My Radio 15 Minutes began in an unheated amateur radio "ham shack" garage, next to radio control model airplanes and a classic '46 Ford, in a rundown Northwest Detroit neighborhood. The Redford High School "attic" ham shack expanded our excellent adventure into the heated world beyond -- the attic is how we got into the air ducts over the girls' locker room.
Years later, my buddy Briggsie turned down a job offer from Berry Gordy Jr to maintain Motown tape recorders, but my hormones and radio hobby morphed into a game of catch-me-if-you-can in commercial broadcasting. My alter ego rubbed elbows with the bitchin' famous in the nation's 5th largest radio market. Detroit has since dropped to 18th. Like chimpanzees humans can learn to do anything -- including drop like a rock in prestige -- from a teenage TV cameraman to hosting the Academy Awards of Advertising, wrestling a bear to bankrupting a bar to selling real estate. I raced stock cars & bathtubs, piloted commercial airplanes and became "Michigan's most creative aerial photographer". Today I'm one of those drone pilots the media is telling you to be afraid of.
Getting into broadcasting was in no way planned. Like most everything in my life it just happened. Remember as you read this, I'm just a simple guy from Brightmoor, MI -- sister city to Mumbai -- who slept under his sister (bunk beds). "Who wants out of shop class an hour early Wednesday?" Raising his hand, Dennis Tony Joseph (3 of my 5 formative years names, I tell why I picked Tom Dean for my radio handle shortly) unwittingly volunteered to be one of the Wilbur Wright High School electrical curriculum co-op students (2 weeks on the job, 2 weeks academic classes) who would operate Detroit Schools station WTVS Channel 56. Lighting, cameras, cleaning toilets (any job is best learned from the ground up).Located in the same building WDTR-FM was my first radio station. After 4 years in the United States Air Force as a far-from-mature radio/radar repairman (wasting taxpayers' money -- replacing expensive pieces of equipment instead of taking time to actually fix them) I moved up the dial 6 times before the Detroit radio station I'd listened to as a kid was ready for me. But that night time Top 40 job didn't last long. The Tigers beat the Cardinals in the World Series and Tom Dean 7 to midnight was the last disc jockey ever heard on WJBK Radio 15. By January 1, 1969 WJBK had disappeared from the dial forever. Turns out the Storer Broadcasting Company had quietly undertaken an in-depth study to determine what Detroiters wanted to hear on the radio. With few exceptions the entire staff -- Marc Avery, Conrad Patrick, Hank O'Neil, Don Thompson, K.O. Baily, Lee Baby, Lauralene, Count Scary and Weird Beard -- all were fired over the next few weeks. I must have been the lowest paid as I was the only beard they kept. Station power was raised to the maximum allowed -- with 12 directional towers our 50,000 watts (magnified many times that in a northerly direction) skipped 'round the world. You could hear me on the electric razor while shaving your legs in Hamtramck.
WJBK became WDEE -- our competition joked it stood for "We've Done Everything Else". To my surprise, I became one of America's first modern country music rebels. The "Big D" was a huge success; the audience got everything it wanted and more...that's Mash TV Star MacLean Stevenson as a gay man promoting our classy new "hit kicker" radio station: "Welcome to The Big D, cun-tree music with a Saturday Night Live boot in the butt"As you listen to the Hugh Heller presentation below remember that it was the 70's. Big D was wa-a-a-y ahead of it's time...
(note: stop the audio player above before starting this one):
Once, surrounded by secret service agents, I watched a monster truck show at the Pontiac Silverdome drinking Billy beer with President Carter's brother. Billy autographed my can which sits prominently in our basement bathroom, on a shelf. Curly haired Dick Hafner, the bald news director at WJR today, reported on it...and, needless to say, NBC (channel 4) made it their lead story. Yas sir, braer Big D was a ride on bohf sides a dah track I'll never ever ever ever forgit...
The daughter of Max Fisher, the richest man in Michigan, called to introduce herself soon after I popped up on the air in Detroit with an invitation to a party at the St. Regis Hotel. Mary knew a lot of important people on a first name basis, including more than one President. Mary was keynote speaker at the '92 Republican Convention. Mary Fisher was smart, and connected. All she had to do was snap her fingers and Tom's first voice-over appointment for a Dodge Truck commercial magically materialized. Mary introduced me to "Henry" (Henry Ford the 2nd) at the first Channel 56 auction (which Mary created when she was producer of Kelly & Company). "I've heard your show" said the Deuce and repeated something I'd said on the air months earlier. More about that -- Henry, Kathryn Duross and her friend Jacqui the psychic -- later.
Competition in a 5 million person radio market is intense. Fifty stations could be heard in Detroit. The Big D was extraordinarily well planned -- market study/focus groups data was phone book thick. I was in the right place at the right time. Peter Storer, a blind man (the secret weapon in the radio division), prepared me to host a clone of the company's red hot Los Angeles show called "Fem Forum." Doctor Laura Schlesinger started her career listening to that show, and Bill Balance (the LA show's host) wrote a tell all book about his motel romps with young Laura. Storer Broadcasting decided the Detroit version would be different, a mixture of listener calls and country music hosted, first by Deano Day, our morning DJ who had worked with the idea at KLAC, then by slumdog me. Incidentally, Deano's real name is Moen. You may have one of his family's kitchen faucettes in your home. That kind of cushion buys any person self-confidence, and my friend Deano -- the lead-off hitter, magnetic morning personality on The Big D -- was loaded with it. Pictured in the poster (left to right) I'm seated, Bob Day, Paul Allen, Ray Otis, Dave Williams and Deano (holding the pool cue). The Big D employed a number of DJ's over the years, but I will never forget this kick-off team -- pictured are the players who took the station to #1 within months of hitting the air. Incidentally, the one with the biggest voice, Dave Williams, weighed all of 102 pounds. Whenever Dave said "THE BIG D" we just smiled as the walls and windows of the Lincoln Park mansion rattled.
Back to the girls' locker room. Like the air ducts, I fit in the Fem Forum perfectly. I wasn't smart enough to know that it would ultimately label me in Detroit. With the show being owned by the same company, and with the help Bill Ballance provided me, success came to us within months of hitting the air. Fem Forum was #1 for Big D's entire run until the station was sold 10 years later. After that I moved across town to WXYZ where the re-named "Midday Forum" helped kick start the broadcast career of CNN's Dr. Sonya B. Freidman. You'll have to wait a sec to see what the B stands for.
Everyone was fooled -- Billboard Magazine honored my extra-ordinary work (LOL) as did The Detroit News and Free Press. Those pictures of me on the cover of Sunday Parade Magazines were taken by famous photog Tony Spina. Storer spared no expense on the circus. They hired a white jacketed butler named Cecil who delivered coffee to the staff. Big D promotion was first class. Our smiling jock faces showed up everywhere on posters, bus signs, billboards, magazines, TV, newspapers, T-shirts, caricatures and ceilings. We enjoyed (free) restaurants, movies, cars (I borrowed Corvettes from GM for my kids to drive), Hawaiian vacations, playing cards with Ron Kowalski (the sausage heir), dining with the governor, autographing breasts and me piloting a Navy Blue Angels jet. There was even a day named in my honor at The Detroit Fireman's Field Day. Incidentally, if you were there, the clown must have mistook me for another clown as I got hit with a pie as I stepped up to the mic. The only picture I can find is me with a pie face sprawled on the ground in the batter's box. People love hanging with celebrities no matter who they are. American Idol loser Sanjaya Malakar invited to the White House proved that. Press releases reminded Detroiters how awesome I was. The truth? While doing the show, I had absolutely no clue of the impact it or I was having on listeners. Seriously, I can't listen to recordings of myself doing that show today -- it could have been so much better -- I was young and stupid, and listeners were, well ...fooled. Lesson #1: "Do your homework (check for clowns before going on the field wearing a rented tuxedo in front of 52,000 cheering hillbillys)
Because Fem Forum aired human experiences, hilarious to tragic, the show got lots of attention and gave people ideas -- an endless stream of wannabe copy cats followed -- psychologists, sideshow carneys, lawyers (Geraldo), politicans (Jerry Springer), Oprah, the Newlywed Game, Cheating Spouses, Howard Stern (who failed when he worked in Detroit). They all came from the seed in the mind of a blind man whose family happened to own some radio stations. There had never been anything like it on radio or TV before Fem Forum. The idea behind it lives on today through the O'Reilly Factor and those shows where they eat bugs (I get those two confused).
