dr george pollard
This interview is good for you. The focus is a web site, LARadio.com, its creator, Don Barrett, and much more. Read it and you'll know how the web can be more than a vast, wasted land.
If there were competitions in apathy or greed, the web would be the arena. On the web, a mindless hustling of widgets masquerades as content. On the web, software forms empty words to fool search engines. On the web, technology, as the lone goal, leaves a content void. On the web, pandering edges out pondering. Rarely do you find balance or passion in web content. You and I pay the price for such a shortfall.
An exception confirms the rule. LARadio.com is about ideas, concern and passion. The focus is radio in Los Angeles, California. The concern is for Los Angeles radio people - LARPs. The passion is for the work, world and lives of LARPs, past, present and future. The drive for an enduring record is rare, on or off the web.
LARadio.com is a sanctuary for on- or off-air LARPs. In a safe place, bonds are deep, ties are strong and success most likely. At LARadio.com, off-air staff commingles, on equal footing, with on-air talent. Community is family: meet the LARPs.
Don Barrett created LARadio.com. He is, says Claude Hall, the writer and respected voice for radio, "a godsend for radio and the world. He knows [radio] ... completely. He knows [radio] people, and not just Los Angeles.
"Better, [Barrett] is a kind and considerate person ... if you know him, you treasure him. A guy [we] knew had a stroke, and was quite depressed. I asked Don Barrett and Art Roberts if they would drop him a note. Both responded immediately! Jack G. Thayer used the term 'On your side.' Don Barrett, too, is on your side."
On LARadio.com, you easily find much content. There are no empty words. Balance is the content standard. Passion never drifts far. Clever, sharp and focused comments dot the pages. There's a strong sense of history, but today and tomorrow dominates. LARadio.com is no intellectual ghetto. If there's a bias, on this web site, it favours the women and men who work to make Los Angeles radio great. This is a bias everyone understands.
The most important ideas, from Don Barrett, deal with success. In a sense, what he says about succeeding is what you hear from everyone. Set goals. Seek advice and act on it. Take measured risks. Keep moving forward, lunging into the future. Know how to recognize success.
Barrett gives great authority to these truisms. He practiced what he preaches. He succeeded in two rough and tough businesses: radio and motion pictures. He's "aw shucks and gee whiz" about his success, but nothing lessens his achievements.
LARadio.com offers a rare peek at web potential. The site is about more than LARPs or radio. The site is about actions we know are right, but often forget. The site is about how Don Barrett sees the world, and that's a good way to have a better day, every day.
"I've been a fan of LARadio.com ... for years," said the late Lloyd Thaxton, a Los Angeles radio and network television personality. "[It's] a great source for all the radio news that's fit to print. LARadio.com doesn't pull punches. Don Barrett ... tells it like it is and I like that. It's also fun to keep up on the news of my old radio and television buddies."
Grub Street(GS) The focus, today, is LARadio.com. Before we get to your web site, I'd like to know about your interest in radio. Did it begin, as it did for many, when you were a child?
Don Barrett (DB) I grew up in Santa Monica, California. It's right at Santa Monica State Beach: it's truly a beach community. The beach is about far west, in Los Angeles County, as you can go. The Santa Monica Freeway ends or begins right there.
I was an only child, which was far rarer, in the 1940s, than it is today. Only children learn how to make do, at a young age. This is where radio came into play.
The disc jockies (DJs), who played the music, on radio, fascinated me. They became my brothers and sisters. I identified with them. I got my information from them.
The early 1950s were hard on radio. For a time, it seemed local radio might vanish, except, maybe, in the largest markets. A delicate transition was going on, from a network focus to a local focus.
Starting in 1948, the networks stranded local radio. Most of the top radio shows moved to television. Sometimes there was simulcast, such as "Our Miss Brooks," but it delayed what seemed certain: television. At the same time, the pop standards of the 1950s were giving way to Rock 'n' Roll. Local radio was in a predicament and looked like it would disappear.
About the same time, I discovered new kinds of music. The first music that grabbed my attention was Rhythm and Blues (R&B). Back in that transitional period, R&B filled my soul. Then it became an interesting trend. Then rock 'n roll burst on the scene. with Top 40. with Bill Haley and the Comets and others.
When I was 15, the biggest radio star in Los Angeles was Earl McDaniel (above). He played R&B and rock 'n' roll, on KPOP-AM. I went to Santa Monica High School. When you pulled up in front of the school, all the cars formed a loud speaker of Earl, on KPOP-AM. He played Elvis, Fats Domino and all the early rock, which is what we wanted to hear.
This forbidden music, R&B, was what all the teen kids wanted to hear. Overnight, they abandoned Dick Whittinghill, on KMPC-AM. They adopted the "new" music playing on KPOP-AM or KGFJ-AM, and McDaniel was the local hero.
McDaniel did many personal appearances. He appeared or so it seemed anywhere teenagers gathered. He was accessible.
