Many years ago I wrote a series of articles about the importance of a radio stations three M's- Music, Morning Show and Marketing. A large majority of the success of any radio station comes from a well-focused Music product coupled with a killer Morning Show.

Since February 1971, WRIF has excelled more often than not in the first two M's noted here, but their secret sauce, and what's helped propel the station into its legendary status has most definitely but it's excellence in Marketing. And the marketing of the Motor City's iconic rocker starts with that iconic logo!
The WRIF Stickers
In the early 70's several of the ABC owned radio stations, including WPLJ/New York, KLOS/Los Angeles and WRIF used a uniform oval logo with a rainbow outline. At the time the old WRIF logo actually spelled out WRIF 101 before it eventually morphed into 101 WRIF.
In the late 70s, the station starting running the now famous Remarkable Mouth commercial featuring a run-down of WRIF's music and personality attributes from the lips of actress-model Kelly Harmon. That TV spot prominently displayed the famous WRIF Oval race track logo.

The station ran that spot so much that the PD at the time, Tom Bender, recalled several focus groups conducted by researcher Fred Jacobs that would change the course of the WRIF sticker forever. "He held up a blank logo with just the race track oval asking the participants to name the radio station, and nearly everyone said it was WRIF."

That amazing listener WRIF recall prompted Jacobs and the station to start using just the oval sticker as a promotional gimmick, literally removing the WRIF call letters and replacing them with band names and other local or station benchmarks. The first one proudly displayed afternoon jock Arthur Penhallow's famous "Baby."
Since 1971, over 700 different stickers have been made, and have become highly collectable with WRIF listeners. Stickers have been made for bands including: Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and OZZFEST, Mötley Crüe, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Kid Rock, Disturbed, YES, Journey, KISS, Santana, REO Speedwagon, Triumph, U2, Huey Lewis and the News, Loverboy, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Guns N' Roses, AC/DC, Korn, Linkin Park, Velvet Revolver, The Romantics and David Bowie.
WRIF has also made stickers for appearances by comedians George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield and the rock festival Lollapalooza. Stickers have also been made for non-concert events such as the Drew and Mike radio show, Harleyfest, legendary WRIF alum Arthur Penhallow and his famous saying "Baby!", as well as the major Detroit sports teams - the Detroit Pistons, Tigers, Red Wings, and Lions.
WRIF's Early Newspaper And Billboard Ads
WRIF's Remarkable Mouth TV Commercial
In the late 70's WRIF conducted several focus groups which led to a re-booting of the music and personality line-up. With the station re-focused and rocking, WRIF began running the now famous Remarkable Mouth commercial which featured a run-down of WRIF's music and personality attributes from the lips of actress-model Kelly Harmon. Kelly was also the daughter of the iconic University of Michigan football star Tom Harmon (also father of NCIS star Mark Harmon).

"We had a trade deal at the time to run the spots on our ABC affiliate Channel 7 (WXYZ TV)," said then WRIF PD Tom Bender. "We ran a ton of spots so it actually rained Remarkable Mouth spots in the Detroit market." The new WRIF revisions coupled with the marketing eventually got the station back on course with the 12plus ratings cresting at a 7.2 share
The WRIF D.R.E.A.D. Card - A Life Of Its Own
In the late 70's when Disco started gaining popularity across the country, WRIF echoed the sentiment of many Detroit Rockers by creating D.R.E.A.D - Detroit Rockers Engaged in the Abolition of Disco.

Former WRIF PD Tom Bender remembers it was the brainchild of J.J. and the Morning Crew (Jim Johnson and George Baier) around the time of Saturday Night Fever and Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition in Chicago.

"I'm not sure who suggested taking it from an on-air bit and adding a card component, but we started with a quickie print of cardboard cards. We ran out of them in record time and converted them to plastic ones. To this day, there are listeners who can still pull a DREAD card out of their wallet!"

