Category Archives: Drew’s Ramblings

Coronavirus Killed the Radio Star

April 27, 2020

Coronavirus. COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2. Whatever you choose to call it, this pandemic has dramatically transformed life as we know it. Businesses are closed. People are being ordered to remain in their homes. Entire industries have been destroyed, seemingly overnight. Radio is not immune. In fact, radio may prove to be one of COVID-19’s biggest casualties.

Terrestrial radio was in trouble before the coronavirus. Large broadcasting conglomerates had endured several rounds of layoffs and terminations. AM radio in particular was on life support in many cases. Then came COVID-19. Sponsors immediately began cancelling or severely cutting back on their advertising. After all, if your store or restaurant is closed, there’s not much sense in spending money to promote it. Radio stations reacted by furloughing staff. Due to “shelter in place” orders, remaining air talent began broadcasting from home. This is likely to be a permanent trend, regardless of when the pandemic ends.

I expect many stations to go dark as a result of this sustained lack of incoming revenue. Those which were just barely making it pre-COVID will be first to turn off the lights. Standalone AMs with poor signals and tricky directional patterns are the most likely victims. These operations will be deemed to be no longer viable, unable to generate a profit. Licenses will be turned into the FCC and the frequency allocations deleted. FMs are not immune, either. Especially those which rely on automation for all or much of their programming.

As always, the survivors will be those stations who continue to serve their communities with live and local programming. Yes, that’s expensive, but it’s also a necessity now more than ever. These broadcasters are likely to be get the most support from their advertisers. Let’s suppose you own a car dealership in a smaller market with two competing radio groups. One provides a genuine service with live talent and coverage of local events. The other runs their stations off a computer, only going live when they absolutely have to during times of severe weather (or possibly not even then.) Previously, you had the budget to run ad campaigns with both groups. Due to the coronavirus, you now only have enough money to buy spots from one. Which will you choose?

The days ahead will prove both interesting and extremely challenging for those employed in radio. Hang in there and as always, good luck!

PS: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Due to excessive amounts of spam, I’ve had to disable comments on the site and move them to our Facebook page.

20 Years Ago Today: My Last Radio Show

April 9, 2020

On Friday, May 21, 1999, I performed my final radio show. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I never thought this day would come. I lived, ate, and breathed radio. I wanted to be one of those guys who never retired, who literally spoke his final words behind a live microphone.

Industries change. Economies change. Priorities change. That’s life. The roaming radio gypsy merry-go-round was a damn fun ride. It lasted for 16 years. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything on Earth. But as Kenny Rogers once said “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” I did, and I did. No regrets.

Even now, people ask me at least once per week “Do you miss radio?” My answer is always the same: “Yes, I miss being on the radio. No, I don’t miss working in radio.”

Happy Kansas Real Beer in Grocery Stores Day!

April 9, 2020

Today, the state of Kansas makes history. On April 1, 2019, for the first time ever, you are able to purchase real beer in Kansas grocery and convenience stores. I have christened this day “Kansas Real Beer in Grocery Stores Day.” Seriously, it should be a statewide holiday. If you’ve ever lived in Kansas, or even visited for any length of time, you most certainly understand why.

Out of all the states I’ve been to, Kansas has the most archaic and restrictive liquor laws. Part of the madness is this strange formulation known as “3.2 beer.” Sometimes called “near beer”, 3.2 is basically beer that has been watered down to lower the alcohol content. Maximum potency is 3.2% alcohol by weight, or 4.0% by volume. Now WHY would anyone want to do this, you ask? From what I understand, it goes back to the days immediately after Prohibition. Kansas wasn’t ready to legalize booze on the state level. As a compromise, “Cereal Malt Beverage” was introduced. This is the legal term for 3.2 brew in Kansas, abbreviated as CMB. I’ve never heard it used anywhere else. Basically, it created a loophole in the law. Because, you see, it wasn’t really beer. It was Cereal Malt Beverage.