One night at the world famous Hollywood Palladium, I boldly went up to him, during one of his breaks. I wanted to let him know, I was his biggest fan in the whole wide world. He invited me down to the radio station.
The next day, I went to visit him at KPOP-AM. I'm not sure he expected me to go to the station, let alone the next day. McDaniel and I developed a lifetime friendship. He lives in Gig Harbor, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona, but our friendship continues, today.
GB How did McDaniel influence you?
DB McDaniel guided me into where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll disc jockey. I'd take nothing less. He encouraged me to go to college. I did. He encouraged me to get a first-class FCC licence. I did.
Then, for some reason, I thought he was going to hire me. This was when he was the programme director (PD) at KEWB-AM, in San Francisco. He had given me some of the best pieces of advice. He never told me what to do, only suggestions. It is an interesting.
When the time came for me to start working in radio, after college, I talked to McDaniel. Again, I expected him to give me a job. Instead, he said, "Pack up your car with everything you own, kiss your mom and dad goodbye. Pick a direction, and start driving. Just head out, and every time you see a radio antenna, go knock on the station door. Ask if they want an announcer or rock 'n' roll disc jockey.
GS You took his advice?
DB Yes, I started out on, 10 March 1965. At 1 pm, I walked into KNEZ-AM, in Lompoc, California. The town is north of Los Angeles, between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, and on the ocean. About 25,000 people lived there, at the time.
Cal Cannon, the General Manager (GM), of KNEZ-AM, had just fired the PD who was also the afternoon drive guy. McDaniel was right on. The station needed a DJ, on the spot.
Cannon said, "I'd I love to hire you, but I need a first-class licence." If the station signal was directional, at sundown the signal pattern changed. You needed to know how to work the transmitter, to avoid overlapping another station, on the same frequency. The FCC decreed a first-class licence to work the transmitter. I raised my hand and proudly told him I had a "First Phone," a first-class licence. McDaniel was right on, again.
GS What it took was good advice and a little gas in the car.
DB By 3 o'clock that afternoon, my first day going out, I was working afternoon drive. First song, I played, was "Stop in the Name of Love," by the Supremes. I'll never forget it. I stayed at KNEZ-FM for about 15 months. I was PD after a couple of months.
Then I went to KUSN-AM, in St. Joseph, Missouri. Rich "Brother" Robbins was PD, at the time. I returned the favour, hiring him, as PD, at WWWW-FM, in Detroit, and KIQQ-FM, Los Angeles.
In Missouri, I had one of those life defining changes. I was doing evening television at KFEQ-TV, a CBS affiliate on Channel 2, anchoring the 10 pm local news. I also did mornings on KUSN-AM. There was an advertisement, in Broadcasting, the trade magazine. It was a full-page advertisement. The copy stated that Gordon McLendon wanted "a magnificent seven."
The advertisement was a play on a movie title, "The Magnificent Seven." It's a western, about a rag-tag bunch of hired guns that save a town. McLendon, whom I considered to be the top person in radio, in the 1960s, was looking for seven men to run his seven FM radio stations. A magnificent seven to save radio, in retrospect: FM did save radio, for a while.
Mentored by McLendon was the dream of every PD or DJ, in the 1960s. He revived radio, with Todd Storz, in the 1950s. He created the Top 40 format, which filled a void.
GS Good luck comes to those able to recognize opportunity.
DB I answered the ad, on a lark. My response began four months of testing and unusual requests. McLendon asked for readings, of 15 minutes. He wanted to hear how I, all the applicants, sounded. A scoped air check gives one impression. A longer reading gives a different impression. I read from Edgar Allen Poe, and from a philosophy text, I used in college. What we picked to read, for the longer pieces, likely influenced McLendon, too.
McLendon wanted to know what I thought about radio. What I thought about media. What I thought about life, and so forth.
GS His demands were mishmash. How did it turn out?
DB If nothing else, McLendon was thorough. In the end, he invited me, and six others, to his ranch, on Lake Dallas, in Texas It was about a 500 acre ranch, where he set up a tutorial for the seven of us - the magnificent seven.
Every day, for 30 days, while living at his ranch, we woke up at 6 am, to run a mile. At 8 am, we had breakfast, with McLendon, in the ranch house. He'd regale us with stories about the early days of radio, doing baseball play-by-play from wire service copy; his success with Top 40 and how it all came about.
At 9 am, we went into the screening room, which doubled as our classroom. An expert, from all relevant areas of the media world lectured us, participated in question and answer sessions: there was lots of contact, lots of give and take. Each day, the lecture was about a different part of radio. McLendon gave us radio and life lessons for 30 days.
One day McLendon had his FCC lawyer come in, from Washington, DC. Another day, Elmer Wheeler, who wrote "Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak," talked to us. Wheeler taught us how to shake hands, where to put our feet, when to look somebody in the eye, how to be convincing without overpowering. We spent two hours learning how to shake somebody's hand.