When Fred Jacobs took over as PD, he expanded and adapted the card and turned it into the WRIF Gold Card, complete with the Bruiser doing TV spots that aped the American Express "Don't leave home without it" tag. This eventually turned it into one of the first radio station affinity cards.

The WRIF DREAD card was another example of the station thinking outside of the traditional marketing box. "I can't stress enough how ideas were coming from all angles during that period," said Bender. "It was really a group effort of very talented and creative folks, and an atmosphere of go big or go home."

Burying The Gremlin
And then there was the "dreaded" Gremlin story. The AMC Gremlin was an American subcompact car first introduced in 1970 by the now defunct American Motors Corporation. It was marketed as a two-door body style in the United States from 1970 to 1978.

Former late 70s Morning Man Michael Collins drove a Gremlin...and drove it…and drove it. The running jock at WRIF during that time was when, if ever, was Collins going to finally dump that car and get a new one. Eventually it happened and WRIF was there to celebrate the event.

"We actually buried Michael Collins' Gremlin," remembers Fred Jacobs. "He drove the damn thing until it barely ran and when he finally agreed to get something new, the only solution was to do a funeral service for the poor Gremlin. It's probably still there."
Scott Brown - Marketing WRIF In the 80s
Scott Brown is originally from Detroit and started out at WRIF as an intern in 1982. By the end of the year he became a Programming assistant. In late 83, he started producing The WRIF Video Café, a 30 minute program that ran Friday nights from 8 to 9p on their ABC affiliate Channel 7 (WXYZ TV).

"This was during the MTV video era," remembers Brown. "The show basically ran videos with the WRIF DJ's introducing them with a smattering of the Rock news of the day." Brown also was in charge of special programming on Sunday nights, but his big break came when Marty Bender became PD in 1988, and made him the WRIF Promotions Director.

Brown was in charge of WRIF's 18th birthday celebration scheduled for February 1989, and since the station was coming of age, they wanted to make it a big event.
"We actually had the Black Crowes booked at The Ritz in Roseville, but we couldn't say the name of the band on the air," recalls Brown. "So it was Marty Bender's idea to invite our listeners to come to the bar to celebrate while the sound of Crows blared in the promo announcement."

That announcement and rumors circulating in the market about the potential headliner literally packed the club that night. But there was one major problem. "We had contracted the Black Crowes to just play a short set," said Brown. "So when tons of fans showed up, we had to bribe the band to play a full set with a case of Jack Daniels. It worked!"

Scott also remembers all the cool WRIF stickers.
"We did special WRIF Monsters of Rock stickers, and cool stickers for Bruce Springsteen and others all with the band's name within the WRIF Oval. We even tried to do one for the Rolling Stones with just the tongue, but we couldn't pull that one off for licensing issues. We did a sticker incarnation for whoever was coming to town and the WRIF listener's loved them."

Scott took full advantage of the WRIF sticker love in 1990 with a major promotion around the Detroit Autorama Car Show.

"We bought this early 70s Hearse for only $500 and had it splattered with WRIF bumper stickers so that literally none of the Hearse was visible. We asked the listeners to guess how many stickers were on the car for a major prize. We were hoping to fill the car with 1011 stickers but we only had room for 990 or so."
And then there was Maui time with Arthur P. Every February WRIF would invite 20 listeners and a guest to go to Maui for a week with Arthur Penhallow, who would broadcast his show from there.
"Arthur P would have to broadcast his afternoon show back to Detroit which was 8am in the morning Maui time," said Brown. "Arthur P liked to party and having to get up early for his show was not fun for him…but it was great to listen to."

The ultimate Maui time promotion came in 1990 when Detroit Rock legend Ted Nugent and his entourage of 12 people were also joining Arthur P and the WRIF listeners for a week in Maui.