Since 3.2 isn’t legally “beer”, it’s subject to different, more lenient laws vs those which apply to other alcoholic beverages. Before July 1, 1985, 18-year-olds were allowed to purchase and consume CMB. The drinking age for all other forms of liquor was and is 21. Arriving in Kansas as a 20-year-old in 1984, this was somewhat confusing to me. Legally, I couldn’t walk into a liquor store and buy a 6 pack of Coors. Yet, I could walk into the convenience store across the street and do so. Upon asking the locals “why?”, I was told that grocery and convenience stores only sell “weak beer” so that 18-20 year olds can buy it. But how much weaker? “Regular” beers produced by the majors (Bud, Coors, Miller) run around 5.0% alcohol content by volume. Sounds quite a bit stronger than 3.2, right? Ah, but remember, that’s 3.2% by weight. Measured by volume, that becomes 4.0%. Quick math told me that five 3.2 beers equals four “regular” beers. So, I’d just drink one or two more. Problem solved!

The other big difference that no longer exists was that only 3.2 bars were open to the public. Anything stronger required a private club membership. You see, Kansas never passed liquor by the drink after Prohibition. “Open saloons” were strictly prohibited. This relic of a law was finally repealed by voters in 1986. Private clubs could stay open until 3AM whereas 3.2 taverns had to close at midnight. You can guess what happened at midnight: after drinking CMB all evening, those who were 21+ would drive to a private club to imbibe in more potent spirits. Instead of driving drunk just once to get home, they would do it twice. Brilliant!

The one remaining vestige of the Kansas 3.2 beer laws was the prohibition on grocery or convenience store sales. Only liquor stores could sell “strong beer” for off-premises consumption. This all changed on Monday, April 1st. Any retail establishment with a CMB license is now allowed to sell beer up to 6% alcohol content by volume. Kansas becomes the third state in the past year to do away with 3.2 brew. Colorado and Oklahoma changed their laws last year. The only 2 remaining states are Minnesota and Utah. Efforts have been underway in both of those states, but I’m not holding my breath. Having grown up in Minnesota, I know they are notoriously slow to change liquor laws. Just last year, they made it legal for liquor stores to open on Sunday. As for Utah, I really wouldn’t hold my breath.

While gas station owners and grocers are ecstatic, liquor store owners are concerned about the impact this will have on their bottom line. Time will tell. My personal opinion is that this change is WAY overdue. It should have been part of the 1985 law, in order to compensate grocery and convenience stores who would no longer be able to sell beer to 18-20 year olds. In any case, I’m glad Kansas is finally (albeit slowly) modernizing their liquor laws, making them similar to surrounding states. You still can’t buy wine with your steak. You still can’t buy beer on Sunday in many parts of the state. I’m guessing those issues will be taken up in future legislative sessions. In the meantime, Happy Real Beer in Grocery Stores Day, Kansas!

Shopko in Bankruptcy All Stores Closing

April 9, 2020

Shopko will soon be a thing of the past. This is sad news, especially if you happen to live in a place where Shopko or Shopko Hometown is the only department store for miles around. Way back in 1962, Shopko began life with one Green Bay, Wisconsin store.

Typically, they have located in towns too small to have a Walmart. Over the years, they have grown by purchasing other similar chains. In 1997, Shopko purchased the Pamida chain of discount stores. They also acquired several ALCO stores which were then converted mostly to the smaller Shopko Hometown stores.

If you’re headed for Minnesota’s North Shore on vacation this summer, be sure to stop in Duluth to get whatever you’re going to need while you’re up north. The Shopko Hometown store that you’ve come to depend on in Two Harbors will no longer be there. Hate to see ’em go, but I guess it’s just a sign of the times. Like it or not, we live in an Amazon world. R.I.P. Shopko.

Eagan’s La Fonda de Los Lobos, 1976-2019

April 9, 2020

Just wanted to take a minute to pay my respects to the crew at La Fonda de Los Lobos. Octaviano “Otis” Trujillo started this Eagan, Minnesota restaurant back in 1976. After 43 years, tonight will be last call on Highway 13 in Eagan.

