Monday, December 15, 2008

No time for legends . . . time's up for radio


Being in radio today means never having the right answer to "What have you done for me lately?"

Even if you're a certified broadcasting giant.

ABOUT six years ago, a non-commercial station's production director and program director found themselves -- for some amorphous reason or another -- visiting the studios of Waitt Radio's Omaha operations for talks with the top brass there. I think they were supposed to get acquainted with the folks there as part of some strategic alliance.

Perhaps they were even supposed to learn something as they got the nickel tour.

As the two waited in the lobby, local radio fixture Steve Brown came breezing into the studios for his midmorning "Talk of the Town" show on news-talk KKAR. I think it would be fair to describe Brown that day as "ruddy" and a little bit rumpled.

The non-comm program director was new to town. Wouldn't have known Steve Brown if the man had run over him with a busload of KOIL "Good Guys." Didn't care who Steve Brown was.

IT DIDN'T MATTER that Steve Brown had forgotten more about radio broadcasting than this guy would ever know. No, he had his verdict, and he was sticking to it:

"How'd you like to end up like that guy?"

Interesting question. Let's see . . . end up as a legendary programmer? As an architect of some of the most successful Top-40 radio stations of the 1960s? As someone who'd recruited and mentored air personalities who went on to become household names across the nation?

Then end up as a successful local talk-show host and voiceover talent?

"That's Steve Brown," the production guy ended up telling his boss. "The guy's a legend. You could do a hell of a lot worse than ending up like him."

But that's radio for you nowadays. "Casting pearls before swine" is what legends do until they retire or die. Sadly, Steve Brown -- legend -- died Saturday at 68 while prepping for his talk show in the weekend wilderness of KFAB's program schedule, according to Radio Ink:

Brown, says radio commentator and consultant John Rook at johnrook.com, "played a major role in the early history of Top 40 radio." KOIL under his purview served as a launching pad for Top 40 stars including Gary Owens, Dave Dean, Dr. Don Rose, and The Real Don Steele (a name Brown came up with). Brown also helped in the push to get the music of The Beatles and The Beach Boys on the air.
THAT DAY AT KKAR, Brown popped out during a commercial break to excitedly show the operations manager a ratings demographic where he thought he'd registered unexpected -- and surprising -- growth. The manager nodded, and Steve got back to his show.

"Steve Brown is . . . interesting," the OM told his guests, before excusing himself to put more Christmas music into the AudioVAULT computer system.

No, Steve Brown was interested. Enthusiastic. Still . . . after four and a half decades in the business. If the visitors were there to pick the brains of the "big boys," they had gotten a hold of the wrong brains.

Brownie was the guy at whose feet you wanted to be sitting. That's not going to happen now. Steve Brown is dead.

And so, pretty much, is the industry that forgot how to appreciate his kind.

1 comment:

obbop said...

As radio changed over the years... well, I changed also as I semi-matured from those wondrous 1960s AM music days to the pre-corporate-controlled FM days to the present where radio seems so different.....

As radio and I evolved the AM call-in talk show genre reached out to me. However, few of the show hosts tickled my innards, with so many hosts unwilling and/or unable (not allowed by corporate?) to cover topics that interested me.

Steve Brown did cover those topics and in a manner that kept my interest.

Steve also allowed callers to have their say, unlike so many hosts who at most allow a few brief caller words before jumping in and yapping their inanity without allowing the caller to convey their message.

Steve was a gentleman and considerate of the caller AND the listener since he was able to walk that fine line of allowing the public their say yet avoiding the droning say-nothing caller who merely babbles froth.

In my opinion, a professional, able to keep a call-in show moving, keep it interesting and allowing various viewpoints to be expressed.

I feel privileged to have spoken with Steve numerous times via the call-in method. Once, Steve allowed me to rant and rave for over five minutes about a topic I was well-versed about... having devoted 9 years researching that topic. That is a rarity... few hosts would allow a non-celebrity or unrecognized authoritative figure to speak for such a lengthy time.

And, when Steve responded and made his comments, it was obvious he had listened to my spiel and was interacting with me rather than just listening without understanding. Steve did the same for other callers; actually listening to them and responding.

A gentleman and a professional on-air assuredly his demeanor extended to his private life.

My condolences to his family and friends.

Steve will be missed by many.