Ron Chapman on the State of Radio and Why He'll Never Make a Comeback

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The great Ron Chapman
On April 13 in Las Vegas, Ron Chapman will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters' Radio Hall of Fame -- a momentous occasion that comes exactly one month after the Citadel Broadcasting Corporation pulled the plug on Platinum 96.7 and replaced it with an FM simulcast of WBAP-AM. Chapman came out of retirement back in June 2008 to work for Platinum and continued to "drop in," as it he puts it, till its farewell at the end of last week. As he says, he saw it coming.

Earlier today, I called Chapman to talk good news, bad news and all the stuff in between during a legendary career spanning his days at KLIF, KVIL and the old Sump'N Else show. In the end, Chapman and I wound up talking for nearly an hour -- I hadn't spent that much time with the local broadcasting legend since he came to the old Observer offices downtown in '94, to see what had become of the former KLIF studios. And so, after the jump, you'll find an unexpurgated version of our chat, which touched on everything from his Hall of Fame induction to the state and fate of terrestrial radio to what really happened to those old Sump'N Else shows.

But before we jump, he wants to make this much crystal-clear: "I have no interest in making a comeback. Not at all." That out of the way ...

So, I said it a couple of months ago, but mazel tov on the NAB Hall of Fame induction.

That came out of left field. A total surprise and very nice. I'll take it. They first called and said, "We've decided we want to induct you into our hall of fame. It's in Vegas, and we don't know the date yet." I said, "Don't worry, I'll be there." And once it got announced I got phone calls from people all over the broadcast industry, so it's a big deal.

There's a hall of fame in Chicago I think Paul Harvey's wife started, and it's a radio broadcast hall of fame thing, and I've been nominated four times to that and never won. The reason was I would be nominated with Dick Clark. Well, good luck! And one time it was Bob Uecker, and you just knew you're not going to win this, and I think once I was up against Rick Dees. So it's usually the guys in New York and Los Angeles, and for someone in the flyover to get chosen is nice. And this is a different one. They don't do a competition. They just say, "This is the man we're choosing this year."

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Ron Chapman, back when he was Sump'N Else
Yet, ironically, the induction comes one month after Platinum turns into WBAP.

I saw it coming. It's been coming. You know what they said about Jay Leno when he did prime-time. For the network it was successful. It really was. It saved them production money, and they made money on the show. However it was killing the affiliates, so in the end it didn't really work. In a way Platinum has some of the same symptoms. It always made money from month one. Not a lot of it, but it has made money.

In the meantime, corporate went through a prepackaged bankruptcy filing in January, and although the same people are in position, there are new influences and new directions. The bankers are looking at the books: "Yeah, we made money but not enough." So that was the death knell.

There are some other dynamics that play into it. The dynamic is if you have an AM talker, a successful AM talker, you are almost never going to get younger demographics to listen because they don't even know there is an AM dial. However, if you take an AM talker and put it on FM, just by scanning some younger demographics will notice the station and pick up on it. That's the plan. It's been decided it's more beneficial to take a shot at increasing WBAP than to keep Platinum going. OK. I can live with that. My life goes on. I was not paid. I was doing it as a favor, so it doesn't affect me. It affects Larry Dixon and Gail Lightfoot, but not me personally. I can understand that kind of thinking.

And, by the way, in some markets when an AM signal is put onto an FM frequency, the cumulative number sometimes increases by 20 to 40 percent. I doubt that will happen here, because 96.7's signal is not omnipresent. It's ... select. [Chapman laughs. For a long time.] But if you took what WBAP does already and increase it by 10 percent, that's a home run.

You can't imagine how many people have e-mailed me and left comments about how ridiculous this is, how could they replace you and Gail and ...


I was dropping in, but i wasn't doing a show. Those days of doing a show are over. I have no interest in making a comeback. Not at all. And, also, I think what I used to do is over. It's a different world. Just to think about it, in the mornings [at KVIL] we used to concentrate on the time, the temperature, the weather, the news, the stock market. And all that stuff is coming out of our iPhiones. Those days are gone. And so you'd better create a dfferent model from what I used to do, and if I did come back I'd have to do that, and that's not me.

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Chapman and state Sen. Florence Shapiro on the floor of the Senate in Austin
Has anyone ever talked to you about moving to satellite radio?

No. And I'm very good friends with Mel Karmazin, but no, no one's said, "You should be doing that. That's your next move." I don't think I'd be interested. I don't think I want that regimented a schedule anymore. Let me say this. Yes, I'd enjoy it for about three weeks.

