It was a monster signal.
Enter Jim Schulke, the inventor of the beautiful music format…or as most referred to it: elevator music. Schulke would spend hours picking just the right selection, and the song that would follow. It was what he called “match flow”. Every song was an instrumental. There were no vocals. Schulke insisted on non intrusive elements. Which meant announcers said very little. “Beautiful music, from beautiful WOOD FM”. “Always relaxing, always beautiful, this is WOOD FM”. The music was the star of the show. All announcer elements were pre-recorded. Commercials were straight voice. No music beds or jingles. Advertising agencies hated placing time on the station because they had to produce separate commercials to run exclusively on WOOD FM. It was a boring radio station. But it always got great ratings. Many businesses in West Michigan played the radio station to provide a certain ambiance. The formula worked for years until the mid 80’s.
I had wanted to move the station into a more foreground format. Many beautiful music stations we’re going in this direction. When The former WZZR radio became W-Light, it took a chunk of listeners from WOOD FM. Schulke saw the writing on the wall and sold his company to his number one competitor, Bonneville Broadcasting. Bonneville programmers started adding vocals. First 2 per hour, then four, then six. But it was too late. The format was not going to survive. When Philadelphia broadcaster Jerry Lee took his station out of the beautiful music format and launched a full scale adult contemporary format, I knew it was over. Lee was one of those rare guys that invested a lot of money in market research. He understood trends better than most in the industry and he understood his listeners.
I left WOOD and WOOD FM in 1989. I didn’t stick around long enough for the eventual format change of the station in 1991. The stations were sold to Bruce Holberg – another Philadelphia broadcaster. Holberg knew all too well about Jerry Lees station. And it didn’t take him long to bid so long to beautiful music and launch the new Easy 105.7. But it still had that stigma. The Easy relaxing message still gave a perception of boredom. Holberg got it about 25% where it needed to be.
A side note – Holberg visited me in Louisville after he bought the stations. He wanted me to return to Grand Rapids to program the stations. I met him in Grand Rapids a second time and he presented me with a contract. During this meeting he asked me what I thought of the automation equipment in the WOOD FM studio. I told him he should put it out on Division Street and set it on fire. I was being funny but Holberg went off, yelling “ look, this is a new company and you’ll just have to be patient.” Wow! I wasn’t prepared for that. After I left Holberg’s condo in downtown Grand Rapids, I deposited the contract into a trash bin.
When I returned to Grand Rapids on my 3rd tour of duty – this time as General Manager – I did what I wanted to do a decade earlier.
Up next – the best job I ever had.