10 Questions with ... Ed Salamon
April 28, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
In 1970, I joined adult contemporary/talk station KDKA to do publicity for their 50th anniversary. I became director of marketing research and then music director. When KDKA's audience shifted younger, country formatted WEEP hired me as program director, hoping I could do the same for them. I applied music research and Top 40 formatics to country radio, and WEEP became successful enough to interest WHN. In 1975, I joined WHN as program director. I also consulted stations in a variety of formats. In 1978, I added the duties of national program director for owner Storer Broadcasting Company. For a short time, I also acted as general manager for their Los Angeles stations 10-Q (KTNQ) and KGBS when 10-Q won the battle with KHJ for Top 40 supremacy of the AM dial. In 1980, WHN was purchased by the Mutual Broadcasting System and I began to produce programming for the network, including the "Johnny Cash Silver Anniversary Special" which won the Billboard award as Syndicated Program of the Year. I was named Billboard Major Market Program Director of the Year in 1977, 1980 and 1981.
In 1981, partners Dick Clark, Nick Verbitsky and I founded the United Stations. In addition to my overall responsibility for programming I did interviews with artists including members of the Beatles and Rolling Stones and wrote and produced radio shows with them and others. In 1985, the United Stations acquired the RKO Radio Network. In 1989, United Stations merged with Transtar to form Unistar. I was given responsibility for the 24/7 formats, including affiliate sales. I also hosted a syndicated show "Stories Behind The Songs' based on interviews I did with country artists including Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. I also hosted live interview specials with Alabama and Garth Brooks. In 1993, Unistar merged with America's largest radio network, Westwood One and I became president/programming of Westwood One. At Westwood One I was responsible for shows with the network's biggest stars including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Martha Stewart and Charles Osgood. I was instrumental in acquiring new talent, including Jon Stewart (through Comedy Central) and brands like Fox News.
In 2002, after more than twenty consecutive years as head of programming for a radio network, I left Westwood one and moved to Nashville to become executive director of the Country Radio Broadcasters, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization which presents the Country Radio Seminar (CRS). I had been a volunteer board member beginning in 1976 and had served as president of the board for nine years.
In 2003, I also began teaching as an adjunct professor in the Communications School of Middle Tennessee State University. In 2005, I joined Belmont University in a similar capacity. While at Belmont, I was asked to develop a course in Entertainment Leadership, which I taught in their Mike Curb School of Music Business.
In 2006 I was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame.
After leaving CRB in 2009, I became Chief Executive Officer for the Savannah Music group, a fledgling publishing company and record label. I left after their first song to become a major label single, which we promoted in house, became the first Savannah song to reach number one on any chart.
In 2010, my first book "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio" was published by Arcadia Publishing.
In February, my latest book "WHN: When New York City Went Country" was published by Archer Books. See photos from the book, the reunions as well as related audio and video on the book's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/WHN-When-New-York-City-Went-Country/600175670009771
1) Congratulations on the release of your book "WHN: When New York City Went Country." How has the response been so far?
"WHN: When New York City Went Country" has been written up in The New York Times, The New Yorker and The New York Daily News ran a full page story with an interview with me on the day the book was published.
The WHN reunion and book signing at Hill Country Live in Manhattan was packed and WFDU received an incredible amount of feedback from the on air reunion.
I got my start in radio doing publicity and I am enjoying promoting the book in consumer and trade press, radio, television events and social media.
2) What stirred you to write the book in the first place, and when did you first start writing?
I've always been interested in preserving radio history. That's why I was such an advocate for the Country Radio Hall of Fame when I was at Country Radio Broadcasters. If we radio folks don't memorialize the history of our medium it will be lost. I also really like to write. I've done lots of music articles and liner notes and you may recall the email publication "The Weekly Executive Memo" that I wrote and edited at CRB. After getting good response to my book "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio" (Arcadia Publishing), which was published a couple of years ago, I decided to write about something else I knew well.
3) How long were you PD at WHN, and how did you get the position?
I was PD at WHN from June 1975 until September 1981; more than six of the fifteen years that it was a country station.
