by Alex Cosper
Alex: Today I'm talking with Bob Wilson, founder of Radio & Records, the industry's newspaper for four decades through the mid 2000s. He helped create the TV show Midnight Special and was partners with Wolfman Jack. Bob came from the radio industry, working on the air at KROY in Sacramento during its heyday and programming KDAY in Los Angeles. Bob, tell us briefly what attracted you to radio.
Bob: When I was a young kid listening to the radio on my transistor I became entranced with it ... later in life I got a job parking cars and my assignment location was the lot behind KFWB in Hollywood ... where I met all the DJs - and parked their cars. I also used to drive out to Pasadena to see the jocks at KRLA and that is how I met Sam Riddle ... who later worked with me at KDAY and has become a lifelong friend. I also used to park Gary Owens' car and he took a liking to me ... suggested I go to radio school, which I did and when I got Gary to write a weekly column in R&R so many years later it was a joy for me.
Alex: You worked at KROY in the 1960s, which brought you into contact with Lynn Anderson and several jocks who went on to work in major markets. What are some of your memories of that era?
Bob: I had a fun time in the Capital City ... Lynn was a sales assistant there and we used to have lunch once a week ... very nice lady. She talked about wanting to be a singer and I was very encouraging to her ... such a sweet soul. The GM was Dwight Case and we became friends too. He was very helpful to me in the beginning of R&R ... when he was head of RKO Radio.
Alex: How did your time at KDAY in Los Angeles prepare you for working with big names in the radio and music industry?
Bob: Heading a station in LA did give me good insight and contacts, no doubt about it. I knew every mover and shaker in the biz. KDAY was the first major market station to play John Denver, which gave me a great relationship with Jerry Weintraub ... we were first on the Eagles - which got me close to David Geffen and Irving Azoff. We also did weekly concert broadcasts from the Whiskey and the Troubador ... pretty early on that concept.
Alex: Explain how you helped create the TV show Midnight Special and how you got to work with Wolfman Jack.
Bob: I met WJ at a movie premiere in Westwood. As we waited in line to get in I struck up a conversation with him. I used to listen to him when I was in high school and he was on XERF. He told me that he loved what I was doing at KDAY and I said "why don't you join us?" - his reply was that he would have his managers call me to put a deal together and we did. America Graffiti and Midnight Special followed and the station was involved in promoting all his ventures. We became business partners for the global syndication of his shows. He was a wonderful friend.
Alex: Tell us about the live weekly broadcasts you did from the Troubador and Whisky-A-Go-Go.
Bob: I was looking for something unique to do as a feature on the station and live concert broadcasts from great venues seemed like a logical concept. My meeting with Doug Weston, owner of the Troubador, was unique ... he greeted us (me and station GM Art Astor) at his house for lunch ... he was totally nude when he met us. He liked the concept and we did it. Mario at the Whiskey was cool with the concept too ... it was a great feature that really promoted the venues.
I left KDAY and radio to start R&R because the radio coverage in the major trades was truly lacking. Billboard had Claude Hall and his weekly column ... one column for and entire industry. Cashbox and Record World paid even less attention to radio. Broadcasting was more focused on TV than radio. There were the radio tipsheets, Gavin never paid much attention to me or the stations I programmed and the tips like Kal Rudman were controlled by the music industry ... there was no real chart methodology ... charts were controlled by relationships and in some cases payoffs -- it just seemed logical and the timing was right on. At R&R we explained our chart methodology and it was similar to how radio stations calculated their own weekly charts.
Alex: What were some of the indicators you found that there was room for another trade magazine?
Bob: At the time of the founding of R&R ... there was Billboard, Record World and Cashbox as well as some radio oriented "tip sheets" ... The big trades were controlled by the record companies and their advertising. There was a time when a record in the Billboard charts went 17 to 1 to 11. The music companies would do and pay for a number one position ... doing whatever they had to do. A number one record meant more than just sales to them ...
