The need to hear stories is as old as our species. The longing to tell stories is a blink of a cosmic eye younger than our desire to hear stories. Howard Lapides tells nuanced show business stories; he’s keeper of much Hollywood lore.
Lapides stories have heroes and villains. Melissa Rivers forever lives in the long shadow cast by her mother, Joan. Donald Trump is a good fellow, if too formal. Villains are best unsaid.
Lapides stories teach. “Show business is a contact sport,” says talent manager, Ken Kragen. Lapides tells stories of how knowing the right people, making contact, sealed more than one lucrative deal. Success is whom you know.
Lapides stories charm. A kidney stone sends him screaming to emergency; there he meets a colleague from whom he tries, in vain, to hide his pain. Lapides tells how declining a two hundred dollar tip, which he needed, led to many future opportunities and a long friendship. Integrity rewards.
Lapides stories offer a peek into the human side of show business. Once, he was standing between movie legends Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke. It was in a public washroom.
Reiner, 93, still works a full day. So does his erstwhile colleague, Mel Brooks, 89. Live to work; don’t work to live.
Lapides is a genuine Hollywood insider. He found comedians Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corolla; Norm Macdonald, who now portrays Colonel Sanders in KFC commercials; Tom Green and Mike Allan MacDonald, among others. He manages Dr Drew Pinsky, host of “Dr Drew,” which airs on HLN. He produced the cult film, “Freddy Got Fingered” and won a Razzie.
Radio is the first love of Howard Lapides. As a child, in Buffalo, New York, Warren Michael Kelly, on WBEN-AM, was his hero. His mother prominently displayed a headshot of Kelly, in their home. Early influences are hard to escape.
Years later, Joey Reynolds and Dan Neaverth, on WKBW-AM, in Buffalo, became his life-long radio icons. Recently, Reynolds brought Lapides a project, seeking help to sell it. “I didn’t see a market,” says Lapides. It’s ironic, icon and acolyte almost came together after all the years.
“For radio,” says Lapides, “the next few years are pivotal.” He explains that deregulation let radio chains expand, infinitely. One chain, iHeart Radio, owns roughly nine hundred stations. Deregulation equals disaster.
Run by sophists and philistines, with calculators, iHeart Radio struggles. Two billion dollars is the annual cost of its debt service. This means keeping local on-air talent to the fewest possible.
“Today,” says Lapides, “iHeart Radio airs Ryan Seacrest on four hundred stations, every morning. That’s 399 local morning shows silenced.” It’s also over one thousand jobs lost.
In this interview, the third in a series, Howard Lapides talks of working with “Rolling Stones” promoter, Michael Cohl. He recalls working with and learning from the late Larry Brezner, a movie producer as well as manager of Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. He also speculates on the bleak future of his first love, radio.
GS You go back a long way with Michael Cohl, the tour producer and partner in the “Rolling Stones.”
HL I met Cohl when I was at CFGO-AM, in Ottawa, in the middle 1970s. Cohl had ownership in a concert promotion firm, CPI, from Toronto, which eventually became LiveNation. Cohl put together concert packages that relied on a huge push by the radio station. This made it seem CFGO-AM was bringing these bands to Ottawa. The deal was great for the station.
The truth, of course, was Cohl; Donald Tarlton, of Donald K Donald Productions, in Montreal; Harvey Glatt and Harold Levin, of Bass Clef, the local promoter in Ottawa, brought in the act, say “The Guess Who,” to town. CFGO-AM, as “CFGO Presents,” promoted the heck out of the show. Everyone did well.
As Promotion Director at CFGO-AM, I was happy how this deal imaged the station. The promoters were extraordinarily happy; they were getting a big bang for their buck because CFGO-AM took a show and made it its own. Tickets sold like crazy. The deal was great for everyone involved.
Backstage at one show, Michael Cohl came up to me and put something in my jacket pocket. It was extra money, an innocent gesture, a tip, of a sort, for my efforts. Cohl knew radio workers did and do not make much money. That’s where I crossed the line with Cohl.
GS You gave back the money.
HL Yes, I gave it back. I gained a friend at the same time. When I left radio and went into the concert business, I promoted a great many shows. The Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal funnel, I just mentioned, was working well. The three-way partnership allowed creativity in booking and opening of new concert settings.
Ottawa became a great stop over for a band between Montreal and Toronto. This agreement led to A-list bands playing Ottawa. We invented venues, places where we could promote large and small shows.
We turned the Central Canada Exhibition (CCE) main shows into ticketed events. Previously, the CCE included the main shows, the grandstand shows, in the General Admission ticket. The separately ticketed shows did well. By separately ticketing the grandstand shows, the main entertainment, we opened a new source of revenue for CCE and us.
GS Eventually, if someone bought a ticket to the grandstand show, it included admission to the CCE; a reversal of the long-standing practice.
HL The CCE shows made it possible for higher-end entertainment brands, “Chicago,” for example, to play Ottawa, to set a precedent. We brought the “Eagles” to Ottawa by taking the Rideau Carleton Raceway and turning into a large outdoor concert setting. There are many more examples from those days. After I left, went back to the USA, Harold Levin continued the partnership, successfully, for years.
This was a massive arrangement for everyone. We did incredible shows. The larger result was that live performance in Ottawa took a huge bump upward.
GS You left Ottawa in 1980.
HL I left to go home to Buffalo, New York, to be in the family business. Years later, after hosting a sports talk show on WBEN-AM, I was managing Tom Green, a comedian from Ottawa. I brought Green to the USA, but worked hard to keep him relevant in Canada, too.
For several years, I arranged for Green to host the Canadian Walk of Fame Induction Ceremony, in Toronto. One year, the Walk of Fame honoured Michael Cohl. I had to be in Toronto for that ceremony.
I hadn’t seen Cohl in years, yet, he came across the room to say hello. He asked how I was doing. That was a thrill for me.
At the time, Cohl was putting together the SARS concert in Toronto. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a disease threatening, in early 2002, to become an epidemic. Cohl wanted to raise money to fight SARS.
His idea was to produce a huge concert, in Toronto. Cohl agreed Tom Green should host the show with Dan Aykroyd, another comedian and actor from Ottawa. No one knew the “Rolling Stones” would headline the show.
I think Cohl accepted Green to co-host the concert because loyalty is important to him. We had worked together for several years. We had worked together effectively.
GS The SARS concert was a huge success.
HL As many as 500,000 people attended the concert. It was a second Woodstock.
GS Maybe SARS was larger than Woodstock, in 1969.
HL That could be. The success of the concert says a great deal about Cohl.
GS Six months later, there was a cure and a prevention protocol for SARS.
GS What sound or noise do you love?
HL What I hear from the radio.
GS What sound or noise do you not like?
HL I do not like the sound of my car engine dying.
GS I heard rumours of a kidney stone story.
HL Yes, twenty years ago, I was lounging on a Sunday afternoon, drinking a long tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, watching the NCAA Final Four Playoffs. I loved life.
My wife, Maria, had the baby, Olivia, out. The house was quiet. The sun was shining. I’m looking at the pool and the incredible view.
I’m think, “I’m in California. This is where I want to be. This is what I want and this is great.” I’m living large.
Suddenly, I feel something in the lower region of my body. It becomes uncomfortable. I shift and move around trying to find a way I could ease lack of comfort.
The pain grows. I got up to walk it off. That worked until it became painful, again, and I had to sit down. Sitting down felt good until the pain started, again.
The pain increased. I thought lying down might help. I make my way to bedroom to lie down.
My home is ranch style. I was at one end; the garage is way at the other end. I’m waiting for my wife, Maria, to come home, as I’m at a point where I must do something about the pain.
I can’t move. I wait and I wait, all the time in pain. I heard my wife arrive home, but she’s way at the other end of the house.
She doesn’t realise that I’m in the bedroom, in deep pain. I call out, but she’s doesn’t hear. I do what I can do to get up.
I get halfway through the house and see her. She sees me and gives one of those, “Oh, now what’s wrong with you,” looks. This is not what I needed.
I told my wife what was going on. She says, “Well, why don’t you call Lou, your doctor?” I did as she suggested.
My physician was on the golf course when I reached him. He told me to go to the hospital, right away. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and pants, which are full of perspiration.
