Whatever Your Source Of Stress Or Strife

We have had a wave of celebrity obituaries in the past ten days or so, and with so many passings it might have been easy to overlook the news that one of my work colleagues and bosses had died on Tuesday – Chuck Harder. A bit of an irony that Chuck died the same day former First Lady Barbara Bush had, as it never occurred to me that Harder was a fan of establishment politicians.

That being said, a lot of people considered Chuck a conservative wingnut and was often parodied and lampooned by hosts at rival talk station WFLA back in the 1980’s. I never felt that way. I think he discovered what many believe now – that there is an establishment class of politicians that run things up in Washington D.C., a class that many in the know now call the Deep State. These establishment politicians don’t want outsiders (like our current President) running things, and most times they team up to thwart such efforts. In the 2016 elections, they were not as fortunate. Chuck was a big fan of H. Ross Perot, the 1992 and 1996 third-party candidate – and he laid the blueprints for Trump’s successful run as a Republican infiltrator in 2016, I’ve always believed.

I worked with Chuck at the Sun Radio Network in 1991 – I believe (though I could be wrong) that it was around this time he moved from Cedar Key to the Telford Hotel in White Springs. After he helped with the formation of radio station WEND in Brandon and the Sun Radio Network, he had been rather unceremoniously dismissed there (no, I don’t know the details – my guess was he got in a power struggle with Liberty Lobby and lost) in the spring of ’91, replaced by the very capable Tom Donahue. In the proceeding years, Harder started up his own network, the People’s Radio Network – and he gave me a job and provided me with a room at the Telford Hotel.

The “For The People” show Harder hosted was not a small operation by any means. At one point in the 1990’s, the show was carried over 200 stations every afternoon – the only show on more stations in that era was Rush Limbaugh’s operation out of New York.

My memories of Chuck were pleasant ones, and one of the times in my life I wish I could do over again – sadly in life, most of the time you don’t get do-overs. It was just a bit of a culture shock for me as a 23-year-old to go from living in the Tampa Bay area to living life at a much slower pace. I’m not proud of how my stay there ended, and I always felt I had let Chuck down. Another instance of not knowing how good I had it, I suppose – which regrettably seems to have been a pattern in my career.

In all of my interactions with Harder, he was always positive and upbeat, always patient and not one to lose his temper as so many do in the radio business. One time up in White Springs in 1994, I was running the board for him on an afternoon shift, and my duties were mainly to run the commercial breaks and news updates at the top of the hour and on the bottom. Back then, everything wasn’t in electronic form – we used 8-track like “carts” on special machines. Harder always believed in using American equipment – but I was warned of a drawback in using these particular cart machines – that if you jammed a cart into the machine at the last moment, it would play the first few seconds at half-speed or thereabouts.

One day, I found myself in such a situation with Chuck’s bumper music – music used so stations carrying the show could identify themselves right before the host began speaking again. Chuck had a senior producer who screened the phone callers and coordinated with any guests he’d use – and I thought for sure “blooping” his bumper music would lead to consequences of some sort. Chuck mentioned my name on the air – but laughed it off. It was the kind of guy he was – if he ever castigated anybody for anything, I never saw it. At some other places I worked, had I done that – I would have been read the riot act.

I also think Chuck was an example of what happened to the radio business once the FCC allowed ownership consolidation took hold in the mid-1990’s under President Clinton’s watch. I mean this not as a political commentary per se, but to point out that when you have so few companies allowed to buy up so many radio stations, it’s generally not a good thing. The networks like PRN and Sun provided content for these “mom and pop” stations across the country – but once everything consolidated, these outlets withered away if one of the bigger corporations didn’t buy them.

Another quick example if I may: when I lived in Las Vegas in 1996 for a little less than a month, I could hear Chuck’s “For The People” radio show out there. Four years later when I went out there again, he was long gone off of that market’s radio dial.

Rest in peace, Chuck. You were a character.

 

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Aircheck: Sun Radio Network, 5/17/1991

I had mentioned back on Wednesday that when I worked for Sun Radio back in 1991, we once had Ric Flair on.

It was one of the few artifacts I had saved from my SRN days, for one reason on another. I didn’t think, even back then, that any of my radio work was going to be memorable other than to myself. But an interview with Flair, that, I thought on this May Friday in 1991, might be a keepsake.

So, I saved the cassette of the tape all these years, and when the YouTube era came, I still had an old karaoke machine, and dubbed it off to digital form back in 2013.

Anyway, it was an interesting day. I think for the most part I’ve left the commercials and news headlines in, plus a “closed circuit” two minute series of announcements that stations were more or less required to cover up with commercials.

Drinks With The Nature Boy

I was working at the Sun Radio Network in 1991 when talk show host Tom Donahue told me one day in May that wrestling champ Ric Flair would be a guest on the show by phone. This is back when SRN and local affiliate WEND were operated out of the same facility in Feather Sound off of Ulmerton Road in Clearwater. In fact, the boards themselves were in the same room, right next to each other.

That day, I was running the WEND board, unfortunately. The SRN board op was from the northeast, and didn’t know anything about wrestling, and is asking me who Ric was. I looked at him like he had worms coming out of his ears. He couldn’t imagine why someone would invest so much time into something watching so choreographed, I suppose.

I responded that yes, there’s a stagecraft involved in all of this, and that you really couldn’t not notice it. But I also pointed out that these guys do this on the road night in and night out, and they do get hurt and injured doing so, just like any other sport. Thus, I’ve always considered wrestling a sport, or better put, a hybrid of sports and entertainment.

Ric’s been in the news lately, getting out of a bar in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Last year on Brian Last’s 6:05 Superpodcast, frequent contributor Tom “TRShock” Robinson had an experience similar to the one that led to Flair’s ouster from one of Fort Wayne’s watering holes.

It’d be easy to say that Flair needs some sort of sobriety help. But, between the recent loss of one his sons, and the plane crash he endured in 1975, he’s been through a lot, too.

The Sun Years, Part III: A Menagerie Of Transitions

So here I was in the spring of 1991, working for the Sun Radio Network in Clearwater, Florida.  As I’ve mentioned before, Sun also had it’s own radio station locally at the time, WEND, and also owned a satellite chain that carried Sun programming 99% of the time, North America One (at one point, NA1 was its own entity entirely, but merged with Sun before I was employed there).  SRN had a quality lineup of hosts who brought in stations, large and small, from all over the country.

The network had one significant problem: it wasn’t just losing money, it was hemorrhaging it, to the tune of $202,000 a month.  It takes a lot of money to keep a national network on the air between cutting edge (at the time) phone technology, paying building rent, and paying employees.  To help pay for this white elephant came an organization from Washington D.C. called Liberty Lobby.  According to a 1991 interview with Richard Benton, who was with SRN’s affiliate relations director at the time, Liberty Lobby paid about $166,000 of that $202,000 of debt SRN was piling up, and was doing so every month.

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