Bobby Rich of KMXZ Tucson – Still In Touch With His Radio Audience In Morning Drive And – As A Programmer.
Interview conducted by Gary West of Mr Pop Culture and Mr Tech History.
Radio’s Bobby Rich has done it all – jocking, programming and managing: at small, medium and iconic radio stations. He created a legendary station – B-100 San Diego, making it the first #1 FM station in a major market. As a radio programmer, he first developed what is now, “Hot A/C.” Bobby Rich is not only a survivor – he’s still on top at KMXZ Tucson, a station he’s been with since the early 1990′s. Here’s his story:
Mr. Pop – Bobby – your career path has been extraordinary. You’ve done it all – DJ-air talent, program director and station manager. Over 40 years now! Like most in radio – you had some ups and downs and you worked at legendary stations in Los Angeles, NY, Ohio, Connecticut and San Diego. So, let’s follow the path. You really began your commercial/professional career working at several stations in Spokane From there – you ended up in Lansing and WJIM – where all the jocks had the first name of “Jim.” You were Jim Rich. Take it from there.
Bobby – Yes and from WJIM – I went WOHO in Toledo. At the time – WOHO was huge and that’s where I really began to learn stuff. For the first time – I was not the best jock on the station. Everyone else was older and more experienced. Our program director was Sam Holman – who at that time – was a legend. He was a fantastic, loveable – just like jocks where in those days. Real smart, fun – great voice and I had learned all the basics that people like me hadn’t been introduced to yet. He was a huge influence.
Bobby – Yes, Rick had completely overshadowed anything Sam had started at WABC. Back at WOHO – I had gotten the job from someone I worked with at WJIM – Michael O’Shea – who recommended me. He did 6 to 9p and I did 9 to midnight – but for a while and at Sam Holman’s suggestion – we both did 8:30p to 9:30p – a two-man show. Mike was “Jungle Jim” on WJIM.
Mr. Pop – Talk about unique. How long did that last?
Mr. Pop – LOL… And, you were at WOHO for about a year.
Bobby – That’s right and from there – I did afternoons and became program director at KSTT in Davenport, Iowa.
Mr. Pop – Your first programming job. That station had huge ratings.
Mr. Pop – How long where you there?
Bobby – Five years and then I had this “need” to be a major market DJ. So – I resigned my job at KSTT. I was almost unemployed – and all of a sudden – got a call from WMYQ, Miami. They were letting go of a a DJ by the name of Roby Younge and put me on mornings.
Mr. Pop – Now Mornings in a major market. Not bad!
Bobby – Yes and you must understand – all this – and I was about three days from being unemployed and then, got the Miami phone call. The reason why I got the morning show was because – I was told by the program director, that “I couldn’t seem to follow the format” and morning would be a good fit.
Bobby – Yes it was. WMYQ was an FM station – and the challenge back then was getting people not just to listen to the station – but to listen to FM.
Mr. Pop – How we forget. From WMYQ – you headed north.
Bobby – Yes – I only stayed at WMYQ for six months and resigned because, there were things going on that I wasn’t crazy about. Then I headed to WAVZ, New Haven – then, a screaming top-40 AM station with good ratings.
Mr. Pop – WAVZ had to be one of the best of its kind. I loved that station.
Bobby – The experience for me there was fantastic. John Long, who I knew from Iowa – was the program director and Paul Drew was our consultant. In the year I worked at WAVZ, I worked for John and Paul. Unbeknownst to me, Paul was grooming me. At this time, he was national program director for the RKO stations. I got a call early one morning – and it was Paul – and he told me I was going to KHJ-Los Angeles.
Mr. Pop – The One & Only: 93/KHJ.
Bobby – Yes. I was originally brought-in to do weekends and swing shifts – and do some production because Paul liked my promos. I ended up doing 9p to midnight for close to a year.