Every time I write about terrestrial radio doings, people always chime in: Broadcast radio's dead, long live satellite radio. Yet it has its own problems, and damned if I've ever listened to satellite radio and said, "Wow, that's revolutionary." It's just more of the same from which to choose. Far as I'm concerned, if radio stations in this town were bright, they'd make them about the personalities -- even the music stations. It'd be you and Redbeard and George Gimarc and all the other familiar voices playing, respectively, oldies, classic rock and new wave.

There is a phrase someone told me years ago I rejected out of hand at first but came to realize was absolutely true: The public does not know what it likes. It only likes what it knows. People like you and George Gimarc and perhaps me are a minority. The average radio listener doesn't want to hear new music. They want to hear what they know. Ninety percent of new listening is done by scanning. They hear a song they like, they stop scanning and they've found their new favorite radio station. New music doesn't get that done. Familiar music does. Where does new music get heard? Automobile commercials? The new KERA station?

There's a generation of radio people who grew up on formatics. I grew up ... Listen, I am now 74 years old, and so I grew up on the cusp of Vaudeville. I wasn't around when Vaudeville was around, but I came in at the tail end -- the Depression and so forth. I listened to Jack Benny and Fibber McGee and Molly and Fred Allen -- people doing comedy, entertainers. That was my genre. I sprang out of trying to be a performer, as opposed to being a formula. There's a difference.

If you grew up into a world in which radio is formulaic, which it became, that's your set of standards. Mine was different. I was always on the quest of doing something new and dramatic and different and surprising -- giving away a car every day for a year, doing a trip around the world, the kind of thing that made people talk. That's now too much talk on the radio. We used to do contests that lasted 12 weeks. Now, people want it now, or it's "Get our of my face." A six-week contest isn't viable. Nobody pays attention, certainly not the younger demographic. So where does that leave us?

Terrestrial radio is struggling, and the demographics are getting older. But is satellite the answer? I don't see it making quantum leaps. It's had some setbacks. Part of its growth was everyone getting that free first taste when they bought a new car. Then people stopped buying new cars. And when the economy's down, pay radio's one of the first things you stop paying for. It comes from your iPod or online. So it's certainly a different world.

Someone told me just the other day ... {He laughs.] I was at a funeral, and he told me about his iPhone and Pandora. And this is an older guy fascinated by the fact iPhones did this. He was telling me about the changes in radio. If you've got a guy in his late 60s excited about Pandora, it's a different world. As for me, I'm happily retired.

And, now, a hall of famer.

They give you a list of people honored: Dick Clark, Wolfman Jack and Rick Dees and Casey Kasen. And you go, 'OK, OK, OK, OK.' And then you go back to Walter Cronkite. I'm gonna be on the same list? OK, that's pretty impressive. Their list of previous inductees is very awe-inspiring. I'm highly honored. That, or they ran out of names. I think it's the latter.

By the way, last time I wrote about you I asked about the Sump'N Else show archives, and someone said they'd been destroyed.

I saw that! A Sump'N Else archive never existed! It was on from '65 till early '68, and during that time videotape was just beginning to exist. And it was on huge reels. The tape was two inches wide and cost $2,000 a roll, and so nobody archived anything. On the Sump'N Else show they recorded something today and recorded over it tomorrow. Nothing was saved. It was a live show. It never existed longer than 24 hours. It's a shame in a way, but it was the nature of the times.
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34 comments
daveinsouthflorida
daveinsouthflorida

Great to see Ron is getting the national attention he has deserved for so long.  Traveling the U.S. over the years, it's hard to believe the number of people who don't recognize his name outside of North Texas.  Ron was Irving Harrigan on McLendon's KLIF in the early 60s when I was in high school.  He was one of those who inspired me to pursue a career in radio, which has in my case, lasted almost 50 years and has been fairly successful.  Ron, I'll be forever grateful.

Dave Mitchell

WHIM-AM/WZAB-AM

Salem Communications

Miami, Florida

Rodgerfanning
Rodgerfanning

Ron Chapman in 1960/1963, remember him at Rolling Hills Country Club, Arlington TX.  Cannot forget those Sat. nights at Cedar Canyon Club,  Thanks so much

Lindi Loy Funk
Lindi Loy Funk

Ron Chapman is a true broadcase legend!  I grew up listening to him, Suzie Humphreys and others in the Dallas area.  I was lucky to have the inside track as my Dad, Tommy Loy, was in the jingle business here from the late 1960's.  A well deserved honor for Ron having entertained and informed Dallas audiences for decades!

