by Alex Cosper
Ladies & gentlemen, today I'm with Bonnie Stacy-Canelakes, who runs her own promotion company that serves radio stations, record labels & a wide variety of other businesses who need hats, t-shirts, mugs & other items .. She started out doing freeform radio in Corpus Christi then rock radio in Dallas & has worked for labels. — with Bonnie Stacy-Canelakes.
Bonnie: Hi Alex, great to talk to you today!
Alex: Bonnie, thanks for joining me to talk about your career in radio, music and promotions. First tell us about the promotion company you run.
Bonnie: Well Upstart Promotions just celebrated it's .. our, 20th year in business last year. Helping bands, labels and radio get branded merchandise in front of their audiences. It was a bit of a rocky climb in the beginning but, hey, after 20 years I think I can say it's worked out. The music biz is a great niche market for a former PD and promotion person.
Alex: Bonnie, let's go back to how it all started for you working with music. I understand you started as a night club DJ in Corpus Christi.
Bonnie: I did. I've always been a music junkie with no genre issues...love everything. While I was still in the Navy a co-worker, who was working at a dance club, showed me the ropes and I loved it! Soon I got his job (ouch, still sorry Tony!) and then was installed at the owner's new club, Dr. Livingston's and spun records therefor a couple years. By 78/79 the disco thing was dying, so they turned it into a rock club, with live local bands, and I continued spinning between sets. It was a dream job, really. For a 22 year old music junkie anyway.
Alex: C101 must have been your dream job. Tell us how you got the job as Music Director of freeform/rock station KNCN in Corpus Christi and how that led to your PD position and air shifts.
Bonnie: Well yeah, that was the ultimate goal. C-101 was a LEGEND in South Texas and I'd been a devotee since I'd moved there. In the back of my mind I'd think, 'wouldn't it be awesome to do THAT'! But never seriously thought it could happen. But it did, I was discovered by PD Bob Fazio ('The Faze'), well actually it was his wife Teri who insisted I be hired, but the took me from the club, put me on the Sunday night jazz show and taught me how to be a really good jock. Bob Fazio is THE consummate professional, and he taught me things about radio, delivery, messaging...things I might not have learned from others.It was a typical free-form AOR, owned by Bruce Baxter; it was basically his personal jukebox when he put it on the air. Over time, the natural progression happened..overnights, then I was good enough for middays by 1981.
Mando Camina was and had been the music director for some time, but he saw my eagerness and let me help out, talk to record people, and he and Bob took me along on dinners and backstage at shows...I got the full experience from them. The station was on a card system by then, maybe 1983? New wave was making a real impact at AOR, Bruce Baxter had died and his wife sold the station to Tippie Communications. And there things began to shift; Mando left to pursue a TV career in San Antonio and I was crowned MD and given PM drive as Bob Fazio was made OM and relinquished his airshift. I LOVED it. Eventually, and this is where my memories get fuzzy for some reason, I was given the title of PD thanks to Bob's insistence, but it was just a title, I didn't have a whole lot of extra responsibilities other than handling the jocks. It didn't come with a raise either .. and at this point, around early 86 I began to think about other opportunities.
Alex: Bonnie, did you know of any other women PDs in America in the mid-80s while programming in Corpus Christi and did you know of any earlier women radio programmers?
Bonnie: No, I never knew any previous female jocks prior to the job. I loved catching Dusty Street though, when I'd visit my brother in SF, sheesh I was just a kid. I was fascinated by a female as DJ. As years went on I did meet some female jocks but frankly there weren't as many programming except in the majors. Jackie Robbins, who programmed across town at Top 40 KZFM in the 80s was always a feisty competitor yet we were friendly, and still are. Sandy Beach, MD at KLBJ for years started out in Corpus (I think at KZFM) we've always been great friends. Most of the female jocks and PDs I met during my time doing records though. KLBJ always had a reputation for hiring great female MDs: Sara Trexler and Melody Lee. CJ Cruz at KISS/San Antonio was a good friend in later years. But you didn't see a lot of female PDs in Texas, or in the Southwest radio market so I didn't encounter a whole lot during my career, believe it or not. I'm probably forgetting some I met at conventions or shared a dinner with at some point, wine being the main culprit.