Bobby – Yes, I got there just at the end of the best times for KHJ. I arrived a week after the Real Don Steele departed – and three weeks before legendary morning man Robert W. Morgan left. The experience there at KHJ was interesting in many ways. It was the only time for instance, I worked with an engineer. I learned a lot and I did have fun.
Mr. Pop – Was KHJ a dream job for you?
Bobby – I never really aspired to be in Los Angeles. I really wanted to work at KJR/Seattle – closer to my roots.
Mr. Pop – Why did you leave KHJ?
Bobby – I missed being a program director. A friend of mine was working at KFMB/San Diego and they needed a program director. KFMB was a middle-of-the-road station with big personalities such as Hudson and Baur and Perry Allen. I landed that job as PD and did the evening show. After about a year or so, my general manager, Paul Palmer – came to me and said, “I think we need to do something with this FM station.”
Mr. Pop – And this was 1974?
Bobby – Yes. The FM was a beautiful music station and was the third such station in the market – and last in the ratings. Paul asked me what I would do with the station – and I told him I’d rock it.
Mr. Pop – KCBQ-AM was the big dog in town.
Bobby – Yes they were. They had the big talent, big names. Their bumper stickers were on – it seemed, on one-out-of-four cars in San Diego. KCBQ was big. The other two AM rockers were KGB and KDEO – where a young Kevin Metheny was the program director.
Mr. Pop – Kevin – a terrific programmer – who ended up at WNBC during the Howard Stern era. His father, Terrell – was also an industry vet and programmer.
Bobby – That’s correct. Back to San Diego – I decided to call the FM, “B-100.” I originally wanted to change the call letters to something “Q” – but the owners wouldn’t let me change. So, it remained KFMB-FM – but on the air – it was “B-100.” I’m proud of it – more than any other in my career. Paul gave me full control and I began hiring jocks.
Bobby – Only occasionally as “Dr. Boogie.” The first morning man was Rob Landee, Dave Conlee mid-days, afternoons was someone named, “The Rocket Man,” then Jimi Fox, Billy Martin and a very young, Willie B. Goode.
Mr. Pop – B-100 had – sort of a “boogie” signature. The jocks were, occasionally called, the “boogie brothers” and the station had other boogie positioners such as “B-100 boogies on.”
Bobby – That’s correct. Originally, I had several female talents as well – Terry-Lynn who did morning news and Sheree, who did overnights.
Mr. Pop – One person that became a memorable part-timer – was Ken Levine.
Bobby – Ken, who at the time was writing for “MASH,” would come down and do shifts as, “Beaver Cleaver.” An amazing talent – funny, witty – and one of the most unique jocks. His content was edgy and – Ken never repeated any of it. We first met at KHJ and are good friends to this day.
Bobby – When B-100 first came on the air in March of 1975, it was targeted very young – 12-24. I didn’t want to confuse the KFMB call letters – the older AM and the younger FM. I have to credit Ken Levine and Charlie Van Dyke – who came up with the idea of splitting the call letters.
Mr. Pop – And too - that was a smart move because that age group – always hip – was switching into FM radio fast. I recall Jerry Clifton using that strategy at New York’s 99X. It turned out to be a terrific strategy because – B-100 did something no other FM station had done prior.
Bobby – I’m proud to say that in 1978, B-100 became the first FM station to win the overall ratings – all persons 12+. It was the highlight of my career. This was a time where there were more FM radios – in cars and FM radios were getting better. KGB-FM in San Diego was another popular station.
Mr. Pop – That’s quite a benchmark. Historically – 1978 was the beginning of the end for AM Top-40 music stations. Already some were changing – like WAVZ – which went away in 1978 – and their top-40 format went to their new FM – WKCI. And, let’s not forget what happened to WABC, NY in 1978.
