The phone rang and my mom called out, "Rick, there's someone on the phone asking for you. It sounds important." It was the summer of 1973, and I was fresh out of high school. I ran down the stairs to the phone in our kitchen to hear a deep voice on the other end. "My name is Ronnie Grant. I'm the program director of a new radio station we're putting on the air in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and I'd like to hire you to do the night shift on the station. We're going on the air in three days. Can you be here?"
I loaded my Volkswagen bug, drove to Florida with all my important belongings (my stereo system), and, looking back, I'm sure my parents were more than a little mortified that their 17-year-old son was going to work in radio instead of going to college.
I had been on the air locally in Fort Wayne, IN, on WITB, a college station, and later ran Sunday-morning church tapes on WLYV and did live weekends on WYYY in Kalamazoo, MI. This was my first big break, though at the time I had no idea how big a break it really was. I showed up at the radio station and was taken to meet the programming consultant, Buzz Bennett, who told me he hired me because he liked the way I said "Y." Our first staff meeting included manager Dick Casper, program director Grant, Bennett, morning man Roby Younge — who was supposedly responsible for starting the "Paul is dead" rumor at WABC — news guy John Emm, middayer Larry McKay (McCabe), afternoon driver "Dirty" Steve O'Brien, night guy Don Cox, and others. I was suddenly among people I had only read about or heard on tape.
On August 3, 1973, 40 years ago this week, Miami listeners didn't know what hit them. Full-page ads had dominated the papers for weeks, telling people to answer their phone with "I listen to the new sound of Y100" to win $50,000. No one had ever seen cash jackpots that big anywhere in the country at the time, and certainly not in Miami. We proceeded to give away a million dollars in the first year, and the station owned the market within a year.
I look back in disbelief at how four decades have passed since that now-legendary radio station was launched. I worked at the station two different times and with many other greats, like John Rook and Bill Tanner and some fabulous air personalities. It was a training ground like no other and the best possible place for a teenage DJ to learn the ropes of promotion and programming. I have tapped in to the things I learned there for the past four decades of my career. In what other business could I have put in 44 years and still be in my 50s?
I swore I'd never become one of those people who always looks back at the good old days and how much better things were then. Times were different, as was ownership. What makes me the proudest is that the brand we launched is now a heritage radio station with 40 years of history, and a household name to three or four generations of listeners. Y100 has evolved, remained relevant, and continues to be a force in South Florida, which is a much bigger market than when I was there.
How I landed a gig at a station like that is still a mystery. I was not experienced, I was not ready, and I made lots of mistakes. I even got fired from there twice. Yet I look back with fondness and gratitude that those people gave a kid a chance and launched a career that is still thriving.
What's the message in all of this? Perhaps it's just a chance to say thank you to all the people who helped make that happen so long ago. Perhaps it's a chance to say time flies, and you never know if what you are starting will be around decades later. Or perhaps to say it's our turn to seek out bright, energetic young people and give them a chance. This industry is always in need of fresh blood and fresh ideas, and we could stand to launch careers for the kind of people who will carry our industry forward. In any case, it's kind of neat to quietly celebrate Y100's 40th (they probably aren't doing so on the air because their audience would think 40 is really, really old) and to look forward to celebrating again for decades to come.