My wife wanted to take me to the hospital, but I get in my car and head off on my own. My home is up a hill about a mile from the main drag. I sped down the hill, screaming in pain. In the meantime, my wife was busy finding a baby sitter for our daughter, Olivia.
I knew the hospital was six minutes away. As we had just had Olivia, I had timed the run for her birth. The six minutes seemed much longer on this day than on the day my daughter was born.
I’m on the main drag, screaming. In those days, cell phones were not as mobile. I had a cell phone attached to the car.
I call my wife, as I’m driving to the emergency room. “Please come to the emergency room,” I said. “Do whatever you can do to get there.”
I park the car next to the emergency room and walk in; it’s jammed with people. I’m in unbelievable pain. I’ve already sweated all the way through the sweatpants and the sweatshirt to the point where I’m wringing wet. I look like I had just out of the forest of the swamp.
Of course, with my luck, I know someone that’s also waiting in the emergency room, on a Sunday afternoon. It was Randi Segal. At the time, she was an assistant at Brillstein, but wanted to be a manager; she started by helping Jimmy Fallon.
I talk with Segal in emergency. I don’t want to let her know I’m in a huge amount of pain. I don’t want her to know there’s anything seriously wrong.
My wife shows up. At the time, she was managing Adam Sandler. Segal is managing Fallon. I figure these are two smart women and asked them, “Do whatever you can do to get me past this line of people. I am in massive pain. This needs to be treated immediately.”
They go to work. They’re good. I sit down and I start smashing my head against the wall.
After I hit my head against the wall maybe ten times, the nurses come out and say, “Come with us, sir.” That’s when I discover the way to get through a line in an emergency room is to smash your head against the wall. The more often you hit your head against the wall, perhaps, the quicker you pass through the line.
Someone examined me. The kidney stone decision made, a syringe appeared, something went into my arm and the pain ended. A nurse, named Mike, comes into the room. He says, “I’m going to go to the narcotics closet, now. I’ll be back in a moment. We’ll be taking care of you.”
I remind Mike of what he can see, “Hey, I’m a big guy.” I want to ensure he returns with enough narcotics to get me through passing the stone. Mike says, “Oh, we’re going to set the record for morphine shots, today, for a kidney stone.”
I want to know the record. Mikes says, “I don’t know. We’ll take care of you,” he said and did. Six hours later, the stone passes.
I hear a kidney stone is more painful than childbirth. Whoever said that is likely right. It was painful.
GS What a cautionary tale, but I think earning a PhD is second on the pain list to birthing. Many years ago, Bob Raleigh, when he was doing over nights at WBZ-AM, in Boston, took two weeks to pass a kidney stone.
HL I was lucky, in a way. I had a shot of blue dye that let the physicians follow the stone. The dye pushed the stone into the bladder. Once the stone was in the bladder, the pain was gone.
GS You shared offices with Buddy Mora, Larry Brezner, David Steinberg and Steve Tannenbaum (MBST), managers of Woody Allen, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, among others.
HL Yes, when I was staring out, in Los Angeles, Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe had one of the top management companies. I studied their model, as well as what Rick Bernstein, another A-list manager, was doing.
GS Rollins and Joffe were east coast.
HL Yes, they had been in business for years. They controlled New York City. Their office in Los Angeles became MBST.
Woody Allen was the first big client for Rollins and Joffe, if I’m not mistaken. Joffe took care of Allen. Rollins ran the office and handled other clients. Allen signed with these fellows more than fifty years ago; he remains with the legacy of that company run by Steven Tannenbaum.
GS Fifty years and counting is a long time.
HL Eventually, Rollins and Joffe expanded, bringing in Buddy Mora and Larry Brezner. Mora was a remarkable manager of comedians. He retired roughly fifteen years ago.
Larry Brezner recently passed away, at 73; he was active to the end. Brezner loved making movies; he was good at it. Most of the Robin Williams and Billy Crystal movies bear his fingerprints.
In the late 1970s, Brezner went into Juilliard, the performing arts school in New York City, and pulled out Robin Williams. The Rollins and Joffe legacy, in the form of MBST, represented Williams until he died, in 2014.
Over time, the Rollins and Joffe Company became Rollins, Joffe, Mora, Brezner. Then it became Rollins, Joffe, Mora, Brezner and David Steinberg, the manager, not the comedian, a “Seinfeld” show reference. Then it became Mora, Brezner and Steinberg. The company became Brezner, Steinberg and Tannenbaum.
GS Whew, that’s some legacy.
HL It is, for sure. Rollins and Joffe handled Allen, Crystal and Williams as well as “The Beatles.” To this day, “The Beatles” do a massive business.
Steven Tannenbaum was part of MBST. Not long before George Harrison passed, he decided he wanted Tannenbaum to manage his estate. He was the best choice.
There was a point when I wanted to merge my company with MBST. Although we shared offices, in Los Angeles, I didn’t know as much as I thought about their company. What I didn’t know put a pin in my merger trial balloon.
GS How did Larry Brezner enter your picture?
HL He called me when I brought Tom Green to the USA from Ottawa, Canada. He and I had worked the Tenth Annual Young Comedians special on HBO. We shot that special when I managed Howard Busgang, one of the comedians on the show.
For the special, new comedians filmed in their home club. A famous comedian, from the same home club, would introduce the new comedian. Howie Mandell introduced Howard Busgang, in his home club, Yuk Yuk’s, in Toronto.
GS That’s an interesting show idea.
HL I brought Tom Green to Los Angeles. He was white hot from day one. Once his MTV show aired, it was a huge hit.
Green was in high demand. Many producers and agents showed remarkable interested in him. The phone, it seemed, never stopped ringing for Tom Green.
One day Larry Brezner called. He reminds me, as if he had to, that we know each other from the HBO special. Brezner says, “I’d love to be the one that makes the Tom Green movie.”
I said to Brezner, “Let’s do it.” I could do much worse, I thought. Green thus had a film deal.
GS Strike while the iron is white.
HL We, Green and I, met with Brezner. He had a strong vision for a Tom Green movie. I liked his vision.
I liked the Brezner attitude. I put a deal together. We were to produce what became “Freed Got Fingered,” starring Green.
Green wrote a script. The first draft was as any first draft, open to changes. I read the script; Larry read it, too, over a weekend.
The script, which Green wrote quickly, excited me. I thought the script good enough to get us moving on the film. The problem was that Brezner was working on a deal at Disney; he had to be extraordinarily careful.
GS Was Brezner a Disney fellow.
HL He was not exactly a Disney fellow. Still, there were areas of Disney where a producer could get away with some mischief. We had that in mind when we read the script by Green.
Monday morning I meet with Brezner. He didn’t want to shoot that script Green wrote. He had bought another script, which he thought would work better for Tom. We didn’t make that movie, with Disney, using the script Green wrote.
The film went into “turnaround,” at Disney. Turnaround is a fancy was of saying, “It’s over for us, do what you wish with the script.” We found a way to film the script Green wrote.
GS Is this when New Regency enters the picture.
HL Yes, here is how that happened. Most everyone at Disney was encouraging of the Green script and film, but felt it wasn’t a Disney movie. Thus, it went into turnaround. I could sell the script anywhere I wanted.
We convinced the William Morris agency to help sell the script Green wrote. The agency brought in New Regency. Sanford Panitch was president of New Regency, owned by Arnon Milchan. New Regency brought in Twentieth Century Fox.
Everybody got along well. New Regency gave us a pile of money to shoot “Freddy Got Fingered.” They weren’t shy about the content, either.
We made “Freddy Got Fingered,” instead of a Disney movie. We worked hard to get the right directors and writers onto that movie. In the end, Green wrote directed and starred in the movie.
The result was a cult classic. I stand behind that movie to this day. I’m happy we made “Freddie Got Fingered.”
Yes, the shoot was fraught with conflict. The first take was the first take of any movie. Brezner wasn’t happy with it.
He lost interest. As principle photography completed, Brezner had enough. There was some in fighting in his company, I think. Anyway, he had enough. He left the project.
GS What did it cost to make “Freddie Got Fingered”?
GS Roughly, it cost 15-to-20 million dollars to make.
GS That’s what it grossed, roughly.
