10 Questions with ... Mike Lawrence & Dana Carole
June 5, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
First teamed at KNFM in Odessa. Texas in 1989, Mike Lawrence and Dana Carole were already seasoned radio vets, having entered the business in 1973 and 1980, respectively. After a successful run at KNFM as a morning team, and Mike handling PD responsibilities, the pair was hired by crosstown KGEE in 1990, helping that station win the CMA Station of the year Award in 1993 and 1995. In 1996, Mike and Dana were honored as CMA Small market Personality of the Year winners. In 2001, they left KGEE to launch KHKX, where they enjoyed more success, garnering CMA Station of the Year nominations and in 2007, a win for ACM Small Market personality of the Year. In 2014, Mike and Dana retired, ending a 25-year on-air partnership, but continuing their 23-year marriage. Mike and Dana will be inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame on Wednesday, June 22nd in Nashville.
Editor's Note: Sadly, Mike Lawrence died unexpectedly on Saturday, May 21st, just two days after this interview was conducted. Our hearts go out to Dana and their entire family.
Before publishing this piece, I reached out to Dana and asked her permission, as I felt it would be improper and insensitive to do so without consulting her. She gave me her blessing, saying, "This was the validation of his career and he loved it." She also said she and her family still plan on attending the induction ceremony on June 22nd. Mike and Dana's son, Adam will be formally inducting them that evening -- rjc
1. Let's begin by asking what induction into the Country Radio Hall of Fame means to you and what you think it says about your radio career.
Mike: we never stopped and reflected for very long after we retired, on all the things that we had done. It was never a question of, "Well, gee, we did this, or gee, we did that," and it wasn't until we got the phone call. I was speechless. Since we have been notified, it has put everything into a rather interesting perspective for us, in that we look back on all these things and we say, "Yeah! We did that. Yeah, we did those things because we wanted to do those things," and once we'd done them, we moved on to the next. We never gave it much thought beyond that. We were beyond words when we got the call - we both so gob smacked by winning, we both broke down and our grandson was trying to console us because we were both crying. We were so off the grid, we hadn't spoken to anyone in radio in almost a year.
2. Yours is a unique situation. In radio, we talk about on-air partnerships that are sustained for a long period of time. We often compare them to a marriage. In your case, it has been an actual marriage. I'm wondering, how did both of you make that work? In other words, if there was a personal conflict, how did you keep it off the air, and if there was a professional conflict, how did you keep it away from the home life? Can you discuss this balancing act?
Dana: I think that morning radio is so unique. Both of us had been married before and relationships failed because your hours are you different. You have to get up at 4a and go to bed by 8p, or if you're not going to bed by 8 you're taking a long nap in the middle of the day. My ex-husband and Michael's ex-wife had really resented that, and also they resented how close the partnership was - there had to be chemistry. And there was from the very beginning of Michael and I. And other people saw romantic chemistry long before we did, but when that happened... (laughs) we had a hard time dealing with arguments and working. I can swear the audience never knew, but boy did the people we worked with know. We had a guy working with us when we won a CMA, and he would just go into another studio. He would just come in, do the news, and go into the other studio. When everything was good, he would stay in there with us, but boy you could tell when we were silent. We would just get silent. We would not talk to each other. The minute the microphone turned on you were bright and cheerful and cheering, because we prepped the show so well. It was theater. And then when you turned the microphone off you weren't talking to each other. But that was early. After the first couple of years we were married, there just wasn't really any conflict.
Mike: she began to see things my way.
Dana: No, it just smoothed out. We figured out how to make it work. But the first few years were rough, I will admit. We figured out how to make it work and have kids. Well the kids we had together.. broadcast from the bedroom with them as babies with them beside me for the first couple of weeks. Our audience knew our kids as well as we did. Our poor kids then had to grow up hating themselves because we were so well-known.
Mike: real, bummer, you know.
Dana: They really did. One of the things we kept telling them was, "There is nothing you can get away with in this town that people will not tell us about, so just don't even try." It's funny because our daughter moved away from it, and our son is now a deputy sheriff in Odessa which is interesting.
3. In addition to being married to each other, you pretty much married the market. One of the rare and fortunate people that spent most of their career, if not all of their career in one market, and in your case this is unique too, being on not one, not two, but very strong Country brands and a couple of them that you created, Mike, as the PD. So that must be very rewarding and a unique situation. Was there ever any consideration to take your show on the road and go to another market?
