Radio Free Agency: Valentine Communications, 1995-96

After my fifth and final run with the Sun Radio Network in 1995, my radio future was looking bleak.  I had already made plans to move to Marietta, Georgia in February of 1996, helping my mother and her boyfriend with their business, which was getting offices and businesses set up with phone lines for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  It was, outside of my month or so foray to White Springs, my first move outside of the area I had grown up in, the Tampa Bay area.

As Sun was quite literally setting, I got a call from Tom Valentine, host of Radio Free America sponsored by Liberty Lobby.  Like many SRN shows, RFA was making plans to find another means of syndicating itself for broadcast.  He asked if I’d be interested starting up Valentine Communications under “new digs” (as he would say) just down the road in Feather Sound at WBDN’s new headquarters.

Oddly enough, WBDN was now in the Feather Sound office complex that Sonny Bloch’s Independent Broadcasters Network had been in.  Bloch and IBN’s demise was captured well by the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) in that 1995-96 time frame.  I really didn’t know it until 1994, but it turned out that his radio show defrauded his listeners to the collective tune of $24,000,000 with various schemes.  It was around that time that his shows on IBN were being broadcast from a secret location which turned out to be the Dominican Republic.  Bloch could run with his millions, but the Feds got to him eventually.  He pled guilty to his crimes, but it also turned out he had cancer that was in its advanced stages.  He was allowed to go back home, where he passed away in 1998.

My role at Valentine Communications, along with fellow producer Ron Michaels who also made the jaunt over from SRN, was to run the board for the show and handle phone calls as they came in.  Normally, this would be a one person job, but there was a snag.  The Feather Sound WBDN studios were set up so that hosts of a show had to hit the buttons that activated the phone lines.  We’d also each had dubbing equipment of our own, so we’d run the RFA tape duplication business in our spare time at our homes.  That raised another problem when SRN folded: where would the loads of cassette tapes of old RFA shows go, now that SRN ceased to be and couldn’t store them?  What happened there was that Tom Valentine had rented a storage facility off of 66th Street in Clearwater, so that the tapes sat in air conditioned comfort for us to pull and take home with us as we needed.  For this, we were each paid $300 a week.  Not bad for about 15 hours of radio work, and about 10 hours a week of dubbing.

(EDIT, 11/14/2014: A recording of one of the shows I produced during this time frame was discovered. Tom Valentine interviewed character actor John Quade on December 6, 1995.)

February 9, 1996 would wind up being my last night in the radio business to this date.  My car was already packed to head up to Lake City, Florida to stay at a Motel 6 that evening before making it to Marietta the next day, a Saturday.  Tom wanted to send me off in style, so he interviewed me on the air in Radio Free America’s final segment of the night.  (Recently, I tried to dub that appearance to my computer, but as I rewinded the cassette, it broke.  Crumb!)  At midnight, Ron and I shook hands, greeted me farewell, and my radio career officially turned into a pumpkin.

It wasn’t like I didn’t try to get into the business again.  Up in Marietta, I listened to another talent who I thought was pretty good on WGST, a man named Kim Peterson, better known as “The Kimmer.”  Back then, WGST was simulcast on an FM frequency at 105.7, and I thought this might not be a bad station to apply for, and as it turned out, they were looking for people.  I was honest about my background, which turned out to be a mistake.  What I didn’t realize is that Jacor Communications (and later Clear Channel) owned WGST at the time, who also owned WFLA in Tampa.  A station that did a hit piece on SRN back in 1990 was probably not going to hire one of their main employees in Atlanta in 1996 in myself.  It was like trying to be a female school teacher who had a background doing pornographic movies (as recently evidenced in the “Tiffany Six” controversy out in California).  It just wasn’t going to happen.

I got back to Tampa Bay in late 1996, and found that radio had changed for good.  It was right around that time that the FCC gave the go ahead for larger companies, like Clear Channel, to start buying the smaller “mom and pop” stations and companies.  When I got back, WBDN was getting ready to go all-Spanish, which it did in early 1997, so that prevented me from working there.  WHNZ 570 was a year or so away from being bought by Clear Channel, and moved to 1250 on the AM dial.  WFLA’s hires were now fewer and more far between.  They had re-hired “The Mad Dog” Bob Lassiter by this point, but as Clear Channel sharpened their fangs there, he would get blown out by a guy named Glenn Beck, who took over that time slot in early 2000.  Beck would use that time slot to start his nationally prominent radio show, eventually moving to mornings.

Even the larger heavyweight stations were consolidating.  Take WFLA for instance.  In 1992, they only had network shows on weekdays in middays (Rush Limbaugh) and between midnight to 5am.  Now, only the “AM Tampa Bay” and a few weekend shows here and there are live.  We have more sports talk stations in the market then we do sports teams.  We even have spanish sports talk!  We have, according to Tunein, four talk shows (including an FM one that just started as of this writing on 102.5), not including a Greek talk station.  Instead of each station trying to find a niche in the market, it’s become a “monkey see, monkey do” business.  Any wonder why some of us can’t find work?

The days of radio as I knew them had come to an end.  But as long as the “do it yourself” talk radio stations like WTAN (KLAV in Las Vegas is another one, which used to be owned by WTAN’s owners, the Wagenvoords) are around, I just might return one day to finally host a show of my own, or get behind the board one more time.  You never know.

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