"We also made Maui time an incentive trip for our sales people who were able to bring some of their top clients, "remembers Brown. "As you can imagine an incredible party ensued. On one of the Whale watching booze cruises we all got so hammered that I think the Whales were actually watching us!"
Scott Brown left WRIF at the end of the summer in 1990 for start-up Alternative rocker CIMX-FM (89X) in Detroit. He was their Marketing Director for the first three years the station was on the air. He still lives in the Motor City today and is in charge of Radio promotions for a Marketing company called Mindshare.
Ken Wasilewski - Marketing WRIF Today!!!
Ken Wasilewski is a native of Detroit. He loved listening to Drew & Mike in the morning on WRIF. So when he attended the University of Michigan at Dearborn, he signed up for an internship in the radio department.

He remembers attending Drew & Mike's 1999 St Patty's day broadcast from a bar. After consuming a few adult beverages, he got up enough courage to ask one of the WRIF promo people for their business card. That encounter eventually led to an internship at WRIF. He was in his early 20s.

"I started off working with the WRIF street team," said Wasilewski. "I eventually moved up to event coordinator and did other jobs at the station until 2010 when I became WRIF's Marketing and Promotions Director."

Wasilewski was WRIF's event coordinator in 2006 when the first WRIF Rock Girl competition began. "This has turned out to be a major yearly event for the station. Earlier this year we selected our 12th WRIF Rock Girl."

The WRIF Rock Girl promotion starts with an eight week on-air recruitment that runs from late January until March 17th. "The women are initially asked to apply with photos and a questionnaire," notes Wasilewski. "Then we do open casting calls and the WRIF air staff helps narrow it down to 20 girls. After that, WRIF listeners can vote on line and by texting until we eventually narrow it down to the top eight girls."
WRIF does several live events and even bus tours with the eight finalists all leading up to the Finals party where the new WRIF Rock Girl is selected. But that's just the beginning of the year-long responsibilities for the WRIF Rock Girl notes Wasilewski. "The position comes with a $40,000 salary and lots of station appearances. Her duties also include doing daily WRIF Rock Reports."

That's where WRIF Music Director Jade Springart comes in. "Jade is in charge of working with the new WRIF girl, "notes Wasilewski. "She does a great job teaching them the ropes on how to become a professional on the radio. So besides her WRIF Rock Girl appearances, she essentially becomes a member of the WRIF on-air staff as well." 2017's winner is Kara D, but more on her later.
While Maui time with Arthur P became a yearly benchmark promotion for WRIF in the 80's, this month, the station is returning to those roots of sending 20 listeners and a guest out of town with members of the WRIF staff.

Welcome to the Riff Sin City takeover.

This month WRIF is sending a listener and guest to Las Vegas each week day to hang out in Sin City with the WRIF air staff this November. "Arthur P made this concept a real winner back in the day, but this time we decided to send the entire WRIF staff, and as far as I know, no one is complaining," laughed Wasilewski.

WRIF is wrapping up this month with the first RIFF Fest coming up on September 29. The lineup includes Greta Van Fleet, Pop Evil, Halestorm, Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie. "It's a big line-up and we're very excited about this event," said Wasilewski. "It's at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, the big out-door amphitheater in town and it's already sold out."
WRIF announced the show in July, partnering with the venue and promoter Ledge Entertainment. Besides tons of on-air ticket giveaways, the WRIF listeners are also in the running to win a special VIP package. "Five winners and their guests can win front row seats and a chance to meet several of the bands," said Wasilewski. "We're hoping RIFF Fest will become another annual event we can add to the WRIF Promotion calendar."

Finally, while Wasilewski's love affair with WRIF started years ago listening to Drew & Mike in the morning, he also has a special fondness for WRIF's current morning show.

"I've got to send you some of the billboard campaigns we've run with the Dave And Chuck ‘The Freak' morning show," laughed Wasilewski. "We've received lots of different responses to last year's ‘Rose's' campaign and this year's ‘We're Number 1' showing, and on more than one occasion Mark Pennington and I have had to run some interference. But I think it fairly represents the Dave And Chuck "'The Freak' morning show today. I hope you enjoy them."