One of the agency people, who came out, explained how the agencies worked. This prepared us to go out and sell [advertising] spots. We knew how to get to the client and bypass the agencies. This was critical for getting the right advertisers on a station and topping off revenue. Agencies bought media time or space in bulk, which reduced revenues, often significantly.
GS Radio boot camp and McLendon was practical about what you learned.
DB It was one of those rare experiences. Such chances don't exist, today. Wall Street may consider it a quaint waste of money and time. Such opportunities may not exist, again, regardless of how effective.
At the end of 30 days, McLendon assigned each of us to different station he owned. I went to San Francisco, KABL-AM and FM. After a brief transition period, I became PD.
In time, I became national PD, of the McLendon stations. This meant a move back to Dallas, where I stayed for a little more than a year. The experience was exceptional.
From Dallas, I moved to Los Angeles, to do sales for XTRA-AM and KOST-FM. XTRA-AM, based in Tijuana, Mexico, booms up the west coast.
In 1970, McLendon moved me to Detroit, Michigan, to manage WWWW-FM - W4, as we called it. I was 28 years old. I had five years of radio experience. I was managing a radio station in Detroit. Pursing my dreams, with passion, works.ï¿½
GS Five years in radio and you are GM in the number four market. That's a major accomplishment.
DB Then, Bartell Broadcasting came to town. Bartell had enormous success with the Top 40 format. It called their version of Top 40, the Q-format. Bartell ruled San Diego, Miami and other major markets. In 1970, Bartell bought WDRQ-FM, in Detroit.
Bartell wanted to go up against CKLW-AM, and a bunch of Top 40 stations. CKLW-AM was number one, in eight states or something. It was out of Windsor, Canada, but served Detroit, Cincinnati, Toledo and that part of the country well. If you included all the similar formats, in the general Detroit area, it was an almost impossible challenge.
Dick Casper, who ran Bartell, asked if I wanted to be general manager, of his new station. I didn't. Bartell had money, talent and experience, but you couldn't compete against CKLW-AM, in the early 1970s. Nor was there a void, in the Detroit market for the Q-format.
Casper asked what I'd like to do. I said McLendon taught us to find a void, and fill it. The void, at the time, was in news and talk. No Detroit station filled that void.
WJR-AM, a major player during the heyday of network radio, was a news and talk station, of a sort, in 1970. Its format was more block programming, left over from the 1940s and 1950s. A void existed for a full-time news and talk station, in Detroit.
WDRQ-FM went to air as the first FM news and talk station in the US.
GS News and talk on FM, in the early 1970s, was a big gamble.
DB FM, in the early 1970s, was growing into Adult-oriented Radio (AOR). Scott Muni, at WNEW-FM, had set the wheels in motion, with an adult-oriented rock format that featured high-end on-air talent, such as Rosko and Alison Steele, doing whatever they wanted to do. KMET-FM, in Los Angeles, would become the AOR - rock or radio - powerhouse station.
WDRQ-FM did news and talk for about a year. We were ahead of our time. In a sense, listeners were only beginning to learn that FM existed. Listeners were starting to explore FM, finding out what was available.
The biggest problem, I think, was most cars didn't have FM receivers. The reason radio prime-time is typically in the morning and late afternoon is that listeners are in their cars, going to work or coming home. During these "drive times," they are a captive audience, of sorts.
In 1970, AM was dominant. Even if a car had FM, the driver was so used to AM, he or she never thought of trying FM. Interest in FM was only starting to spike upward.
I spent much time with Ford, GM and Chrysler, pushing for their cars to have FM radios as standard equipment. The car makers were charging a huge premium to install an FM radio, in a new car. Always strapped for profit, the car makers didn't want to give away FM radios, a sure-fire profit centre.
I came back home, to Los Angeles, in 1971, after a run of six cities in six years. A group of investors bought KFOX-FM, at 100.3 FM, and I was the founding GM. We decided to change the call letters, and I thought we might try to co-ordinate the new calls with the dial position. We came up with KIQQ-FM. The two "Qs" represented the zeros. The "I" was the 1. We promoted the station as 100FM or K100. KIQQ-FM was the first LA radio station to use the dial position into the call letters. It worked well.
When Drake-Chenault bought KIQQ-FM, in 1974, I went into the movie business. Today, Bonneville Broadcasting owns the station. Their Triple-A format is called "The Sound."
GB I recall reading that you left radio for Hollywood.
DB After the sale of KIQQ-FM an opportunity in the movie business came along. I took it. I became a marketing executive with Columbia, Universal and MGM, among others. Those jobs lasted about 25 years. I opened my own shop and worked on many movies. I sold movies over at the Cannes Film Festival for several years.
GS That's leap, isn't it, from radio to movies?
DB It's not the jump you might think. Movies are a lot like radio, but with pictures. Movies and radio are abstract and deal in ideas. On radio you hear ideas. On the movie screen you see images, intended to help tell a story. Either way, you, the listener or viewer, have to filter abstract ideas to find meaning.