Andrew J Hewett
Andrew J Hewett

Ron, I'm so old I can remember KLIF before you arrived.Gordon McClendon might have been a horse’s butt, but I admired his ability inbusiness.  You and I have met, but it isnot important that you remember me. (Met you once in the bank lobby below KVILstudio – you’d told me my material was too “bathroomey,” and I agreed.)  My e-mail address is aj.hewett@chewednews.com  and my site www.chewednews.com  I also do a one-page 90-second readtwice-weekly, read in about 70 or so countries..

 

Would love to occasionally e-mail with you. Radio was my Godfor 50 years. (I wrote for Stevens and Pruitt KEGL in the 1980s.) What happened to Susie? Remembering the day shecould’ve been killed in that helicopter crash. (Wind blew it into a wire towernear Fair Park.)  Being pregnant savedher on that windy day. Isn’t the boy’s name Josh? I could go on, but I willwait and hope this finds you inside your creative self. Can’t help but ask, whydid you not take over for Paul Harvey? You would have been perfect. I can stillhear the mixture of tones you were able to transmit over the years. (You arestill my hero.. and I can remember your boss lady dying, as she had predicted,just like her mother, etc.).

 

Always your friend, and admirer, Andrew J. Hewett.

Brudav
Brudav

Circa 1967 I called the Sump'n Else show and won a prize. Me, a 14 year old kid,spoke with Ron Chapman live on the air. I've still got that Matt Monro "Born Free" album(when Ron says the music world has changed, he's not blowing smoke) and would loveto have it autographed by Ron. Yes, that 44 year old album is still in pristine condition.Just like Ron.

Hopefloats51
Hopefloats51

I really wish Ron would come back to KLUV. Jody Dean is a giant d***!

Dr. R. Stafford
Dr. R. Stafford

Thanks for a great article and informative interview with Ron Chapman. As a 15-17 year old I lived at Northpark studio of Sumpin' Else. I brought a coffin to the show to promote our production of "You An'T Take it With You." Chapman loved it. Other times came in funky costumes. Ron Chapman gave me confidence, the risk to be someone unique, and the love of media. Today, I do a lot of things that go back to those early days watching and loving Ron Chapman's ability to capture the imagination of an audience.THANKS RON!www.dickstafford.com

George Gimarc
George Gimarc

You bet Ron - radio has to be about something OTHER than just music. It needs personality. Back in the late '40s it had to reinvent itself to compete with TV, and here it is again - and time to become something other than just music. Those old days of PERSONALITY radio can come back - if we support it. But then it might take some brave owners too. You taught me a lot young man - see you soon.

Mistertroll
Mistertroll

Ron is one of my all-time broadcast heroes, up there with Murray the K, Cousin Brucie, Scott Muni, and Wolfman Jack. So many happy hours listening to him on the radio and watching "Sump'N Else" that I can't remember them in detail.

Fully worthy of his HOF induction and, hopefully, a joyous retirement.

Thanks, Ron!

Pete Simpkin
Pete Simpkin

hi rongood to read about you still 'in there'...you may nort remember me but I visited at KVIL 1980 with a couple from UK who had won a competetion on Birmingham UK readi and spent two weeks in Dallas with me fiollowing them with a tape recorder. you featured me on your show. Met Patsy ( the winner) in the supermarket the other day.........wow man you were a treasure!

Marcia Seeber
Marcia Seeber

I have put my CD's back in my car, now it's just I-pod and CD's...Like alot of people, if I wanted talk radio I'd go to AM and the "old WBAP'. It was nice to have a choice, now I'm so angry I don't even listen to any radio....oh well, as they say "it is what it is"

David Dennard
David Dennard

I interviewed with Mike "Let Me Speak To The Manager" Shapiro for a TV production job at WFAA back in the early 1970s when I was just out of college and I asked him in his office during the interview what had happened to the "Sump'n Else" show video reels. He's the one who told me that they were all re-used for other things since tape was so expensive then, which is basically what Chapman is also saying here.

That being said, there ARE some copies of existing shows towards the end of the show's run because I've seen them. A friend of mine who worked on the show has copies. Unfortunately, most of the really classic stuff that we'd all like to see now (local bands, major touring artists of the day, our classmates dancing, etc.) is long gone, as Chapman indicates.