Mike: We had a number of offers since the time we were there. We worked there in Odessa for 25 years, and after about the first five years, we began getting offers. We were very quiet about it. and we were entertained by a couple of them, but never to the point of where there was enough solid there. We were always praying on stuff, like if this is the door to open then we'll go, but there was always something about it that told us, no don't do that. Consequently, financially things worked out for us in that Midland Odessa market, and there was never an offer that came along that was that intriguing that we put everything into it, in terms of aiming toward that. We more or less always said, well, what is it that you wanted us to do? What is it that is expected of us? And we would get back vague answers or generalities, or just the kind of things that would make any person in business go, "aha." So we were never that intrigued in going. It was never more evident to us that we had made the right decision until the last week or so that we were on the air and we were getting calls from listeners who were crying because we were leaving and it was at that point that we knew that all those decision that we had faced before and said no to, those were the correct answers. We had done the right thing and we were where we were supposed to be, doing what we were supposed to do. That was very reassuring.
4. Mike, you were the program director of all three of these radio stations. Dana, was that part ever challenging for you?
Dana: Yes, well he was my boss. I never forgot that he was my boss. But he never acted that way. But when it came to the morning show, it was almost as if Tommy [Vascocu] - and Tommy was our GM and boss through most of that time - very quickly after the first several years, he had had Michael for programming meetings by himself, but then he realized Michael paid better attention when I was in the room. Michael and I -together - we made one really great person, and that's kind of what it was. Everybody in the radio station believed that-that we were just better together than taken individually. So Tommy would have us both in the meetings and then he made sure things got done. That really kind of fell to the wayside, that he was my boss. He was everyone else's boss, and everyone came to me, to talk to him through me, so that was a problem (laughs), I was always in the middle.
Mike: Yeah, Dana's middle name was "Conduit."
Dana: Because they could talk to me as easily as they could talk to Michael.
5. Mike, from your perspective -your marriage is so good. It must've been good to have Dana there as a support system, in terms of the programming aspect of the station?
Mike: It was nice, I would imagine, because we always had each other's back and tried to make that a policy for all the members of the air staff. But it was especially reassuring knowing that I wouldn't have to go to great lengths to explain a situation to her because she already knew them. Dana was very good with her judgement, so if I had a question or if I said, "I don't know if I should go with A or if I should go with B," she would say, "Well, if you went with A the world will end, if you go with B, everyone will be happy." It made decisions for me a lot easier. So Dana was a very good sounding board, not to mention partner.
6. Staying in that market for 25 years, do you feel like that was an advantage for you versus taking it to Medium or Large?
Mike: I think it was. I worked in Detroit for a couple of years for Gene Autry on WCXI and that was a tremendous experience, but for as big as the station was at the time - because Deano Day was doing mornings and it was huge - it was nice coming from a little feeder station as we used to call them - the little suburban stations. You suddenly get thrust into this, and that kind of popularity that came from it was very superficially enjoyable. What we were able to obtain in Midland Odessa was a relationship which was much different than just being a jock on the air at a big station at a big city. We developed relationships. We went to listeners' funerals. We have been there when their children have been born. We know their voices when they would call, and it's one of these things that you didn't pick up initially. You picked up more toward the end and said, "Dang, we've got a relationship with these folks." Consequently, the advantages that we noted were - for instance - when we did our Children's Miracle Network (CMN) radiothon, we went in one year and raised over $100,000. Over the course of the years, we were able to convince these folks to building our children's futures, with this particular idea CMN, was the way to go, and we raised millions for them.
Dana: I think that was the most touching moment, when you realized the impact you've had on people's lives. What that first CMN radiothon, I set this really high goal of $100,000. And the telethon only got $20,000, so they were kind of like, "really? Yeah, sure you go ahead and raise your $100,000. Let's see if you can do it." When it came down it, CMN was new to our listeners. They didn't know. So when we said, "even if you don't know that CMN is a great organization, trust us to tell you that it is. Trust us enough to give to them." And they did. We raised $101,000. And they did that for us. It was touching. It also made us stop and realize the amazing impact we had on people, and how careful we had to be with that.
Mike: it was a big thing. Our son, who is the deputy sheriff was a CMN baby, and CMN saved his life in 1991 so we felt a commitment there. We felt a duty.
Dana: it was really a calling.
Mike: Yeah, a calling. So it's been something that's been very very close to us. One of the more galvanizing moments about that was about five years after we had done the first radiothon, Dana and I were at an airshow, and the two of us are standing there in the middle of the tarmac, with thousands of peoples milling about. This man came up with his son, who is probably four or five years old at the time. He pointed to us and told his son, "These are the two people who saved your life." We had nothing to do with saving that boy's life, but it was because representing CMN in the community, that was the mindset this fellow had, and this is what he passed on to his son. And the two of us didn't speak for about two hours.