In movies and on radio, you don't have much idea of the final product until it's finished. Audience acceptance, for both media, flies on a wing and a prayer. What does "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" mean? What's a "first encounter"? What's a "second encounter"? What's a Q-format? What's AOR? What's Easy Listening? No one knows what works, until it does or doesn't.
One trailer we used, when promoting "Close Encounters ...," focused on a long road, with a glow at the end. You didn't know what caused the glow, until you reached the end of the road, until you watched the movie. That trailer captured the imagination of movie-goers.
GSYou tweaked curiosity.
DBRadio is able to tweak listeners, in much the same way as that trailer. Some creativity - the freedom to create - can convince listeners they need to turn on your station every day, all day. Then you deliver what they need, that is, companionship, support, news, talk and music.
"LA is the big-time," says Steve Parker, an automotive writer, based in Los Angles. "LA is the ... most important ... most expensive radio market, in the USA. I know New Yorkers argue ... that fact. They can squawk all they want. More people, in their cars every morning and evening, means more people listening to radio. LA beats New York City [, on this one; most everyone walks in NYC]. Let me put it this way: if you can't guard Kobe, [of the LA Lakers basketball team,] don't even bring whatever you have to LA."
GS How did LARadio.com come about, since you moved away from radio?
DB In the early 1990s, I wondered what happened to some of my early radio heroes; the people who influenced me; my brothers and sisters, if you will. I tracked them all down. I found out where they were, what they were doing. I created a database, to keep track of them.
One day, someone was looking over my shoulder and said, "Wow, this would be a fascinating book. That so and so came from here, I didn't know that." This was before the mass use of the Internet. It was still fun learning about these personalities. They encouraged me to write a book. I thought, "Gosh, maybe six or seven radio nerds would like it.
GS Seems you underestimated the audience.
DB The person, who was urging me on, said, "Why don't you try some other radio stations, as well?" I focused on KFWB-AM, the big station and my favourite. So, I put in many other stations and self-published a book, in 1994.
The book was a big enough success that I started working on a second one. For the second book, I expanded to include talk show people, sports people, news people, general managers and programme directors, among others. Combined, the two books traced and tracked almost everyone who worked Los Angeles radio, for the past 40 years.
The second book came out on 1 August 1997. Four days later "The Real Don Steele," whom I considered to be the greatest rock 'n' roll, Top 40 disc jockey, in the history of LA radio, maybe even the country, died. I was thinking, gosh, I've been working on this book for 3 years and it's out-of-date in four days."
"Don Barrett created a web site, LARadio.com," says Parker. "[On the site,] Los Angeles radio old-timers and relative newcomers ... feel at home. LARadio.com is a place for radio practitioners and ... radio listeners, the people who pay the freight so the rest of us can live out our dreams .... The web site is for everyone and anyone who likes great radio, past, present and future."
GS LARadio.com was a way to stay current?
DB Yes; I started a web site, to update people's lives. It morphed into what LARadio.com is, today.
GS How does LARadio.com work?
DB The web site is my stream of conscious. It's how I listen to radio. It's what interests me about radio.
I'm more concerned about the people of Los Angeles radio, which is the title of the book and the website and all of that, as opposed to the business side of LA Radio. When a station fires or unfairly treats someone, LARadio.com tries to stress the human relations part of the story. Human interest is the LARadio.com bailiwick. We'll also use the site to help them get another job.
"Through Don Barrett's single-minded perseverance [and] determination," says Steve Parker, "LARadio.com has become a daily 'must-read' for radio fans and radio professionals, worldwide.
GS You leave the business of radio to others, and focus on radio people?
DB At LARadio.com, we don't spend much time on the nuts and bolts of Wall Street. We cover the business side, but only as it affects LA Radio people, which obviously it does. Other sites focus on the business side, LARadio.com focuses on the people.
Lapides thinks radio is good for business. "I'll read something in LARadio.com, at 8 am and quite often, I'm able to turn that news into business, for our company, by noon. Barrett provides news that's in depth, accurate and on the money. [He] has put money in our pockets. I owe him a trip, to my table, at the Palm."
GS Has LARadio.com met the goals you hoped it would?
DB The web site is about community. It's much information packed into a daily update. Every day, there's a look back into the history of LA radio. The last 50 years, of the people who entertained the people of Los Angeles.
"The website has on-going arguments, call-outs and people temporarily barred from contributing. LARadio.com is just like real radio!" says Steve Parker, best known as "The Car Nut." "Barrett has thrown-open his life. We know his family, his health condition, his personal demons, his kids' triumphs and troubles, his friends and those whom maybe he's not too fond of. Again, just like real radio: real good radio."
GS You have a passion for LARadio.com and what it's about. How does it fit your original career goals?
DB Initially, I only wanted to be a rock 'n' roll DJ. The music was important, but Earl McDaniel, Gordon McLendon and others, convinced me what went between the records was most important. I think this is a mostly lost lesson, today.
