When G-d Blessed John Reynolds and Vice Versa
July 29, 2014
There was a night jock at WNOK in Columbia, SC in 2003 named Pancho, and I asked him to do me a solid, to battle a song for me, and he did that night. When the song started to play, Pancho recalled, "I started to sweat, thinking 'Oh my God, Rob Wagman just got me fired.'"
I was an Independent Record Promoter for Top 40, under the umbrella of the All Access Music Group for five years, from 2000 to 2005.
There were many magical moments in those years, like when Vicki Leben broke Nelly Furtado "I'm Like A Bird," or when Erik Olesen broke Bon Jovi "It's My Life," or when Todd Glassman took novelty to its highest heights with the Baha Men, "Who Let The Dogs Out!"
What made these moments magical is that it was like when Justin Timberlake first released "Sexyback," or when Adele first released "Someone Like You," and programmers balked, screaming, "It's horrible and doesn't fit our sound," but then, through time, through work, through never giving up, when they became massive hits, how the stories changed to, "I knew from the first listen that was a hit."
YEAH, OKAY! SURE YA' DID!
'Work records' are what they were once called as that is what it took to get them on the radio and then to get them to react with the audience, either in research or sales, or both; it took work. It took strategy, and it took patience...and then of course, the most important ingredient of all...faith!
The oddest song we had worked in that time, but the one that gave me the most gratification was on INO records, worked through Bob Catania and John Butler at Curb Records, a song from Mercy Me, titled, "I Can Only Imagine." I say odd because it was a hit at Christian AC, and blatantly spoke the name, Jesus. Not since Sister Janet Mead had a hit with "The Lord's Prayer" thirty years before in 1973, had there been an attempt to infiltrate the format with such religiosity.
Catania hired the All Access Top 40 promotion team of Joel Denver, Mark Strickland, Ed Brown and myself, based on some airplay and reaction out of Dallas. The morning show at KRBV gave Mercy Me a couple of spins and the phones exploded, so with that one story, we went to work, calling all radio stations, having them listen to the song, to find ourselves being laughed at as they did.
By March, KRBV was nearing 100 spins, and with that, WSTR in Atlanta began giving it a couple of plays here and there, but by month's end, KRBV had pulled the plug completely on it and Star in Atlanta had only given it seven total spins before bailing.
THE FAITH OF A MUSTARD SEED
Bob Catania kept going back to the reaction and in spite of losing the spins, he wasn't giving up on the song. So, Ed Brown and I went into work mode, taking the two stories we had and attempting to parlay them into something somewhere, hoping to garner interest from programmers around the Country. Well good luck to us with that.
My claim to radio fame at this time in my career was that I had built a legendary Top 40 in a market that couldn't get Top 40 to work for many many years, until I decoded the recipe to huge ratings in Greenville, SC in 1995 with the success of WFBC, B93.7; a station that still stands victorious today.
While it had been three years since I last had anything to do with WFBC, one of their part timers, a kid named Pancho, who I hadn't known in my time there, because he was probably still in diapers, had just gotten the night gig and Music Director position at WNOK in Columbia.
Pancho and I had just begun the start of a working relationship, as I would call him weekly and talk music with him, but on this one day, I had a favor to ask him, to give this song from Mercy Me just one spin, to test it at night.
SWEATING LIKE A...OKAY YOU GET IT!
Pancho did a battle on his night show, playing two songs, then asking the audience which one they liked best. At that time, the song winning the battle for 16 straight nights was R. Kelly "Ignition."
Had Pancho previewed "I Can Only Imagine" before airing it, the song would have never gotten its shot, but by fluke, it was one of those days that gets away from you and without time, he played R. Kelly and when it was finished, He introduced the challenger, Mercy Me.
About the twelfth line in the song, the line is "I will dance for you Jesus, and in awe of you, be still," and as Pancho listened, he knew this was his last night on the air. Nervous sweat streamed down the back of his neck and from his bangs into his eyes, frantically wiping it away as he faced the inevitable, the phones.
"104-7 WNOK, Which One Wins?"
The first caller, a young girl responded, "Mercy Me."
Pancho wrote that off as fluke, then went to the next call. "104-7 WNOK, Which One Wins?"
"Yo, Pancho, it's B-Boy from USC. Yo Bro, you gotta go with Mercy Me on that."
And then, a woman in tears, "I needed to hear that song. You don't even know what hearing that stopped me from doing."
MERCY ME AND R. KELLY IN A BACK ALLEY
R. Kelly had met his match, and his match, apparently, was Mercy Me, or something bigger still.
The next day, Pancho called to tell me how he thought I had gotten him fired and then told me how the phones did not stop for the rest of the night, and how he would be playing it again that night.
I got Tias Schuster from WFBC on the call with us, and had Pancho tell the story.
That night, WFBC tested Mercy Me, to a similar outrageous reaction and outcome, except that Tias and Nikki Nite, the PD, didn't tread softly, they went all out, taking the song from zero to 114 spins in that first month, April, and by May were already 300 spins in.
SPREADING IT LIKE JIF WITHOUT THE NUTS
I called John Reynolds at WNKS in Charlotte, told him the Pancho story, the Tias story and relentlessly fought for this song to be on WNKS. In spite of the two-station success, this had to have appeared to John as me, a Born Again Christian, promoting Christian music to a Pop station, so I was going to need back up.
Bob Catania and Joel Denver would follow up, and John couldn't deny the success down the road in Columbia and in Greenville, both in earshot of Charlotte, and Reynolds dipped his big toe in the Mercy Me pool. It must have felt right, because before it was said and done, twenty-two spins in May turned into 300 spins in June, and soon, John was baptized in spins, leading the country with Mercy Me airplay.
In 2004, on a Christian Music panel in Nashville set up by Cheryl Broz, then of EMI Christian, John Reynolds shared his Mercy Me experience and recalled, "During the time of playing Mercy Me in a power rotation, WNKS saw its most significant ratings growth in its history."
And that's how God blessed John Reynolds, and vice versa.