D: The long term impact ... People who had kids remember when we visited their school and had lunch with them. It was that kind of thing. Midland Odessa is a unique market in that it's two big cities - to us they were big. Two hundred thousand people - cities surrounded by a huge community of little towns that have their own identifies, so you had to not just reach Midland and Odessa. They're considered the same market in Nielsen, but they were two radically different markets. One is very white collar; one is very blue collar. You have to reach both of those communities. And then, in all of the towns around - and we visited all of those little towns and went to all their firework shows and we judged their beauty pageants, and it was a LOT of territory to cover - and they all remember you. That is what's remarkable. You can still go to a small town and they know exactly who you are and you haven't been to that town in 10 years. It's a remarkable feeling. The whole area always knew, it just didn't seem like 25 years. It passed so quickly. It just didn't seem that long.
7. Let's go back a little bit... you guys both started in radio early on. What station or personality did you listen to growing up that most influenced you to pursue a career in radio?
Mike: I don't know that it was listening to them that made me want to pursue this. in Detroit it was Dick Purtan. Purtan was just amazing on the phones. I've never heard anybody who could pull off a phone gag - and it's tougher now with caller ID - but back in the day, he was just so smooth, so subtle, so funny, and I always kind of said, I would like to be like Dick Purtan. But radio was an afterthought when I went to college, because I went for television. And they said, well you know it is Radio, TV and Film, so you have to take radio. And I thought, okay, well I'll try it, and the radio station was basically "Animal House" with microphones, except for the level of professionalism was as good or better at any station I've worked at in all my 30 years... we had a good group of students - many of whom are extremely successful, and it was at that point, I said, okay, TV take a hike, I'm doing radio.
Dana: I never considered radio. I had a degree in news and editorial journalism, got married to a geophysicist and moved to Midland, which is where Texaco was based, and just out of boredom I went to the University in Odessa and took a radio class - because why not? And I entered a contest - a collegiate contest for radio and news for best newscaster - and I won! I thought, hey maybe I should do this? And then a job came along as News Director at a Drake-Chenault Country station. That just felt like home. I moved after about four years, and I went into Public Relations, and I tried to get away from radio, but they wouldn't let me go. So I ended up in radio and I was perfectly happy. I did evenings for a long time until I flipped to mornings. Morning radio was my niche, and I worked with a partner for a long time that I was miserable with. I had a five year old son and I left radio. Michael got moved in, got my position, mornings at my station, and he came and coerced me to come back. It took roses and dinner, but he did. He finally got me to come back to work. And I realized for the first time that radio didn't have to be painful. It didn't have to be something you hated doing. I didn't realize that until that first day that I worked with Michael. And that first day with Mike it was so easy and so good and I realized then radio could be fun. If you had the right partner radio could be fun.
8. Mentors - everybody has a few of them. Can you identify one or two that helped you, challenged you, and made you believe that you could not only be in this as a career but be successful at it?
Dana: We both have the same two.
Mike: I can think of three.
Dana: For me it was Tommy ?
Dana: Tommy hired us to work at KGEE away from KNFM. He worked with [KNIX GM]Michael Owens, [KNIX] MD Buddy Owens, and [KNIX] OM Larry Daniels. Larry is the second one - a HUGE impact on my career. Larry was the one that convinced us to leave KNFM and go to KGEE, because he was talking about KNIX in Phoenix. When he and Tommy took Michael and I to lunch, we were both at KNFM; when he said the receptionist they had at KNIX had been there for 16 years, I knew this was a group I could work for. Because they treated all of their people the same, as valuable people. That was the first time I had ever experienced that in radio, where you were truly valued. So that convinced me to go work for Tommy and Larry.
Mike: We finally did. We signed our contract on a Friday night that Tommy had hand-written because it was so quickly done, and that Saturday morning I was at home wandering around the house. Dana and I were not married to each other. My phone rang and it was Michael Owens - and I to this day still think it was a gag. He said, "I'm very glad to have you in the fold and be a part of our company. We're going to grow this station and we're going to do this," and I ended up putting the phone down afterwards going, "Damn. I got a call from Michael Owens." And for years I got R&R, and all I saw were these pictures of Michael and Buddy and Larry, and I'm thinking, "Oh my god, if I'm in their presence I'm going to wilt like bad lettuce"
Dana: They were so wonderful and warm! -
Mike: [KNIX Sales Mgr.] Bob Podolsky and all of those folks at KNIX - when we went there - Dana and I always said we were going to KGOD -
Dana: Yeah, KNIX was K-G-O-D!
Mike: We drive past the old building, which is three times the size of any place either of us had ever worked in, and then suddenly we look up and we see the mother of all radio stations. This huge shrine to broadcasting called KNIX, and we walked in the door and we were welcomed. And we were welcomed the entire time.
Dana: It was amazing.
Mike: And anytime that we called or spoke to Michael or Larry, there was never any condescension. It was always, "Hey, how are you doing? What can we do for you?" but from Michael, the one thing that he taught me that has always stuck, "first you plan, then you execute." I still apply it to everything I do.
They are amazing people and amazing broadcasters. They had the combination of both and that's what made them special.