McDaniel and McLendon instilled a passion for what I did. When you are passionate about what you do, you are optimistic about what you do. When you are optimistic and passionate, you are naturally good at what you do.
I remember, when I was in junior high school, I had a music teacher, Don Richardson, who was passionate about teaching. Every time I hear the name, Rimsky-Korsakoff, I think of the passion Richardson had for teaching. He'd jump up on his desk and simulate the conductor as the music filled the room. He wasn't filling time. Again, this is a lost lesson, today, or so it seems.
There's too much negativity, in radio and everywhere, now. You must be an optimist. Find your dream, and chase it optimistically. It's irresponsible not to reach, to grow or think about life; your life, the life of those around you, the life strangers.
I always tell young people to follow their dreams and be persistent. You can do anything that you want to do if, indeed, you are willing to pay the price. The price may be schooling or tenacity or working long hours; getting to the job half-hour early and staying half-hour late and thanking the boss for the job every day. It is [popular, today,] for most people to grumble about work. Love the work that you do. It's interesting how my early love for radio arced into my later life. Now I'm able to record what's going on.
GS How have you responded to the voracious appetite, of the web, for change and more features?
DB It's improved over the years. If I were younger, I'd probably add sound and video. I'd make LARadio.com a full service site. Probably, whoever takes it over when I leave, will make these changes.
GS Back to radio, in general, for a moment. What's your take on the prospects for radio?
DB Radio leaders don't seem to be leading us into the future, today. Everybody is predicting negatives for the future of radio. I'm optimistic. Someone is going to come along, as did Gordon McLendon or Todd Storz, another early Top 40 pioneer, back in the 50s, when radio was dying because of television. What's missing is the boldness to try new ideas.
GS That reminds of bureaucracies: stress how, not why. Last time radio bottomed out, in the 1950s, McLendon and Storz, ever the optimists, broke new ground. They turned radio around. They focused on the product and how, not why.
DB All the television shows, by the early 1950s, stole all the radio programming. All it took was a little imagination to devise a Top 40 format, playing 40 songs over and over. The true creativity, of McLendon and Storz, punctuated music, news and talk, with creative contests and an exciting presentation.
GS You mean exciting presentation, such as Don Steele, and contests, such as, "The Last Contest."
DB Yes; this is why I'm optimistic, in these dour days. Wall Street and the "bottom line" guys have taken the [boldness] out of radio programming. Everything rides on the profit. Radio is a creative medium. Creativity is the urge to think, differently. Radio isn't linear. If anything, it's circular. Communities emerge in circles, not along rigid lines.
GS Penny wise and dollar foolish seems your point.
DB Yes; someone will come along and, maybe not reinvent radio, but bring the creativity back. There's something about radio that you don't get with iPods, MP3s; you don't get with satellite radio.
GS You don't get companionship or a sense of friendship, with an iPod.
DB Right, and when someone does step up, I think, the whole radio business will be as vibrant as ever; maybe even more so. Even as radio hits bottom, today, 93% of the adults, in the United States, listen to radio at some point during the week.
Radio is a huge medium. How do you get it to grow? How do you get young people excited? I've late teenagers ... and neither listens to radio. MTV came along, for an earlier generation, and now there is technology and the internet.
When I was a kid, the only way you could find out about the Beatles was to listen to the radio.
GS That's how we know Paul McCartney died in a car accident, in June 1965.
DB The radio gave us all the information we wanted about everything going on in our world. The whole underground movement, which took place through the late 1960s and 1970s, relied on radio. That time was a magnet for radio listening? Today, nobody services teenagers, nobody listens to them. As a result, we have generations that don't listen to radio.
GS The weakness, of radio, today, seems a triumph (sic) of technology over humanity.
DB Technology, alone, lacks compassion. Local radio succeeded, for 40 years, based on compassion. There's much emptiness, today, on radio.
I went to a think-tank, a couple of weeks ago. The participants came from a wide range of areas, including radio and technology.
One of the session leaders asked about radio listening. "Who listens to radio," he asked. Most of the technology participants, the techies, never listened to radio. As the session went on, it became obvious form, not content, preoccupied the techies. They were all about fancy, advanced widgets, window dressings, which are a different form of content that strengthens radio or web sites, without adding much to the experience of the listener or surfer.
GS I think Karl Marx identified the same problem, calling it technological determinism.
DB Radio stations urge listeners to visit web sites. "Find out how to win a million dollars, on our web site," a DJ will say. The listener goes to the site, and finds a mishmash of streaming audio or video, flashing banners and no content. Some stations, such as WBZ-AM, in Boston, feature a history of the station, who worked the station and so forth. This interests listeners.
Most radio station web sites are uninteresting. Listeners, urged to visit the station web site, for content, find only technology. People are looking for content, not technology, on radio and in web sites.