GS “Freddy Got Fingered” is doing well on DVD.
HL I don’t know for sure. We received an amount that took movie theatre, pay-per-view and DVD grosses into account. I’m not looking at what it's doing, now. We’re out of the picture.
GS I see.
HL We may a get small cheque someday because someone is honest. I think, though, what we received for the movie, upfront, is fine with us. Future payments would be icing on the cake.
GS As long as there are ten year olds, “Freddy Got Fingered” will make money.
HL I hope so. I’m happy we made the movie. I think we won five Razzies for “Freddie Got Fingered.” I’m not winning any Oscars, but I have a Razzie for producing that movie.
GS What is a Razzie?
HL The Golden Raspberry Award, the Razzie, recognises the worst movies of the year. The award ceremony takes place around Oscar™ time. A Razzie has a status, in the industry, that's unique.
GS It’s all in fun.
HL Yes, I love the Razzie Awards to the point where twenty years ago Stuart Benjamin and I approached the fellow who created the Razzies. Benjamin produced thirty-five or more movies, including “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Ray,” among others. He knows the movie, television and video business, well.
We said, “Let’s do the Razzies on television.” The award show is hysterical, perfect for television. The Razzie fellow was so demanding it was impossible to produce the show; there was no way we could work with him.
GS That’s too bad.
HL The Razzie Awards show is still going. It's done live. I don’t think anyone has done it for television.
Supposedly, the first “Saturday Night Live” included Billy Crystal. Buddy Mora, from Rollins and Joffe, was with Crystal that night, backstage, ready to go on.
GS That’s too bad. Let’s go back to Larry Brezner.
HL I used to go to lunch with Brezner, all the time. I had much to learn. He taught me a great deal.
There was a day when David Steinberg, his partner, the talent manager, was lunching at The Palm with David Steinberg, the comedian. I couldn’t resist. I went over to their table and said, “Gentlemen this is the end of the world, you know that.”
Lewis Black did a similar joke with two Starbucks, one across from the other. I want to make sure no one think I took it from Black. He had a similar line.
GS What do you think of Lewis Black, as a comedian.
HL I’m a fan.
GS What thinking person could not be a fan of Black? He’s a 67-year old fellow moving into new areas of comedy all the time. Other comedians his age are mostly living on past successes.
HL From what I know, he had to fight, hard, for everything. He’s a good fellow, too.
GS Again, let’s get back to Brezner.
HL The day Robin Williams died, I heard about it on the radio, in the car. I was a minute from the Brezner offices. I went there.
My thinking was everybody focuses on the family of Williams, rightfully. Few think of the fellow that built a career for Robin Williams. As a colleague, a fellow talent manager, I went to his office; I sat with him for two or three hours.
GS That’s quick thinking and thoughtful.
HL David Steinberg, his partner, was already on the plane to San Francisco. Brezner and Steinberg took care of everyone they managed. I think, though, Steinberg was a little more involved with Williams; Brezner was a little more involved with Billy Crystal.
GS The focus varied.
HL Yes and they didn’t merely luck out with Williams, Crystal and others they managed. Brezner and Steinberg helped build the talent in their clients. A high profile takes much hard work.
Early on Rollins and Joffe found much of the talent that broke in the 1970s and 1980s, including David Letterman. Mora, Brezner, Steinberg and Tannenbaum (MBST) picked up from Rollins and Joffe. That company has fifty or more years of success finding and grooming A-list talent.
GS I didn’t know of their connection with Letterman.
HL Yes, they handled Letterman because they were a success with almost everyone they handled.
Supposedly, the first “Saturday Night Live” included Billy Crystal. Buddy Mora, from Rollins and Joffe, was with Crystal that night, backstage, ready to go on. It was a great disappointment for Crystal and Mora the show couldn’t find time to put Crystal on-air.
GS What happened?
HL SNL ran out of time, as simple as that. I think Crystal was going to stand-up. He was a stand-up.
GS A is a superb stand-up, among the best.
HL Most think of Crystal as a solo. He started in a comedy trio. Mora advised he work solo.
GS Yes, I wonder where a Crystal stand-up routine would fit on the first SNL.
HL It's tough, but there was no room. Lorne Michaels, the producer, had several comedians and other talent standing by; there was also a possibility of something going wrong. The show was new, it was live, the potential for problems was huge.
GS Better safe than sorry, I guess.
HL Yes. As I mentioned, I shared offices, in Los Angeles, with MBST, the company that grew out of Rollins and Joffe. One night, as I was leaving, I passed the open door of Steve Tannenbaum. He was on the phone, but waved me in and to a seat.
At first, I didn’t know with whom he was talking. Soon enough, I realised it was Woody Allen. He was trying to talk Allen into doing something Allen did not necessarily want to do.
I thought, it doesn’t matter who it is, how big the talent, the drill is the same. I try to ensure a client makes the right moves. Tannenbaum tries to ensure Allen makes the right moves, too.
GS Why won’t Allen want to make the move Tannenbaum is suggesting? Why question a manager, too much. The client pays for the advice and trust of the manager.
HL Everybody’s afraid of the next step. Every step must work. If the talent has momentum, ideally, no one messes with that. A manager, the talent, too, must try; every decision, every move is momentous.
The goal is to try to make a career last for a long time, for the rest of your life, hopefully. We must keep the money coming, too. Moves are thus critical whether you’re Joe Schmo or Woody Allen.
GS Without getting specific, what might be examples moves or deals?
HL A client may face two alternatives. One is for six movies, with money upfront and at the back-end, of a deal. That is, after the producer recoups his or her money and makes a profit, the talent shares in the profit as well as receives some money before each movie shoots.
GS Please expand on back-end and front-end.
HL Sure, front-end is when a producer, let’s say, pays the creative, an actor, say, for the job before she or he even starts rehearsing or filming. It’s pre-payment; usually, it involves a one-time payment.
If a deal involves back-end payments, it’s a second cheque for the creative. After a film, say, grosses certain amount of money, the creative starts to receive some of the extra revenue. The producer recoups, gets back his or her production costs; then shares some of the profit with the talent.
GS Performance contracts for musicians work in much the same way.
HL It is close to the same for back-end payments. Nobody's reinventing the wheel. Only the lawyers making it more complicated.
GS Let’s go back to representatives making deals for creatives.
HL Yes, the other option is twenty movies that pay the talent upfront. That seems like much money, but may not be. If the movies succeed, wildly, not getting a piece of the back-end may leave the talent feeling short-changed. If the movies bomb, the producer may find a way out of the deal.
Trying to decide makes your head swirl. There are so many considerations, in any move, the creatives, the talent, must let management lead. My style is to tell the client everything, but I never let them know how to make a sausage.
GS What turns you on?
HL Tremendous entertainment is a turn on for me.
GS What turns you off?
HL Hacks turn me off.
GS There’s a story, I hear, in how ABC Television landed “Three’s Company,” in 1977, which involves Fred Silverman.
HL Silverman told me the story of how he landed that sitcom for ABC Television. He was living in New York, running ABC Television. He often flew to Los Angeles for business. He always stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
One day, Silverman was in his hotel room. The fellow in the next room was loud, I mean loud, when he was on the phone. Silverman heard his every word, without trying.
Having to overhear the phone calls in the next room, Silverman figured out his neighbour had the rights to “Three’s Company.” The show had been a hit in the UK called, “Robin’s Nest.” Silverman, unwittingly, is in on the negotiations for “Three’s Company” to go to CBS Television.
It appears CBS is ready to take the show. Silverman immediately calls business affairs at ABC Television. He says, “Buy ‘Three’s Company’ at any cost, now. The show became a mega-hit.
GS That’s a great example of serendipity. You met Silverman soon after you transplanted to Los Angeles.
HL Yes, the joke is that I was in the last will of Brandon Tartikoff. When someone hears this, he or she says, “Oh my gawd that’s amazing. What did he leave you?” I say. “He left me Fred Silverman.”
GS A great joke, but a deep inside joke.
HL For sure, I met Fred Silverman roughly the same time I met Brandon Tartikoff, who headed NBC Television from 1980 to 1991. I collect network presidents, but only after they're out of power. Tartikoff was the sweetest man you want to know; he passed too young, too soon.