Mike: We could never have ever done anything remotely close to anything we were able to accomplish without Tommy, Larry, Mike, yourself, Buddy, and Bob Podolsky, who taught me how to smile and dress. From each one of them we got something that we were able to apply and use effectively and we were able to integrate that into what we did, building our relationships and knowing that every listener that you speak to is extremely valuable. You do not dismiss anybody. You listen to them. You quantify their responses to your questions. You take a negative, like if somebody says, "You're playing that damn song too much," you just say, "Really? How often do you hear it?" and they say, "Well I hear it about four or five times a day." This means you've got yourself an all-day listener, so start kissing backside now. And you say, "Well do me a favor. Will you write down every time you hear that song and then let me know over the course of a week or so?"
Dana: "If you're hearing it too much then we're doing something wrong."
Mike: "If you can help us fix this station, then I would be eternally grateful." We turned that person into the biggest P1 ever, and so it was things like that that we picked up from those mentors, those fellows who shaped us and helped us grow.
Dana: It was Tommy that pushed us to the first CMA Award, and it was Tommy that pushed us to do every single one of those things, pushed me to take a real interest in public service enough to win awards for it for the radio station. Tommy always pushed that way. At KGEE, he was the best cheerleader we ever had. We learned a lot from him there, and then we moved on to the other station, KIX, and apparently Tommy had the same faith in us at the time because the morning show he wanted was us. He paid us to be on the beach for seven months and then we went to work for him. It was an interesting long term relationship. Love, hate ... there was a lot of conflict, but he taught us a lot.
9. You guys were in the format for a long time. Mike, you programmed it in the 90s boom, and you were still at it when Country became huge again most recently. What direction do you feel like it is or was heading, with a lot of these influences getting into the music - where do you sense the music in the format is heading?
Mike: It'd be difficult to say in a sense. I came into Country, and it was a time - it was 1973-that was reasonably traditional. You had five or six really big superstars, and just a plethora of opening acts. And then you went through a Pop influence, the Urban Cowboy influence, and in the 80s we were saved by some fellow named George Strait, a struggling artist who is still trying to make a living. And he came in and he was just so Cowboy good and we went through a period of a little more pop influence, and then back in the 80s suddenly you have Randy Travis and you've got Dwight Yoakam bringing the twang back. It was really nice. In the 90s a little bit different. You saw the emergence of more female country acts of quality and impressive and groundbreaking female acts. We get into the new millennium and you see female artists who are not only making huge impacts, but for instance Miranda Lambert, who is writing and the songs are just so poignant. Bro-Country has kind of taken a back seat, and I have a feeling we may swing back into a more traditional mode here before too terribly long, but in the 40 years that I was doing strictly Country, it was always evolving, and it almost always evolved into something that you didn't expect. Country audiences embraced it, and when I say 'embraced' I mean most would say, "Well I kinda like it." You get the old curmudgeons that say, "Well I like the old stuff!" and that has not changed to this very day. You'll have folks who are going to be the old guard who will be like, "Well you know, back in the 70s" and so on, but the one constant about Country that is exciting is that it is continually changing. We are seeing more quality new acts, albeit we may see the one year, one album wonders. But what we are seeing is quality talent. You're seeing it change and evolve all the time and I think that is the most exciting aspect of Country. Any decade. It's always changing.
10. Final question. You may have touched on it earlier, when you spent some time talking about the Children's Miracle Network. Can you identify one or two things that you would consider your proudest moments in radio?
Mike: I would say for us, we agree winning the awards was just such an honor - the CMA, CRB, and the ACM-but those were really personal achievements. Nobody knew we had entered until we got nominated because we told everybody, "Shut up, be quiet." We wanted to surprise them if we were successful, and it turned out to be more successful than we had imagined. I think the thing that we are most proud of in our 25 years is the relationships that we've formed with our listeners. I know there is a lot of long-term morning shows that probably agree with me on this, but we are still in contact with a lot of these folks, thankfully with social media as it is today, wishing them a happy birthday - all of the listeners.
Dana: They follow us on Facebook!
Mike: Yeah, every now and again they'll send us a note. "How are you doing? How do you like retirement? How is that little critter doing in the hills?" and things like that. That I think is the most rewarding thing for us in that we just didn't have jobs there, RJ. We just didn't have careers there. We didn't put in our time there. We apparently - with the help of all of our mentors and poking and prodding and pushing and canoodling - we managed to form relationships with people -
Dana: Enough relationships that they followed us from station to station to station. These same people followed us from one station to another in the same market for 25 years. That's an accomplishment. It really is. That and then the other thing is Children's Miracle Network. The money that we were able to raise for that organization over the course of 15 years and the relationship that we had with that organization - our proudest moments were always our radiothon.
Mike: We had several stories that we did. We would take individual stories - local stories - we had several of those that won national awards, and we're pretty pleased about that, but we're pleased about the lives we were able to touch.