Now that's what I call Marketing!!!
Jade Springart - The Ultimate WRIF Rock Girl
Jade Springart is a native of Detroit who grew up listening to WRIF. That early passion for radio led her to the broadcast program at Central Michigan University, and an internship at WRIF in May 2007. Starting off on the WRIF street team, she moved up to a production intern and, in 2010, eventually became a board op for the programming department. That led to some overnight and weekend shifts and in January 2015 she became the WRIF Music Director.

Besides her music duties at the station, the last couple of years she's been in charge of working with the new WRIF Rock Girl. Once the new girl is selected, it's up to Jade to get them ready to do the daily WRIF Rock Reports.

"None of these girls have ever been behind a mic before," says Springart. "I work with them on how to use their voices and read the report. I initially give them the stories to read but eventually they learn to write and produce the WRIF Rock Report themselves."

Springart still proof reads the reports that run three times daily, and new WRIF Rock Girl Kara D has become a model student. "She's doing a great job," says Springart.

Beyond coaching her daily reports, Springart is there to help Kara D and any new WRIF Rock Girl with something even more important.

"It's hard for women to get ahead and be looked at with respect, especially in Rock n Roll. While being the WRIF Rock Girl is a really cool position for them to be in, I try to impress on the girls, that it's not about hanging out on tour busses, it's about representing the radio station professionally."

Kara D is the 12th WRIF Rock Girl and Springart is proud of the work that she and some of the former girls have done in the community.

"Several WRIF Rock Girls have done part time on-air work for the station or joined the WRIF Sales Department," said Springart. "And several others have gone on to do high profile media gigs in the market. We're proud of them all."
Besides her work with the WRIF Rock Girls, Springart is the latest in a line of quality Music Directors that have graced the hallways of this Motor City rocker, including Suzy Cole (Apple Music), Troy Hanson (Cumulus Media) and current WRIF PD Mark Pennington.

"I'm honored to be the Music Director for WRIF," notes Springart. "I was born and raised here and I know who my audience is and what they want to hear. There are generations of rockers in this town and we try to appeal to all of them. While Zep will always be cool, we still look for the cool new bands like Greta Van Fleet as well."

First and foremost, Springart says the music has to work for the Detroit rock audience. "Mark and I are music nerds, so we listen to everything, and we don't play the chart game. The number one question is, does it sound like something that will fit in the play list?"

Springart also notes that it's hard to find great new music today so she listens and takes notes. "A lot of the music in the Rock format sounds the same," says Springart. "I try to do my homework and check out Shazam, M Score, downloads in iTunes, record sales and the Mediabase charts."

And once in a while Springart will find a local band that fits the WRIF/Detroit play list just perfectly. "Greta Van Fleet is the #1 most played song on our music list already approaching 500 spins. On Social Media some of our listeners have called them Greta Van Zeppelin, but this song really works for us."

Once again, WRIF has found a new band that will work with the older bands and simply sounds like Detroit. This same formula has worked for the station for 46 years, and that's something that Springart will never take for granted.

"What we play on WRIF is important for our listeners but also ripples across the country as well. I try to listen to everything and take it very seriously. I know that each band or artist I listen to has worked hard on their music, so I owe it to them to listen and give them that respect."
At the end of the day, Springart's passion for Rock music is paying the ultimate respect to 46 years of WRIF air staffers and listeners.

"I often think about all the people that have preceded me here at WRIF and paved the way for great new rock to be played in the city of Detroit. For that reason, I take great pride in what I do. I also realize that I'm fortunate. Each day I say to myself…wow…this is my job? That's pretty amazing!"

46 plus years and counting, Springart and WRIF continue rocking Detroit Rock City.

That's pretty amazing indeed!
One of the truly cool outcomes of a radio career is when you have the chance to work for your favorite hometown radio station. When you get to program that station, it's even more special.

In my case, I've been able to top all that. I grew up in Detroit listening to WRIF, I worked there, I programmed it, and I've been associated with the station for more than three decades.

