Tonight it is storming in San Miguel de Allende. One of those nights to pour some Canadian Club over ice into one of my prized Waterford Crystal tumblers, and begin a series on people.
The broadcast industry is a people business. And boy, do we have some characters. I look back on my career and certain people just pop! There’s Bart Brandmiller. Bart, along with his pals Sluggo, Tubby, The Wizard, and the Mongoose had a major impact in my life. Coming up, an entire chapter on that. There’s Gary Allen. I recall the summer afternoons – a Tuesday I think – when I was program director of WOOD and Gary would come into my office and declare it a “Tropical Tuesday”. For those of you that associate the word “tropics” with a West End establishment in Grand Rapids, you know what that was all about. Aside from my wife Sharon, I think Gary and Bart are my best friends.
And then there’s Bob Becker. Weekend DJ for life in Grand Rapids. Becker is perhaps the cheapest person I know..but I love him all the same. As a young DJ arriving in Grand Rapids in 1971, Bob Becker was the first Big 14 Jock I met. I remember Ron White (WGRD PD) telling me that Bob Becker would be coming in to relieve me in the morning. I was doing overnights Saturday into Sunday and Bob would come in to do the Sunday Morning shift. The name alone suggests gravitas..BOB BECKER. I was expecting a 6’4″ 200 pound Adonis to walk into the studio. When Mr. Peepers showed up, I was taken aback. But from there, a life long friendship developed. I can tell you lots of stories about Becker..like how I used to sneak back into the station and hide his Cheerios. Or how I played Santa Claus for his kids one winter night shortly before Christmas. But my favorite was Sunday morning church. Bob, his wife Cathy, and Bob’s mom (Mrs. Becker) would all go to mass at St. James on Bridge Street. Afterwards, we’d all go to the Big Boy on Pearl Street for breakfast. I swear this really happened. Bob’s mother left a tip for the waitress. After Mrs. Becker got up to head to the parking lot, Bob said “oh, that’s too much” and he picked it up..leaving a smaller tip. Now, just to be fair, Mrs. Becker did leave a rather large tip..and Bob replaced it with the customary 15%. But it was one of those moments in time that I won’t forget. I recently went to lunch with Gary Hunt and Bob at Tillman’s in Grand Rapids. The three of us used to meet there for lunch frequently. I hadn’t seen either of them for a few years and it was so damn good to get together again..and Bob picked up the tab! By the way, the three old sales guys at the bar are still there.
A lot of people I worked with over the years are no longer with us. Gary Bazner told me one time that there are two types of people in radio – those that have been fired and those that are going to be fired. He also told me he would die at a young age. He was right – on both counts. Gary died on February 2nd, 1996. He wasn’t even 50. I think it’s very ironic that Gary, a weatherman by profession, died on Groundhogs Day. Weird.
One of the people I had to fire was the sports guy at WOOD Radio. Tom Mahoney wasn’t a bad sports announcer in my opinion but he wasn’t liked. General Manager Mike Lareau wanted him gone. I had just taken over as PD of WOOD and the night had arrived for me to fire Tom. I was trembling..didn’t want to do it. So Lareau said “let me show you how to fire somebody”. After Mahoney finished his sports show at 8pm, I summoned him into Lareau’s office. Tom walked in and Mike said “Tom, we’re parting company effective tonight. Please give me your key and Skip will walk you out”. And that was that. A few years later I learned Mahoney had died. That episode has haunted me ever since.
I was never more struck then when I learned of the death of Sue Price. Sue was our accounts payable person and assistant business manger at Clear Channel. I really like her. She was a single, hard working mom who also knew how to plan one hell of a Christmas Party for about 200 employees. When I learned of her sudden death a couple of years ago, I cried.
And then there’s Bob Scherer. Bob was the General Manger of WHAS in Louisvllle who hired me and put up with my antics for 7 years. Bob was the easiest going person I ever met. In fact we used to joke around that he must have had an intravenous drip of lithium administered daily. Nothing – and I mean nothing – could upset this man. Even the harrowing months of Clear Channel Budgets he handled calmly. One of my fondest memories with Bob was one of the first Clear Channel Manager meetings I attended. (Bob played a big role in convincing Lowry Mays and Stan Webb that I’d make a good manager). Part of the meeting took place on the Mays Ranch outside of San Antonio. This ranch was huge..and it had a big river running through it. Lowry Mays had an old WWII era Jeep (kind of like Nelly Belle on the old Roy Rogers Show). Mays would pile a bunch of us up with inner tubes, drive along the banks of the river, and drop us in. We’d then float back down towards the hacienda. You never saw a person more relaxed than Bob Scherer, in an inner tube, floating down that river. Bob died of lymphoma in 1999. He wasn’t even 60. I miss him. A lot of Lousiville legends are now gone. Milton Metz, Chuck Taylor, Joe Donovan. Great people..truly great. I am so blessed to have known them.
Time for a night cap. This is Skip Essick, signing off.