10 Questions with ... Dave Williams
September 6, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Hard to be brief about 42 years but I'll just give it a shot:
- 1969 - 1970: On-air at Top-40 KOBO, Yuba City, CA
- 1970 - 1973: On-air at Top-40 KROY, Sacramento
- 1973 - 1974: PD at KRTH, K-EARTH 101, Los Angeles
- 1974 - 1975: PD and on-air at Top-40 KNDE, Sacramento
- 1975 - 1976: PD and on-air at Top-40 WHBQ, Memphis
- 1976 - 1985: Production Director, talk show host, news writer/reporter/co-anchor at All News KCRA/KGNR, Sacramento
- 1985 - 2001: Morning News Host at Newstalk 1530 KFBK, Sacramento (PD 1985-1986)
- 2001 - 2002: Morning show host of the Dave & Amy (Lewis) Show, Talkradio 790 KABC, Los Angeles
- 2002 - 2003: Midday and then Morning News Anchor at All News KFWB, Los Angeles
- 2003 - 2009: Morning News Host at All News KNX, Los Angeles
- 2009 - 2011: Unemployed for nine months followed by 9 months as News Anchor for Doug McIntyre and then Peter Tilden at KABC; unemployed for another 9 months followed by 9 months as Metro News Anchor on KABC.
- 2011 - present: 9 more months of unemployment (seeing a pattern here?) before being called to Merlin Media's FM News 101.1, Chicago, where I am co-anchoring, Noon until 4 p.m.
1. Before we get to your current gig, how did you get your start in radio? Why radio? (And how did you go from being a jock and PD in music radio to a news guy?)
I fell in love with radio when I was about 8 years old, growing up in Sacramento. That was in the late fifties and early sixties, when disc jockeys were the biggest stars in town. I never imagined doing anything else. My dream was realized when I began working with my radio idols at KROY shortly after I graduated from high school. I spent seven or eight years as a top-40 jock and PD but as exhilirating as it was, I was getting older and getting sick of inventing contests for 14-year-olds. My friends were becoming doctors and lawyers while I was doing weekend remotes at pet stores. I needed a grownup radio job. Commercial writing and production became my passion, but I was called into the KCRA newsroom one day just to help out. They never let me leave. I am not a journalist. I'm a radio guy who just happens to do news.
2. After all those years of doing morning hosting, anchoring, and reporting, all in California, you've moved to Chicago to be part of Merlin Media's startup FM News 101.1. What drew you to this opportunity? Are there differences in what you're finding at the new station from what you were accustomed to at your previous stops on AM radio?
I was drawn to Chicago by Merlin Media's promise to pay me a salary. I had been unemployed for nine months and the financial struggle was becoming a serious crisis while trying to provide for myself, my wife, our youngest son and our oldest grandson who lived with us. I moved to Chicago two months ago virtually penniless and returned to L.A. one month later to join my wife in bankruptcy court. Now I'm back in the "city of broad shoulders" immersed in a wonderful reinvention of the tired, old newsradio wheel. Randy Michaels and Walter Sabo, along with my old KFBK colleague and now PD Andy Friedman, are crafting a revolutionary 21st century audio information paradigm and I'm excited to be involved its creation.
3. One of the things that sets you apart from the average news anchor is that over the years you've been able to inject your own personality into the news, including some opinion. How have you been able to do that -- is it something that evolved or was it a conscious decision to "do it your own way," or did you have guidance towards that style?
It was never a conscious decision but, like I said, I'm not a journalist, I'm a radio guy. I grew up listening to the wonderful rock jocks and top-40 guys who had bells, whistles, horns and all the slap-and-tickle stuff that went with the craft in the sixties. I moved on to work for Bill Drake at RKO. We slicked up the 50s and 60s jock schtick a bunch, but over the next twenty years when I moved into news, I never lost track of the fact that people will never go to the proverbial water cooler and say, "Hey, did you hear the latest from Afghanistan?" What they'll talk about is the silly, hilarious or warm, touching story somebody told on the radio that morning. News, songs and phone calls are content, but without a real three-dimensional person making you care, it's as bland as a McDonald's burger sans cheese and special sauce.
4. You're new to Chicago; what's been the biggest adjustment (besides the general travails of packing and moving halfway across the country) so far? What's been, thus far, the best part?
