1975 was a different era in radio, and fairly early in my career. I was maybe 19 or 20 when Steve Rivers and I were thrown together on the air staff of 96X (WMJX/Miami), programmed by Jerry Clifton and owned by Bartel. I was the music director and the staff included Lee Logan, Frank Reed, John Lee Walker, Jade Quillin, Larry Bessler, Jackie Robbins, and "Riv," who was our high-energy night jock. We were a group of radical renegades trying to beat Y-100, where I had been on the original airstaff in 1973.
Most of us were single, and the station became our family. Therefore we all grew very close.
One day during sweeps Jerry Clifton called the airstaff of 96x into a meeting and said, "We-re neck-and-neck with Y100 and we can win this, but it's going to require extra creativity from you guys. Pull out all the stops. No holds barred. Just don't lose the license."
That was all the ammunition I needed. That night I went on the air, said I had been fired and that it was my last night. All the next day, the staff whined on the air about my firing (which of course would never be allowed to happen if I'd really been fired). And then Steve Rivers filled in on my shift and made it clear he was not happy about the situation, especially because he had to work an extra shift. A few minutes into the show, Steve went to the news and made it clear he was leaving the studio. I then "broke in," nailed the door shut on the air and proceeded to tak e over the radio station. I played "Eat a Fish," an annoying novelty record, over and over again and said I would keep playing it until they gave me my job back. This went on for a couple of hours.
In between records it was just business as usual, and Steve came in to wish me well with my stunt, then left for the night. Next thing I know I went to open my mic and I heard a voice say, "Don't touch that button." I turned and two Miami Beach cops had their revolvers drawn and pointed at me. They then proceeded to cuff me, read me my rights, and start to remove me from the station. Turns out they had grabbed Steve Rivers when he left the building, cuffed him, and threw him in a squad car. He later told me there were 20 police cars in the parking lot, trying to find a way in.
Steve and I managed to talk the cops down and make them understand it was a stunt, and we were able to persuade them not to arrest us -- thanks mostly to Jerry Clifton's effective argument on the phone, convincing the police that removing the official operator from the station was a violation of FCC regulations.
The mayor of Miami Beach got involved the next day and forced GM Carl Como to make announcements of apology every half hour for two weeks. "I'd like to apologise for statements made by Eric Rhoads and Steve Rivers on the air on the night of ___. I assure you it will never happen again." Until that moment, no one knew who we were, but after two weeks of announcements, everyone was listening. It was a dream come true. Though we didn't beat Y100 that book, we were within 1/10 of a point.
When you get arrested together you have a lifetime memory and a lot of laughs, and Steve and I stayed in touch as he went to various markets and became known as one of the top programmers in America and later a corporate programmer for CBS Radio, AMFM, and others.
In 1999 I approached Steve and told him of my belief in the future of online radio. I had raised about $18 million for one of the first online radio companies (RadioCentral) and convinced him to leave his corporate job to help us revolutionize radio online. He was invigorated by it and hired a great team of talent and programmers. We ended up doing every imaginable format and did custom radio for brands like Earthlink, About.com, A&E TV, and dozens of others. Our stations were branded with their names and lived on their websites, and as a result we had the second highest streaming consumption in America at the time. It was that success that ended the company -- it couldn't support the streaming bills, which had become millions of dollars. Listener adoption was way ahead of advertiser adoption.
Steve and I parted at that time but stayed in close contact. We were all saddened when we learned he had had multiple strokes and was incapacitated and in a nursing home. But when I spoke to him last, his mind was as sharp as ever. He was reading our stories online and made very insightful observations about things going on in the industry. He shared with me his unhappiness with being in the nursing home -- his mind worked even if his body didn't work well, and he was frustrated by being among so many patients who were unable to communicate. He said he had been listening to a lot of radio on his laptop and was writing critiques. He was still as passionate about radio as ever.
One of the most important lessons I learned from Steve was from his habit of keeping his mouth shut. We would go into major meetings, and he rarely said a word. But when he did speak, it was profound. Unlike some who wanted to show their importance by talking constantly, Steve was a listener, and his silence made you wonder what he was thinking. I once asked him about it and he said that it was the most important tool he had acquired -- the ability to listen, stay quiet, and create mystery. It worked. Steve had great jobs and made great-sounding radio stations, and he always listened.
Loosing a good friend like Steve is tough, but I look back over a lifetime of wonderful memories, discussions, sharing van shifts and promotions, and we had some great times. I’ll always cherish those moments and will miss him greatly.