In the book I explain that when I was PD of WEEP, I got a call from the gm of another Pittsburgh station. He told me that he was going to WMAQ in Chicago and program country. I thought that he was going to ask me to be his pd. He said that he was going to bring his current pd, Bob Pittman, with him, but asked if I would show Bob what I was doing at WEEP and said he would make it up to me. He did shortly afterwards by recommending me to Neil Rockoff, who had just taken the job of general manager at WHN.
4) The station had great success-when did the station peak in the ratings?
Based on the Fall 1975 ratings, WHN ran the trade ad, pictured in the book, "The biggest thing since Rock 'n' Roll: Country. WHN #2 Adults 25-49 all week long!" The ad compared WHN's ranking in the audience then the most desired by advertisers with market leader Top 40 WABC, at the time the most listened to radio station in America. Because the New York market was so large in comparison to others, WHN was also the most listened to country radio station ever. WHN maintained comparable ratings until it got competition from WKHK-FM in 1980. WHN listeners were fiercely loyal, however, and there wasn't the usual upset that AM stations experienced with FM competition. In fact, WHN remained the dominant New York country station until the ratings came out in January 1984. WKHK had pulled ahead of WHN, if only by a little. Then WKHK changed formats and WHN was the only country station in town again.
5) WHN signed on as a Country station in New York 40-years ago. Was there a Country station in New York before that?
There is a prologue to the book which traces both New York country radio and WHN's history before it went country. In the days before format radio, WHN broadcast the "WHN Barn Dance" which featured Tex Ritter. In the 40s and 50s, Newark New Jersey stations WAAT and WNTA featured many country music shows and New York's WOV broadcast a country show with RCA recording artist Rosalie Allen. In 1965, WJRZ Hackensack New Jersey adopted an all country format that lasted until 1971.
6) 40-years ago Country was not really perceived as 'cool.' What was the perception from the average New Yorker and how did WHN change that?
Jim Duncan, who was country editor for Radio and Records from 1974 to 1982, wrote on the book jacket "WHN helped make country music young and hip". Chet Flippo who was the editor of Rolling Stone in the 70s, recently wrote in his CMT column "Back years ago when I lived in Manhattan, WHN-AM was one of the best radio stations ever, period. Not just the best country station." In the 70s, if Rolling Stone thought you were cool - you were cool.
WHN did live concert broadcasts just like the FM rock stations did at the time. Especially at night, WHN played a lot of "progressive country" artists like Michael Martin Murphey, Marshall Tucker Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Commander Cody, The Band, and The Byrds which more often received airplay on FM rock stations than on country radio.
WHN was blessed with some of the best communicators on radio, all of whom lived the New York lifestyle. They were successful in presenting a much more broad spectrum of country music than most country stations and enthuse over Hank Williams, Sr. as easily as Kenny Rogers or the Eagles. The station was programmed by New Yorkers for New Yorkers. We relied heavily on local audience research and the amazing music director Pam Green, who held that position for thirteen of the fifteen years that WHN played country music. Assistant pd Charlie Cook was a huge reason for WHN's success; he was in charge during my frequent absences as Storer's national PD.
While I was PD, Lee Arnold, Larry Kenney, Mike Fitzgerald and Dan Taylor all won national "air personality of the year" awards. Lee Arnold is in the Country Radio Hall of Fame, as are Charlie Cook, Moon Mullins, Dene Hallam and I.
7) What was it like, pitching the station to ad agencies for advertising? Was it a tough sell?
The book quotes Nick Verbitsky from an interview in the September 15, 1979 issue of Cash Box; "In 1973, WHN was not respected by anyone. There was no philosophy, no direction and the station was losing money." By 1979, WHN had attracted all of the large advertisers of the day: including Firestone, Carvel, Heineken Beer, Dime Savings Bank of New York, Chevrolet, TWA, American Airlines, Air France, Perrier and Blue Nun Wine. Having had success on a country radio station in New York, many of these Madison Avenue based advertisers began buying country stations in other markets for the first time. Neil Rockoff said, "WWVA should be sending us bouquets".