People tugged at me from all directions. One guy sent his wife to the station to see if I'd be interested in swapping. She was a beauty queen brunette who smiled with a gleam in her eye when I stammered: "I, er...my wife would never go for it." The following night wonder bra shows up at my nightclub appearance with her husband, her sister Laura (yes), and a motor home in the parking lot. Film at 11.
What was Peter Storer thinking? Tom Dean, HSG (high school graduate) -- I couldn't even pronounce sci-college-ee.
I've worked for lots of people in radio. A few were in over their head -- the imploding happening to the communications business is proof of that. Frankly, what's happening today is frightening. Americans have mostly suffered from it. The power the media has to influence the minds and hearts of a lethargic audience is spine-chilling -- advertisers spend millions for 30 seconds of a football game because they know how it magically works. People believe the last thing they hear. Now imagine the airwaves full of lies, deception, cover-ups. Thankfully, politically partisan broadcasters are finally paying the fiddler. Look for the dismanteling of NBC to continue as so-called journalists dutifully lockstep into the abyss. Spoiled, pampered, rebellious college brats who can't spell (watch the news scroller at the bottom of your TV screen sometime) are planting seeds in our pudding-filled brain cups. Wanna stop them? Switch to satellite TV. Cancel ComCast -- NBC's parent company. Honestly, I think today's broadcasters will, like me, regret having appeared so foolish on the air before they became sensitized adults.
Back to the good old days of professionalism -- Joe Conway and John Mazer were the best, the most successful management team I witnessed first hand. Joe, as Big D's General Manager, hired Operations Manager John. Both had class and degrees in business and communication to back it up. Mazer guided my every move. I respected and admired his savvy and miss brainstorming with him. It was from John I received instructions on how far to go with the show. Storer wanted it titillating -- 'tit' equaled ratings and revenue. Everybody made out like a bandit, 'cept you know who. A couple of lawyers approached the station wanting to package up highlights from the show (I have thousands of hours recorded) and offered to pay me a penny (yes, one cent) for each album sold. One of them is in politics today and I'd bet every penny he's one of them ill-legislators up to his old tricks. Who did they say that bailout money was going to?
Not a day went by I didn't get hate mail. Why blame me? It was those crazy callers who wouldn't shut up. When I didn't respond (I was told not to by Mazer) one writer with daily regularity attacked my family: "Was that your daughter I saw gang banging on Cass Avenue last week?" Diana was 10 years old for god's sake. Another listener claimed she'd received orders from "outer space" to join me and Deano in heaven. Flat Rock police stopped her on the way to my appearance at Club Deano Day with a loaded 30-30 in the trunk. Some 'ologist' apologized for letting her out "a little too early." It was then I remembered being hired to DJ a dance at Toledo State Hospital and the administrator's warning: " don't talk to that woman in the corner...nymphomania...and never play two fast songs in a row!" (gulp)
Off duty Pontiac cops acted as part-time bouncers when Dewey Reese, my business partner, and I owned "The Widetrack Inn" a nightclub-bar-restaurant in downtown Pontiac. The chief of police had a fit when he found out, something about "hired guns", and was waiting on our stoop the next morning. Pontiac was where I learned my very first real estate lesson about "location, location, location" In our excitement of opening a new business, we over looked the fact we had a hillbilly bar smack in the middle of a pissed-off black ghetto. Soon a pregnant woman would fall down drunk on the dance floor claiming it was our fault she lost the baby. Another was killed in an accident driving home. Lawsuits, lawyers, depositions and wonder bras were knee deep.
I knew nothing about business and apparently neither did Dewey. He gave me half the bar -- liquour license, real estate, everything -- and I didn't have to pay a nickel down. Dewey spent every last dime of his parents money to keep the bar going. They were impressed by my following on the radio and thought that would translate into bar customers. It wasn't entirely Dewey's fault. The timing of our partnership couldn't have been worse. The arab oil embargo of '74 hit shortly after we opened. Business went from "people standing in line around the block" to two lesbians parked in our lot clawing each others eyes out followed quickly by asian-style kissing to make up. Either my listeners could no longer afford to drive to Pontiac or wouldn't come back a second time after seeing the bar's seedy location, lesbian stuff or Dewey's monologue.
The Widetrack Inn was a catch 22. To stay in business we had to hire country movie stars (that's me pictured with Dolly Parton and Jerry Reed) to attract customers from outside the Pontiac area who knew nothing about the bar's neighborhood. Like Chevy Chase in "Vacation," they didn't know not to stop to ask for directions. The Widetrack Inn was a popular hangout for sports celebrities and VIP's who in-turn attracted customers -- we gave them free food and booze. Dewey and I didn't know when to stop passing out freebies and quickly learned to spell b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t-c-y. Any day of the week you'd find Tigers, Lions, city officials and countless other freeloaders sucking up to Tom and Dewey. Our alcohol helped Norm Cash live hard and die young. WJR's J.P. McArthy stopped in a time or two with Deano after their morning shows. "Against the ropes" was a movie about female fight promoter Jackie Kallen who worked as a writer for the Oakland Press next door to the bar. In the movie Jackie was played by Meg Ryan. I liked Ernie Harwell and his wife Lulu best. They didn't drink.
Don't dwell on the negativity of this bio, unfortunately that's what makes headlines. I've met countless genuinely nice human beings in my time, and my no-news-here wife tops that list. Jerry Reed is another. Jerry would NOT accept the $5,000 we'd agreed to pay him for performing at our bar. "My fault..." said Smokey and the Bandit trucker Cledus Snow, "we drew a small crowd...this one's on me." How many movie stars do you know today who would kiss your owie? Following in my footsteps enlisting in the US Air Force, my cousin Richard Gill became "Airman of the Year." That, and my contacts at Chrysler PR, helped Rick get a job at General Dynamics. Without any college, my smart as a whip cousin made our family proud becoming a supervisor in charge of fabricating gadgets for the M1 Abrams tank. Richard Gill was an example of America's finest. Why do bad things happen to good people? Ricky died in his early 50's of brain cancer. He had the largest gathering of mourners at any funeral I'd ever attended. It was standing room only outside to the parking lot. Ricky passed away on the same floor of the hospital where his mother, my beloved Aunt Shirley, died in Pontiac on Widetrack Drive...
It really is a small world. Johnny Cash and I had a lot in common. Both of us worked in radio in the United States Air Force. Staff Sargeant Cash was a radio operator (listening for signals from the Iron Curtain). I repaired the equipment. Cash wrote "Folsom Prison Blues" stationed in Germany. I played it on the radio. Cash worked on the GM assembly line in Pontiac where I years later owned the country music nightclub. He told me that it was on Widetrack Drive where he got the idea for the song "One Piece at a time." Like Walt Disney, bankruptcy taught Johnny Cash and me lessons. Unlike Cash, Walt, me and Ricky never took drugs.