It meant touring and a second single which would then propel album sales, etc. The tipsheets of the time were just as bad on real information ... while they did not have advertising they had expensive subscription prices and highlighted their favorite radio programmers, ignoring many others that were also winning in their markets. I remember when Bob Hamilton's Radio trade dropped all chart numbers and switched to a combination of "stars, moons and planets" as indicators of how well a record was doing ... my thought at the time was he was doing way too many drugs.
Alex: How were you able to convince program directors across the nation to contribute their playlist information to your R&R chart?
Bob: I called them all and spoke to them about my concepts. One of the key advantages R&R had was the quick turn around of the info. The existing trades had stations "mail" in their info and then processed it back out - that put their info an entire week late. R&R had the stations call in on the Monday or Tuesday they made their playlist changes and we worked all day and night to turn around the info and publish the paper on Wednesday morning and get it in the mail to the stations by that Friday - same week they reported. It was the same concept when we opened a Washington DC office. Broadcasting magazine waited for the station sales/transactions info to be published and sent to them by the government ...
R&R had a reporter go to the offices and gather the info so we could put it out the same week it happened. The info was always available - the other trades just waited for it to come to them in the mail - - we went and got it while it was fresh and hot. And when the fax machine was invented we started R&R Hotfax to take advantage of the instant technology to get stations the news and music info even faster.
Alex: Describe the rivalry between R&R and other trades such as Billboard.
Bob: I think we beat them pretty quickly and made them somewhat irrelevant. Billboard was the only one to try and counter us with BDS and then SoundScan. The others went out of business.
Alex: Explain how you were involved with nationally syndicated shows such as John Leader's Countdown America.
Bob: I wasn't -- I had a very talented staff of former radio programmers and several of the national syndicators saw an opportunity to use our editors ... worked well for all. We got lots of advertising from their shows and had excellent relations with them all. That was proven when Westwood One bought R&R and we were able to keep those relationships.
Alex: What do you consider to be R&R's greatest contribution to the radio and record industries?
Bob: Honesty and integrity in news and chart reporting ... and giving a real and respected voice to radio on a national level. One other thing we did was the Opportunities or Job Openings section -- that help so many unemployed radio people in need get jobs. Scott Shannon used to say it was the first section in the paper that he read every week ... kept him up on many people he knew.
Alex: What can you tell us about working with Joel Denver, who now runs the online trade publication All Access?
Bob: Joel is a great guy and did lots to help R&R continue its dominance in CHR after John Leader left. I hired successful radio programmers to be our format editors and Joel fit that bill and took to the print media very well. He was always a positive, fun guy to be around and that is probably part of the keys to his continued success.
Alex: I understand that the R&R logo was designed by Dean of Jan & Dean. Tell us more about that.
Bob: Marshall Blonstein, of Ode Records, was a good friend and when I needed to create a logo I asked him if he knew any good artists. Dean had just created the logo for the Roxy club and had a bunch of Rs that he designed for Lou Adler ... so I went over and picked one of them and it was his idea to use the ampersand to join them together ... very clever.
Alex: R&R was clearly the most read publication about the radio and record industries. Why did you decide to sell it?
Bob: my original partners/investors - the Kardashian brothers - Bob & Tom (yes, that Bob Kardashian) wanted to cash out. I would have liked to keep it but they owned 50% and wanted to make a big hit. Considering their original investment was $25,000 - selling it for $12.5 million was a big hit for all of us.
Alex: You watched the Telecom Act of 1996 change the radio industry to what it is today. How would you describe the effects?
Bob: Not good for radio ... which really fared better under local ownership.
Alex: What is your view of how a trade publication such as R&R could play a role in addressing and resolving industry issues?
Bob: R&R rarely took editorial points of view - we just reported the news. I always felt the existing trade organizations were the ones to deal with those kinds of issues ... and they had Washington DC reps in place.
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