Alex: As PD of C101, how much freedom did you give the jocks? Did each show have its own sound?
Bonnie: When I was PD things had changed quite radically; it was 1985 by then, the Tippie people were looking at what larger markets were doing and trying to incorporate as much of that as they could, though much of it was so not relevant to Corpus Christi. The station had hit #1 12+ in mid 83 I think it was, and from that point forward they were hell bent on removing as much of the local feel as they could, the way corporate owners tend to do. I always encouraged the jocks to be themselves, but all the shows now had the dreaded 'sameness' that was so prevalent when a true AOR; much of the autonomy I had as MD had been taken away as PD. And Bob Fazio left in 1986 to pursue his dream job, and we were a bit rudderless at that point. They brought Pepe Lopez in from KLAQ/El Paso to replace Bob. He was pretty heavy handed, ended up leaving under questionable circumstances, but that was shortly after I left in 1987.
Alex: Then you wound up in the record biz. Tell us how you decided to move to Dallas in 1987 to join Virgin Records.
Bonnie: Well, I blame Michael Plen & Jeffrey Naumann for that! I had auditioned for a job at .. oh God, I can't remember the call letters now .. Ted Edwards station in San Diego? YOU would know, lol. Anyway, I flew out there and just barely missed getting the job,(dammit) but word was getting around I was looking to leave and Plen, who'd been working me from IRS Records for several years and Jeffrey from RCA, jumped in and offered to put me in Dallas at 3x the salary I was currently making, train me to do promotion .. again, the dream job, just fell in my lap. Since they were restarting Virgin from the ground up in the US, and everyone was going to be new there, I thought it was a perfect fit and I went for it. Plus Phil Quarterero .. who can say no to him?
Alex: Bonnie, sorry I can't name that station, but I'm sure it's somewhere in a huge stack of notes. So it sounds like you enjoyed the record biz, as you also worked for Atco Records out of Dallas from 1989 to 1994 before moving on to Capitol Records. What did you like about the record biz so much?
Bonnie: The independence! Well, the music of course .. breaking new acts was a huge thrill. But working in Texas at the time, was super cool because folks out of NY and LA really didn't 'get' this market; that was true for many of the labels, actually....they left us alone, let us do things 'our way'. There was always, back then, a 'posse' of us, a group of 8-10 of us who would 'gang up' so to speak, on stations .. we did some crazy things, unique promotions .. broke some IMPOSSIBLE records, like Pantera for instance, charted AC/DC to the top 20 at Top 40 .. worked with amazing people like The Rembrandts, Roy Orbison, Keith Richards, Warren Zevon, Better Than Ezra, Gary Moore .. we were working and playing at 1000mph ALWAYS.
Alex: Then you ended up in radio once again in another dream job situation at KEGL in Dallas from 1994 to 1996. Tell us how that station tried to mix rock and top 40.
Bonnie: Well it wasn't so much Rock and Top 40 by then, once Jimmy Steal left (he had done a beautiful job with Rock 40), it went back to more of a Rock hits format, vs an album station. Fewer deep album cuts or things that didn't chart well in R&R, fairly tightened up and it rocked pretty hard. KEGL may have sounded it's best during this period; Cindy Scull is an AMAZING MD. Duane Doherty was PD at this point, and we'd just put The Howard Stern show on in the market so it was a pretty exciting and hectic time there. The station sold a couple times during the short period I was there, and Greg .. yeah .. can't remember his name now, was brought in by the consultants; a rather legendary guy, but quiet .. a genius, really, and a great guy .. he was hired by the current owners (sorry I can't remember who that was at the moment), and his first day at the station it was sold to Nationwide. Things began to unravel at that point. I'd have stuck around but none of the full time jocks were going anywhere; they brought in a succession of guys to do the 7-Midnight shift because of course, with Cindy Scull on PM drive they weren't gonna put another female on right after her. I was doomed and once again,and I was saved by yet another happy accident when Patti Martin and Greg Thompson insisted I come work at Elektra Records. Sorry my memory isn't a little better .. ah but whose is.
Alex: It's ok, Bonnie, last century's radio biz is becoming a blur against today's corporate backdrop of soundalike stations. It's interesting that you returned to the record biz once again after leaving KEGL. Tell us about your time at Elektra Records in the late 90s.
