10 Questions with ... Coyote Calhoun
August 10, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
WAMZ/Louisville PD/Afternoon personality Coyote Calhoun recently announced he'll retire at the end of 2014, ending 35 years at the station. He was the first-ever PD and on-air personality at 'AMZ and has been one of Country radio's most successful and colorful individuals every one of those 35 years. A 2005 Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee, Calhoun has been recognized numerous times by the industry for his excellence in keeping WAMZ at the top of Louisville's radio ranks. He'll stay with WAMZ as a Community Ambassador for the station, appearing at events such as the Kentucky State Fair and the station's annual St. Jude radiothon. Additionally, WAMZ will be announcing a series of community events commemorating Calhoun's career over the coming months.
All Access is honored to talk with Calhoun before he steps away from radio.
1. Coyote, thanks for taking time for 10 Questions! Wow, after 35 years at WAMZ/Louisville, we have 100 of them for you. Let's start with how you decided now was the time to shut it down?
I started thinking about his at the end of last year, right after I had my knee replacement and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. This past 12 months has been very gratifying. In October I was inducted into the Kentucky Broadcaster's Association Hall of Fame, In February I won the Country Radio Seminar Medium Market Program Director of the Year. A couple of months ago a new book came out entitled "Legendary Locals of Louisville" citing the 200 most important people in the cities history, dating back to the 1700's and I don't know how, but I made the cut on that one. Ratings are great. Spring Book, WAMZ was #1 12+, Men & Women 25-54, #2 18-34, etc. I just knew I would never be able to top what has happened in the last year. Why not go out on top, after seeing so many people, especially in athletics but in all sorts of business keep going and going and going and refusing to give their livelihood up. So in other words I decided to leave a couple of years too early, rather than a couple of years too late. I had a brand new, two- year deal on the table they wanted me to sign and I decided it was better to decline. I'm in fantastic financial shape, just had my best physical ever in March and I'm in my early 60's, so why not start doing some things in life I've never been able to do, and do them while I'm still physically able. I've had a tremendous career and I want to go out on a high note, and that's the way it's gonna be. Don't regret this decision a bit. It's just the right thing to do.
2. You are the first and only PD 'AMZ ever had. Thinking back to when the station launched, what were your expectations at the time in terms of market share and rank
WAMZ, originally was a Classical music station, then all News, and finally The Bingham family (who also owned WHAS-TV and Radio, along with the Louisville Courier-Journal, and Louisville Times) switched the station to Country, featuring the automated Great American Country format. No live personalities, just put the tapes on the reels and let it run. When I was at WAKY, a CHR across the street, I thought to myself, "What a waste." When I got blown out and ended up in Houston, for my final Rock job, it occurred to me that maybe I could sell the management back home that they needed a PD and someone who could give the station the care it needed. Also, I tried to sell them on the fact that they needed live personalities and I could be the first one. It worked! I got hired and only had to take at ten thousand dollar pay cut. I felt that I was sitting on a gold mine. I started Feb. 4th 1980, and when we got the Fall book that year, WAMZ was #1. By the end of the following year, I had a full airstaff and we've been on a pretty good roll ever since.
3. It's rare for programmers and personalities to "marry" a market anymore. At what point did you decide Louisville was home for you, or did it just happen?
I would have to say it just happened. I really like it here, and once the station got to be really successful, I started receiving some pretty good offers from major markets, however I never took any of them seriously. They were paying me great, and when Lowry Mays came in with Clear Channel, I started getting a lot of stock options, (he was great to me) All my close friends lived here, I was happy with the lifestyle. Why the Hell leave? And I didn't, thank God!
4. During your 35 years at WAMZ, you've seen the format's popularity ebb and flow. You've been through "Urban Cowboy," the "Garth" era and its current mainstream popularity. What are some significant reflections of each that stand out for you?
The Urban Cowboy thing was all predicated on a movie and a bull. For the most part the music wasn't very compelling. Here's what I did notice though during the early 80s: Two acts came along that really grabbed the hearts of a young audience. Alabama and Hank Williams Jr. For the first time ever, I remember when either of these acts were in concert, there were a lot of teens and listeners in their 20's that came out and were diggin' every minute of it. I credit both of these acts for letting Nashville know that if the music was a bit more contemporary, then there was definitely an audience for it. The Garth thing just exploded. Actually, Randy Travis kind of got the ball rolling. Then here comes Clint Black. George Strait finally broke out of the Southwest, and then here comes Garth. I was in Nashville for a CMA meeting the day his "Ropin' The Wind" album debuted #1 overall, topping the pop charts. First time ever for a Country album, that was pretty exciting.
5. You've always been known as both a fan and a champion of the music. Today's Country music includes a lot of elements from outside the traditional bloodlines, such as rap and to a degree, Rock. Long term, is this good for Country in your opinion?
Why not? Our format now is so mass appeal, and I love it. So many new listeners in younger demos buying records and concert tickets, I think the state of Country music is better than ever. Probably the reason I feel this way is because this passion for music and change was instilled by my dad at a very early age. He owned at Top 40 station in Oklahoma and would always tell me what is hot right now will sound old and antiquated one day. When other parents of kids my age were lamenting for the good old days of Frank Sinatra, my dad was diggin' the Beatles, Rolling Stones etc. In other words, he taught me that if I wanted to do broadcasting for a living, I had to be able to adapt to change, because it sure as hell was gonna happen. That is a prime reason I've lasted so long. I embraced change and never tried to live musically in the past.
