Profile of Joel
By Scott Benjamin
Joel Salkowitz says that when he and the other people associated with ABC
Super Radio found out 10 days before the start date that it was being canceled,
it was as though we were going 100 miles an hour and then hit a brick wall.
We were already into the dry runs, the music, the production elements, Joel, the production chief for the project, said in a June 27, 2008 phone interview with Musicradio77.com.
Super Radio, which was headed by legendary longtime Musicradio77 program director Rick Sklar, featured several well-known Top 40 air personalities, including WABC veterans Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy, who had spent three hours on the air on May 10, 1982 recalling their careers at a station that had been the most successful in the nation from the late 1960s into the late 1970s.
At the end of their tribute show that day, WABC became a talk station.
Bob Dayton, who was WABCs mid-day air personality in the early 1960s, also was hired by Super Radio.
WABC was the definition of Top 40 radio, Musicradio77.com web master Allan Sniffen has written. It was the most influential station of the day.
However, by the late 1970s, Rick Sklar had become a vice president for ABC Radio and WABC, as was the case with other AM Top 40 stations, was in decline as FM radio steadily attracted a larger share of the audience.
WABC announced in early 1982 that it would adopt a talk format along with some other ABC owned and operated stations.
In 1981, preparations had begun for Super Radio, a satellite network that would provide 24 hours of Top 40 music to subscriber stations starting on July 4, 1982.
Joel said it was a fairly tight format that resembled a hot adult contemporary station.
Ron and Dan discussed Super Radio during their interview with newscaster Art Athens on May 10, 1982 immediately after WABC made the transition from Top 40 music to talk.
Dan even said that they would be heard on a station in Guam.
It was a feeling of disbelief, said Joel of the emotions that prevailed after Super Radio was canceled.
He managed a 20-member production staff for the project after getting recommended for the position by Jeff Berman, who had been WABCs assistant program director from 1966 to early 1968.
Joel had worked for Jeff at SoundHound, the audio production company that Jeff still owns and operates in Manhattan.
I dont think any of us saw it coming, he said of the decision that was announced during the last week of June of 1982.
We knew that there were some challenges and that there might be some issues in sales, where they might not have made the best moves, Joel recalled. But I dont think that anyone expected this to happen.
ABC Radio announced that Super Radio was canceled due to a lack of subscriber stations and sluggish commercial sales.
You think of it now as something that was ahead of its time, Joel said. You look at it, and you tend to think that at that time it was too ambitious.
The regulations and the consolidation of radio stations that weve seen in the recent years didnt exist in 1982, he said. Stations werent necessarily looking for the cheapest way to put music on the air. Plus, they had concerns about meeting FCC [Federal Communications Commission] regulations and had to have time to put on news and public affairs programming.
There werent that many syndicated music shows on the air at that time, and the ones that were there, such as American Top 40 and Soundtrack of the 60s, were for one time period and they almost always were on the weekends, Joel said. I dont think that there is a parallel between them and Super Radio.
By the 1990s, there were several such radio networks, which partly resulted from the large radio conglomerates that were developed as the FCC relaxed its regulations.
Joel said that although Super Radio never aired, he benefitted from the project, since it provided him with some valuable experience early in his career.
He had earned his bachelors degree in Mass Communications from the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 1979 and had been program director of the campus station, WWUH, before he began working as a free-lance technical engineer at SoundHound.
Today Joel is the program director of PULSE 87 WNYZ in New York, a Top 40/dance station. He was the vice president of programming operations at Sirius Satellite Radio from 2002-04.
It was probably one of the best experiences of my career, he said of his work on Super Radio.
I learned a lot from Rick, and he also had a way of conducting business and dealing with people that you dont always see today, Joel said.
He said that he also valued his work with the air personalities.
They all were consummate professionals, he said. If you told Dan Ingram you needed him to read something in 23 seconds, he read it in 23 seconds.
Joel said that he believes that the proposed merger between satellite networks XM and Sirius will be approved and that probably is a good thing.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced in June of 2008 that he supported the merger, which was announced by the two networks in February of 2007.
I dont think that the merger will do much to add choices that people are looking for, said Joel, who grew up in northern New Jersey and now lives in Westchester County, N.Y. How many country and western stations do you need?
However, I do think it will make for a stronger overall company, which will help in competing with other technologies over the coming years, he said.
I think ultimately, satellite radio will be a viable business, Joel said. You have to remember that it is a subscription-based service that does not need to have the audience that terrestrial radio has.
HBO, for example, doesnt have as many viewers as ABC, but it doesnt need to, because people subscribe to it, he added.
Satellite has gotten it right, Joel said. If you are going to expect people to pay a fee and install the equipment then you have to give them something that theyre not going to get elsewhere, and they have done that with Howard Stern and Martha Stewart and other personalities.
Howard Stern has liquidated the cost of his contract, he said. He has brought 1.5 million new subscribers to Sirius and generated huge revenue from that.
The people that sample satellite radio and then buy a subscription has been estimated as high as 60 percent, which is a grand slam, Joel said.
Youre looking at 17 million combined subscribers for Sirius and XM right now and it might hit 20 million by the end of this year, he said.
He said that terrestrial radio executives have provided some conflicting arguments against the merger.
I was at an NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] convention four years ago and the group managers were saying that satellite radio was insignificant, Joel said. Yet now the NAB has spent millions of dollars lobbying against the merger.
They say that they are the ones that can provide the local content, yet in so many cases they have gutted stations and turned their radio stations into a commodity through programming that isnt local, he said.
The people in terrestrial radio are railing against satellite and the fact that it isnt locally based while at the same time eviscerating this business, he said. I interviewed an air personality from a top 15 market earlier this year and he was the only segment of his station that represented live, local programming. Everything else was either syndicated or voice-tracked.
Joel said that as was the case with Rick Sklars short play lists a generation ago at Musicradio77 WABC, some of the satellite channels that attract larger audiences are the ones with the high repetition of the most popular songs.
Interestingly, the most popular music channels on the satellite networks are Top 40 and classic rock, which have the tight play lists, which is the thing that people largely complain about regarding terrestrial radio, he said.
To bolster his point, he said that the average iPod only has 400 songs, although it could accommodate thousands more.
To survive, terrestrial radio has to become your companion, Joel said. Weve heard the cry that without the Dan Ingrams on the radio anymore that radio isnt providing companionship.
Talk radio does do that, he said. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity do that for people.
Joel said that he doesnt believe that HD radio will have much impact, because most listeners will make a choice based on content instead of audio quality.
If they can get Howard Stern or a sports package that is not offered elsewhere, they will get satellite radio, he said. The argument about audio quality doesnt get it done. Z100 had arguably the worst audio quality in the New York market in the 1980s, yet it was a number-one station. Content counts more than audio quality.
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