The Fem Forum was a simple idea -- women tattling on men, and a monster of a hit because it was hyper-local and full of surprises. On the days I'd call in sick WDEE would air "The Best of the Fem Forum" and I'd drive around to see who was tuned in. Anyone listening to The Big D turned it up loud. And I mean LOUD!!!! You could hear it boom boxing everywhere -- car radios, construction sites, news stands, parks, beaches, state hospitals. Listeners never knew if a caller would be talking about them, a friend, a local celebrity, the gas man or a neighbor (entertaining the gas man) down the street. It was a most ingenious piece of broadcasting -- behind American Idol of course.
Not everybody liked the Fem Forum, including many of my radio peers and liberal feminist Gloria Steinem who could write mean letters. WDEE's management loved the attention. Newspaper articles, pro and con, helped keep the show on top for 10 years (word of mouth pushed it along 5 years longer than anyone had calculated). I learned an important lesson from Deano: "it doesn't matter what people say about you as long as they get your name right" Sponsors paid top dollar and Fem Forum was always sold out. Everybody wanted a piece of the action. For a short time I worked for the Harlem Globetrotters. Fem Forum survived several ownership changes until religious broadcasters finally bought WDEE and brought the wrath of the almighty (accountants) down on us -- they said I made too much.
The Fem Forum remained the highest rated radio program in the middle of the day in Detroit until the plug was pulled in 1980. Another country station, WWWW wanted to resurrect it a year later and I respectfully declined. I've never been comfortable living in the past. I remember telling die-hard country music fans who didn't like "today's sound" that "country music is just as much about about real life as it always has been -- but sounds better technically -- I'd bet if Hank Williams were alive today he'd love the new music and wear an earring."
Getting that first radio job in Detroit was not easy --Paul Purtan from WSAI Cincinnati and I, working at WOHO in Toledo at the time, applied for the 10PM to 2AM opening at WKNR Keener 13. I was taller and could wire a house but the mustached man from Cincinnati was better prepared for major market radio. College educated Paul became a Dick and the rest is Detroit radio history. A few years later I accepted a job offer at the Big 8, CKLW. CK was a monster in the midwest and I was excited about the idea of moving. Unfortunately, Lew Dickey (the CEO and chief bean counter at Cumulus) who was at the time the owner and manager of his first radio station, WOHO ( although he said he would not stop me "I know how much you want to be in Detroit," said Lew) secretly called his network of friends who in turn reached their friends at CKLW who withdrew the offer. I felt like the last prisoner of the Toledo War. Incidentally, it was I who first called Lew "Tricky Dickey. " Balls to the wall deceit and silver spoon nepotism runs blood red in the Dickey family. The young son and CEO of the Cumulus Broadcasting Company (owner of hundreds of radio stations), Lew Dickey Junior, fired Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the same day in the summer of 2013. As it turned out, before the actual termination, Rush had the better hand and negotiated a new deal. But I'd bet a buck Baby Huey (Trickey Jr) yanked-it with a shmile for having announced Limbaugh's firing.
It took another year before I could bust out of Toledo. Detroit called again. This time it was WJBK Radio 15, the station I'd grown up listening to, and I didn't tell anybody that I was leaving. With lights flashing, guns bursting from the guard towers, I ran for the border. Although I had record high ratings in Ohio ("round on the ends hi in the middle") and my son (the real Tom Dean) was born there, I do not have fond memories of Toledo. NW Ohio is too flat for me...and Klinger wore dresses.
Fast forward 10 years...after Big D was sold, I moved on. Dick Kernan at the Specs Howard School of Broadcasting asked if I'd be interested in teaching. I thanked him for the offer, but respectfully declined. "Teaching new comers my bad habits would come back to haunt me," I told him. Meanwhile, Big Jim Edwards, who'd made a name for himself at the Big 8 CKLW and who had competed against me in Toledo, got the job as program manager of WXYZ, an ABC owned and operated station. Big Jim hired me to help in their transition from music to music/talk at WXYZ (I had no idea the station would be going 100% talk a year later). Thanks for severance clauses as this city-slicker-turned-hayseed ended up on the wrong side of the tracks in that move. Incidentally, WXYZ was the second time Big Jim forgot to tell me something. The first I was on the air in Toledo at WOHO, which had windows to the outside so that listeners could look in. One night this guy knocks on the glass holding a sign "I'm a disc jockey passing through town" and asked to be let in for the nickel quick tour. I wouldn't do it today, but back then said "yes" and proudly blabbed the operation and Dickey's future plans to take over the world. The faker turned out to be Big Jim Edwards who was moving to Toledo to become my nightime competition at the new rock n' roll station in town....incidentally, imposters have never beaten me in the ratings. Pinocchio moved to CKLW a year later. LOL (we're friends today)
WXYZ was a hornet's nest and I wasn't the only one uncomfortable with the station dropping music in favor of wall-to-wall issues-oriented talk. Radio Hall of fame's Dick Purtan needed music between his phone calls, too. He's retired now, but most of the elements you heard on Dick's morning show were edited for timing the day before. Like Seinfeld, Purtan left nothing to chance. Dick and his team spent endless hours fine tuning every bit, word, sentence, grunt. Detroit's radio pope made millions doing simple homework. Donald Trump is a billionaire for the same reason. Trump is prepared to counter any objection before he ever lets you know he's interested in buying your property. Following Dick Purtan taught Tom Dean the three biggest lessons in broadcasting: "PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE"
My Detroit midday show followed Purtan twice, first at WXYZ and three years later at WCZY. Dick could not relate to the audiences I attracted. He had to sit in for me once when my Jeep broke down and moved to Canada shortly after. BTW I got an ass reaming for that -- "why in the hell do you drive an old Jeep??" -- asked Big Jim. Dick made poking fun at "the Motown hillbilly" one of his bits for sometime after I left the air. It was an honor having worked for ABC and roasted by a national broadcast hall of fame disc jockey. The smoke settled and I could see that Dick Purtan was among the most professional at what he did. Radio could be an incredible source of entertainment still if every disc jockey worked half as hard as Dick Purtan. Techology wouldn't stand a chance against entertaining hyper-local personalities. Ageless Gary Burbank type personalities forced into unwanted retirement is a crying shame!
Water and Oil -- I simply "did not belong" (to quote Judge Smails of Bushwood Country Club). WXYZ was known for giving birth to famous stars, 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace and The Lone Ranger among them. When we took a vacation our replacements would be celebrities like the Mayor of Detroit, Bozo, George Hamilton, Soupy Sales. In the week he sat in for us, I got to know a terrific guy, Ted Knight. Ye-e-e-s ...THAT Ted Knight!!! He was a hoot. Knight didn't take the work he did, or the character he played, too seriously. In reality Ted "Baxter" Knight was the kind of a guy you'd like to have next door when you needed a lawnmower. I can watch any good comedy repeatedly, but Caddyshack is my all time favorite. He filmed that movie right before we worked together and told me "watch for Lacy Underalls."
"Professionalism," "quality" and "image" were more than flashy public relations spin at ABC. My midday show on WXYZ for the year it lasted enjoyed the best hands down producer in talk radio, an African-American. Jack Springer produced the long running David Newman Show and maintained a phone book full of home numbers of movie stars, leaders of industry, presidents. I learned the basics of being a serious broadcaster from Mister Springer.