When I worked the movie business, we sold the magic of imagination. For the most part, it was always the movies with a story that succeeded. Never forget that content is still king. We had a hard time selling animation. The creators would tell us, "We are artists, not storytellers." Yet, movie-goers want story content as well as good animation. The "Indiana Jones" tent pole is much the same: many special effects, "computer generated images" (CGI), but they forget about telling a full story.
CGIs have a more limited life span than does a story. CGIs are too soon out-of-date, surpassed by the next generation. Stories, even poorly told, stand the test of time.
GS The Greeks and Romans knew the story part, well. Movies rely on their mythical tales.
DB Yes; radio can do the same. Successful local radio records, tells the continuing story, of the community. Tie into the community, tell the community story, creatively, and develop an exciting presentation: this is the road to radio success. Reflect on what your listener is dealing with on a daily basis.
GS In a similar way, your optimism assumes the simple idea of giving new listeners a reason to use radio.
DB Yes, that's why I'm optimistic; someone will come along. There's a void to fill. Radio will revive.
People call me naïve. They accept the false notion that radio is dead. Maybe it is. I choose to think it isn't. Maybe the person that takes over LARadio.com will be on the forefront of something new.
"It's wonderful that a radio veteran, of so many years, found his real niche as a writer and editor," says Howard Lapides, who worked radio for a dozen years before finding his niche, in the funny business. "LARadio.com," he says, "is the finest daily radio package I have ever seen. Nobody does it better than Barrett."
GS It's refreshing to hear someone that is still positive about it. Most people continue to listen to radio. Someone should be able to make it grow.
DB If you think about the recent history of radio, there's clarity. Radio stood still for a long-time, creatively; probably since about 1990. This allowed the suits to hammer away at the "bottom line" for Wall Street and ignore the product.
There was a time when you got up to radio. You went to the bathroom to the radio. There was a radio in the kitchen. You went to work or school. You'd always listen to your favourite station. When you got home in the afternoon, that wild afternoon person wrapped up everything you missed during the day. Day and night, 24/7, radio entertained and informed you.
GS Where else can you get so much for so little?
DB Exactly; I argue that people, for sure in the LA cluster, and I will editorialize this in my column, that programmers need a degree of freedom. They need to be able to experiment to see what will get the people back and then you have to market it. Let people know that creatively, you are doing something unique.
"LARadio.com is as contemporary as tomorrow morning's Ryan Seacrest show," says Steve Parker. "The site is a living, breathing, ever-changing chronicle of what's important and novel in Los Angeles radio, day-to-day, and why. And not just for English-speakers, either. LARadio.com readers know the inside details of what's happening, at and with the area's most-listened to talk and music stations. These stations don't just broadcasting in English, but En Espanol, too. Some are serving communities in Korean, Japanese, Farsi, Yiddish and other languages. LARadio.com serves all the LA language communities."
GS Does LARadio.com reflect the multilingual, multicultural character of Los Angeles?
DB Yes, on 6 May 2008, we ran a feature on KBUE-FM. This is among the best stories, in years. It shows how Spanish-language radio is wonderfully creative approach, in morning drive. When the winter '08 Arbitron ratings came out, at the end of April KBUE-FM, "Que Buena," which airs at 105.5 FM and 94.3 FM, was number one, in listeners 12+, and number four in morning drive. The morning show revolves around a fictional character, "Don Cheto," portrayed by 27-year old Juan Razo. The Cheto character is a hillbilly, who came to LA, from Mexico, 30 years ago. He speaks accented English, bickers with his daughters about their boyfriends and bemoans the loss of morals. The KBUE-FM morning show is creative and successful.
GS Getting back to LARadio.com, you say that if someone is in the radio business and has lost their job unfairly you will write about it. How do you learn about newsworthy events? Are people coming to you?
DB LARadio.com exists and works like any other news medium. It relies on people at radio stations and people connected to the radio business. Someone will call or e-mail about what's going on at this or that station. They sense it's something we might want to check out. That's how we begin. It's interesting that everybody thinks they can keep a secret. I argue that nobody can keep a secret.
DB A few years ago, one of the radio stations, here in LA, wrote a sensitive internal memo. At the bottom, the writer added, "If this memo appears at LARadio.com, we will search out who [leaked] it. You have been forewarned. You will be fired immediately."
GS Someone didn't have much confidence in their memo or what it reported.
DB Within five minutes of the memo going to the staff, I had six copies of it.
GS The memo was a challenge.
DB Exactly; think about the sources of your information. There is always someone who's disgruntled. There's always someone who thinks something is unfair. There's always someone who thinks the community should know what is going on. These people tell us about these decisions or lack of action.
GS Don't your sources take a big chance, with their jobs and careers?
DB My job is to protect the sources. Integrity is all I have. Everyone knows, if you let LARadio.com knows about this or that, it won't come back to bite you. At LARadio.com protecting our sources is most important. If I ever thought it would come back, I wouldn't run it. It's not worth risking someone's job.
GS Solid journalism protects sources, at all costs.