8) What are the major differences between WHN when you programmed it and the current station in NY owned by Cumulus, WNSH?
Since I live in Nashville, I haven't listened to WNSH very much, so I don't have an informed answer for that question.
9) Did WHN bring a lot of Country artists to New York? Where did they play? As I remember there was a club with an Armadillo on the roof- The Lone Star, correct?
Correct! WHN had a symbiotic relationship with The Lone Star Café and frequently broadcast concerts from there and from locations including Madison Square Garden, Belmont Raceway, The Bottom Line, Carnegie Hall as well as acoustic performances from the WHN studios. Most of the big artists including Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings did live concert broadcasts on WHN. Some WHN broadcasts were even released as records, including; Don Williams, Roy Clark, Freddy Fender and Hank Thompson "Country Comes To Carnegie Hall", Robert Gordon "Live From Lone Star", Johnny Paycheck "New York Town" and Ernest Tubb "Live From The Lone Star Café". We sometimes had to pull the plug on concerts when the content got out of hand including one with Delbert McClinton with Elvis Costello and another with Kinky Friedman. However, a country concert with R&B singer Millie Jackson, known for her blue language on stage, came off perfectly. I wasn't so fortunate when the audience started shouting the "bullshit" refrain to "Cotton Eyed Joe" during a Mickey Gilley broadcast. All those stories are in the book.
10) What personalities did you interview for your book and are some of them still on the air?
I interviewed more than three dozen former WHN staffers for the book. Air talent included Lee Arnold (now Sirius/XM), Dan Taylor (now mornings WCBS-FM), Mike Fitzgerald (now The Breeze), Alan Colmes (now Fox News Radio), Howie Rose (now New York Mets and Islanders play-by-play), Jessie Scott (now Sundays on WFDU), Larry Kenney, Del De Montreux, J.J. Ramey, Dan Abernathy, Ian Karr, Shelia York and Bernie Wagenblast. Charlie Cook and Joel Raab also did air work while they were at WHN and Moon Mullins and Gary Havens might have as well.
"WHN: When New York City Went Country" can be ordered from any bookstore and is available in both Kindle and print versions on Amazon.com.
It is currently in stock in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame and at East Side Story.
1) Were the WHN Studios really on Park Avenue? That's expensive turf!
WHN had moved to 400 Park Avenue in 1957 when it was Top 40 WMGM. The location certainly was the opposite of "country'. A monthly parking space a block from the station cost more than the rent on my last apartment in Pittsburgh.
Neil Rockoff and Nick Verbitsky got the corner offices with the windows overlooking Park Avenue. I had an internal office with no windows all the time I worked there, so I could be "closer to the studios", which of course had no windows either.
2) What was the last Country song played on WHN?
Dan Taylor played Larry Gatlin's "I've Done Enough Dyin' Today' and then staff gathered in the studio as Dan did a signoff speech. He chose Ray Price's "For The Good Times" as the last record because. Many of the staff members have strong memories of that day that they relate in the book.
3) You guys did an on-air reunion that was broadcast on WFDU-FM, a Public station- was that fun?
Not only was the WHN on air reunion broadcast over the air in New York, but it was also available in streaming audio and a video stream.
Larry Kenny, Mike Fitzgerald and Dan Taylor each did an hour. Lee Arnold did two hours and Jessie did the remaining hour and a fraction. Gene Ladd did news each hour at :50, just like in the 70s. Pam Green programmed the music. There were artist call in from The Oak ridge Boys (all four), Larry Gatlin, Charlie Daniels, The Bellamy Brothers, Joe Stampley and Lynn Anderson. I had the jocks use a clock. Most of them even asked me how I thought they did when their shift was over. Nobody got paid. This was radio for the pure love of radio and there isn't anything better than that is there?
You can hear the WHN reunion broadcast here (they are not labeled WHN, but with the names of WFDU's regular programs): http://wfdu.streamrewind.com/bookmarks/listen/61215/big-apple-country