WXYZ attracted educated people ("and a few narcissists," said experts) who knew how to take advantage of WXYZ's prestigious airwaves to promote themselves. Dr. Sonya Friedman PHD, who appeared as "Sonya Live" nationally on CNN television, followed my show. Sonja and I used the same WXYZ studio, which allowed her sheepskin to toy with my Mumbai brain on the air during shift changes. On purpose she'd make me look stupid. Listeners were in awe of Sonya, but those of us working in the trenches were not. The out-of-touch doctor tossed mink coats on desks in front of the secretaries. There were the makings of a cat fight and at least one of us kept an ear on the john door whenever "Elvis" was in the building. She once invited me to her home for a party. I wish now I'd gone to count the coats. WXYZ's "Ask the Attorney" Larry Korn and I became good friends. Larry helped sever my liquor license ties to the Wide Track Inn, and put a stop to a five million dollar lawsuit. His father, Monty, specialized in disc jockey divorce law.
Fred Wolf, Mickey Shore, Dick Purtan and Lee Allen -- some of the biggest names in radio -- worked at WXYZ at one time or another. Lee gave MoTown, Berry Gordy Jr. and Stevie Wonder their start. Lee Allen and Tom Clay were the influences for me becoming a disk jockey. WXYZ changed format several times through the years and was eventually sold. It is known today as WXYT, an all sports station. Incidentally, I now own the letters. The web or email name WXYZ.NET is for sale.
"Things change, time to move on"
After WXYZ I moved to WOMC-FM, back to being a full time disc jockey again. Playing to a music audience is what I do best. Although Adult Contemporary was a new format for me, I clicked with both male and female listeners. It took only a year to build up the WOMC midday audience, which helped me to negotiate a better deal at Gannett's (USA Today) WCZY**. The bigger salary came back to haunt me when Dick Purtan was lured away from CKLW-AM to join us at WCZY-FM. Unfortunately, his AM audience didn't follow him to FM right away, and certainly not soon enough to suit Gannett (newspaper people are impatient, deadline oriented). Dick cost more than the entire rest of the WCZY staff put together, and signs no cut contracts, which was a drain on the budget. Dick learned that trick in Maryland. As good as Purtan was he was canned soon after being hired at the Baltimore radio station. It happens, it's radio.
Gannett was forced to cut staff to pay Purtan's salary and the enormous costs of promoting him -- Purtan's picture was on every bus side (inside and out), taxi cabs, TV, magazines, postcards, billboards, newspapers, etc. But nothing seemed to work at least not right away. Arbitron radio ratings can be slow coming and more than a few managers don't have patience and will change format immediately following a bad book. My $20,000 severance payment became a joke around WCZY. Jim Mulla did not pay me in one lump sum. And instead of mailing it Jim tried to force me to come back every payday and wait in the lobby for hours for the money. Larry Korn put a stop to that nonsense. Apparently not knowing how to hire qualified managers, Gannett disposed of the last of their radio stations by 1997. Another struggling AC station, WCLS (the old WABX), was my next stop. A few months later WCLS was sold to a pharmacist. Not surprisingly, pharmacists know nothing about radio programming or staffing a station. He hired a prima donna to run it. That mistake cost the druggist a pile of dough -- history shows that 99.5 FM was sold again and again and again to low ball buyers who also failed to do their homework. Life is all about luck and I'd lost the handle on my four leaf clover.
Through the years and a variety of formats Arbitron says listeners like the way I do radio shows. Just as I was influenced, I've been told my radio style has also influenced a few jocks -- not always successfully. Rich Fisher, a Detroit television news anchor, tells the story of how he was fired trying to copy bits "Tom Dean did on the air" when he started in radio. At a cocktail party, Henry Ford II repeated something about cheating on your wife I'd said on the air months earlier. Jacqui, a psychic who appeared with me on WXYZ, was a close friend of Ford's wife Kathryn Duross. She said she knew why Ford listened to me: "Henry called me all the time looking for Kathy, he didn't trust her." Henry The Deuce, with all his millions, had %$#@ stains same as you and I.
Another regular caller, although I didn't believe her at the time, said she was Stevie Wonder's girlfriend and that Stevie was jealous she called me. Stevie Wonder picked my voice out of a crowd years later. The first time, standing at side-by-side urinals at the Hyatt Regency...next to me was Stevie Wonder and his handler... "Hey Stevie, remember me...Tom Dean?" Instantly he replies: "WJBK. Radio 15, right??" Little Stevie Wonder's song " Part Time Lover" is where I came up with the idea for "Part Time Tom" when I went back on the air in northern Michigan. I'd actually met Stevie Wonder years earlier when I was a jock in Toledo hired to host his show. Stevie knew I was the only white guy in the building and told his security people to "babysit Mr Dean" backstage. The Detroit girl, the phone, the jealousy, that occurred 3 years later.
Hank The Deuce hooked up with Kathryn Duross at an auto show. She was a model, also from the other side of the tracks. Both she and I graduated from predominantly black tech schools in downtown Detroit. I lived in a suburb 15 miles west and rode to school with my buddy Dean Kolden and his dad who was a teacher at Wilbur Wright Technical High School. I selected Wright to learn the electrical trade for two reasons: 1) because Dean's dad would give us a ride to school everyday, and 2) his dad, being a teacher there, would make school a breeze. Oops. Whenever I was late showing up for the ride, even only by two seconds, he'd take off forcing me to ride the city bus. It was a two mile walk to the bus stop. Word of caution -- never ride with a kid whose father is a teacher or you may not get to school 'til after lunch. Kathryn Duross went to Cass Tech to learn how to marry. Incidentally, Dean Kolden and I were best of friends, had similar senses of humor. I respected his family, his life, and Dean's disciplined way of doing things -- lift weights, build furniture, go to college, play a trombone, ski, dance -- he attracted women like crazy. I used my friend's name on the radio out of respect for that.
After high school graduation I was nominated to the US Air Force Academy by Congresswoman Martha Griffiths. Flat feet kept me out of the academy, so I enlisted. Near the end of my 4 year tour of duty the FAA offered me a job fixing radar, but I opted instead to become a radio DJ making 65 bucks a week in Sturgis, Michigan. God's watching...let me take the spin off that...I also flunked the entrance exam. Lesson #1 (repeated): Do your homework.
Broadcasting was also a serious business -- Because I also have an FAA commercial pilot's license I was asked by Craig Smith, a listener and friend from my WXYZ days, if I wanted to report traffic tie-ups for McMahon Helicopters. Craig became part of the news in July 2007when two news choppers collided mid air covering a car chase in Phoenix: official NTSB results of the investigation. The cockpit of a traffic reporting aircraft is a seriously busy place -- in my aircraft I would monitor and talk on several channels (ATC, police radio, our ground base, radio stations, other aircraft) all at the same time. To save space and cut costs competing radio-TV stations use the same announcers. McMahon's Jet Ranger, as an example, carried 3 announcers using 4 names on 5 different stations. Downsizing is happening not only to auto workers and Meijer cashiers. Melissa and I have a wedding gift, an anniversary clock in our living room, which Craig gave us. He loved our West Highland White Terriers so much so that he bought one for himself. He took Molly along on his flights: "Wanna go for a ride in the chopper," he'd ask. For some reason that we do not know, Molly was not aboard the final flight that you see pictured. Craig reported for channel 7 in Detroit. I flew for CBS News Radio 950 WWJ.
Being a DJ was fun, but nuts -- I helped WOWF (the old WABX, WCLS, WDTX) with still another format change in the mid 90's. "WOW-FM" became WYCD "Young Country" the 2nd in-your-face country music rebel in my life. I called it the Beavis and Butthead format. With nowhere to go but up in the ratings, to draw attention to ourselves, WYCD management encouraged disc jockeys to make fun of the competition. Easy to do, nobody's perfect. W4 had become what you call fat, dumb and happy and couldn't retaliate. Being #1 they had more to lose had they tried. Young Country disc jockeys would say things you wouldn't normally hear on the radio: "Joe Wade (morning jock competition at W4) didn't tell the truth yesterday when he said..." People tuned in just to see how far we'd go. Joe Wade was fired. Incidentally, the manager that encouraged us to do that (attack our competition on the air) later, when things heated up, denied ever approving it. Obama is not the biggest liar in the world.