DB Yes, why would LARadio.com want to hurt anyone?
It's strange that in the [media] business, radio stations are the worst at getting the message across; especially with the [print media]. Some groups shut down; no one's allowed to talk about anything. Everything has to go through the general manager or a corporate PR type.
In some ways, this removes some of the fun from radio. The industry is so tight. People don't want to risk their jobs. Stations threatened workers into [silence].
If LARadio.com does anything, I hope it's that we bring the community, the LA radio community, together. LARadio.com deals with the news that's often too difficult to print; for example, when there's a mass firing. LARadio.com will cover the firings.
We also write about when LA radio people have a baby or wed and so on. I'm able to post some pictures of future Los Angeles radio people. Bonds form when LARPs know more about one another. LARadio.com helps bring LARPs together.
When people [pass away] we do a tribute. We've done many tributes. We record, not only their history in LA radio, but we give the opportunity to have everybody, radio people and non-radio people, talk about that person. The influence they had in their lives, what they meant to LA radio.
Two Los Angeles Radio People (LARPs) recently passed away, Jack Armstrong and Ron O'Brien. We posted extensive tributes for both.
Armstrong (John Llarsh, 62) worked KTNQ-AM, KFI-AM and KKHR-FM, in Los Angeles, during the 1970s and 1980s. His daughter, Devon Llarsh Fischer, said her father would want you to remember all the good times, what he gave to radio and the world. "He would also want you to help fight to bring back the personality in radio if at all possible. He loved being a [DJ] almost as much as he loved being a father, and that says a lot."
A few weeks later, "Big" Ron O'Brien passed away. As Armstrong, O'Brien (56) was a major radio star, from the later 1960s, onward. As an LARP, O'Brien worked KFI-AM and KROQ-FM; KIIS-FM, including a stint as PD; KKBT-FM and KSRF-FM. At KIIS-FM, his show was number one for 14 consecutive ratings. Raul Moreno, who worked with O'Brien, twice, told LARadio.com, "Plain and simple, Big Ron was the greatest [DJ] I ever heard. Bill Powers, a long-time friend said, "[O'Brien] was an incredible jock with an incredible voice and a love for music and just being on-the-air." "Shotgun" Tom Kelly dug up some previously unseen photographs, of O'Brien, from the middle 1980s, for us to use.
GS LARadio.com is a community forum for sharing this information. It seems worthy of a much larger scale.
DB I try to put the human touch to LARadio.com. I have to provide information that nobody else does. LARadio.com is a subscriber based site. I go into more detail than do newspapers or other web sites.
Our lead story tomorrow, 12 May 2008, is about Peter Burton, the new general manager of KRBV-FM, which Bonneville Broadcasting recently bought. The station hired him Wednesday or Thursday of last week. On Friday we did a long interview, with him. We got into his background and his thoughts about the LA Radio market. He came from San Diego, where he was involved with KBZT-FM, KIFM-FM, KSON-AM and KSON-FM. This is his first venture into LA. I get his thoughts on that, and the influence of people who helped him get to Los Angeles. You won't read about this general manager any other place other than LARadio.com.
GS No other web site does what LARadio.com does for Los Angeles.
DB That may be true, but there are some wonderful websites. I think what Joel Denver does, with All Access, is just marvelous. He has sources, which are helpful. He can get information out at the speed of light. He does it well. He serves the entire radio community worldwide, I guess, but with emphasis on the United States. He is the best at what he does in the country.
GS You keep your focus tight, to LA radio, past, present and future?
DB My, our, wheelhouse is LA radio people. I don't spend time with people outside this market, unless they have been in this market. That's the watermark: he or she worked for a Los Angeles radio station or effect LA radio, in some way.
"LARadio.com is a complete summary of daily events in LA radio," says Howard Lapides. "Don is meticulous in keeping LARadio.com LA centric. You can't get your name in bold, unless you have worked in radio in the market. There's no cheating."
GS Should every major radio market or region have a version of LARadio.com?
DB It's hard to say. If it's purely a commercial venture, it may not work. Creating a community is aiming for a lofty goal. Paying the bills is important, but, for a LARadio.com web site to work, creating and preserving a community must come first.
When the radio people, in a market, have a sense of community, they work happier and better. Support, LARadio.com style, site helps radio people bond, with one another and with listeners. If someone leaves a station, listeners should be able to find out why and where that DJ or news person went. Radio is about companionship and comforting, a site, such as LARadio.com, extends those purposes to the web; the community expands to include radio people and listeners.
GS The secret of your success roots in intangibles.
DB Yes; LARadio.com works, I think, because it reflects my experience and how I listen to radio. The web site is a snapshot of my life - 60 years of listening. Some of those years, of course, I spent working radio.
The perspective is unique. My perspective, I think, jelled after the McLendon radio boot camp, in 1966. He supported my natural sense of radio as a community. That was my childhood instinct; what allowed me to walk up to Earl McDaniel, as if I knew him, and, of course, I did, in a large sense, know him.
