We Were Invincible
(For Michael Spears and those he's left behind)
by Larry Shannon
Publisher, RadioDailyNews.com, TalkRadioDailyNews.com, RadioDailyNews.co.uk
It is on cool and clear autumn nights like this in Texas, in towns like Tyler and Odessa, Midland and Beaumont, Southlake and Lubbock that the young titans of Texas high school football clash, fans and parents cheer, goalposts get torn down and you'd swear you could hear the roar from an Earl Campbell touchdown cheer blasting through the Piney Woods and echoing in every corner of Palo Duro Canyon.
It was on nights like this in Texas in the now distant 60’s that young broadcast soldiers would gather to talk about where we’d hope to be some day. Some of us wanted to travel far and away, and out beyond the borders of the small Texas towns that tempered, tested and taught radio to us. We grew up, earned our stripes and war medals on radio stations in small and unknown places in the middle of nowhere, as well as in the in-between somewheres; in towns like Corsicana and Cleburne, Brownwood and Brownsville, Greenville and Grand Prairie, Texarkana, Tyler and Terlingua, Lufkin and Longview, Marfa, McKinney and Midlothian.
We gathered in our wargame rooms to listen to radio stations, DJ’s and jingles that seemed to fall from the deep and black skies on nights like this in Texas. We knew nothing of Kiss’s, but we were unafraid of and grew friendly with giants named KILT and KLIF, KNUZ and KONO, KTSA, KEYS and KEEL, KLBK and KDOK, KFJZ and KXOL, KCLE and KTBB, KDNT and KTEM, KTON and WOAI, and WACO.
Armed only with transistor radios and Radio Shack reel to reels, we rendezvoused, reconnoitered and captured the audio magic from the kings and knights of radio who ruled on distant shores and in cities named Detroit and Chicago, Wheeling and Atlanta, Kansas City and Memphis, Denver and Cincinnati.
We were invincible -- and Michael Spears was one of our great warriors.
We were and are the men and women of Texas radio. We learned from our elders and masters and then forged our own brands of Texas radio. We seared our Texas brands in call letters in large and small towns from coast to coast, across the country and on other continents as well.
We pioneered music formats and broke new trails with talk radio and talent that would put to shame most of the entertainers who taunt and growl, and hide behind their mics and 5 year iron-clad contracts of today. We entertained and imagineered radio 24 hours a day, with no weekends off. Today’s prerecorded programs and 30 minute infomercials with slick salesmen selling snake oil medicine and margin calls would have been laughed at by us invincibles in those days.
We created theater of the mind every night and day, balanced on kilocycles and megacycles, while earning chuckles and laughs from listeners who didn’t need the paid pals, studio giggle girl or sidekick to boost our egos, and who would lie to make us believe and the boss think we were funny.
Although we fought on skywide battlefields, using buckshot from every brand of giveaways, we had respect for one another. We were gentlemen and ladies, not silly asses who sullied citizens and names and towns with foolish pranks and prattle like some do today. Even at 17, we were mature and meticulous, ready for battle and armed for bear.
We matured at a younger age and welcomed responsibility. The leaders in our communities respected us and called on us to use our skills and airtime to benefit, not belittle, the towns and cities that we defended, and, in turn, respected and served with news, talk, weather, sports and music.
Some invincibles among us would argue that radio’s become a sissies game today. Where are the bold and new ideas? Name the leaders among the corporate radio goliaths in the concrete canyons of New York and along the Riverwalk in San Antonio who have gathered their new road warriors and are waiting to unleash their talent on the digital and analog airwaves and satellite channels of this modern day?
Radio today seems generations old, all tuckered out and tired, and its cookie cutter concepts are dull. The ratings wars are calculated on computers, figured in fancy math languages instead of brave motions and moves, and the victories that are counted are not collected in cumes but in quarter hours and slender demographics that defy reason and responsibility to advertisers.
Somewhere out there, maybe under this night’s clear and classic night in Texas -- or maybe in Manhattan, Los Angeles or Philadelphia, Chicago or Seattle -- there stands a gallant man or lady who may, one day, lead radio out of its baffled bewilderment. Armed with counterpunches and jingles, slogans and slick moves, there surely are professionals who may come forward to champion the cause for intelligent and worthwhile listening that’s sorely needed these days.
Maybe. Somewhere. Perhaps. Surely. Certainly. We wait and we wonder. But, we and the listeners are not long fooled by gimmickry and the goliath's gobbledy-gook from Wall Street.
Somewhere out there, on the other side of this Texas night and stars, I’m sure that Michael’s probably pondering the future of a new format that he fidgeted with and fathered, and left alone in its infancy this afternoon when the last breath escaped from him in Dallas.
Those invincibles who are left behind will keep a watchful eye on it to see if it blossoms and prospers with George Gimarc’s careful cultivation. Maybe it will take root somewhere out there, in those far away places on distant shores and in cities that, when we were young, we only dreamed of traveling to on cool and clear autumn nights like this in Texas.
We’ll once again be gathering in November, the day after the Texas Radio Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner and Program, to honor and remember one of our brave and great invincible brothers, Michael Spears.
And we’ll most likely recall and remember those long ago days of the 60’s when our hearts were young, our goals were bigger than Texas, we dared to dream that nothing seemed impossible -- and we had the courage and commitment to go out and prove it to be so.
--Thanks for reading