Fred Silverman is my idol; I wanted to meet him. When I hit Los Angeles, I thought, if I ever get the chance to meet Silverman, it would the greatest; then one day, not long after I got here, I did. I came to know Fred Silverman when he and Phil Gurin were piloting a new game show and considering my then client, Jimmy Kimmel, as a writer.
Fred Silverman, in the 1970s, ran CBS Television, ABC Television and NBC Television. He’s the only person to complete that trifecta. He stands alone in the history of American television.
Silverman was twenty-five years old, more or less right out of the graduate school at Ohio State University, he worked briefly at WGN-TV, in Chicago, and WPIX-TV, in New York City. A moment later, he was running CBS Television. That, alone, is a miraculous story, but he moved to ABC Television and, eventually, NBC Television.
On 5 September 1977, Silverman was on the cover of “Time” magazine. The magazine billed him as “TV’s Master Showman.” The “Man with the Golden Gut,” as if all his masterful decisions were somehow instinctual or intuitive, which as far from the truth as was possible.
GS “Golden gut” denies his decisions came from study, insight and an exquisite sense of timing. I’d call it media bias.
HL Yes, maybe, but I wanted to meet him and did. When I signed Jimmy Kimmel, he auditioned for the Silverman and Phil Gurin produced the pilot. They needed writers, for the pilot, a syndicated game show, of a sort, and hired Kimmel.
Kimmel got the job for $500 a week. Quickly, Silverman and Gurin upped his pay to $1000 a week. They wanted to ensure he would stay around.
Silverman and Gurin took an unorthodox approach to selling this new show. They would bring all the syndicators into one room and do a live run through of the show. The syndicators could see the circus Silverman and Gurin created, as they watched the pilot, sitting among their competitors.
GS That was an imaginative touch to ratchet up the pressure.
HL Yes, Kimmel hosted the presentation. Silverman says, “Why should we pay someone else to host the show when Kimmel can do it.” The pilot didn’t sell, but Michael Davis, with Buena Vista, at the time, saw the potential in Kimmel, which helped a great deal, later.
The confidence, of Silverman, in hiring Jimmy Kimmel to host the presentation, jump-started the career of Kimmel. He went from writing and being part of the morning show on KROQ-FM to sports to television syndication. He worked on “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” as the sidekick qua announcer; co-starred in “The Man Show,” which ABC Television piloted, but Comedy Central aired, to a late night talk show on ABC Television.
GS He was lucky you sent him on that audition for the Silverman and Gurin pilot.
HL That’s my job.
GS Jay Leno is on the record saying the humour of Jimmy Kimmel is mean.
HL That was likely an early quote. I was still managing Kimmel and Adam Corolla when they did their first “Tonight Show,” with Leno.
We respected what Leno was doing. We welcomed the invitation to be on the “Tonight Show.” We took part where and when invited.
Kimmel, well, his humour, early on, was frat house humour. It was not, by any stretch, mean. For a while, Kimmel had a rudimentary way of going about comedy. He used embarrassment to find the laugh. He didn’t care if he nicked someone for a laugh; only the laugh counted.
GS Reminds me of Andy Kaufman: anything for a reaction, of any sort.
HL For Kimmel, it was always about the joke, that’s a form of comedy. For Leno to say Jimmy was mean was a bit unfair. I think there's some Leno material that was mean.
GS I think much Leno material is mean.
HL Today, Leno is gone from the “Tonight Show.” Kimmel moved his appeal to Middle America. The days of sophomoric embarrassment-based comedy are mostly gone, I think.
GS Is the criticism, of relying on mean-based humour, an implicit comparison to the humour of Johnny Carson or David Letterman.
HL Perhaps, as both Carson and Letterman came from the Mid-west, of the USA. They knew that sensibility. They played to it, with ease.
Kimmel is from New York City. He grew up in Las Vegas, exposed to a more sophisticated comedic sensibility. Not everyone got his comedy because he didn’t aim, necessarily, at Middle America.
Mean was the wrong word for his humour. The Leno comment, I think, came as Kimmel was coming out as a late night competitor. Maybe Leno was trying to throw a spike strip on the road.
GS Maybe the Leno comment came during a juvenile stage, as Kimmel was learning and developing into a comedian, a comedy writer and so forth.
HL I wouldn’t say it was a juvenile stage. Frat house humour, yes, but mean, no. The material was always funny; it always played.
I’m not saying Kimmel did jokes about passing gas. Still, those jokes always work. What can I tell you?
There’s much low-hanging fruit in comedy. I don’t believe any comedian, ever, escapes it. What plays in Peoria, may not play in Los Angeles, to invoke an old vaudeville era bromide.
GS What inspires you?
HL Great minds inspire me.
GS You managed Melissa Rivers for a time.
HL Yes, Tom Green was doing a talk show for syndication, at one point. He was doing it out of his house. I managed Green; we put together a full-blown staff for the show.
We booked Melissa Rivers, daughter of Joan Rivers, for the show. Melissa came to house. I was there and got to know her.
I liked her a great deal. I knew she had recently left her manager. I suggested we might talk of me managing her. We did.
I put myself in the running and got the job. The goal was to cut the apron strings with Joan. Whatever Joan did, she would drag Melissa along. The only reason Melissa worked was her mother; whoever hired her tried to drag Joan into the project.
GS Unfortunately, it seems a natural move: hire Melissa to get Joan.
HL Melissa is extraordinarily smart at show business. She’s a University of Pennsylvania graduate. She’s no fool. Melissa had the ability to produce, to come up with her own ideas. She’s remarkably creative and a good person on top of it.
I took the job handling the career of Melissa Rivers. It was tough. One-time, Joan was visiting Melissa, staying at her home, when we were pitching a deal for Melissa.
Our meeting was at the home of Melissa. I’m with a producer, in the kitchen breakfast nook; Melissa and Joan are in the living room.
Melissa and Joan were talking. The volume of the discussion increased to yelling. I said to the producer, “The show is in the living room”; he agreed.
We had to figure a way to get that on the air. It’s a longer story, but we sell Melissa and the Joan idea. It was a show idea where Joan is living with Melissa and they were comparing their dates. That was the spine in the show.
VH-1 wanted the show. It didn’t offer enough money to make the show, well. The idea and the deal went away. Great ideas are seldom enough.
Then I got a call from Chuck Labella at NBC Television. Today, he’s Senior Vice-president of Unscripted Casting at NBC Television. He handles talent arrangements for reality shows and such.
He called because he wanted Tom Green for “Celebrity Apprentice,” hosted by Donald Trump. I say, “I’ll give you Tom Green if you give me Melissa Rivers.” Chuck Labella says, “I’ll give you Melissa Rivers if you give me Joan Rivers.”
GS That’s the life story of Melissa Rivers.
HL I ask Labella to give me some time. He does. Billy Sammeth was managing Joan Rivers, at the time. I called him.
Sammeth was always around Joan Rivers. I came to know him well. He’s a great mentor, an honest character. He managed “Cher” for years.
I asked Sammeth to go with me on the “Celebrity Apprentice” deal. I said, “Joan’s not working much, these days.” This was true. “Look at your book. It’s not full. Let’s get her on network television. I think you’ll see some magic.”
Sammeth says, “You’re out of your mind.” Still, he will talk with Joan. We put together a meeting on a Sunday afternoon at the home of Melissa Rivers.
That day, I had my daughter, Olivia, with me. I thought the meeting would be no big deal, casual. We were sitting around a speakerphone, talking.
We included Paige Hurwitz, on the call. She was producing “Celebrity Apprentice,” in New York City. We wanted her perspective on Melissa, Joan and, I guess, Tom Green.
Eventually, the call included Melissa, Joan, Chuck Labella, Paige Hurwitz, Billy Sammeth and me; everyone, save Hurwitz, was at the home of Melissa Rivers. We went back and forth, on the call. Joan agreed to do the show, just like that.
GS Of course, she agreed.
HL “Celebrity Apprentice” shoots in October, except for the last show. Everybody involved swears to keep the show a secret. The network holds the filmed episodes back until after the “Superbowl.” The middle of February, maybe a week or ten days earlier, “Celebrity Apprentice” airs.