"Theatre-of-the mind, radio is like a costume party
Young Country was ruthless but it worked and became the top country station within a few short months. WYCD's domination in the market continues today (). Doctor Don (nominated twice for the CMA Major Market Radio Personality of the year award), with his magnetic personality that every disc jockey would like to have, gets Detroiters up every morning on 99.5 FM. In the Arbitron, Dick Purtan (WOMC) and Doctor Don (WYCD) were often #1 and #2 in the Detroit market.
Catch them while you can asthe business is not what it once was. Many talented broadcast friends have been trashed, and the list is unforgiveable -- Ernie Harwell WJR, Alan Almond and Dave Lochart WNIC, Jyl Forsyth WYCD, Arthur Penhallow WRIF, Gary Burbank WLW Cincinnati, Joey Reynolds WCBS New York. Incidentally, Gary Burbank did not "retire" as was claimed by Clear Channel. Same with Arthur P. Those two, like Ernie Harwell, lo-o-o-o-ng ago, earned dignified retirements and at a time of their choosing. Arthur "B-A-B-Y" Penhallow had been with "The RIF" for 39 years and still has a huge following today on Facebook.
Veterans know what works, that local people have never been more important to what broadcasters do. Everybody has something to say that's worth hearing -- checkout Facebook or Twitter for evidence of that. Personal experiences, local sports, activities, gossip and happenings are the ammunition that will keep local media on top and worth coming back to. Every media source is looking for ways to get more input from their audience. Those that don't are falling by the wayside -- The Ann Arbor News closed it's doors in 2009. The Boston Globe and Washington Post sold for half price in 2013. Newspaper writers and other content providers are combining forces, partnering in the new media -- the internet -- in exciting new ways. Because of my love for electronics tinkering, the changing technology is thrilling for me to be a part of. But we have to be careful -- I have a love-hate relationship with the internet -- the same computer screen that can save our life is also desensitizing our children. Even Bill Gates grew tired of it, giving up Microsoft, he's turned his attention to family and, of course, that pile of money you and I gave him.
Some of the nation's all time best disc jockeys influenced me -- Dick Biondi and John Landecker WLS Chicago, Cousin Brucie WABC New York, the Hoss Man WLAC in Nashville, Wolfman Jack in Los Angeles (tapes were sent across the border to stations in Mexico and transmitted back to the US at 5 times the legal power allowed in the US) and Tom Clay (pictured left). Tom was a super star to Detroit radio fans -- but not to station management -- I ended up being his official biggest fan. I took over the same time period, same station (WJBK), that Clay appeared on when I was growing up. I never met him, but I did talk to him once. He called me one night I was on the air and said: "you're doing a great job (pause) Tom." I was embarrassed. Tom Clay knew that I had taken not only his show but also his two-syllable name. Tom Clay couldn't get a good job anymore because he had been fired from WJBK in the payola scandal. This is the only recording I have of Tom Clay's voice -- it appears in the middle of his hit "What the world needs now is love" released in 1970...
Knowing what I know today, I would not have agreed to do The Fem Forum -- angry and disturbed listeners attacked my family. Technology is allowing the worldwide poor to see the seedy side of an open society. The visual media (satellite, TV, internet) makes it easy for our enemies to show and tell their children about America's greed, corruption. Seeing "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," 3rd world folks are made to believe that you and I are swimming in money and filthy in our morals. The Fem Forum put a hurt on my long term Detroit disc jockey aspirations. I was type cast, but I wouldn't leave southeast Michigan. Divorced, I stayed to be near Tom and Diana while they were growing up. Looking back, I wonder how far I might have gone had I taken one of those WHN, WMCA (New York) offers.
Best of the Best - In the sea of dying radio stations, there remain only a handful of pioneers. Saul Levine stands alone as the longest continuing owner/operator of a major market radio station in the United States, perhaps in the world. Levine put KBCA radio on the air in February 1959 -- the same year I got my first on air job -- and he renamed the station KKGO in 1979. Levine remains it's only owner. He changed format only three times during all those years -- jazz 29 years, classical 19 years, and now country. I like that kind of stability.
Big City, Red Eye Traffic Reporter -- Being a radio personality in a major market often meant personal appearances hundreds of miles apart (our signal reached 1,000 miles into Canada) and one or two changes of clothes a day. Being a commercial pilot gave me advantages and perspectives few people see. I could fly from a small airport near my house to personal appearances hundreds of miles away. On the downside, seeing rush hour traffic tie-ups from the air I could also see the insanity of the world we live in.
The metro Detroit area has 1,000 square miles. East-siders work on the west side. West-siders work on the east. Think about that. The money spent on an average Detroit commute (53 miles) is not staying in Michigan to help build a stronger America. It's going to another part of the world, which is using it to exterminate us.
Our emissions are impacting the atmosphere. Ask any pilot to describe the air big city dwellers breathe. As a pilot-reporter who flew 6 hours a day over the motor city, I can tell you the air blanketing southern Michigan is reddish-orange and hundreds of feet thick from the ground up -- which causes heart attacks -- you don't see that problem in northern Michigan. Being centrally located in Michigan made sense for our statewide real estate, aerial photography and internet related businesses.
The ever changing world is causing otherwise intelligent people to lose their minds. After WJR fired living-legend Detroit Tiger baseball announcer Ernie Harwell I took a hard look at Detroit. Signs of rotting were everywhere, and not just in thousands of old homes and skyscrapers. After the Fords shitcanned Pontiac, wasting untold millions of dollars (building and playing in the Silverdome less than 30 years was thought up by the same NFL owner who has not a clue how to win a Superbowl), Melissa and I had had enough and opted for a better idea, a more stable way of life...
Click this photo to see how I was no longer restricted by a handful of privileged people.
"Traverse City is Michigan's best kept secret. Instead of crime, Melissa and I watch giant moths and elk horns grow (the one on her hand I'm breeding as a drone) ...the food here is really that good!"
I've made a few good decisions in my life and asking Melissa Jean to marry me tops the list. We give each other balance. I'm creative but hyper, Melissa puts others before herself. My wife is loving, patient and kind. There is not a mean thought in her, and she rarely raises her voice. Anyone liking what I did on the air needs to thank the good looking gal with the twin Westies. Melissa kept my shows tight, bright, up to date. It was her idea that we move to northern Michigan. I had no intention of going back on the air. I'm both glad and not that I did.
Melissa and I moved north for the laid back feeling and security, environment and beauty. I'm Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" with the flux capacitor set to 1962. Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes reminds us of all the great beaches we've ever visited rolled into one. Standing waist deep in crystal clear Lake Michigan, looking up and down the sugar sand shoreline as far as I can see, there are no houses, no hotels, no crabs, no coral, no seaweed, no hurricanes, tsunamis or sting rays, no sharks, surfers or salt water. Best of all the dunes are owned by taxpayers, not a few privileged people, which means we have-nots will always have access to the safest and most pleasant beaches in the world.
As I grow older I realize what was missed not having studied. Not going to college haunts me and I am still trying to make up for it. I am tirelessly curious and surprise myself how easy it is to learn anything I put my mind to. Working only a few hours a day for years on the radio gave me time to learn a lot of things. I took advantage of that by going to schools to become a commercial pilot, computer programmer, webmaster, graphics designer, professional photographer and Michigan licensed real estate broker. Over the years I have been asked to mentor mass communication students in colleges and other schools. It is an honor and pleasure to be able to guide them.
