Old Dogs And New Tricks: Defying The Impossible
July 8, 2014
From 1 affiliate to 200 is no easy feat, but I witnessed an older man do just that in record time, with his own idea for a syndicated show.
At 55, Dawson McAllister was too old to be starting a career in Top 40, but that didn't stop him from trying, with a tailor-made version of a show he had been doing for years, appealing to youth ears, but through a completely different format.
Veteran and former record rep June Colbert was marketing the show at the time, and she figured that since the show had Christian roots, and since Rob Wagman had declared himself 'Born Again,' that the two would mesh perfectly.
At this time, I was programming 96.1 The Beat in Charlotte, which was the leader in the market, beating both WNKS and WPEG, my Pop and Urban competitors at that time. June made the call and I listened to her pitch. The next day the demo of the show arrived. June was excited to follow up, until she heard the quote that would sour the moment of the whole idea. "June, I will never play this show. It is not up to the standards of this station, or the Top 40 format," I stated.
No Secret Handshakes, Just Honest Work Ethic
Being a Christian holds with it this command: That I do the job to the best of my abilities, working for my bosses, as if I were working for Jesus himself. My bosses were Bruce Logan and Morgan Bohannon. My goal was to bring them victories, not to force Christian programming on air, just because I was one.
Only one more day had passed when the phone rang again; this time, it was Dawson McAllister himself. "Would you consider flying to Nashville to experience my show live, no strings attached?" he asked. I said yes, and a couple Sundays later I was there, witnessing it with my own eyeballs and ear balls.
The content was so rich as teens and young adults called in to share their stories of heartaches, how people - from friends to teachers to parents to neighbors - had let them down in some way, shape, or form, and how they were attempting to recover from these past hurts that haunted them daily, from drugs to sex to the dark side of the moon.
I knew, without a doubt, that Dawson had the nucleus of what was to be a Grand Slam at Pop radio, but he had a lot of refurbishing to do on his original idea, and the presentation of the show in its current state.
Content Is King, Thank You, Thank You Very Much
Content is king, and always has been, and a struggling heart, sharing so transparently over the airwaves was more powerful than the biggest hit record could ever wish to be. We always hear about the things that go between the records being as important, or even more important than the songs themselves, and Dawson McAllister already had the arsenal of real and raw stories to prove this theory right.
After 4 hours of listening to this show, executed live, I had 13 pages of notes to leave for Dawson, knowing that there is no way that he could possibly accomplish a third of them, let alone all of them; and with that, with no strings attached, I typed up the notes and got them to him only a couple days after our time together.
The notes included replacing on-air personnel and tightening up the story structure, to make sure we weren't repeating ourselves; as the show would recap the stories of the person calling in, and I simply proposed an idea in this talk format that I knew worked so well with music, which was "Forward Momentum."
I got a phone call from Dawson only one week later. He read my notes, and started implementing everything in them. EVERYTHING. I couldn't believe it; from having to let people go, to reducing the repeated content, to understanding the POWER of the show was in the INDIVIDUAL STORIES of the people sharing their lives, and within three weeks, Dawson McAllister Live was transformed, and rapidly growing internally; which meant that externally, it would probably see that growth as well.
Hooray For Clients On The Side
Dawson had hired me as the Consultant for DM Live, which would ensure that my earlier quote of never playing the show at 96.1 in Charlotte would remain true, but now because of conflict of interest, versus the show quality.
We had friends from Arbitron help us to locate in which markets the show, in its current form, was doing its best, ratings' wise, and the show, because of its timeslot, Sunday nights, in many markets was actually, ALREADY, the number one show on the radio.
Using these FACTS, we were able to gain interest in markets like Minneapolis and Nashville quite quickly, and before we knew it, June Colbert had more than 60 affiliates for the show, without even having a syndicator to push the show for us.
Dawson McAllister, beyond having an immense understanding of the human spirit, and having a heart for the youth, understood the subtle nuances of radio, and his reason for changing so much so quickly wasn't blind faith and an attempt to get Charlotte as an affiliate, but instead, having an incredible sense of the emotional power of radio and the stories of the heart, and understanding how highlighting those more would take care of the rest naturally.
Dawson The Love Sponge
If Dawson had an ego, he put it to the side to be coached, and I never ran into a point with him where we clashed on a point of how to make it all work better than it did yesterday.
At 55 years of age, and having no Top 40 experience, I would have bet everything I had against the success of DM Live, but while I may not have believed fully in it from the beginning, Dawson did, and more often than not, believing fully in yourself is the strongest tool you have at any time, in your tool belt.
Dawson never doubted himself. He was correct not to.
After more than 18 months of growing affiliates with DM Live, my boss, Bruce Logan came to me and said, "Are you against putting DM Live on the air here at 96.1 The Beat?" I said no, but pointed out the potential for conflict of interest.
I was paid a flat consulting fee, which didn't increase per affiliate, so Bruce green lighted the idea for DM Live in Charlotte. Not only did it quickly become a ratings killer for us on Sunday nights, but one day leaving a Carolina Panthers' Football game, several of my staff members and I were on a CATS train heading from downtown back to the station when a young kid noticed the radio station logo.
Be You, Be True, And Look What Someone Will Say About You
He said he loved our station and listened all the time. One of my air personalities asked him the question, "Who is your favorite DJ?" And from there, we were all shocked at the answer.
"Dawson McAllister," he answered confidently.
June Colbert had the right vision. It was the perfect show for the station. It just needed the time to understand its areas of potential growth. Isn't that what we all need for our next great opportunity to truly yield fruit?
Dawson McAllister never tried to play some young guy on the air. He just stayed true to who he was, and let the stories of those calling in be the star. It made Dawson shine in the process.
"June, I will never play this show." Never say never, especially when the old dog, who isn't shy of trying new tricks, is super focused on the greatest outcome; to win.