I remember an evening in between focus groups (I've probably conducted more than 100 for WRIF over the years) when Tom Bender said to me:

"Face it. WRIF is our life's work."

To see the station honored by All Access these past several weeks is validation to the hundreds of people who have worked for WRIF over the years - on the air, behind the scenes, selling time, and on the corporate side - the station is the real deal.

I think about it as a station that has successfully transcended its format, and that's no knock on rock. WRIF is simply the most successful FM radio station in Detroit history, based on longevity, format consistency, and ratings success. It has been true to its roots, and those of us who've had the privilege to program the station know that we're stewards of an amazing brand.

WRIF has had some amazing leadership over the years. Allen Shaw was the first boss I knew at WRIF, the guy who headed up ABC's Owned FM Stations. He was followed by Marty Greenberg, who became one of my mentors. Marty moved me to New York City in 1980 to do research for all 7 of the company's FMs.

Peter Smyth and Greater Media made a huge imprint on the station starting in the early ‘90s when they acquired the station. And now in the past two years, Caroline Beasley and Beasley Broadcasting have shown their commitment to supporting the brand as it enters its sixth decade as Detroit's rock station of record.

I think about WRIF as the most successful FM station in Detroit radio history. WRIF has transcended its format and created a bigger tent - and that's no knock on rock. On the FM band, WRIF's not only been around the longest, it's remained in the exact same format with the same mission since 1967. It not only has stood the test of time, while fending off some great competitors over the years, but is also enjoying peak success in 2017.

How does that happen?

In many ways, that ABC imprinting from the station's birth in the late ‘60s has remained to this day. WRIF has always had a simple mission: Be a bigger than life Detroit radio station, playing great rock n' roll with personalities who matter, while reflecting the ethos of the local community. It helps that the Motor City has always been a great radio market, featuring some of the biggest names in the business: Steve Dahl, Howard Stern, J.P. McCarthy, Dick Purtan, and so many others who either got their starts here, or established roots and became giants in a city that appreciates and celebrates radio and great personalities.

WRIF has almost always had a huge morning show over the years. And that's important when you realize a car town like Detroit expects to wake up to the best talent. I came to the station when Mike Collins - a guy with local roots - was holding down the daypart - an entertaining personality who complemented the music.

But the station took flight when it stole J.J. & the Morning Crew from W4, a team that dominated the ratings for years. In the ‘90s and 2000s, it was Drew & Mike, one of the best morning shows I've ever had the honor to be associated with.

And now, the new era of WRIF is powered by the next generation of great morning shows, Dave & Chuck the Freak. Since coming across the street from 89X in 2013, the team has connected with Detroit rockers in a big way. While different than past shows, they exude the same cutting edge sensibilities the WRIF has always brought to morning drive in Detroit.

But when I think about the brand essence of WRIF - the values, philosophy, and attitude that have defined the brand, much of that was set way back in the ‘70s. Its low-key beginnings on the ABC Detroit property was unimpressive - a bunch of flimsy house trailers butted onto a tiny wood-frame house kept the staff modest and hungry. If you walked through the "air studio" (in the second trailer) just the wrong way, the tone arm would go skipping across the record on the air.

Ironically, the ratings back then were huge, while the environment was certainly humble, especially given that sister properties Channel 7 and WXYZ radio were successful and comfortable in Broadcast House, a palatial red brick building on a large expanse of land just to the east of the trailers.

Tom Bender was clearly the station's tastemaker for a long, long time. A rarity in radio, he started out doing public service on WRIF, became the overnight guy, was named program director, and ultimately acceded to station manager (and market manager) for many years.

I learned a great deal from Tom in my first two years at WRIF when I had near round the clock access to him. That gave me a unique chance to learn about the station mindset, dealing with ABC corporate and legal, managing up and managing down. I spent a lot of time sitting in Tom's office, listening to him make the day to day, moment by moment decisions that programmers face.

