What makes radio so special?
The intimacy of it. It is one-on-one. I love television and I'm amazed I've been able to do what I've been able to do with it, but there are so many people--the camera people, the control room people . . . The average television show, there's anywhere from 10 to 50 people for one little 10-second tag. But for all practical purposes, the greatest radio is where you're sitting in a little booth on the edge of someone's farm, in a little cinder block house where the transmitter is about 35 feet away from you --that's where you get most of your heat from--and you're your own engineer. That is the most satisfactory feeling in the world. Why didn't television supplant radio in the hearts of Americans? There are a million reasons, but the chief one is that radio is so portable. Secondly, there's such a tremendous variety now. You're seeing the exact same evolution with cable now as with radio: it has to specialize and there's nothing from sex to religion and from Bach to Willie Nelson that you can't get on the radio. The pie is 10,000 times bigger that it was in the '40s, but the slices are smaller. Has the importance of market share and competition between AM and FM diluted radio?
Yes . . . once I was interviewing Gary Moore and he summed it up beautifully: he said when he was in radio it was SHOW bizness and now it's show BIZness. But, still, when that kid walks into that cinder block building, there's the same feeling that Sarnoff had when he took the message from the Titantic. And in television there are too many layers between the talent and the audience?
Unfortunately, by neccessity, yes. Television is nowhere the fun radio is. So why did you leave radio?
There's the obvious answer, though it's not necessarily true--there are plenty of people making a lot of money in radio. But that's got to be a motivating factor. But, in truth, it really evolved. All I wanted to do as a kid was make $150 a week and be a staff announcer, which was probably the loftiest ambition someone could have had in those days.
What happened was, well, when Ed Walker and I did the Joy Boys on WRC, that was our baby. It was our own, 100 percent creation from the title to the characters and editing of it. All of that slowly went out the window, and as it did, the door of television opportunity opened in every facet. Can you be more yourself on radio than TV?
Sure. First, you're not intimidated by a producer who has his ideas and the director who has his ideas about how you should be shot . . . I mean, half the directors in television should be shot. What do you like to listen to on Washington radio?
I prefer talk radio, all-news radio and country and western. WMZQ is one of my favorite stations and so are WRC and WTOP. I'm of the Geritol set, I like what is now WPIK--that was the first station I ever spoke into a mike on. I was 10 years old and did a station break.
And WMAL is probably the greatest mutation in the whole world. I don't think there is anything like it in the world. No other station could have a number one rating in the morning with Hardin and Weaver . . . And Turnbull and Core--I love them. I think Chris Core is one of the most exciting new radio people in the country. If you could have any kind of show in the world, what would it be?
A Godfrey morning television show. I can't sell this network on it. But someone is going to do it sometime. I've never been so sure of anything in my whole life. There are very few things I get fired up about, but this one is so incredibly burning in my soul. It's laid-back, middle America, and I don't care what anyone says, the action is still in Iowa. That is my audience . . . in the years I've been on television, I've honed it, it's like a hound dog on a june bug; we are one together. What about a radio show?
The old stuff, like the Joy Boys. Look, I think "Saturday Night Live" is a good idea, but I don't think their humor is nearly as funny; I think they've screwed it up with smut and off-color humor. I'll watch the show up to a point, and then I say: 'Why did they have to do that?'
But when the Joy Boys began with me and Ed Walker, it was a half hour show at 7 in the evening. We replaced the Longines Symphonette. It was all satire for the half hour, and maybe we'd play two records, but they were strategically placed to reflect on whatever we were doing on the show. In the second version, when we were number one, we played records from 8 until midnight and did shtick in between, at least a skit an hour. I'll never forget it. The Cellar Door once brought in this young, black kid from Philadelphia named Bill Cosby to promote his appearance at the club. He was supposed to be on 20 minutes, but he stayed the whole show . . .
But we'll be back--we're just like old Nazis lying in wait to come back. What makes Washington as a radio town different from anywhere else?
Four letters: WMAL. I don't think there's another city in the world that has a WMAL. They're successful in what we call middle-of-the- road radio, and I think the best explanation of their success was from a friend who said it's because the listener gets the feeling the station is always trying a little bit harder to entertain them. Do you enjoy Howard Stearn?
I like him very much. I haven't met him yet, but I appreciate anyone who is innovative. I'm also crazy about (Don) Imus in New York, but I'm getting to be an old fossil and it's tough for me . . . it'ssthe shock treatment. I'm not wild about that style of radio where nothing is sacred. u