I had never lived outside of the Northeast, but things had been quiet on the job front for more than a month. NewCity had a stellar reputation, with Alan Furst one of the most respected group PDs in the business. Going to the Deep South was a little unnerving for a New Yorker like me, but as my nephew Jayson said at the time, "Planes go there, so how far can it be?"
After long negotiations over the phone, mostly touting the attributes of working for NewCity, I signed a contract and faxed it back to Birmingham, giving my intention to start the end of May. About five minutes later, general manager Jerdon Bullard calls to tell me NewCity had been purchased by Cox Communications. Let's just say the stories I had heard regarding my new employer weren't exactly on the same level as the company I thought I had just agreed to work for.
I liked Jerdon initially, he seemed genuine and a real southern gentleman. I'm a fairly good judge of character and he seemed to be of the caliber that his handshake was as good as gospel. When I asked about a guaranteed contract, I was told that the intense scrutiny I had been under during the interviewing process assured both sides of a long-term working relationship. When I was fired eight months later, I had to assume that this process was seriously flawed.
I will admit that at that time, I was in a personal re-birth mode. Extremely forthright and honest to a fault, I rarely pulled any punches. This did not go over too well, especially to then-Operations Manager Jim Tice, who's main goal was to protect the WZZK side of the equation along with his own "long-term" stability, though not necessarily in that order.
I met some fabulous people and was able to experience the Deep South. Birmingham is very cosmopolitan, but you don't need to travel far to observe some very real cultural differences. By no means does the city hide from its unenviable history. The Civil Rights Museum demonstrates an admirable effort in a positive direction. And I still miss the 70mph speed limit.
Former News Director Jim Dent was a godsend. Not only was he extremely supportive in getting me acclimated to the area, he also passed along astute observations of the people who worked at WODL and WZZK. He also shared some of the best things about growing up and living in Birmingham, Alabama.
I'm also grateful to Holt and Gretchen Cloud, whom I met at the sushi bar at Ashasi. While complaining it was too far to get to the beach, they invited me to their house on the water near Childersburg. It was there I learned how to play horse shoes amongst the hazardous and dreaded fire ant and what the Fourth of July can really be like in a state where shooting off fireworks is not only legal, but an encouraged activity.
And the beach along the Gulf shore is one of the country's best kept secrets, with Alabama home to some of the the priciest real estate in the area. However, I opted for the "Redneck Riviera" and spent a long weekend in Panama City, Florida. The sand and surf is superb, not to mention the Mahi Mahi at the Pompanos Restaurant on Front Beach Rd. (850-233-9080).
Favorite WODL moment: There were a couple of guys from the Alabama Record Collector's Association and Alabama Music Hall of Fame who would occasionally call and complain about the mere 350 songs in our rotation. But they were always helpful with artist information for specials that we would program on occasion. One such occasion, Elvis' birthday (1996), I asked them to join night jock Bobby Simon to host a tribute. Included would be a genuine Elvis impersonator to answer phones (I believe Alabama is second to Las Vegas for Elvis' impersonators) and we had the studio decorated with streamers as well as a birthday cake. I told them to bring all the Elvis material they had. What they brought filled the lobby and then some. We decided to stick with the hits and some requests for the first hour or so, then I let them go with whatever they felt would excite the true Elvis fan. Now I'm not big on Elvis' music, but what came out of the radio that night was pure magic. Those early recordings, some gospel rarities, all interspersed with his best hits clearly demonstrated why he was indoctrinated "The King." After a while, I looked out of the windows from atop Red Mountain and marveled at what we were sending out of that 100k signal to most of northern Alabama. Kudos to Bobby Simon, a genuine pro, for handling everything so smoothly. I should have rolled tape.
Market notes: After dumping the oldies format on a 3kw signal, Cox Radio has replaced the format with a third country signal in an attempt to promote WZZK's return to ratings dominance. But with long-time morning dominators Patti & Dollar Bill now presiding over AM drive at Clear Channel's WDXB, that effort has been difficult at best.