Bonnie: Well, frankly, I needed the money. Back then, NOTHING paid like the record biz. And I couldn't say no to my close buddy Patti Martin, Greg Thompson or so many of the people I'd worked with at Atco, some of whom Greg had brought over to Elektra in the wake of Atco-East/West's demise. The business was starting to change by them though, it was all about 'spins' and numbers, not so much about the true heart of the business, which is MUSIC .. and radio was being commodified (my word) to the point that it was hard to keep track of who owned what! Centralized programming made it difficult to get to the decision makers, after a year I felt like I was becoming obsolete. And I was getting older .. it was more difficult to travel and keep late hours. But I so loved working with The Old 97's, Natalie Merchant, Linda Ronstadt, Metallica .. so many of these legendary artists who were still on Elektra.
Alex: You touched on a very important time marker in the music biz. It was in the late 90s when the biz started saying a lot "we're just a biz" and radio said the same thing. Since you've seen this whole world from both an art and commerce perspective, do you believe that artistic considerations are a big part of marketing?
Bonnie: Well they should be, if I'm reading you right. It's NOT just 'a biz' it's the MUSIC business. The music comes first, without it you have nothing to sell. And MUSIC is difficult to sell and promote, because it's an intangible. Until it's recorded, it floats on the wind, and until it's heard is totally objective. Looking at the business with THAT in mind makes me almost ashamed of the music biz/radio situation as it is. Its bad enough that retail, pharma and the health and insurance industries have made our entire lives nothing but commodities to be tallied, polled and manipulated. But when something like music is reduced to that, it makes me sad for humanity. What's more exciting than seeing some little band playing somewhere and they are so unexpectedly good? Or when you hear that song from way back when you...and it takes you right back there to that moment. There's nothing else like that experience. It may be a Pollyanna viewpoint but I don't care.
Alex: Yes, it seems music naturally needs to have something to do with art and the ideas that labels come up with to promote artists are usually creative .. so the music biz definitely needs to embrace creativity .. I think of you as creative because you've done radio and you're a graphic artist. Do you design logos? What type of graphic art do you like to do?
Bonnie: I CAN design logos, but when I went to school to learn graphic arts it was pre-computers. Everything was done by hand. Cue up 1994 when I started Upstart Promo Inc I had to teach myself Illustrator and Photoshop...on the job training, if you will, to deal with art & logos. I couldn't take classes, I was running a business for the first time. But I learned as much as I could and still am, actually. Since radio often already has logos is usually just a matter of tweaking them, or adding other elements. It's mostly setting logos up for whatever the product is they're going on. I do have a professional graphic artist on call 24/7 if I need something done that's beyond my ken. And he's a radio guy too, so he 'gets it'.
Alex: Aside from Upstart Promotions, you also host a show that's been going on for awhile in which you play classics. Tell us about that show.
Bonnie: Yep, www.Boss Boss Radio.com, where I do 10A -2P Pacific time Mon-Fri because I love being on the radio. It sure ain't for the money! It's a good blend of Top 40, Rock & R&B hits from 1964-1979, the "Boss" era of radio in California, which inspires the format. The brainchild of John Van Camp, west coast radio geek. It's just one of 2 internet stations he runs. it's so fun, because it's 'live' radio, i.e. it's just like a normal terrestrial station, it's just on the internet instead. We have a large library, several thousand songs that we all share. it's not a 'come and play your records and say whatever you want' kind of format.
There's a code, like at any station, and we follow it. I love entertaining people, whether they're in the room or not. Mr Van Camp is actually the graphic artist I spoke of above; hiring him to do my difficult art projects was how I ended up on the Boss. Again, another happy accident. I'm embarrassed to say I've never made a resume. Never needed to. I've been very lucky to do what I love for almost my entire life.
Alex: Well you certainly do fun work, Bonnie. Thanks for sharing your experiences in radio, records and promotions. Any closing thoughts?
Bonnie: Well your work looks pretty fun too Alex! I sure an humbled and grateful for your interest. I really do wish, like you do, that individuality was more celebrated today, I think that's one of the things missing from society. Everything is so homogenized from where I sit. Guess we'll have to keep up the good works so tomorrow's children know what WE know, especially about music. Thanks so much Alex. Love your posts, btw!!
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