It was freezing on Friday afternoon, and I was whipped after a long week. I got home by 3PM and treated myself to a rare nap. I woke to a phone call that a Magic 98 advertiser was abruptly changing stategy and needed an immediate emergency meeting. I protested that my wife and I had dinner plans. Bring her along, I was told, it'll take ten minutes.
Still tired (and now cranky) I jumped in the shower, jumped in the car, grabbed a cup at Starbucks and grumbled on the drive to the meeting. A staffer opened the door...and then colleagues and friends yelled "surprise" at a party to celebrate my 25 years at Magic 98.
Amidst the laughter, balloons, pictures and video (hope it doesn't end up on youtube) we had a delicious dinner and margaritas, thanks to Benjamin and crew at Pasquals. Next, in the style of "This Is Your Life," it was announced that since everyone couldn't make the party we'd be listening to some recorded comments. For the next 40 minutes, in a brilliantly produced montage of music and interviews, I was treated to stories and recollections from dozens of my best friends in broadcasting, capped with a "long distance dedication" from my daughter Kate in Portland, Oregon. It was incredibly moving. When it ended I stood up and tried to let everyone in the room know how special they are to me.
We all have those unforgettable days in our lives, when we said "I do," witnessed a birth, accepted a great job offer or moved into our first house. Those are all on my list. Last night is, too. It was a "magical" moment, created by some wonderful people that I'm honored to work with.
It’s a notable day in Magic 98 history. We turn 25 today. So I’ll use this space for a few stories.
The original Magic 98 DJ line-up was, for some reason, all guys. Craig Wood handled overnights, I was on 6-10AM, “Officer”Jim Reed (formerly on WISM) was the midday voice, a Denver radio guy named Vic Martin was hired for 2-6PM, and Johnny Marks moved from Rockford’s WZOK to host 6-11PM.
I’m proud to have hosted the first Magic morning show on December 1, 1983, but I can’t really claim 25 consecutive years. In early 1985 I was offered the morning show at Minneapolis’s W-LITE. No offense to anyone working at such a station, but to me the "Lite" radio format is a yawn. My instructions were to take no listener phone calls, just open the mic and say “Here’s Whitney Houston.” (Even when playing Michael Bolton we said “Here’s Whitney Houston.”) After just a few weeks I realized my mistake, quit and accepted Magic’s offer to return. That makes it nearly 24 years hosting mornings at the same Madison station, which I believe is a record previously held by Clyde Coffee or Jim Mader.
Did you know that half-a-dozen current staffers joined Magic 98 in the 1980s? That’s unheard of in today’s crazed media atmosphere! So here’s to my talented colleagues in this exclusive club: Bob Bonner, Jim McGaw, Kathryn Vaughn, Sara Freeman and Juli Hinds.
It’s rare these days for a radio station to last 25 years with the same approach. Our company’s legendary WISM-AM (1959-1984) set a standard, and in many ways helped launch the former “Movin’ Easy WISM-FM” into what you hear today. I think our success is based on equal parts entertainment, information and service to the community.
Looking back I realize many good things seem to happen almost by accident. Tedd O'Connell had been anchoring both morning news on Magic 98 and evening news on WISC-TV, but the long days finally caught up with him and he resigned from Magic in 1988. I wasn't impressed with any of the standard "anchor" candidates that my boss offered, and I clearly remember one heated meeting about it. I suggested that we had someone in the newsroom with a colorful personality but the wrong job description, attending city council meetings and writing standard news stories ("The man displayed a weapon and then fled on foot.") Both the General Manager and News Director predicted failure, but finally agreed to a morning show tryout for...Bob Bonner.
A "Tom & Jerry" was one of my family's holiday rituals as far back as I can remember. My Grandpa Mal was especially fond of them, always heating the mugs on the stove before mixing the drinks. The kids were served an "unloaded" version. The recipe below was contributed by a Magic 98 listener back in the 80s, and it's a big upgrade from the sugary batter you find in grocery stores.
6 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cream tartar
1/4 tsp all spice
3 to 4 drops oil of clove
3 to 4 drops oil of cinnamon
Separate eggs, beat white with cream of tartar until stiff. Gradually add 3 cups of sugar, set aside. Beat yolks until thick, add remaining sugar and spices and fold together. Keeps up to one week in refrigerator, or freeze.