I first discovered this place when I was in high school, working at the local Kmart. After the store closed at 10PM, a group of us would make the short drive to “La Fonda’s” for Mexican dinner and drinks. Yes, I said drinks. La Fonda was one of the very few places that 17-year-old, baby-faced me could get served. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that everyone whom I was with were in their early 20s. Legal drinking age was 19 at the time. If you averaged us all together, we were legal 🙂

All good things must come to an end. For La Fonda de Los Lobos, that day was Thursday, February 28, 2019. No more looking forward to Loboritos when I come home. They will be missed.

iPhone 7, Headphone Jack 0

April 9, 2020

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few days, you no doubt are aware that Apple has released the long-awaited iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Like most people, I immediately noticed what the new iPhone doesn’t have: a headphone jack. This is a problem. Especially if you’re an audio junkie like me. Wherever I go, I am constantly streaming radio stations or other sources of music and news. I need a headphone jack.

In fairness, Apple does include a lightning to 3.5mm headphone adaptor at no extra charge. But the added weight is cumbersome. Another problem is that you cannot charge the iPhone 7 while using the adaptor. The preferred option is to use Apple’s new wireless AirPods in place of headphones. That is, if you don’t mind spending an additonal $159. I do.

Me? I’ll keep my tried and true Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime. If the headphones go out, I can buy a new pair anywhere for around $10. If the charger goes out, that’s universally available for less than $10. And since it’s “old school”, it has a removable battery and microSD card slot. Two important features that neither the iPhones nor the newer Galaxy models have. Yeah, I’m cheap. But I’ll stick with what works for me.

Learn from Greta: Make Copies of Your Stuff!

April 9, 2020

Last week, Greta Van Susteren suddenly departed FOX News after more than 14 years. I didn’t see that one coming. Speculation is all over the board as to why she chose to take advantage of an exit clause in her contract. This morning, Greta posted on her Facebook page that she hopes FOX will give back all the personal photos and video from her GretaWire blog. Apparently, she does not have copies of these items.

If there’s one thing I learned in 16 years of broadcasting, it’s this: always, always, ALWAYS protect what is yours! Make backups of anything and everything you use on-the-air. Regardless of how long you’ve worked at a station or how good you are, the day WILL come when you are unexpectedly escorted out of the building. If you’re lucky, you’ll be given a box and a few minutes to grab what you can on your way out the door. After your departure, the first thing the company will do is delete all reference to you from the station website, Facebook page, etc. All of your passwords will be changed and you will no longer have access to anything. It is as if you never existed at that organization. Good luck in getting your materials back once this happens.

I believe Greta is one of the few honest journalists in the business today. I wish her well and hope she surfaces at another network after being “benched for awhile” as she put it. As for the rest of us, let’s make this a learning experience. Always back up and protect your stuff!

Why Do People Confuse Labor Day & Memorial Day?

April 9, 2020

Labor Day and Memorial Day do have some things in common. They’re both summer holidays. They are both observed on Monday. Most people get both Labor Day and Memorial Day off from work. If you worked in radio back in the day, this was definitely NOT the case! But that’s fodder for another of Drew’s Ramblings on a different day.

Labor Day and Memorial Day are actually opposite holidays. Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer while Labor Day signifies the end. More importantly, these holidays are designed for completely different purposes. Labor Day was created to honor working people. Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who died while in the military and serving our country.

I am amazed at the number of people who confuse these two holidays. Every Labor Day, people will ask “What are you doing on Memorial Day?” Or, the ever popular “Do you have to work on Memorial Day?” On Memorial Day, of course, they inquire as to Labor Day activities. I guess for many people, both of these holidays are simply a day to be spent grilling burgers and drinking beer. Kinda sad when you think about it.

For the record, Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in September. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. When Memorial Day rolls around next year, take notice of how many people make reference to “Labor Day.” It ain’t pretty, friends.

Hurricane Katrina Remembered 11 Years Later

April 9, 2020

11 years ago today, Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Whenever August 29th rolls around, it’s a sad day of remembrance and reflection for everyone who was affected. Especially those who lost friends or family in this massive storm.