Sandy
Sandy

I really, really loved the playlist Ron had for Platinum! Was really great and different twist on oldie music that the other station we have here. I have beendepressed about the station going off the air. Would just love to have Ron Chapman (my radio hero and such an icon) back!

AE
AE

I don't know much about Ron Chapman because I didn't grow up listening to him. I understand that he has a cult status in the D/FW area, but that's about all I know. What I DO know, having been a professional radio station consultant for the last thirty years, is that Platinum was a mistake from the beginning. Even the most elementary radio programmers will tell you that a radio station must immediately establish a viable target audience. The current standard is adults, 25 to 54. Although Platinum's music was fresh and fun, no one under the age of sixty listened to it. That's death. Radio, like any business, is all about big profits. No ad dollars, no big profits.

Chapman's comment about Platinum's weak signal is nothing more than an egotistical cop out. I have seen radio stations with weaker signals that made significant impacts in their respective markets.

My guess is that everyone in Dallas/Fort Worth is in such awe of Chapman's past, no one bothered to ask, "What have you done lately?" I can only assume that Chapman has no financial worries, so pulling the plug on Platinum had no impact on his wallet, and he has covered the tracks of his ego, too. Unfortunately, I must also assume that many quality people lost their jobs due to typical corporate greed and mismanagement.

I do know quite a bit about Citadel's head honcho, and if the question is, "Why did Platinum fail?", the answer is, Farid Suleman.

DC
DC

People like you are the reason radio personalities (and listeners) despise consultants. Thanks for killing our industry. DC

George Johns
George Johns

Platinum was not Ron Chapman's creation he just hung out a little there as a favor. Platinum was created up North somewhere. Ron enjoys today much more than yesterday, but like a lot of us doesn't mind reaching back for a nugget or two that may add to today.When Ron and I first did KVIL together there was no AC. We got to do a format that didn't exist, the rest was history. When new management thought Ron was too old to be on KVIL anymore because they wanted to go younger and more music intense they farmed Ron out to their oldies station KLUV Ron kicked KVIL's butt because by now he had become bigger in Dallas than the station.Platinum was very viable weak signal or not. There were very few things musically they could do in a radio world filled with no holes. But the big thing they could have done and the rest of the Dallas radio feared the most, they couldn't do because a big corporation doesn't know how to say these words correctly ... Ron lets go change the whole Radio World again buddy, but ya gotta go back on the air again man while we figure this thing out.All of Dallas radio fears that because they love the fact Ron hasn't done anything lately. I think they will pay to keep it that way and maybe I should charge them a ransom to keep Ron off the air. My ego is equal to Ron's because I think I could talk Ron into going back on the air. His ego once we found out what radio station you were affiliated with would keep him up night and day until he destroyed you. Then and only then would he would turn on the rest of Dallas radio.I don't know who you are since you're the only one who didn't sign in, but if your a 30 year professional consultant than I am a proud to be a 30 year unprofessional consultant. George Johns

John David
John David

We're looking forward to inducting Ron in to the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame!!

Well deserved to a true radio professional, but more importantly a guy who has always treated his listeners with respect!!

John DavidEVP/RadioNational Association of BroadcastersWashington, DC

Blondepussycat
Blondepussycat

Oh, Ron~I miss you soooo much! I am 58 yo and I have been a dedicated fan since '64 or so. At one time in the 80s I told my husband that if I ever see you in person, I might just pass out. That if I had a chance with you (poor Ron be glad I didn't) I would leave him in a heartbeat! Then I was at a Cowboy's game. I remember this like it was yesterday. Before the game started we were walking around to get some snacks, and lo and behold there you were! Not there on business, but a spectator."Oh my God, there's Ron!" I ran over to you and gushed something stupid, I'm sure. As the person you are, you kindly said "Hello, it's nice to meet you. I love your hair." I was so starstruck, I didn't know what else to say but "well thank you very much. I'll tell my hair dresser!" My was my claim to fame because for the longest time I told everybody I knew about my close encounter with you. Anybody that knew me was shocked that you got away from me. I told them that you never know what you'll do when You meet your idol. Lucky you, I was in shock that day. Lucky for me that I had a hero named Ron Chapman that influenced my life Mon-Fri on the radio. You are one of a kind. I will always remember you. **Nance~I hope you know you are married to the best man in the world.** I LUV YOU, RON!