The last episode of “Celebrity Apprentice,” shoots at the end of the run; in May, I think. The last episode is live. The last two contestants don’t know, until, say, May, who wins. There's a long time between the second last episode and the last one, six or seven months.
I forget about “Celebrity Apprentice.” Green did the show and lasted two or three weeks. Melissa stayed for several more episodes.
I forgot Joan was in the finals. In May, I’m watching the show, with my daughter. Joan wins “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Joan Rivers cleans up. Her career took off. She was on NBC Television and in prime time; it was a great deal. Then she wins, which was better. Her book filled up, fast. She was working; that was great.
When Joan wins, my daughter leans over and says, “Well, there’s another one you were involved with.” To tell you the truth I forgot.
GS That’s hard to imagine.
HL I said, “What are you talking about?” My daughter says, “The meeting Dad.” I think, right. My daughter says, “You put that meeting together.” I said, “Yeah.” I guess it was all right.
Eventually, Melissa and I had a friendly parting.
GS What book do you urge your readers to read?
HL Everyone must read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck
GS Tell me more about Billy Sammeth.
HL I like Billy. He’s poorly portrayed in the documentary, “Joan Rivers: a piece of work,” which shot while she was doing “Celebrity Apprentice.” I was not on the documentary.
I was not a part of the life of Joan Rivers. I managed her daughter, for a while. That’s all.
GS This is true.
HL There may have been something between Joan and Billy that I didn’t know. I know Billy was responsible for “Celebrity Apprentice,” for Joan. He and I discussed it.
GS As you said.
HL “Celebrity Apprentice,” for Joan and Melissa Rivers came from two managers and two colleagues, Billy Sammeth and I. We worked together, well. There was mutual respect.
Once, I lunched with Sammeth at “Junior’s,” a New York City landmark, in Times Square. He was looking for tickets to a show. He knows I know Debra Rathwell; she runs AEG on the east coast, in New York City, where she’s a Senior Vice-president.
Rathwell was my assistant in Ottawa, a long time ago, at Bass Clef, the concert promoter. She stayed with the concert business, worked for Don Tarleton, at Donald K Donald Productions, in Montreal, before moving to AEG.
GS You recognise all forms of talent.
HL I tell Sammeth I don’t usually Rathwell for tickets. Sammeth says, “Do me a favour. I need two tickets for opening night for Cher at Caesar’s Palace, in Las Vegas.” I confirmed Rathwell has input to that show, but reiterated I don’t ask her for tickets.
I said, “Billy, you managed Cher for years. You’re asking me to get tickets. That’s funny.”
Sammeth says, “I don’t want to deal with the trouble involved in going to Cher.” At this point, there were many, many people between Sammeth and Cher. He says, “If I could get to Cher, directly, I’d have the tickets.”
I talked with Rathwell. She gave me two tickets for Sammeth. Yet, the circumstances were bizarre: the long-time manager of Cher has difficulty getting tickets to her opening night Las Vegas.
The only other time I asked Rathwell for concert tickets was to a Barry Manilow show, at the Staples Centre, in Los Angeles. It was a Valentine’s Day show, many years ago. My wife wanted to see this Manilow show. I didn’t.
I called Rathwell and told her my story. She e-mailed her counterpart in Los Angeles and I receive four tickets in the AEG box. My friend, Harold Levin, and his wife, Shelly, were in Los Angeles, from Ottawa. They joined us.
At first, we four were in the box alone. Then, I look back and notice the doors, in the centre of the box, opening. I can’t see who is entering, but notice it's a wheel chair.
Turns out, it was Dick Clark and his wife, Kari. This was following his first stroke. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Immediately, I step up to introduce myself to Clark for the one hundredth time. He meets so many men and women; I figure he doesn’t remember everyone. He appears in great shape.
As I help Kari bring Dick into the box, I notice he has the Manilow set list on his lap. I take a long, hard look at the set list. As the show goes, I’m on the other side of the box, telling everyone what song is next. It was a joke, just for me.
GS You impress your wife and the Levins with your foresight.
HL Right, roughly midpoint of the show, Manilow does the theme from “American Bandstand,” which Dick Clark created and hosted for thirty years. The audience goes nuts, applauding, stamping feet and yelling.
Manilow stops the show, in the middle of the song. He says, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to do that song. It’s a special an honour to do it tonight. The man that created American Bandstand is here.” Pointing to our box, Manilow says, “Dick Clark.”
Every phone camera and bright light aims at the AEG box. I’m burning from the intensity of the heat. Clark was uncomfortable in the spotlight; he never liked it.
GS He played it with great courtesy.
HL Yes, he did. When I managed Paula Abdul, which was for a moment, I sent her to pitch some shows to Dick Clark. She used to carry a large paper bag containing many VHS tapes; samples of shows she wanted to produce.
Andrew Lear, he used to work with me, attended the meeting, too. Abdul plays a few tapes. Clark stops and looks at Abdul. He says, “Why should I be doing a show with you?” Paula says, “Because I’m the Michael Jordan of dance.” Clark says, “That will be the end of the meeting.” That was it.
GS Her saying she’s the Michael Jordon of dance was too much for Dick Clark.
HL Yes, apparently it was.
GS What’s your favourite word?
HL Integration is my favourite word.
GS What’s your least favourite word?
HL Criminal is my least favourite word.
Trump gravitates to formality. Maybe my clothes give him impression I know what I’m doing. I fooled him, I think. --
GS You met Donald Trump.
HL Yes I did, first, in the late 1980s. Mike Allan MacDonald, the Canadian comedian, was doing the Letterman show. We were in the Green Room when Trump arrives. He comes in with two minions and there’s limited introductions, all around.
I knew who Trump was, but it was early in his development as a celebrity. We’re all in the tiny room used by “The Late Show.” Everyone could hear everyone else, when she or he spoke.
Mike and I kept our conversation to a minimum. Trump says to his minions, “Why are we doing this show?” One of the minions points to the book and explains, as if for the tenth time.
A few years later, 2000 I would say, I booked Carson Daly to host the “Miss USA Pageant.” That year, the show shot in Branson, Missouri, for NBC Television. I didn’t know it was the off-season in Branson.
One of the hotels opened for the “Miss USA Pageant.” Carson and I each had an impressive suite, but we’re the only ones in the hotel for the first couple of nights. Counting rehearsals, we were in Branson, during off-season, for a long week.
The night of the show, I was sitting in the first row, stage right. Suddenly, Trump arrives. He’s there by himself.
As there are only a few seats available in that row, he sits next to me. I find myself talking with Donald Trump. We talked, idly, of traffic congestions, the long ride from the airport in Springfield and so forth.
All the while, I’m wondering why Trump gravitated to me. Did he remember me from “The Late Show” Green Room? I doubt it. Then I realise I am the only person, other than Trump, that’s wearing a suit and tie, in the usually causal Branson.
Trump gravitates to formality. Maybe my clothes give him impression I know what I’m doing. I fooled him, I think.
GS Trump knows what’s what.
HL There’s another side to Trump, a good, a great side. How I know takes some backstory involving Chuck Labella and my client, Darren Kavinoky. As I said, Chuck Labella is a Senior Vice-president of NBC Television; Kavinoky is a lawyer.
Not long ago, I happened to have a meeting with Labella. He’s responsible for all unscripted material on NBC, including “Celebrity Apprentice,” “America’s Got Talent” and so forth. Labella and I have been friends for a long time.
My meeting, with Labella, included Darren Kavinoky. As well as being a lawyer, Kavinoky does three shows on the Discovery ID channel; he’s on “Insider” most every night, which CBS syndicates. Kavinoky is interesting and fits the profile I like of a show business adjunct.
During the meeting, it strikes me that Chuck Labella would make a great guest on “Outlaw Radio,” an Internet radio show I do on Saturdays. I asked Darren Kavinoky to wait a moment. I never do this, but the opportunity presented. I had to take it.
I ask Labella to guest on “Outlaw Radio.” He agrees.
At this point, Labella had worked with Trump, on “Celebrity Apprentice,” for years. They talked, on the phone, every day. Chuck Labella knows Trump inside and out.
Trump and Labella are good friends. Labella is a solid person, he won’t go south on Trump to join the cause. In fact, he goes way north on Trump.
