The big question that everyone was consumed with is who will be the new morning host on WJR. Following the untimely death of JP McCarthy, it became Detroit Media’s Top guessing game.
I probably contributed to the drama by commissioning a research project. I contacted my good friend Dr. Ed Cohen to work up a study and get it in the field. We put several names on the list and asked respondents a variety of questions regarding their listening preferences and who would be best suited to replace McCarthy.
One person that contacted me through his agent expressing an interest was Soupy Sales. Soupy was a frequent guest on JP’s show and, I believe, was a guest host a couple of times. Soupy began his TV career in Detroit. So, in many respects, he was a well known Detroit personality. Anyhow, when constructing the questionnaire with Dr. Ed, I said “just for the hell of it, let’s put Soupy on the list”. A few days later when I arrived at the office, my normally cheerful assistant Fran Ehlers scowled at me, raising her voice while slamming a copy of the morning Free Press on my desk. “How could you possibly consider Soupy Sales to replace JP!” There it was – The headline in the newspaper. “Soupy Sales on list to replace JP McCarthy”. Yikes!!!! I had a lot of explaining to do. But in reality, there were only two real contenders.
Dick Purtan, was Detroit’s funnyman in the morning. He had done morning shows in Detroit stations WXYZ, CKLW, and now was at WKQI. With his cast of characters and Dick’s somewhat wry and dry sense of humor, combined with superb writing, I used to laugh my ass off when Purtan was doing mornings on CKLW. I frequently tuned in to hear his antics on my long drives from Grand Rapids to Toledo in the early 80’s. Although Dick was known for his comedy, he had a serious side too – partnering with many charities raising millions over the years in Detroit. Everyone in town knew Dick Purtan. He was the best at what he did. I was a big fan.
And then there was Paul W Smith. Paul and I worked together at WSPD in Toledo. Paul was a JP protege and had done morning shows in Detroit at CKLW, WABC and WMCA in New York City, and WWDB in Philadelphia. Paul had superb interviewing skills and relished rubbing elbows with the shakers and movers. Paul was not comedic like Purtan, but he did have a keen sense of humor and an engaging personality both on and off the air. At the time of JP’s death, Paul was hosting the popular WJR Mid-day Focus show while doing mornings at WWDB. Motor City listeners were certainly familiar with Paul W.
The overwhelming consensus from the staff was Dick Purtan should be the new morning host on WJR. I recall gathering Mike Shiels and Russ White in my office and soliciting their input. They felt Purtan would be the best choice. There was never a question in my mind, not for a nano second, of who that person should be. My choice may surprise you.