McLendon urged, maybe forced, us to develop a sense of continuity, a sense of history and to bond. Live local radio to make it work, was one of his messages. The "Over Heards," a feature on LARadio.com, I overhear, myself. This strengthens the authenticity of the site.
Sometimes, someone who's quoted, by LARadio.com, complains we took her or him out of context. My response is this is how we listen to radio. Listeners tune into the middle of a DJ talking about something or a phone call or a news item. Maybe the phone rings, while you are listening to something on radio and you only get part of what's said. LARadio.com reflects how listeners use and hear radio.
These are some of the other reasons LARadio.com works.
GS Content is always a problem for a content-driven site, such as LARadio.com.
DB There's no lead story every day, on LARadio.com. Not enough happens. Even in a huge city, such as Los Angeles, creating daily leads about local radio is difficult. Consolidation of the radio industry, into a few owners, often with several stations in one market, reduces news about radio, too.
GS How do you get around this limit?
DB LARadio.com balances today with the past. We track and trace LARPs. During the summer months, we announce awards, such as LARP of the Year, best on- and off-air talent and so forth. The LARP Awards salute those men and women the industry thinks are doing a good job. The Awards also give LARadio.com a human interest lead for slower days.
"Barrett charges for access to his site," says "The Car Nut," Steve Parker, "and I'm glad he does. I've encouraged him to charge even more than the paltry sum he asks. Spending those few bucks adds "extra value" to the information there. Five days a week the site offers-up the latest in Southern California radio news, but from his "Whatever happened to ...?" section to the voluminous and up-to-date lists of LARadio.com-types e-mail addresses and the archives of the column which go back for years and serve as a near-complete history of Los Angeles radio, Barrett's site is chock full of information which you can't simply find anyplace else, and all of it under 'one roof.'"
GS LARadio.com is a subscription site, and you've recently added advertising. How is that working out?
DB Many positives, in fact, and no negatives received.
"People around the world, who "tune-in" to Barrett's column daily," says Lapides, "are happy to see advertising on the site, which has only shown-up recently. Barrett has complained, and rightfully so, of the number of people who "borrow" passwords from their bosses, friends, employees, whoever ... all to gain free access to the site. The only consolation is that someone will cheat them as much as they've cheated Barrett; that karma can be a bitch, ya know?"
GB That says a lot about your service, its importance, to readers.
DB I hope so.
GS You alluded to the fact you might let someone else take over LARadio.com. Do you see someone taking it over? Many sites close or lose vitality when the pioneer retires or goes on to other challenges?
DB I'm 66 years old. I have two children in college. I will probably do LARadio.com at least through 2009. I don't know how much longer beyond that. I think there's a need for another set of eyes and ears to take LARadio.com to the next plateau.
Also, I think there's another career for me. I'm not sure what it might be or even if such a turn of events is possible. I try to stay open to new [opportunities].
If you think about it, [on average,] we live for about 25,000 days. Each of us knows how we've used the days past. So, it's a matter of how you or I want to use what's left.
My philosophy is to help others, in everything I do. I try to be a conduit, for opportunities. What McLendon said, about finding and filling a void, doesn't only apply to radio or business: it's the recipe for a worthwhile life.
That's why I try to do what other sites are not or can't do - longer stories, more photos. Some other web sites give you a couple of hundred words: this is, that was and click here to buy our widget. The void, on the web, as it applies to radio, is information.
As long as LARadio.com fills a void and makes sense, I'll be around, I guess. I live life, a day at a time. I'll know when it's time to move on, from LARadio.com, if ever, and what I'll be doing next.
"LARadio.com has turned into a raging success," says Steve Parker. It's "bigger, better and more important than even Barrett dreamed. It's a great site, with great people involved. Having maintained my own site for almost as long as Don has LARadio.com, I know how much effort Don puts into his baby ... daily. My hope is that he gets at least as much happiness out of the site as all of us "LARadio.com-types" out here in the ether!"
Lloyd Thaxton (right) puckishly summaries the essence, of the success, of LARadio.com,
"The main reason I go to [LARadio.com], each and every morning, is to see if my name is on its billboard. Then I look for the name of a friend. Then I look for a name I know. All in good order. "I was sitting in, one morning, for Gary Bryan, on KRTH 101 (lucky me) and the producer was checking out [LARadio.com]. He suddenly yelled out, 'Here we are!' With a big smile ... he said, 'We're mentioned.' "That's how important it is to get your name on [LARadio.com]. I always look forward to May because my name is on the birthday list for an entire 31-day month."
GS Sometimes you have to go where everyone can read your name. When you do, the news and information is more important, the bonds are stronger and the sense of support makes you most creative and productive. Thanks, Don.
LARadio.com ceased operation in October 2012.
Gordon McLendon is often referred to as Gordon McClendon. The former is correct.
Photographs of Don Barrett by super jock and LARP, "Shotgun" Tom Kelly.
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