According to Labella, “Trump treats him well. Trump is collaborative, more than many. They get along well.”
GS Trump is a good fellow.
HL Seemingly, yes.
GS There were stories that Ed McMahon, the announcer on “The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson,” had fallen on hard times, near the end of his life. Trump seemingly stepped in to bail him out.
HL I don’t know about the McMahon story, but from what Chuck Labella said, I am not surprised.
GS What is your favourite indulgence?
HL I indulge in pizza and all pastas.
GS Ken Kragen, the talent manager of legend, has said, “Show business is a contact sport.” Have you found it to be so?
HL When I came to Los Angeles, I wanted to meet as many people as I could. I knew Kragen is right. Show business is a contact sport.
I thought I could find a management company interested in my clients and me. At the time, I managed several comedians. I made a great many cold calls and interested no one, but I tried and made contacts.
I came to know Jerry Kushnick, Marty Erlichman, George Shapiro and Howard West.
GS West, I believe recently passed away. He and Shapiro produced “Seinfeld.”
HL Yes, Howard West passed away on 5 December 2015. He was eighty-four. He and his partner, George Shapiro produced “Seinfeld.” As well, West produced “Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall.” He was also executive producer on “Man in the Moon,” a bio-picture of Kaufman.
Howard West was an agent in the William Morris agency, in New York City. He wanted set the world on fire. He changed his name from Aroeste to West and moved to California.
Years later, someone tells me of his name change. My mother was an Aroeste. Thus, I became more interested in Howard West. Turns out, he’s a seventeenth cousin, four times removed.
GS Related, but separated by degrees.
HL I met with Shapiro and West to discuss my joining their management company. West was tough. He put me through my paces, eventually deciding we were not a match. I did get a free steak dinner, though.
GS There’s a free lunch.
HL Yes, did I mention, Shapiro is the brother-in-law of Carl Reiner. Shapiro, in fact, manages Reiner. This led to an interesting evening for me.
I was at an event for Carl Reiner. Dick Van Dyke and George Shapiro were there, too. Shapiro sees me and hails me over to meet Reiner. What an honour.
Later that evening, by chance, Reiner, Van Dyke and I were in the washroom at the same time. I’m in the middle. Reiner is one side of me. Van Dyke is on the other side.
I said, “Well, gentleman, I can pick off another item on my bucket list.” There was no response. I waited three beats and they laughed. Then Reiner said, “That was hysterical.” Van Dyke said, “Who had the asparagus.”
GS That was an awkward, but funny, situation.
HL A great experience, Reiner is a great man. He’s 93 years old and still working. My friend, Paul Brownstein, does the “Dick Van Dyke Show” DVD packages, with Reiner, who produced the original show. Brownstein spends much time with Reiner, in his home. Every night, Mel Brooks comes over to watch television and eat chicken.
GS You produced the “Steve Fredericks Show,” on WMEX-AM, in Boston, MA, for two years.
HL Fredericks was interesting, probably ten to twelve years older than was I. He was the voice of the Philadelphia “76ers” before coming to WMEX-AM, in Boston, to do late night talk. I learned a great deal about talk radio from him; how to make it work. I watched Fredericks make it work.
He was a teacher. Fredericks always told me what he was doing and why. He was a character, too.
Fredericks wouldn’t read the new book, written by an author guesting on the show. I’d at least scan the book. I started asking guests to arrive half an hour before the scheduled interview for a pre-interview.
I’d take the guest into the studio and we’d chat. Fredericks would stand behind the door, listening to me pre-interview the guest. That way, he knew how to handle the on-air interview.
Steve Fredericks was a character, a local Boston radio legend, right up there with Larry Glick and Dick Summer. There was a street paper called Boston “After Dark.” It’s underpaid writers rebelled. Most quit “After Dark” to start a new street paper, the Boston “Phoenix.”
HL The “Phoenix” writers hung around the WMEX-AM studio during the Fredericks show. They brought local and visiting national celebrities to the show. That’s how I met Jane Curtain. She went on to “Saturday Night Live” as well as “Kate and Allie.” She would hang out at the studio, during the show.
I liked Fredericks, a great deal. Then I left Boston and went my way. He did what he did. I maybe spoke with him once or twice, briefly, after Boston.
Many years later, a comedian, by the name of Sarge, put me in touch with Fredericks via e-mail. I sent him a little letter. He responded.
Not long after our e-mail exchange, Steve got cancer. I remember speaking to him about three weeks before he passed. It was a poignant, but one of the great conversations I had with him.
Thankfully, I told him of the impression he made on me, the influence he had on my radio work. His show is where I learned the most. He was in tears; it was emotional.
GS That’s the kind and circumstance of conversation too few people have. What job, other than the one you have, appeals to you, most.
HL I always wanted to football play-by-play on radio.
GS What job would you not like to try?
HL I would not want to try doing football play-by-play on radio.
GS The idea of Joey Reynolds on radio leads only to a string of superlatives.
HL Yes, Joey Reynolds, I remember him when he started on radio in Buffalo. That was the late 1950s, I think. He was on WWOL-AM, which was his second radio job, I think. He started at WNCO-AM, in Ashland, Ohio, I believe.
Joey Reynolds was my radio hero. He still is. He did radio as no one else, before. Once firmly settled in Buffalo radio, he moved to the rock station, WKBW-AM, where his remarkable approach to radio paid off, big time.
GS Yes, he played one record, repeatedly, for his entire shift. It was “John and Marsha,” by Stan Freberg.
HL Local radio featured many extraordinary men and women. Howard Stern is among the best. Many of these remarkable radio performers took bits and pieces of Joey Reynolds to ground her or his success.
GS Intimation is the sincerest form of flattery.
HL Yes, Reynolds was always two steps ahead of everybody else in radio.
GS I think Reynolds remains ahead of most everyone involved with radio
HL Reynolds was the original taste making, trendsetting radio personality. In the early 1960s, “Wolfman Jack” defined radio for Southern California and Mexico. Joey Reynolds defined radio for seventeen eastern US states and Canada from WKBW-AM.
He’s a true innovator. Reynolds showed how entertaining the local radio personality could be, if he or she worked hard. He worked radio for forty-plus years. I follow his career and always admire him and his work.
GS “Jersey Boys” overlooked the importance of Reynolds in the success of the “Four Seasons.”
HL That Broadway musical and movie loosely based on the “Four Seasons,” completely ignored Reynolds. At WKBW-AM, he locked the studio door, one night, to play “Big Girls Don’t Cry” or was it, “Sherry,” for an hour or more and no other records during that time. He had an important role in breaking the “Four Seasons” for Bob Crewe. Crewe was not shy giving him credit.
The “Four Seasons” cut several promotional and identification jingles specifically for Reynolds, as a way of saying thanks.** These jingles are on the web and are a treat to hear. Still, I think he deserved name credit in both the Broadway show and the film.
GS Did you meet him in those days.
HL Yes, in October 1963. Then, I met Reynolds, again, a few years ago. Saturdays, I do “Outlaw Radio,” an Internet radio show. Lorie Downey Jr, she’s producer of “Outlaw Radio,” arranged my reintroduction to Reynolds.
Married to the late Morton Downey, Jr, Lori lived in New York City. She knew Reynolds as part of the talk radio group based in New York City. One Saturday, she had Reynolds join “Outlaw Radio,” on the phone. I had the chance to meet him, in a way, and talk with him for a long time.
Later, Reynolds came to Los Angeles and I met him, face-to-face. What a thrill. After this meeting, I found myself in a position where Joey Reynolds, my radio hero, sought my advice. It's interesting and strange how the roles reversed.
Today, Reynolds is as imaginative and as vigorous as a twentysomething. Still, he needs help with some projects. I’m always willing to help, as I can.
GS He visited Los Angeles.
HL Yes, his daughter lives in Northern California. She grows medical marijuana. He decided he wanted to do a documentary on medical marijuana.
Reynolds is one hundred percent clean. He has been drug free for a long time. That stage of his life is long gone.
GS There was a time when he wasn’t clean.
HL Now, there’s nothing. His daughter is legally in the business of selling medical marijuana. He shot a documentary on her business using his iPhone and iPad.
GS He’s up to date on the technology.