Frank Provasek
Frank Provasek

Wow what an easy choice for management ...a unique music station with the services of the great Mr. Chapman FREE, or 24/7 hate talk....

Don McClure
Don McClure

Thanks for a great article. I just informed the folks via the WBAP website that I used to listen to both WBAP and the Platinum--so why should I listen to one program in both places?

This corporate entity may have just cost themselves a listener altogether....back into search mode (and, this listener *does* know what he likes--more specifically, what he does NOT like!).

Williej
Williej

I grew up in Northeast Texas. We could get KLIF 1190 AM until the sun went down. In 1966 most of what we knew about the world we got from Ron Chapman on the Mighty KLIF. We need to have more folks like Gordon McLendon who cared about what the folks wanted.

KLUV is headed the same way as 96.7 if they don't realize that there is more music out there than what they have on their "authorized list" of song.

Good luck Ron and enjoy your retirement. You deserve it. Now I have to get an MP3 device so that I can enjoy the really good music.

Rock N Roll forever.

Rebecca Clay
Rebecca Clay

I was so shocked at, "What the Hell was on my Radio"...Ronald Reagan Radio??? Over and over for days and days...then WBAP showed up...but's that's on AM (I knew where is was when I needed it.) I wanted my Platinum!!! We have followed Ron from station to station to station an we think "Platinum" was the best of 'em all. Such a mix. My Mom was 40 years older than me, 1 sister is 13yrs older and 1 is 3yrs older than me so I have had a big variety/span of musical interest and loves over my 57yrs...Platinum played them all! I will miss it terribly!!

Daniel
Daniel

Ron Chapman sort of bracketed a huge era -- or eras -- although at the time that wouldn't have occurred to anyone; for one thing he made it look too easy.

Am I incoherent? Think of, like, a Johnny-Carson-of-the-provinces, or something. No one ever tuned in Carson and said to themselves, This Is How We Live Today, but it was.

In this respect, Ron Chapman is like a walking, talking photo of a deceased pet.

john k.
john k.

Thanks Ron, for the many years at KLIF and then KVIL. Your morning programs will never be forgotten. You made many of our days a little brighter. We LOVED you. john

chris von danger
chris von danger

I ran into Ron doing a Platnium promo back late last year at of all places, NorthPark. Ron still looked great for his age and had that same legendary voice. I agree with alot of his thoughts, the radio business, as we know it today, is in the dumper mostly due to suits who dont have a clue of how to run a station, not to mention more actual options for people to listen to music in this day and age instead to the "talking head".

LeeDog
LeeDog

Ron is a Dallas radio icon. He's a hall-of-famer in my Dallas radio life. His quote, "If you've got a guy in his late 60s excited about Pandora, it's a different world", says it all. Sad, but true. Great interview Bob. A Story about Gordon McLendon(sp?) and his influence on Dallas radio, if there hasn't already been one recently, would be wonderfully nostalgic.

Jimmy
Jimmy

Hmm....interesting.

chevytexas
chevytexas

A high school reunion was amusing themselves just a few months ago recalling which of us snuck out of school to get to NorthPark for Sump'n Else, only to be seen onscreen by surprised mothers cooking dinner. Doh! It was on TV! Where is Joanie Prather? Ah whither youth?

Jack E. Jett
Jack E. Jett

He is a classic. What an awesome career.

It is a shame about the Sump N Else archives.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I WANT PLATINUM BACK--I am sick of boring talk radio--if I had wanted to listen to talk radion I know where it is-but the great music on Platinum with the mix of oldie/country greats was my perfect station and I am mad as hell that it is gone.

ChrisU
ChrisU

he asked his listeners to send him 20 bucks.did not tell them what it was for. they responded....who would not want to advertise on that guy's show? I think one of the greatest stunts in radio, he deserves his place in the Hall.

Lee Gibson
Lee Gibson

I met Ron Chapman when he was Irving Harrigan and he and his morning show partner Charlie Brown (Jack Woods) parked their KLIF station wagon in front of W. H Gaston Jr High and passed out promotional goodies. That was in 1962. What a great career he's had. This honor is much deserved.

LakeWWWooder
LakeWWWooder

Thanks Robert, great interview - those of us who grew up with Mr. Chapman on KLIF and KVIL will never forget him. I was too young for Sump'N Else but I pressed my little nose against the glass at NorthPark a few times.

My late Daddy was always so impressed that when he won the daily KVIL phone contest, Mr. Chapman personally delivered the prize to our house. Kudos to you Sir!

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