Bobby – What’s amazing is – in 1978 – I left San Diego to go to New York – to program 99X. B-100 had put me on the map as a programmer – and station manager Erica Farber offered me a job to program WXLO, New York (99X). I took it – but little did I know what was about to happen. When WKTU and Disco 92 took NY – it demolished not only WABC, but others including my 99X. It’s funny, but I didn’t want to go to New York. But Erica was persistent – and even flew to San Diego. The challenge eventually appealed to me. When I got there – WABC was still #1 and there were a lot of FM music stations such as WBLS, and WPIX. My first ratings – I had huge cumes – more than any other FM station. This was in the April-May ratings – just before WKTU changed the landscape.
Mr. Pop – What was the feeling – WKTU going disco?
Bobby – At 99X – Jay Thomas did mornings. It was big jocks, big personality. I wanted a top-40 station – but wanted it to sound more mature – and more hip. For instance, we always played the full versions of hits – the album versions. I continued to use the top-40 basics – fun personalities, high energy – talking over intros, wacky promotions and all that. When the disco thing started to explode – I originally learned about it through the record folks. They would come in with records such as “Push, Push.” I just wouldn’t play them –but eventually – I did. I added some disco – but tried to keep the original format together.
Mr. Pop – As opposed to WABC – which added more disco. They totally over reacted.
Bobby – Yes, they did. I have no regrets about what I did. I stayed at 99X for about two years.
An Interesting Script Between 99X Morning Man JayThomas And His Newsman
Mr. Pop – It was also an exciting time to be in New York – Disco, Studio 54 – did you get caught up in it all?
Bobby – It was very easy for me not to get caught up in that culture. I was never into the drug scene or being influenced by what records to play by the reps. I did go to the record parties – but did not take advantage of what was happening – unlike many of my peers. It also didn’t appeal to me to run a radio station like WKTU.
Mr Pop – Tell us about your next move.
Bobby – I went back to Los Angeles and worked for Greater Media. They were ending their AM Top-40 station – KTNQ. I had to fire all the jocks and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was not my decision. I kept Charlie Tuna and Jim Conlee and moved the music format to their FM at 97.1. At that point – I had this idea of programming crossover top-40 and adult contemporary. Now, I had something to prove – and needed a win. But, I ran into this wall of resistance from almost every level. I had a national PD, consultants, music testing – and a manager that didn’t believe in me – and really didn’t want to hire me. Up to now – I hardly had anything against me. My reaction was, “screw you and I’ll try to do as much of this stuff as you’re suggesting.” I really wanted to do top-40/AC – combine the best of both. No one was doing it and they couldn’t get into it – and eventually I was out. I lasted there about a year-and-a-half. It did inspire me – that I did have this new concept.
Mr. Pop – Your next stop wasn’t a radio station.
Bobby – It was Drake-Chenault and I was hired as a consultant. I was supposed to try to bring in a “live” division. They were known for their automated formats at the time – music and voice tracking. I met some great people including Bill Drake. Stayed there about a year, then took a jock job at KFI with Lohman & Barkley mornings. I did late nights or overnights. I loved getting those long distance phone calls because of their 50,000 watt signal. Being heard in 38 states was a thrill. During the time I was there, owner Cox Broadcasting began putting Coast-103 together with Jhani Kaye as Program Director. Johnny let me become Assistant PD and take care of KFI while he was setting up Coast. Then, I got to program sister WWSH in Philadelphia. WWSH was soft AC and I thought they wanted to go a step-up which I thought would be perfect for the idea I was working on. We had good jocks, personality promotions – that kind of thing. We kept the same call letters and it eventually ended up a success.
Mr. Pop – You couldn’t change call letters, but you changed the name of that station.
Bobby - I would have loved to change them, but at the time – Cox didn’t like the idea. My alternate name was, “The Top FM” because of our dial position at 106.1. Philly was another learning experience where the minds didn’t meet. I didn’t quite take it to my “Hot A/C” concept. While in Philly – I did get to visit Scott Shannon up in New York as his “Z-100” was hot then. I realized then was I wanted to do a morning show like Scott’s – the only difference – I wanted it to be even more of team show. So, I left Philly and ended back up in San Diego, where I got my vision of something no one was really doing. My “Hot AC” concept/format – finally – on the air.