HL That he is and he brought me the documentary. He wanted me to help sell it for him. I couldn’t find a market for it.
The point of this story is Reynolds remains at the forefront, creatively, today. He’s using Apple products to the nth degree. He gets the Steve Jobs vision of Apple, and understands it, fully. Reynolds sees the Apple vision as a massive business, but the model is almost evil.
GS Reynolds is always at the creative forefront.
HL That’s Joey Reynolds. At WKBW-AM, all those years ago, Reynolds did evenings, following Dan Neaverth who did afternoon drive. Every evening, Reynolds and Neaverth would do a change over, from one show to the other. They would start at ten to seven and end around ten after seven.
GS I remember it well.
HL Reynolds and Neaveth had a regional hit record, too, “Rats in My Room.” It was a comedy record. I think it did well, at least among their fans.
For that record, Reynolds and Neaverth changed a song by the silent movie star, Leona Anderson, from her album, “Music to Suffer By,” to “Rats in My Room.” Everything they did, in those days, remains a recognised act of creativity, today. It’s hard to imagine radio without the creativity of Reynolds and Neaverth, among others.
GS A general lack of creativity passes for radio, today.
HL Neaverth and Reynolds were hot in Buffalo. Neaverth decided to stay put, whereas Reynolds decided to move on to bigger radio markets. For a long time, Neaverth was the stadium voice for the Buffalo “Bills,” of the NFL.
GS Neaverth remains the local radio legend in Buffalo, although he’s retired.
HL Joey Reynolds and Dan Neaverth planted the radio seed that grew in me. They are why I went to Emerson College, in Boston, to study broadcasting. They are why I worked seven days a week in radio, while at college. They are why I bemoan the loss of entertainment on radio, today.
GS The Premiere Radio Network has a connection to Buffalo, too.
HL Yes, if a tenuous connection, when I was a child, in the fifties, I saw a photograph of Warren Michael Kelly, an announcer on WGR-AM, in Buffalo, New York. My mother had it for some reason; she listened to Kelly. In my mind, Kelly was the biggest star ever.
I heard Warren Kelly on the radio, every day. He had a smooth, velvety voice, with great tone. He was a good entertainer, in a neighbourly way.
When I joined WYSL-FM, at age 16, Kelly had long left WGR-AM. Now, he was sales manager at WYSL-AM and FM. I finally met him; it was great. I told him I was a big fan, which he liked to hear.
He saw me as one of the eager-to-be a radio announcers that wouldn’t go away. I was always at the radio station, after school and on weekends or holidays. He liked it that a fan was such a radiophile.
GS I can identify with that.
HL One day, in 1967, Kelly comes into my on-air studio, with a fellow that seems roughly my age. I was seventeen. I was doing a Friday afternoon drive show. Kelly introduces his son, Tim, to me.
Kelly says, “Tim is a recording artist. He has a new record out. He wanted me to bring him into the studio so he could look around.
“Tim knows he’ll be doing radio interviews to promote his new record. He wanted to get used to being in a studio. Do you mind if he stays in the studio, to watch, for an hour or so?”
Of course, I don’t mind. It's Tim Kelly, son of Warren, my childhood hero. I am honoured. Still, I wonder why I need to show Tim Kelly how radio works, when his father is a local radio legend.
Tim was a quick learn. He asked the right questions. Still, why am I doing this training when he father was Buffalo radio for years?
Then Tim started hanging out at WYSL-FM. Eventually, he had an on-air shift. At the time, WYSL-AM was competition for WKBW-AM, the big gun in town.
Gordon McLendon owned WYSL-AM and FM, working mostly from Dallas, Texas. He and Todd Storz invented the basic format for successful local top forty radio stations. McLendon had successful stations across the USA.
McLendon sent experts from Dallas to help WYSL-AM. WKBW-AM was a tough nut to crack. The experts thought Tim Kelly, on WYSL-FM, was so good they moved him to the AM side.
Moving Tim Kelly was a great decision. He was excellent at working the McLendon format. He became a successful personality, working Chicago, Louisville and, eventually, KIIS-FM, in Los Angeles.
Louise Palanker came to Los Angeles, from Buffalo, New York, around 1980, and worked as a page at NBC Television, in Burbank. She then was a writer, first, for the “Rick Dees” show on KIIS-FM and later for “Rick Dees American Top 40,” a syndicated weekly radio show.
Tim Kelly was at KIIS-FM, with Louise Palanker and Steve Lehman. Tim, Louise and Steve figure what she’s writing for Dees was sellable to other radio stations, too. They were right, radio stations wanted to buy their material because it was funny.
They needed more writers and producers, but before taking that step, they incorporated as Premiere Radio. In the USA, they syndicated “Dr Laura,” in her heyday, country music shows and so forth. It was a good move.
GS Yes, Premiere did well.
HL Today, Premiere is the top radio syndicator in the USA. It has roughly ninety shows on-air. iHeart Radio now owns Premiere.
GS Is radio making a comeback?
HL Radio grossed as much money last year, 2014, as it did the year before. The good news is people continue to listen to radio, despite the competition, today.
GS What is the competition, today?
HL Yes, competition from smartphones, television, cable, video games, music streaming and so forth. Radio holds on against great competition. This is good news.
GS Hours tuned to radio are down.
HL Radio use, time spent listening to radio, may increase when WiFi is in the dashboard of most cars. Some cars already come with WiFi installed. In the next five years, maybe sooner, every car will have WiFi.
Eventually, Pandora Radio and other music discovery or streaming services will be available everywhere, not only the US, New Zealand and Australia, as it is now. Every podcast will be available in every car. The driver and passengers will have total control of what music or talk radio they hear in the car.
GS Will radio respond, effectively; maybe repurpose.
HL Radio, as we know it, remains in the dashboard, too. Again, it goes against heady competition. Stations thus must have a purpose and strong implementation of that purpose.
I’m not sure programmers fully grasp the competitive world in which they work, today. Programmers must understand there’s more and stronger competition, now. Radio performers are special and different, in a good way. Thus, in a well-purposed setting, announcers can hold listeners; build a fan base, if you like.
GS The importance of announcers for radio success will return.
HL Yes, smart radio programmers know how to define a narrow purpose for their stations, say, news, sports talk or specialised music; announcers and other performers will be central to holding an audience. Smart programmers must ensure every potential audience member knows the purpose of the station; if not, there’s trouble.
GS Listeners must discover or re-discover radio, not the other way around.
HL Yes, the audience must come to radio, find it in a cacophony of competition for ears. The most well purposed station in the world goes unheard, if not promoted, thoroughly. The breadth and depth of competition for radio will rage, unabated; performers, which only radio can offer, and wide-scale promotion are the keys to the future success of radio, as we know it.
GS Radio remains feasible.
HL Yes, radio still has the ability to put together formats and attract a large audience, but the potential audience must know of the station. Promotion is the piece that’s often missing, yet it’s most important. Promotion must be brilliant. When radio effectively promotes its performers and purpose, success follows right behind.
GS Here’s an old joke. How does a station become number one, in its market: promote, promote, promote.
HL Today, the potential audience for radio is fumbling around. Listeners find podcasts, such as that available from Adam Corolla or Dr Drew, to fulfil his or her needs. Many radio performers switched to podcasts; Corolla, for example, has millions of downloads of his podcast, every day, but not all podcasts are so fortunate.
GS The demand for radio-style content, that is, entertainment, exists.
HL Yes, it does.
GS What of SiriusXM satellite radio, will it continue?
HL If Howard Stern leaves, SiriusXM has a serious problem.*** I gather Stern is keeping SiriusXM going, although there’s much wonderful content on the service. As long as SiriusXM keeps cross promoting those other services, it might survive a Stern exit.
Car dashboard WiFi will likely cut into the SiriusXM audience. Why pay for radio when it’s available without charge. Some podcaster are behind pay walls, but listeners go elsewhere to find free content. SiriusXM always faces a similar challenge.
GS How does radio attract listeners, younger than thirty years old and untrained to reach for the radio or turn the dial?
HL Let them know you're there. When they show up, it's like any other business that advertises, deliver a strong product. I just bought a new chair. I went to Living Space. Why, because the Living Space advertising pounded it into my head and I gave the store my money.