6. Some of those elements have made Country more appealing to younger (18-34) fans. Can the format sustain growth among younger listeners - and where does all this leave 35-54 year old Country fans
I don't see why not. You brought up the 35-54 listener, and in females, which is our target we were #1 35-54, as well as females 25-54, females 25-43 females 18-49 and #2 females 18-34 and females 35-44. In my opinion it looks like the listeners are pretty happy with what they're hearing on the radio.
7. You've met thousands of new artists just as they were starting out over the years. The statute of limitations has run out, so tell us: Is there one you thought would never make it that ultimately became a superstar?
Initially I never thought Kenny Chesney would do it and mainly, as he'll tell you it didn't happen overnight for him. He was out for five or six years before he finally exploded, and when it did, it was like overnight. Besides the talent, Kenny worked his ass off. I remember when [Former Sony Nashville Chairman] Joe Galante asked me to emcee the RCA group show at what then was called Fan Fair in, I believe 1998 and when Kenny came out looking ripped with six-pack abs the girls went crazy. That's when I knew he would go all the way.
8. In addition to programming WAMZ, you're the stations - and possibly the market's - most recognizable on-air personality. How much will you miss talking with Louisville radio listeners every day, after 35 years of it?
That's the part that will be a little harder. You just don't quit an airshift like I've been doing for over 45 years, and 40 in Louisville and not feel a little sad about the ending, however as I've said, in my heart I felt like this was the optimum time to leave. I did not want to hang around till they decided to kick me out the door and I feel at peace that it was my decision and mine only to hang it up.
9. After you retire at the end of this year, something tells me there will be more Oklahoma Sooner football and St. Louis Cardinal baseball games in your future. Am I right? .. And by the way: How did these become "your" teams in the first place?
First of all, when it comes to baseball I have several teams I like. The Cardinals, the A's - even your Dodgers. You know Pee Wee Reese was from Louisville and I got to know him quite well, hence the love for the Dodgers. I only have one favorite team in all of sports and that is my OKLAHOMA SOONERS FOOTBALL TEAM!! Why OU? I'm from Tulsa.
10. The radio business has evolved so much during your career. How do we get younger people interested in radio? Where are the future Coyote Calhoun's coming from? Is there a viable talent pool of personalities out there that can become local radio stars, or will we see more national air talent like Bobby Bones, Blair Garner and Shawn Parr become the norm?
There is no way someone who has an interest in broadcasting these days has as much opportunity as they did back in the day. This is not me lamenting about the good old days, this is fact. Most stations only have a couple of live dayparts. At WAMZ it's me and the morning team. Some stations only have one live daypart. When a kid gets wants to get into the business, where are the jobs? Practically every station used to have a full airstaff and that's where a lot of your great PDs, Consultants, Station Managers and people who run these radio groups came from. Here's a great example. When I was at WAKY in 1974, Dan Mason was doing the all-night show at the other Rocker, WKLO. Of course Dan has gone on to have a brilliant career as a PD, Manager and now the head of CBS Radio. The question I'm asking is, if young college educated Dan Mason would have been looking at broadcasting for a career 40 years ago, and it was like it is now, he probably would have taken his talent to another profession and done equally well. You can still make it, but the odds are a lot higher than they were.
1. I'm in Louisville for 36 hours and you're my tour guide. Where are we going that gives me a good feel for your town?
Derby Eve and Derby Day. You're with me. Here's the way to spend it. We start Friday at noon and go to lunch then hit the track around 2pm. The Kentucky Oaks runs a little after 5:30, so it's a good time to make some bets and look at the scenery. Not necessarily the horses. You're gonna see some of the most gorgeous winners in your life at the track right after the Oaks. Time to change into a tuxedo for the Barnstabele-Brown gala that night - Voted one of the top 10 parties in the world. A lot of stars come in for this event. On the country side, George Strait has come numerous times, as well as Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, etc. Food here is great and anytime you wanna have a drink you don't have to look to far. Try to limit yourself to one beer or cocktail an hour, because tomorrow is a long day. Leave the party between midnight and 12:30. Wake up Saturday with no hangover...YES!!
Warning: Don't go to the track too early; it's a long day, and post time isn't till 6:45. Leave for the track around 2pm. More than enough time to socialize and look at the scenery which is even better than yesterday. Word to the wise, once again, limit yourself to one beer or drink an hour. In our box this year was a young couple and the girl came up and talked to me when I first got to the track, and I asked her what time she and her boyfriend got to Churchill and she said 9:30am. TOO EARLY!! About 20 minutes before the Derby she came up and wanted to talk some more, and this time she was making absolutely no sense. After the Derby, get the hell out as quick as you can, or you may be there trying to get out for another 2 or 3 hours. Oh yeah, hire a driver. We were out of the racetrack in less than 10 minutes...met the car out front and we were downtown at Vincenzo's in less than 15 minutes. That's how you do it Pal!
2. Can you think of one nice thing to say about the University of Texas football program?
I think it's nice the Horn's are really gonna suck this year! BOOMER!