My businesses are interconnected -- Being on the radio and on top of the changing technology keeps me in front of the public and on a creative track. Much of what you see and hear on the air originates from my home studio.
Since owning that triple black '59 Corvette and walking around inside a top secret Air Force computer, I've also become a web site consultant. And the market for that kind of work is huge. It's not uncommon to find thousands of dollars in time and money wasted on web pages which are technologically outdated the day they're activated. Many people who own web sites don't understand that the internet is all about change, and that "change" is what keeps people coming back to your site. An outdated web site does exactly the opposite and advertises the wrong message about how you run your business. And you'd better believe that your competition is showing potential customers your web site. Web pages must be easily able to keep up with the dynamics of the web. History proves that otherwise well funded IT companies bellied up with the "dot com" failures of the 90's simply because the right hand didn't know what the left was doing. Technologically lacking investors did not know how to do the job themselves. They entrusted people who knew everything about computers but had never heard of "business plans." Anti-social computer geeks were given billions of dollars to register domain names and build web sites that made sense only to them, and only for a short time. Incidentally, I have nightmares to this day about selling the vette.
I came up with the idea of aerial photography of neighborhoods and homes in 1986. As a real estate tool, Realtors use aerials to draw attention to their listings -- show shore and property lines, well, septic, out buildings, neighboring properties, roads, parks. I've sold my aerial photo & video services to Realtors and businesses for decades. Thousands of have been mailed over the years to owners whose homes or businesses were pictured. Postcards are effective marketing tools -- homeowners won't throw away a free aerial view of their home or neighborhood. realtors have spotted their personal marketing postcards hanging on refrigerator doors in years later. Tom Dean "aerial" creations are also developing historical values like this
AirSho.com came about after our mid 1990's vacation in Traverse City. AirSho.com became the internet home to 100's of top agents representing a variety of real estate companies in Michigan. Realtors and other businesses used our databases, newsletters, photography, slide shows, animations and expanding technologies for their multi-media presentations and web pages. Technology is constantly changing. If you're a business owner, or freelance talent looking for work, click the AirSho logo to see what's new. I find technology today makes things easier -- PHP, CSS, HTML5, MYSQL -- to create web and mobile applications, which allows me more time to spend on things important to the end user -- content! Yes, just like in the beginning, I am a one man band (to save you money).
PodSho.com was an idea that came about because AirSho had ranked among the first "podcast" producers as early as 1996. From PC Webster's "60 second Techs-on-Tape" to a variety of voices for any web, wireless application, social media or multi-media project call me at 1-888-TOM-DEAN
Aerial Photography has been a growing business for me and involves a fair amount of travel. I'm called upon by a variety of customers -- business, institutions, government, developers, real estate offices, agents and home sellers. Being centrally located in the state cuts down on travel time and allows me to be in the air and on the air ("podcasting" from my studio) in the same day.
Voted "One of the 30 best places
to live in America," The Traverse City
Record Eagle prints
letters from people who've moved away to find jobs and wish they could move
relatively few exceptions, you can walk city streets anytime of the day or night
without a worry. The environment is healthy. Henry Ford
said it best: "We've got the water." In fact, Michigan is surrounded by
fresh potable (drinkable) water. My real estate continuing ed
classes focus on the problem the world will have as populations grow, as water
supplies diminish. Life giving water will become more valuable than
oil. The loss of water will decimate property
values. Dry land could be worth only one-tenth of irrigated property, making
farmers' land both unproductive and almost
worthless. In fact, it's worse than that. Google it: water problems in America If you have known ("water is becoming scarce") water problems in your area but don't disclose it to someone who buys your home you will very likely be sued for damages and cost of litigation.
body weight is 60% water, but only 1% of the water in the world is drinkable.
Once the word gets out everybody will want a piece of the Great Lakes.
Wars over water are today being fought by a growing number of third world
countries. As the population of Las Vegas continues to explode their options
for water decreases. Survival tip #5: "Move to the Great Lakes
while you still can, while prices are low"
Our body weight is 60% water, but only 1% of the water in the world is drinkable. Once the word gets out everybody will want a piece of the Great Lakes. Wars over water are today being fought by a growing number of third world countries. As the population of Las Vegas continues to explode their options for water decreases. Survival tip #5: "Move to the Great Lakes while you still can, while prices are low"
No matter how bad the economy may be elsewhere, waterfront land generally does well. When home values in Detroit dropped Traverse City's went up. Summer thongs make northern Michigan winters bearable. Movie stars are my neighbors here...Tom Selleck, Demi and Michael Moore...who knows who'll meet on a beach and fall in love!? (a bit). Madonna signs full or empty wine bottles at her parents' Ciccone vineyards. Real Estate Tip #1: "Location, Location, Location"
I enjoy helping people -- A licensed real estate agent since 1983, and a broker since 1989, seeing how complicated real estate has become (environmental problems, housing price bubbles, etc) I take pride knowing that I have the experience and knowledge that helps keep people out of trouble. I'm responsible for guiding more than a few to profitable investments. Real Estate Buyer Tip #23: "The best listings sell before a sign goes in the ground, stop avoiding Realtors!"
Radio listeners are fun to work with -- Take Nellie Friedman, as an example -- Ms. Friedman wanted to look out the window of my airplane at the 80 acres she was thinking of splitting. Nellie loved the experience so much that she signed up for flying lessons. She looked much younger, but at the time of her first flight the woman was 85 years old.
Radio gets in your blood - For the benefit of any veteran thinking of going back (to small market radio) and taking it easy, I'd do a background check on the stripes running it if I were you. I didn't and the reasons I wouldn't work anywhere again without a contract are detailed in my book: "From A King To A Jack" The following is an excerpt.
The Death of Legends - by Tom Dean
"Broadcasters by design are in the public eye. My last days on the air were a matter of record for anyone who wanted to take notice. Let me untangle the black widow spin reportedly told to TD followers.
During 30 years on the air I worked for some of the best minds in the radio business -- Joe Conway, John Mazer, Elaine Baker, John Grubbs, Marcia Jablonski and Chuck Fritz to name a few. Without the mentoring of those inspiring leaders I might not have succeeded in radio, as years later (without qualified leadership) proved. Elvis would have been nothing without the colonel. The experiences with these professionals made it easy to spot the degradation of today's broadcast industry, which by 2009 had caused 260 radio stations to shut down. New technology, starting with the internet, has increasingly taken advertising dollars away from traditional media -- newspapers, radio and TV. The resultant cost-cutting is ravenous on and off the air. Because they can't get the amount of money they once did for commercials, desperate stations are now doing what Jerry Del Colliano calls "Monster spot breaks" -- that is, 35 commercials in a row!!! A-dollar-a-holler can't be far off.
Those still employed are doing triple duty. Automation isn't any better and, being in the public eye, the mistakes it causes are obvious and costly. Our northern Michigan Rush Limbaugh station ("Your 50 thousand watt blow torch of the north") will air the wrong (yesterday's) news and weather or be off the air for hours, or worse, turn on 2 or 3 elements (commercials, music/talk, promos, weather) over the top of one another, yes, all at the exact same time. Imagine being a potential sponsor hearing commercials aired in such an amateurish manner. Pity the advertising sales people who have to peddle this slop. Disintegration of the media is happening bottom to top. Even networks suffer at the hands of lunacy, liars, inexperience or an out of control staff -- NBC News' repeated decisions to air unverified or purposely distorted news reports is an example.