Tom's "take" on WRIF was to walk the line between being a musical leader and a musical follower - essentially where it's remained all these years. WRIF was never the most cutting edge, but it stood for those thousands of blue and white collar Detroit rockers who wanted to have a good time with the radio on.

He was a great teacher, a calm presence, and a steady leader. I couldn't have stepped in after he left the station, and succeeded without that "Zen master" training.
The other player from that era was Jay Hoker, the GM who hired me, and went on to build his own group of stations. (Footnote: Jay hired me several years later to launch KCFX as Kansas City's Classic Rock station. The fact it continues to dominate the market today is a tribute to Jay's original vision.)

Jay was the guy who enabled the station transition from a shaggy FM station that had ratings but lacked market respectability. In those days, FM was still fledgling, and the big AM stations in Detroit - WJR, WXYZ, WWJ - all had tradition, adult personality, and maturity. In the minds of the agencies, they were the gold standards in the market.

Hoker was a big thinker - he actually used the phrase "BIG AND BORAXY" to remind us to think big, expand the tent, and act like a major player in the market. Jay was the guy who engineered the "Remarkable Mouth" TV spot for WRIF, selecting model Kelly Harmon for the lip-syncing tasks. Jay and Tom put together a great campaign, complete with posters and other support material that had the entire market buzzing. When my mother asked me whether I had something to do with this commercial everyone was talking about, I knew WRIF turned a corner.

ABC was one helluva company to work for in that era. They ran some megawatt stations - WLS, WPLJ, KLOS, KGO, and Q107 in D.C. amont other. The operating philosophy that came down from the top - Marty Greenberg in New York - was to do whatever it took to win big. We had a great deal of support from corporate to create bigger than life radio.

That made it possible to actually execute major promotions. When J.J. & The Morning Crew's anti-disco campaign (D.R.E.A.D. = Detroit Rockers Engaged in The Abolition of Disco) took off, there was adequate funds to make hundreds of thousands of cards and regular mail them out to fans. Later, the original beige paper card became a plastic numbered "gold card " that offered discounts on products and services put together by the sales department. And the acronym changed to Detroit Rockers Engaged in the Acquisition of Discounts.

When we hit on the idea of using our "racetrack logo" shape to highlight all the bands WRIF played, there was funding to produce stickers for every key artist, event, and Detroit-esque reference (including the local sports teams). And ABC trusted we could make millions of stickers - without the station call letters or frequency - and be successful.

There were a lot of firsts during that era that paved the way for the success WRIF has enjoyed ever since. In the early years, the station adopted the same positioning statement as the other ABC FMs: Detroit's Best Rock.

But one day we heard Arthur Penhallow open the mic and use the phrase Bob Seger belted out in "Live Bullet" to describe Detroit: THE HOME OF ROCK N' ROLL.

It was obvious, organic, and timely and the station quickly flipped its sound, its positioning, and its emphasis to the new slogan (which scores of stations around the country adopted). Arthur's "BABY!" also became a local rallying cry that was, in fact, WRIF's audio signature for many, many years.

In the years since, WRIF has acted as the market's big dog promotionally, and it has served the station well. Current promotions like "Rock Girl," "Sin City," and others that PD Mark Pennington and his great team flawlessly execute keep the station fresh and bigger than life.

For decades, WRIF has been blessed with some fabulous promotion directors - from Heidi Raphael to Ken Wasilewski. But the woman who set the tone was Julie Finkel who tirelessly got the station on the streets of sprawling Metro Detroit, a position it's never relinquished.

Throughout the decades, WRIF has successfully held the mirror up to the audience and reflected back the grit and determination of Detroit and its rich history. When you think about the music that's come out of the Motor City (and "The Mitten") - Motown, the MC5, Bob Seger, Eminem, Jack White, and now Greta Van Fleet, radio continues to play an outsized role in the entertainment and cultural lives of Detroiters.

WRIF has always played a starring role.

Congrats to the current team as well as the illustrious alumni - especially the great PDs who preceded and followed me.

Rock on.