Radio is no different. Offer a good product; ensure current and potential listeners know what you offer and how to get it. This is how radio, a station, becomes a hard-to-break habit.
GS Radio chains, not video, killed the radio star.
HL True, there are two major radio chains, today. There is iHeart Radio and Cumulus, as well as Entercom and a handful of smaller chains. Allowing any company to own as many stations as it wants destroyed the product.
Ryan Seacrest is on four hundred or more stations, every morning; that’s 399 local morning shows off air. The radio chains repurpose content; reuse what they can. iHeart Radio can repurpose content on nine hundred stations. The result is fewer performers, less creativity and more listeners actively seeking other ways to fulfil their needs.
GS Consolidating stations into chains threw the baby, the performers and entertainment, out, instead of the bath water.
HL Yes, despite the attacks on local radio, by the chains, it remains surprisingly important and resilient. Becoming and staying relevant for a local audience, with local colour, is important. You'll get the audience if you're talking about the community.
Radio stations must bore down into neighbourhoods, with promotion and involvement. The station must become a good, responsible citizen of the area it serves. Then, when the potential audience knows of the station and what it delivers, success comes more easily.
Community involvement is difficult, now. The radio chains, these massive companies, programme stations from afar. Although there might be local drop-ins, of weather, traffic reports, commercials or news headlines, programmers, in faraway places, run these stations, with little regard for the local community.
Today, radio chains ignore most local content. Yes, many commercials are local, in nature, but are not the same as mentioning the mayor or a high school athlete and so forth. The radio chains shave local content to a minimum, mostly commercials.
As well, the chains stay away from talent resident in the community. These massive companies prefer to repurpose content, have Ryan Seacrest on four hundred stations. A morning team, living in the community it serves is hard to beat. There’s little realisation that hiring local talent doesn’t cost, it pays, to borrow a slogan from “Billboard” magazine.
GS How can the radio chains continue?
HL A good question, can’t is the most probable answer. Cumulus is going through massive changes. The board of directors ousted the Dickey family, which owns twenty-five per cent of Cumulus. Mary Berner is now running the company; she does not have a radio background, as far as I know.
GS That has a ring of making radio life worse, not better. How much of Cumulus, for example, is still brick and mortar? I’m not thinking of stations that rent, but those in standalone buildings owned by the company.
HL I’m not sure, but I think Cumulus sold its property in Los Angeles; that building is home to two radio stations, KABC-AM and KLOS-FM. Westwood One, owned by Cumulus, has a large staff housed in that building, too. Although I’m not positive if the sale closed, yet, the going price for that brick and mortar was ninety million dollars.
GS It would seem a good idea for the radio chains to get the money out of brick and mortar and move into rentals.
HL I think so, as Cumulus, for example, has upwards of three billion dollars in debt. Supposedly, iHeart Radio is twenty billion dollars or more in debt. Last year, alone, iHeart Radio spent 1.74 billion dollars servicing its debt.
GS Again, how can these companies continue, with such a debt burden?
HL I guess the answer not much longer. At some point, the creditors, Lee and Bain, especially for iHeart Radio, will decide enough is enough. When the creditors want the money back, the house of cards radio chains will collapse. For radio, the next few years are pivotal.
GS As long as a chain services its debt, Lee and Bain, among other creditors, are happy, I would think.
HL Yes, someone’s happy, just not the listeners. In Los Angeles, listeners are lucky, as are listeners in all large cities. There are so many stations; fair choice is unavoidable. Listeners in smaller radio markets may not be so fortunate; most radio content, in those markets, comes from syndicating or repurposing.
GS Have you heard the story, true or not, of a station programmed from afar, which led to a disaster for listeners, even endangering lives.
HL That’s a radio story worth re-telling. A Country station in, I think, Wisconsin, promoted an outdoor concert, packed with top acts. Fully automated, the station programmers were women and men, in a far off city. That knew nothing of the local community and didn’t bother to check.
The station ran umpteen spots for the concert. The spots urged listeners to attend the huge concert in a scenic park near the city. The station promoted the concert as the event of the year, if not all time, and as its own.
Concert day arrives. The station runs spots saying it’s a beautiful, sunny day; perfect for the concert of a lifetime. These spots continue, unabated, right up to show time.
Wrong, major thunderstorms were on the horizon, predicted for show time. Listeners went, anyway, and the rains hit. Cars washed away. It was the biggest weather disaster in city history, but the station kept airing the sunny day spots.
GS Sounds like an episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
HL It does, but it’s ostensibly true in message, if not fact. Pay attention to the local community; promote involvement. Then the audience will find you.
GS What’s your favourite piece of clothing?
HL Blue jeans are my favourite clothing.
GS What’s your favourite ice cream?
HL Butterscotch is my flavour of ice cream.
GS What is something you like to collect?
HL I love to collect money.
GS What item must you have with you always?
HL That’s easy, my phone, it’s how I do business.
GS What city could you lose yourself in for hours to explore?
HL Manhattan is an easy place to lose yourself. There are so many distractions.
GS What is something about you that would surprise readers?
HL I was a great water skier.
GS Is there a mistake you made, when you began career, which you now regret.
HL Regretfully, I left radio too soon. In 1974, Michael Spears asked me to join KFRC-AM, in San Francisco. He was building a great radio station. He wanted me to do weekends. I couldn’t live in San Francisco for the money that weekends paid.
If I had found a way to take the offer from Spears, and I wanted to, badly, the down roads probably wouldn’t have fallen in such a fortuitous way for me.
GS What is the most interesting item of clothing you own?
HL The shirt I was wearing when hired, by Michael Spears, at WYSL-AM. I still have it. I look at it. I know it means everything to me. No one else would guess.
Much effort goes into having computers create stories. Success is elusive. Storytelling defines humans; stories form and inform our minds.
Bloom and Hirsch claim America lost its ability to tell stories. It’s an extreme loss. Advertising takes advantage, forcing attention on the shocking, without context.
Our minds arose in response to stories heard; we learn best through storytelling. Our minds thrive on finding patterns; stories offer us facts and meaning in recurring, familiar patterns. Stories stoke the imagination.
A story passes along information, efficiently. Yet, stories often focus on folly, mistake and failure; don’t do this or that, not telling us what to do. Gloom and doom are infectious; inaction is often desirable to action, which always carries some risk, if a greater reward.
Many storytellers thus see a messy world. Peevish women and men guided by a secret hand working deep behind the scenes. This is part of the gloom and doom in many stories.
Howard Lapides disagrees. His stories confirm an orderly world is possible and does exist. His stories are of journeys, not only successful ends. A risk well taken is his credo and advice.
Never revealing too much, Lapides gives readers a fulfilling glimpse of how Hollywood moguls make the sausage. Lapides underscores the importance of who you know, having a good plan and cooperating as well as open to give and take. As Toto, in the “Wizard of Oz,” he pulls back the curtain, but not all the way. The cogs, levers and flywheels, which make show business run, remain largely out of sight. The secret sauce, of the sausage makers, remains a guarded secret.
There are more stories, now, than ever. The web makes every story instantly available to everybody. It’s hard to stand apart from the mish mash of messages.
Finely built, relevant stories stand apart; Lapides tells many. His passion is the show business deal. A burning hunger to tell stories sets him apart.
Lapides lets insight guide his stories. Readers engage. He reveals his deepest feelings for show business and thus it becomes more meaningful.
Lapides doesn’t ramble. He avoids detours. He keeps his stories simple and the reader interested.
Stories bond readers. An emphasis, on friendship, goals, drive, hard work and grit, among other ideals, lure readers into a Lapides story. Readers around the world share the view of this Hollywood insider.
Radio, as storytelling, invokes imagination. Lapides says, “Radio is my first love.” No wonder he’s a great storyteller.
Wisdom in the pre-digital age was in stories. Read your child a fairy tale. The next day or after his or her nap, ask what she or he thought of the fairy tale. The answer is what she or he learned.
In the digital age, data seem most important. Show an adult a data set; ask what he or she learned from it. The answer will be some form of, “Duh.”
Data enriches stories, but, alone, are lifeless. Stories thrill as the imagination soars. Howard Lapides, storyteller, teaches and thrills.