The adorable "journalist" pictured above wasn't hired for a prime cable news show because she was best qualified for the job. Nepotism reigns supreme. Mika Brzezinski is the daughter of Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. How did this happen? Celebrated talents have been replaced with inexpensive wannabes and tripes like Mika. There are countless gifted well-known and loved local broadcast personalities walking the streets across America -- Gary Burbank WLW Cincinnati, Joey Reynolds WCBS New York, Nick Arama WOMC (who killed himself after being fired in the parking lot) and Arthur Penhallow WRIF Detroit top my personal favorites list. They're gone from the air. Even Jay Leno, after agreeing to take a huge pay cut while dominating late night ratings, was fired. Half the tonight show staff eliminated. NBC's choice for replacements are less credible than fill-in referees of the NFL. Turn on MSNBC anytime of the day for evidence of the insanity. Rachel "Smirk" Maddow, PHD, is a good example. The faux doctor has single-handedly done more to damage the reputation of "NBC News" than any other apple in their barrel. On and off the air stupidity is rampant -- taking sides politically has destroyed the broadcast industry. "Meet the Press" the longest running show on NBC, after decades of being #1, today is in a tie for dead last. NBC continues to show it's top down stupidity -- divorcing itself from the MSNBC on the internet but not removing their name. Hello. Anybody home??
Jerry Del Colliano's Inside Music Media provides daily updates on the subject "downsizing the dumbing media". The following is my personal accounting (diary: who, what, why) of how it happened to and effected me.
I'd pretty much given up radio by 2004 and moved to Traverse City for R & R & R. But soon after arriving I discovered "the longest running farm show in Michigan." Healthy as a horse Merlin Dumbrille (rode a bicycle to work) was still on the air, on the same station, after more than 50 years. I'd never heard of such a thing, and had to experience that kind of stability (I long ago learned the first rule in business is to associate with winners and in this case Midwestern Broadcasting owned it and 7 other radio stations), couldn't stop myself and went back on the air as "Part time Tom" playing country music again on WTCM-FM. It fit nicely with another plan -- to broadcast on the internet -- which I sensed would be a tough go in a market the size of Traverse City as the guy who hired me didn't understand the coming technology. He said he tried to register the domain name WTCM.COM "but missed it by two weeks"....he'd actually missed it by eight (8) years. Why did disc jockey Jack O'Malley feel the need to lie on the day he hired me?
WTCM-FM was fun -- albeit only one or two days month in the beginning -- but ended up an expensive lesson.
Most DJ's get into the public eye/ear business for the strokes we didn't get growing up. Soon after hiring me, insecurity raised it's head, I was toyed with like a cat by the morning DJ slash operations manager at WTCM AM & FM. His bullying manifested in sarcasm, innuendo, sabotage, exclusion, criticism, overloading, discrimination and began a few weeks after I joined the station -- Jack O'Malley called my home asking: "what happened to the microphone missing from studio A?" Turns out the mic never was missing. I was not invited to staff meetings, and frequently reminded: "you're not a regular here". It took more than a year (and the owner) for me to be welcomed. Sort of. O'Malley says to us (and the consultant on the speaker phone) in my first staff meeting "Tom probably forgot he took the Ray Stevens CD." O'Malley did stuff like that routinely, talked behind their back about personal issues (drinking, etc) that other staff members had or were suspected of having. "That's goddamned illegal," as Reverend Wright of Chicago might say. I didn't catch on to the bullying targeted at me right away until symptoms of what doctors labeled extreme insecurity or narcissism were confirmed by staff members (past and present) explaining their comparable experiences with him. "The threat you represent is the reason O'Malley won't use you on the air." A girls softball coach who worked with O'Malley remembered odd personality characteristics. Friend's of his ex-wife told of grandiose street signs in his sub marking the route to their home -- "Jack's Trail" and "O'Malley Drive".
I remembered seeing narcissism in Detroit, but this was different. Not only was he never professionally trained for management, like Barack Obama, Jack O'Malley was to me an incompetent liar. Frankly, I thought he was nuts. Did the company feel the same? A year after I was hired, out of nowhere, the owner gave me full time hours and company paid health benefits. I was informed of the upgrade in my part-time employment not by O'Malley but by the payroll secretary. No matter how hard I tried to convince him otherwise, Jack refused to believe that I had not gone over his head. It made me wonder what he'd done in the past to be so notably excluded from the company chain of command.
Merlin, the 50 year veteran, once told me: "I'm glad you chose to work at WTCM...you've raised the bar." "The station is lucky to have you" said Midwestern's consultant more than once. I received similar comments from the owner and his son, sales people, engineers, Ron Jolley, Norm Jones, Steve Cook, Mike Paulin, John Dew, Charlie D, Michael O'Shea, #1 TV weatherman Greg MacMaster, #1 TV news anchor Diana Fairbanks and other local celebrities. "You sound like you were born in this studio" said Colleen Wares (one of O'Malley's morning sidekicks) ...even the dogman almost liked me. It's nice to hear things like that, especially from veteran peers, but I wasn't surprised. All those competitive years in Detroit, and TV's "Seinfeld," were where I learned the importance of preparing for shows. My wife understood my decision for doing it (for such low pay) because of the potential worldwide audience on the internet. I'd spend as many hours off the air writing and preparing for my Traverse City shows as I did on the air delivering them in Detroit. It was obvious (I was reminded by listeners and advertisers) that only one or two others in the company prepared like that. Unfortunately, the result of my instinctive radio work habits put me in a catch 22 -- not sure why I was singled out...you know how dogs smell your butt and growl? -- well the harder I worked the more toothy this one got. I tried dumbing down but the "get rid of Tom Dean" snowballs started down the hill in the first weeks of my employment.
How unqualified, in my professional opinion, to manage people and technology is Jack O'Malley? 1) It took him five and a half years to figure out how to get rid of me. 2) I told Jack he needed to own the internet domain name "jackomalley.com" so that his competition didn't beat him to it. "If Jack O'Malley doesn't think up an idea, it's a bad idea...Jack listens to nobody" I was told by members of the staff. So, in an attempt to earn his trust and love, I gave it to him as a gift -- he thanked me, said he knew the importance of renewing it annually. Oops. Oops. Jack failed to renew the $10 registration. So, after the 2 year grace period following his ignoring of the renewal reminders, the name again became available to anybody who wanted it for $10. They have become valuable those "dot coms" have ...so, after I was fired, I registered it again. Bidding starts at $100,000 for all you JackOmalley.com fans out there. Who knows, maybe we'll keep it and start a "disgruntled employees" fan club...or negotiate to be the autonomous boss producer of Traverse City's new wake up service "Jacko The Morning Ripper" ...with a 90 day trial period for Jacko of course.
Jack controlled only two of the six Midwestern Broadcasting Company radio stations -- WTCM AM & FM -- which is why I was approached directly by John Dew, a family member, who managed 92.9 The Breeze. John had experience managing stations and personalities in several large markets including Detroit where he produced the super successful Lee Allen Show. John asked more than once that I help him with that struggling station (6 format changes in 6 years, no budget, no advertising). It went against everything I knew about "sticking with winners", but things had gotten so depressing on the O'Malley side that I finally accepted John's offer just to keep my sanity and skills up. It was the difference between night and day. On the Breeze I was treated with respect and encouraged. Tom Dean never sounded better. Voice-tracking (recording the Breeze shows) allowed me to fine-tune bits & banter to perfection. It also let me continue doing my "live and local" WTCM-FM Sunday afternoon show at the exact same time (WTCM-FM was the long-time #1 station in the market). Adjacent to myself on the dial (the stations were side by side, 92.9 and 93.5), the insecurity of the O'Malignancy that was undermining me stood out like a sore thumb. During the 5 and a half years I worked there, if there was ever a promotion for or about anyone other than "Jack O'Malley" I can't think of it. It was obvious he feared manly competition. Managing a girls softball team, eh? There was never an "Assistant Operations Manager" named, is another example. Trying to be a one man band, spread so thin with competition heating up from every direction, and especially after Paul Harvey died, left superstar Jack O'Malley singing in the spotlight without a band or prepared script.