Fill 1/3 of a heated mug with batter, fill remainder of mug with boiling water and stir. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. For adults only add one shot of rum and one shot of brandy.
I got about 3 hours sleep Thursday, but it was worth it. I knew that the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association would be inducting Jonathan Little into their Hall of Fame, but with two Magic staffers on vacation I didn't think I could break away from work. After I read Doug Moe's column in the Wisconsin State Journal (below) I knew I had to be there. Thanks to Jim McGaw handling morning duty for me, I was able to get to scenic Sturgeon Bay just in time. Jonathan's standing ovation was well-deserved.
If Toni Tennille isn't doing anything Thursday, she should show up in Sturgeon Bay for Jonathan Little's induction into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Tennille might not remember Little's name after all these years, but she owes him, and she knows it. Little in 1976 was the program director at WISM-AM, a top-40 radio station in Madison. One of the iron rules of top-40 radio was that you played hits over and over again, until everyone was sick of them, and then you played them some more.
Little, who was not famous for following the rules, used to listen to tracks on albums beyond those the record companies released as singles. One day in 1976, he stumbled on a silly but infectious song on an album by the Captain and Tennille. Little played the song on WISM-AM, which was a highly popular music station in Madison, though FM radio was on the scene and soon to assume the music radio throne.
Madison listeners embraced the dopey but lovable song. They kept calling WISM asking to hear it again. Little contacted the record company and said they might be sitting on a hit. The record company disagreed. Little played it some more. "It was our most requested song," he was recalling Tuesday.
Finally the record company woke up, and released "Muskrat Love" as a single. It was a runaway success and for many years, when she introduced the song in concert, Tennille would thank the program director in Madison who recognized a top-40 hit when he heard one.
Jonathan Little has usually gone with his instincts, and they've taken him a long way, all the way to Thursday's fete in Sturgeon Bay, where, coincidentally, Little was born. I think it is fair to say the WBA Hall of Fame is long on executives and somewhat short on programmers and personalities. Since Little has done just about everything there is to do in radio, his resume includes time in management, but his passion has always been the music and the people who make it. He has been a consistent champion of Madison and Wisconsin artists. Little's Hall of Fame induction is both inspired and deserved.
"It's pretty cool," he said of the honor. Little's voice -- instantly recognizable to two generations of Madisonians -- hasn't changed much over the years and neither has his laid-back persona. His family, though, is making a big deal of the ceremony. His wife, father and daughters -- in from Phoenix and Denver -- will attend.
Retired Packers president Bob Harlan is speaking at noon Thursday and Willie Davis, the former great Green Bay defensive end, will be inducted into the WBA Hall of Fame that night alongside Little (the other inductees are Milwaukee radio executive Mike McCormick and Burlington broadcast educator Terry Havel). Davis owned radio stations in West Allis, Milwaukee and around the country.
Little grew up in Montello, and his route to the Hall of Fame began at UW-Madison in the spring of 1962, when he worked for WLHA on campus. The call letters stood for Lakeshore Halls Association and its reach -- the station was all of 25 watts -- was such that it couldn 't be heard much farther than the hall or the lakeshore.
"But it was experience," Little said.
His first paying job was reading the news at WSPT in Stevens Point. He got $1.25 an hour and when the UPS man walked through the door, Little's radio career was almost over before it started. They chatted and it turned out the fledgling delivery company was looking for drivers and paying $3.25 an hour. "I agonized," Little said, but he stuck with radio.
After stops here and there -- including one at WDUZ in Green Bay -- Little wound up at WISM in Madison. As program director and on-air personality, he distinguished himself by scoring interviews with touring artists and then incorporating those interviews into the music programming.
Little interviewed Jimi Hendrix between 1968 shows at The Factory on Gorham Street (a poster from that concert once sold for $25,000). He got 15 minutes with Elton John, and in 1976, after Little interviewed Harry Chapin, and told Chapin how much he admired the way he ended his shows with the sing-along "Circle," Chapin invited Little on stage at the Dane County Coliseum to participate in the song.
After WISM, Little worked at several other Madison stations and is proud of having helped launch WMMM-FM in 1991. Today, he is still active, as an executive with Troy Research, a broadcast and movie market research firm, and as personal manager for a number of artists.
Toni Tennille may not make the induction ceremony Thursday night, but, hey, Willie Davis will be there. "It's nice to be going in with a defensive end," Little said.