Brian Wilson is having fun, fun, fun at WSPDWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Wilson gracefully walks the thin line between confidence and condescension.
In November, the salt-and-pepper-haired veteran of 40 years in radio was hired from Washington, D.C. as afternoon host and program director for WSPD 1370 AM.
Wilson’s WSPD office, the setting for a Jan. 19 interview, was in transition, with pictures yet to be hung, empty bookshelves and papers strewn about like unexplored thought balloons. Wilson is affable and quick with a joke; he is clearly enjoying the challenge of replacing afternoon legend Denny Schaffer and restructuring WSPD’s line-up. He communicates with humor, gentle force and an authority not easily interrupted or argued with.
Toledo Free Press: How did you end up being the afternoon host and the program director at WSPD?
Brian Wilson: Like most things in radio, there’s no easy answer. I was approached to replace Denny by Al Brady Law, the then-program director here, whom I had worked with in New York. The managerial line-up, the budget for talent and [station manager] Andy Stewart, who is very impressive, got my attention. Then, I found out that the man above Andy was Kevin Matheney, a rival of mine from New York, who figured prominently in the Howard Stern movie [as ”Pig Vomit”]. That was intriguing. After the afternoon offer was made, Al took a job in St. Louis, and I was offered the program director job.
TFP: Had you ever been a program director?
Wilson: I had been a program director at three different stations, and my wife and I owned a station in Maryland for three years.
TFP: How are you educating yourself about Toledo?
Wilson: The people at the station have been very supportive and helpful. My producer, John Zaph, took me on some driving tours so I could see our coverage area. He is a walking, talking authority about Toledo. Andy Stewart and our sales manager, Jack Jolly, talked to me about the business climate. Fred [LeFebvre] has been a big help filling in the blanks. The learning curve is steep; not knowing about Carty Finkbeiner, the Marina District, Westgate, there’s a lot going on. The politics here aren’t that different from any other notoriously rotten political area. It’s fun and wonderful for talk radio.
TFP: What were some of the things that impressed you when you took your driving tours?
Wilson: I have been impressed with the people. At the grocery store, no less than five people said ”excuse me” because they walked between me and the Saltines or me and the orange juice. You don’t see that in other cities. The first time I was in The Andersons, I heard something I had never heard before; employees laughing, enjoying their jobs. Back where I come from, it’s a growl and a scowl. Driving here has been such a pleasant experience, I’m starting to lose muscle tone in the middle finger of my right hand.
I get around
TFP: Once you started, it did not take you long to make some decisive and controversial changes. Talk about the decision to remove Bob Frantz.
Wilson: As program director, my job was to listen to the station and determine our strengths and weaknesses. Listening to the morning show, Bob had great energy, great focus, great information. But it wasn’t morning radio as I wanted it. Great morning show hosts have to be friendly, warm, topical, wear all sorts of hats, offer a full menu. The way the show had been constructed did not provide the variety. In radio, you can use a shotgun or a rifle. A shotgun has hundreds of BBs going out, covering a wide area. A rifle has one bullet, one slug, right through the middle, one time. In morning radio, you need a shotgun, and WSPD had a rifle. I take nothing away from Bob’s talent. That’s why I created ”Eye on Toledo,” to best use his rifle, his laser beam approach.
TFP: Did you audition people for the morning slot, or did you immediately see what you needed in LeFebvre?
Wilson: Fred was associated with one of the biggest morning show teams here. He’s funny, he knows this area, he knows everybody. His new show is one of the best morning shows I’ve ever heard.
TFP: The Arbitron ratings for LeFebvre’s first month show a post-Frantz drop of 5,000 listeners in the 25-54 male demographic.
Wilson: The numbers don’t worry me. Am I pleased about losing 5,000 listeners? No. Changes in radio are taken very personal by the audience. When you change people’s comfort zones, you’re going to have problems for awhile. For all of the e-mails I received, wanting to take me out to have me hung and calling me a commie, I received at least that many and more saying, ”Great idea, the station is more listenable, Fred is great.” I suspect there will be more erosion with the next book, because the numbers jog around toward the end of the book. Holidays, lots of factors affect the ratings.
TFP: Is there any scenario in which Frantz or Schaffer could return to a full WSPD show?
Wilson: Bob still has a future here. But just like me or Fred, or anyone here, contract or no contract, it’s our job to lose. Could they come back? I don’t know. Remember what Thomas Wolfe said.
TFP: Did you follow the local Web blog comments about WSPD after Frantz was removed, on such sites as ToledoTalk.com?
Wilson: I haven’t seen it, but every town has a blog, and they are generally populated by Kool-Aid drinkers, mouth-breathers, has-beens, never-will-be people and so on. It’s a game that means nothing. It’s generally a hobby for someone to masturbate their ego anonymously. I’ve been in this business 40 years. They’re listeners. They have no clue how this business works.
TFP: Do two titles double your expectations and pressures?
Wilson: Local radio sounds like local radio in smaller markets because the talent and management are usually small. Here, the people have a tremendous amount of energy and talent. That takes the pressure off me. I’ve already done the big time, the morning drive in New York, all of that; it’s not my style. I want to take all the things I’ve learned and put them to some good use. Plus, I don’t have to worry about saying something on-air that the program director will chastise me for. I can just send myself a memo.
Don’t worry, baby
TFP: Talk about your Libertarian perspective.
Wilson: Libertarians believe in self-government. You own your life as long as you do not transgress on someone else’s rights. The government should serve us, protect our rights. As Toledo native P.J. O’Rourke defines it, there are only two rules: You can’t hit people, and you can’t take their stuff. Everything else, you negotiate.
TFP: How does your perspective fit in with the arch-conservatism of Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and Savage?
Wilson: This was part of the discussion we had about my coming here. Talk radio reflects what we hear about the electorate. Twenty percent are mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging conservatives, 20 percent are short bus-riding Neanderthal liberals, and then there are 60 percent of people in the middle, too busy living their lives to look deeply into this stuff. In talk radio, all we have is this screaming on the left and the right, with people calling each other names. Toledo will be a test case; we are not all conservative, or all Democrat. Let’s say George Bush was a drunk and a nincompoop. Let’s assume that’s true. What else do you have to say? Let’s say Hillary Clinton is a socialist and a closet commie. Fine. What else do you have to say?
TFP: Do you have plans to strengthen the news department?
Wilson: Everyone here has been deputized as a news person. If you work for WSPD, you have an obligation to report news and share news. We will have, by the end of April, three full-time, on-the-street news people. We are also working on collaborations with other local media.
TFP: Any plans to boost the WSPD Web site?
Wilson: We’re looking into streaming video for the broadcasts. You can hear Rockets games on the site; we’re also going to broadcast Cleveland Browns games next season.
TFP: What is your vision for WSPD’s role in Toledo?
Wilson: Radio is the most intimate medium. If you listen to this station in the morning, I have been in the room with you when you’re naked, when you get out of the shower. We’ve had breakfast together. Maybe I’ve been in the room when you made love to your wife. People have a one-sided relationship with the guy on the radio. Talk radio fosters a symbiosis. Maybe you’ve never met Fred, but he’s speaking your mind, and the relationship coalesces. That’s why people get upset when a Bob Frantz gets taken off the air. But it’s just like taking a boat out of the water. There is no hole.
I’m going to do the best I can for the people who pay me, to bring them the biggest audience possible.