Mr. Pop – Back To San Diego – and KFMB-FM. How did you get a playlist for a “Hot A/C”format – when at the time, there was no such thing?
Bobby - I took a bunch of yellow legal pads – laid them out, took the top 100 charts from Billboard, Gavin and Cashbox and utilizing a point system – picked those songs on both A/C and top 40 lists.
Mr. Pop – So, to make it clear to our readers, the playlist consisted of those songs making both types of charts – not one or the other – using a point system.
Bobby – That is correct – and that essentially – is how I came up with a hot A/C music list.
Mr. Pop – The first of its kind. This was 1985?
Bobby – Yes – and this was before computers. I put together the morning show with three other guys and we called it “The Rich Brothers” and the “B Morning Zoo.” Again, it was a team concept – no single personality dominated the show.
From California Aircheck – Bobby’s B-100 In 1990
Mr. Pop – B-100 (KFMB-FM) had gone softer before you took the helm again.
Bobby – It was, so I put more energy into it, and took it to the new music playlist and off we went. We still had a couple jocks that were still there from my first tenure. Gene Knight was one of them. So, in many ways – it was like a homecoming. The magic and the feeling were still there. Once again, it was the right place, the right time – and, I had the same boss. Like the first time – he told me to “just do my thing.” We quickly became #1, 25-54. It was such luck and good timing.
Mr. Pop – Gene Knight – a class act. How long did you remain there?
Bobby – It was about five years – then off to Seattle where I was hired to be general manager – KIXI-AM and I-1077. I have to admit – I should have never been an administrator. I did get to hire some great folks. But, again, there was push-back from corporate and that kind of thing. But, it was a good experience. From there – I went back to San Diego to work for Shamrock and 94.9 FM.
Bobby – They hired me – and had a bad experience – only lasting a few months. But I needed to move on and my wife Debbie and I decided we were done with larger markets and headed to Tucson. Don’t get me wrong – I loved San Diego and my large market experiences, but – it was just time to make this move.
Mr. Pop – This was 1992?
Bobby – That’s correct – and we’ve been here ever since. Accept for the first year, where I invested in a move-in radio station that failed – in January of 1993 I began at 94.9 (Mix-FM) where I’ve been ever since.
Bobby – I would like to think I achieved the same kind of accomplishment here, as Ron Chapman did in Dallas all those years. He was a real inspiration.
Mr. Pop – Tucson is an interesting radio market – isn’t it?
Bobby – Yes, before I left San Diego – I wanted a place big enough to be competitive, but small enough to be make a difference. This particular station at that time, had a huge image as a beautiful music station and back then, was known as “Cloud 95” – so once again, I got to be a program director and morning personality – and I began bringing up the tempo to what it is today. I’m proud to say, we’re generally #2 in the market. The country station here does very well, but we’re consistently #1 with adult women (25-54) and we’re always one to the top stations in Tucson. And, the staff here is tremendous.
Mr. Pop – Mission Accomplished. Mix 94.9 is wonderfully programmed and I know you’re busy on and off the air. A final question – how has technology changed things?
Bobby – To me, we still have a love of what we do. You have to find different ways to make things successful. You can get music anywhere now – it’s what’s between the songs. You have to make it interesting.
Mr. Pop – And, you should know. You maintain an online radio station as well.
Bobby – Yes, it’s called “Bobby’s B-100” with the slogan, “All The Hits That Fits.”
Your online radio station link is: http://www.bobbysb-100.com/
Mr. Pop – And, it’s in the spirit of the old B-100 in San Diego. Bobby, thanks so much for your time. Your career is truly an inspiration to anyone in radio or anyone interested in radio and the media.
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Gary West - MrPopCulture.Com