The only adjustment I've had to make so far is being away from my wife, kids and grandkids. I miss them terribly, but I am comforted in knowing that Carolann will be joining me here soon with our precious "baby girls" (the dogs). I miss them, but I'm not despondent. Chicago radiates excitement. I can't get enough of the skyline, the river and Lake Michigan; the architecture, the history, the music and the wonderful people of the Midwest. My dear friend David G. Hall told me, "You will love Chicago. It's like a really big Sacramento," and he was absolutely right. This is a world-class city with small town charm. Total strangers smile and say "Good morning!" That never happens in L.A.
5. You're active in social media; how have Facebook and Twitter, if at all, changed how you do your work? Is there a place for social media in your work, or is it more valuable as a personal thing?
I don't separate my work and personal lives. My wife, Carolann, spotted it early on, when I spent so much time Facebooking and Tweeting while I was unemployed. "Those people are your audience now," she observed. And she was right. Our ability to really interact socially and to integrate our social and professional lives with no regard for distance, time zones or even national borders is so exciting, I hardly ever turn on the TV these days. I'm always online. I can literally chat and exchange personal notes with friends and family, social observations, news views, jokes, and personal challenges with listeners, other radio people and celebrities online 24/7. The world John Naisbitt so vividly described over the past thirty years in "Megatrends" and "Megatrends 2000" is here now. "High tech, high touch" is what he calls it: the more opportunity technology gives us, the more we yearn for personal contact, and, so far, we're making it work brilliantly. In the past I would occasionally joke on the air, "This is not a talk show, it's a LISTEN show! I talk, you listen." Those walls are down now. Anybody who thinks they can just yak into a microphone and have people hang on every word is seriously out of touch with reality.
6. Who have been your mentors and inspirations in the business?
My mentors have been everybody I have ever worked with at any level. I've learned from them all even as I was teaching some of them. Specifically, the giants in my career have been Dean Cull, Dwight Case, Johnny Hyde, Bob Sherwood, Chuck Blore, Bill Drake, Paul Drew, David G. Hall, Jack Hayes and all the magnificent entertainers who taught me how to respect and love the people for whom I perform.
Inspiration comes in many forms. Aside from the names I've already mentioned, and many I did not, I would include masters of the on-air craft from my West Coast perspective: Robert W. Morgan, the Real Don Steele, Charlie Van Dyke, Dr. Don Rose, Don Sherwood, Wolfman Jack, Paul Harvey, Jim Dunbar, Jim Eason and many, many others who were as talented in major and smaller markets. I keep in touch with my original KROY heroes: Johnny Hyde, Bob Sherwood, Martin "Wonder Rabbit" Ashley, T. Michael Jordan (a current Chicago buddy). But I also still find inspiration from my new, young colleagues at FM 101.1 and people on-air in small towns across the country. I don't think I have ever turned on the radio and not learned something significant.
7. You've done theater work; if you hadn't gone into radio, is that what you think you'd probably have done? What WOULD you have done? What do you imagine your alternate career path might have been?
You really do your research, don't you? Yeah, probably theater. There was a long period in my life when theater was as important to me as radio. I spent 25 years acting, directing and writing for the stage. I worked with some magnificent talents in community theater and that's when I realized that the only difference between the two mediums is between having a script or working extemporaneously. They are both performance driven. You work your ass off to make your audience enjoy the time they've invested in you. If you fail, the theater patrons who paid for an evening of entertainment will never return and the radio listener simply punches a button and you're gone. As bad as that is the worst part is knowing you've let people down.
8. Of what are you most proud?
My wife, my sons and their families. But you're asking about my career, right? I guess I have to say the 20 years I enjoyed as the top-rated radio personality in my hometown, Sacramento, at KGNR and KFBK. I was able to do great radio there with two extremely talented on-air partners, Bob Nathan and Amy Lewis, and with supreme guidance from the managers and PDs I worked for. The fact that I was able to parlay that into major market survival in L.A. and a new, exciting opportunity in Chicago is far more than I ever imagined when I was starting out at 17. Fact is, I didn't imagine anything in those days.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _____________.
...the love and support of my family and friends. The phone calls, the Facebook notes and the tweets send me to bed each night with a smile on my face. I'm here but I'm also there.
10. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
Nobody ever died because of something I screwed up. It's only radio. I said it, it's gone and there's always tomorrow.