On 92.9 the Breeze, I felt like Secretariat given his head while dodging O'Malley's bully bullets on the WTCM-FM race track. Without a shred of advertising or other assistance from the company, and playing not-to-exciting "adult contemporary" music, I have copies of Arbitron ratings that show for the first time in it's history, 92.9 the Breeze topped every station in the market, including WTCM-FM, during my time period on Sunday. The ratings had apparently become so embarrassing of the O'Malley fall from the throne that somebody in the company decided to stop subscribing to the Arbitron Ratings Service to use as an advertising sales tool. I don't know how Houdini pulled that trick off but (and I've got to give Jack O'Malley an Obamanation Gold Star for this) he would ultimately succeed in making sure that Tom Dean's seed would never pullulate at Midwestern Broadcasting Company.
If it weren't so tragic it would be hilarious. Jack had to be getting zero Z's thinking up this stuff. As my following grew (to be the largest in the company on Facebook) obstacles increased in size being thrown under my wheels. O'Malley stopped at nothing trying to get me to quit -- ratcheting up when none of it worked -- like hiring known slackards (people he had previously fired) to follow me on duty who would routinely show up late. He purposely left the wrong disc jockey's name (instead of mine "now on the air") on the web site for months, 18 months to be exact. Anytime I mentioned it gave O'Malley a fit, so I ratcheted up the mentions. Sometimes his actions were dangerous to others on the staff -- like repeatedly ignoring my requests to fix the security system which kept the outside door locked on weekends when only one person was on duty. Not the smiling Jack we grew to love on the air, but the other Jack ("the ripper"), vandalized my computer files including listener phone calls, contest winner excitement and other bits I had edited/prepared for future shows. When that failed to start an argument, O'Malley cut my hourly rate 30% and months later cut my hours in half. One staff member, who was also a cop, made my studio a hangout on his days off...reminded me of the cop-bouncers I hired for "show" to keep trouble making toughs in line at our Pontiac bar. I'm tough, but not a match for "locals" intimidation like that.
The WTCM situation was not unlike those small towns you see where the sheriff jails "outsiders" and punches them in spots where it don't show. I thought professionalism would outlast the mistakes being made on and off the air. I was wrong. Dealing with the O'Malley situation was the creepiest thing I have ever encountered. After the 'TCM jobs ended I kept quiet about what had gone on there no more. My five and a half year gamble turned out (I kept a diary...26,000 words at last count) to be fodder for a few laughs about a not-so-typical disc jockey career.
Health has never been an issue in my family -- it's in our genes -- my 90 year old mother wants to go on Dancing With The Stars. Before WTCM I had only once stayed overnight in a hospital (kidney stone). But after my third trip to Munson Medical Center ER for stress, twice in one weekend, on the doctor's recommendation, I asked for a meeting with JO and his boss to detail the growing list of issues. The owner's step son's response? "Right or wrong, Jack is boss." Whoa. Instead of addressing loose-cannon middle manager issues looks like the cannon's blowing holes the top floor, too. More than one employee reported harassment and, I'm told, that similarly fell on deaf or dumb ears. I didn't quit for two reasons: 1) we moved to Travese City for the environment, not radio, and 2) because Jack O'Malley was on the way down -- and appeared to be losing it mentally -- his morning ratings had started their decline before I joined 'TCM in 2004 and had dropped to their lowest ever by the spring of 2010. Incompetent managers, like Obama, succeed only temporarily at covering up their failures. Look at "Arbitron" and Radio & Records ratings to see if "WTCM" continues to hide Jack O'malley from the grim reaper.
Jack O'Malley and Barack O'Bama could have been connected siameze liars if it weren't for the obvious -- both had daughters and both are unprepared for the work they do.
As large as my audiences were in Detroit, I was rarely recognized off the air. In northern Michigan, it was just the opposite -- my voice stood out...they'd say my name...Brown Lumber...The Concrete Company...Thirlbys...our bank...grocery store cashiers...waitresses...one couple overheard me ordering from a restaurant menu and said: "You're Tom Dean aren't you...how refreshing it is to hear a man talk so openly about his wife on the radio!" It would have been fun to see just how far that little Breeze engine could have gone, but the company changed the format repeatedly (6 times in 6 years). After his "retirement (from the payroll) party" of legend Merlin Dumbrille, Merlin still had a desk, computer and remained on the air. Radio no longer made any sense -- trashing legendary Merlin Dumbrille to prop up Jack O'Malley lameness was as eye-opening as WJR firing and rehiring Ernie Harwell on a whim, just plain crazy. Merlin reminded me of my cousin Rick. He won numerous state and local honors and didn't have an enemy in the world. "Michigan's longest running farm show" (Merlin) was quickly replaced as the company's key advertising moniker with "Michigan's longest running morning show" (Jack O'Malley). O'Malley did the same thing to Ryan Dobrey, the woman who hired him at WTCM -- he: 1) took over her boss job, and 2) patiently waited -- nearly 20 years -- to force her out of the company. Ryan fought hard ("screaming matches," I'm told) but lost.
"What happened to the stability?" I thought. The guillotine finally fell on my microphone five and a half years after I started at WTCM. I have to guess being a part timer with benefits was a luxury the company could no longer afford, and guess it took advertisers not paying their bills to enable O'Malley's dirty work. I say "guess" because O'Malley and company lawyers refuse to tell me why I was "let go". Jack has lied to fans who called the station asking about me, but has said nothing to my face or for the record. O'Malley and Obama would have worked well as a tag team had they not got caught.
It's no wonder broadcast stations managed so poorly are easily falling victim to competing -- "on demand" -- technology. I can laugh now, but will never forget what Googled doctors agree on: "Never work for a narcissist." I don't know if I feel sorrier for Jack's ex or next wife. Being in the public eye today the truth is no longer possible to hide. Court records on the internet revealed that after 25+/- years JoAnn O'Malley was also thrown out with the trash. O'Malley leaving JoAnne was the best thing that could have happened to her. Jack had kept her chained up out of his spotlight. A picture of JoAnn during the last years of her marriage to Jack was displayed on the internet. She looked old, tired, unstyled gray-hair, and no makeup. The picture of the first Mrs Jack O'Malley on her Facebook page today is an image of someone totally reborn, a lovely woman looking decades younger. Might be fun to ask JoAnne (or any of her friends) for their memory of that slice of her life. Message them on Facebook. She dumped his name. Look for JoAnne Porter.
How did the bullying I experienced differ from the locker room of the NFL? The Miami Dolphins bullying drew national attention, as well as action from the team's owner and NFL commissioner, which helped end it -- but it appears that this chapter of my life may not be finished.
In August of 2013, three years after Jack O'Malley helped put me in the hospital and end my career (desire to be on the air), his formerly "disgruntled" self moved to within a few blocks of my home. Why would any sound of mind executive knowingly relocate to within hollering distance of a former nemisis? The sneaky bullying behavior I reported years ago might now be confirmed. A week after he moved in to our neighborhood, a familiar black SUV ahead of me in the sub slowed to barely a crawl forcing me to do the same for some distance. Amazing how something so small could reveal so much. Today's automobile black box technology is more sophisticated than the microchip I embedded in my Unmanned Aerial Chopper (drone), which has logged its entire (second-by-second) flight history since I built it in 2011 tracking speed, acceleration, time/day, GPS position and hundreds of other tattle-tailing parameters.
Looks like it caught on that diary idea of mine."
By Tom Dean
"A Psychological Portrait" helped me understand why my presence was minimized at WTCM.