The job I left behind to become manager of the Biograph Theatre was in radio. Lee Jackoway, a veteran radio and television ad salesman who was the general manager at WRNL AM/FM, hired me to sell time for the two stations. That opportunity gave me the chance to learn a great deal about advertising; the job lasted a little less than a year (in 1971). At the time I had dreams of starting a magazine and making documentary films. Working in radio/advertising seemed like a step in the right direction.
By learning to write commercials, I also got my first taste of professional writing at WRNL. Learned a bit about production, as well. Some of my efforts at writing and producing commercials were aimed at being funny. I got my permission for that approach from Stan Freberg, a comedian, songwriter, adman I never met.
Jackoway, who could be a tyrant one minute and a standup comedian the next, took me under his wing and gave me a bunch of big accounts. That was partly because he liked me. And it was partly to piss off the senior salesman who Lee wanted to drive off. I also learned some good lessons about promotion in general from media buyers and account executives at local ad agencies.
Jackoway sometimes liked to hold court, telling the young DJs and salesmen stories of his freewheeling days as a top salesman for Ziv Television. He had been a national sales rep for popular half-hour TV shows, such as "Sea Hunt" and "Home Run Derby." Traveling to markets large and small, Lee sold the rights to the shows to local affiliates. In the trunk of his Thunderbird he carried 16mm reels and a projector with him for presentations. He would go with the local salesman to call on his clients to line up sponsorship. Lee, who was truly a master salesman, died at the age of 78 in 2008.
During my stint at WRNL AM/FM the ownership changed from the Richmond News Leader to Rust Communications. Rust promptly changed the call letters for the FM station to WRXL.
In 1971 WRNL AM carried lots of local sports -- the R-Braves games, college football, etc. A previous station manager there, broadcasting legend Frank Soden, who died at the age of 91 in 2010, was in and out of the station frequently. Among other things he was still the talent for much of the station‘s sports broadcasting.
Bob Gilmore also did some of that kind of work for WRNL, as well. Before coming to Richmond, Gilmore had been the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds on radio. One of my fondest memories from these days played out on an afternoon that Soden and Gilmore were trading stories about their “re-creation” era. (Here's the link to a story about the legendary Harry Caray and re-creation.)
As a kid, I was fascinated with both radio and baseball. If I wasn't at the Richmond Virginians -- "V’s" for short -- games, I listened to them on the radio. But in the late-1950s, when they were on the road, the voices I had tuned in weren’t coming from press boxes in Rochester or Havana. They were in the WRNL studio, then in downtown Richmond, across Fourth Street from the Richmond Newspapers building.
In those days, for away games, Soden and his broadcast partner Frank Messer would get the bare details of the game in progress by way of Western Union, or sometimes over the telephone. Then, using canned sound effects, they would "re-create" the game as if they were watching it live. It was said this was done to save the money it would have cost to send the announcers on the road with the team.
According to Soden, a lot of time all he knew was that a batter got a single, struck out, or smacked a fly ball that an outfielder caught. Maybe not which outfielder. He might not have known what the pitch count was, etc. So, routinely, he would make it up. Sometimes the sender would leave out a play entirely. Again, that called for the announcer to improvise.
With a few other guys who worked at the station as their audience, Soden and Gilmore told several stories about how they covered for times when no info would come in for 20 minutes, or so, and other such calamities. They’d create a rain delay, an injury on the field, a bug in the umpire's eye, or whatever they needed to keep from breaking the spell and saying what was the truth -- that they had no idea what was going on.
By 1971 "re-creation" was a thing of the past. As I remember it, Gilmore said he was the last guy doing re-creation broadcasts in the major leagues, when he was with the Reds in the late 1950s. It was a rare treat hearing those radio yarns, whether they were true or not.
At the Biograph I used my radio background a great deal over the first couple of years. The success we enjoyed with midnight shows couldn't have happened without the many spots -- some of them supposedly funny -- that ran on WGOE-AM. Today I still listen to the radio regularly -- mostly public broadcasting, which I wish would be funny more often.