I wasn’t there, but I came way too close for comfort. I left 27 days earlier. If I had stayed, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. The apartment complex where I had lived for the past few months was located right on Front Beach in Ocean Springs. It was completely destroyed. I’m sure you remember seeing TV news footage of the Biloxi/Ocean Springs bridge. Nothing remained except support pillars and broken slabs of pavement. That bridge was less than 1 mile from my place. I used to walk across it several times per week.

Even though this was prime beachfront real estate, it remained undeveloped after the hurricane. There were plans for condominiums. The condos were actually planned before the hurricane. But after Katrina, the cost of insurance became astronomical, IF you could get insurance at all. This photo is where my apartment stood. Two years later, it looked exactly the same as it did after the storm. Five years later, it was still undeveloped. I haven’t been back to visit since 2010. But I’m guessing it looks pretty much the same. Hurricane Katrina was a horrible experience for everyone involved, both directly and indirectly.

Kmart In-Store Music Tape Christmas 1974

April 9, 2020

Here is one of the most bizarre things I have ever come across on YouTube. Someone has unearthed a reel-to-reel tape containing Kmart’s in-store Christmas music from 1974:

The music selection changed very little over the years. I worked at Kmart during high school (1980-82) and remember hearing many of these same songs. The “Kmart is all the things a great store should be” jingle was still in use then. Announcer voice sounded the same. “Smoking is not permitted on the sales floor. For your safety and convenience, smoking is permitted only at the snack bar.” By this time, the reels had been replaced with large gray cartridges. They looked like a severely oversized 8-track tape. Playing time was 2 hours. Then, the song sequence would repeat. If you were a Kmart employee, you knew every song on the tape and how often it would play during your shift!

Emmaville Minnesota’s Store Cafe & No-Tel Motel

April 9, 2020

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, I always looked forward to weekends “up north.” This meant 2-4 days at our family cabin on Lower Bottle Lake near Park Rapids. The actual amount of time spent there depended on whether or not Dad could get an extra day or two off of work. Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day weekends were the best. In northern Minnesota, nothing beats summer holiday weekends!

One of the highlights of a cabin vacation was the Emmaville Store. In those days, it was a simple convenience store with 2 gas pumps in front. If you needed gas for the lawn mower, boat, or snowmobile and didn’t feel like driving an extra 12 miles to Park Rapids, you would stop at Emmaville instead. Later, the Emmaville Café was added to the complex. I was a big fan of their All-You-Can Eat Taco Bar, first on Friday and then Tuesday nights.

Possibly Emmaville’s most interesting tourist attraction is the No-Tel Motel! No, it’s not what you’re thinking 😉 Rather, it’s a simple but comfortable 4 unit motel. If a motel room isn’t big enough for your family, they also have a 3 bedroom cabin. Want to rough it without really roughing it? Try the Emmaville Campground. Rates are reasonable and it’s a great place to relax. Last time I checked, motel prices at Emmaville were significantly lower than rooms in Park Rapids.

When you see this sign, you’ll know you have arrived! Next time you’re vacationing or visiting in northern Minnesota, be sure to check out the Emmaville store, café, and of course the No-Tel Motel.

A Day in the Life of a Domino’s Pizza Delivery Guy

April 9, 2020

Nearly every radio person has had other jobs at one time or another. Sometimes, this is to supplement the ridiculously low radio salaries. Other times, it is because one is “in between radio jobs” (the polite term for “I got fired”) and needs money NOW to pay the bills. This was the case with me back in 1986. For approximately 2 months, I delivered for Domino’s Pizza of Shakopee, Minnesota.

Domino’s was really not a bad gig. I was given a regular paycheck plus cash nightly as reimbursement for my car expenses. I drove a 1973 Buick Century which only got 12 miles per gallon, but the price of a gallon of gas in 1986 was only 90 cents. It all worked out. Delivering pizzas was still a safe way to earn a living back in those days. Saturday nights were the best. Most of my deliveries were to house parties. People would invite you in and tip you well. There was no shortage of drunks making “bad orders” (nobody home) on the weekends, so lots of free food for the crew to enjoy. If a pizza was undeliverable, it came back to the store and we got to eat it! “Crew pies” were a Domino’s Pizza fringe benefit that we all looked forward to. Oh, and the free name tags!