My "Radio 15" Minutes began in a garage in the late 50's in Brightmoor, a rundown Northwest Detroit neighborhood. It was at Redford High, in a hidden away attic, where my friends and I discovered how to reach ham radio operators worldwide, and the girls' locker room through the overhead ductwork ("boys will be boys," said Mitt Romney). A natural curiosity and hobby unintentionally morphed into a game of catch-me-if-you-can in the commercial broadcasting business. For three decades Dennis' alter ego rubbed elbows with the rich and famous in the nation's 5th largest radio market (Detroit has since dropped to 11th). My career included TV cameraman, hosting the Academy Awards of Advertising, wrestling bears, selling real estate, owning a bar, bankruptcy, racing stock cars and piloting manned and unmanned aircraft. Humans, like monkeys, can learn to do anything.
Note: I worked in major market radio 20 years, but had the most fun on the air (inspite of the station's amazingly incompetent management) when I came out of retirement in Traverse City -- "92.9 Breeze" air checks are among my favorites as it was the 1st time I could be heard around the world by regular listeners.
Getting into broadcasting was in no way planned. Like most everything else in my life, broadcasting just happened. Remember as you read this that I'm from Brightmoor, MI, sister city to Mumbai. "Who wants out of shop class an hour early on Wednesdays?" Raising my hand, I volunteered to be one of a handful of Wilbur Wright High School electrical curriculum co-op students (2 weeks on the job, 2 weeks academic classes) who would help operate Detroit's educational television 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 U.S. the Air Force I moved up the dial 6 times before the Detroit station I'd listened to as a kid was ready for me. But the 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, 1970 WJBK disappeared from the dial forever. Storer Broadcasting Company had quietly undertaken a year long study to determine what Detroiters wanted to hear: "Country music with a Saturday Night Live boot in the butt!" With few exceptions the entire staff was fired the following Monday. I must have been the lowest paid as I was the only jock they kept. Station power was raised to the maximum allowed and "Big D" reached the north pole. WJBK became WDEE -- our competition joked it stood for "We've Done Everything Else". Much 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.Once, surrounded by secret service agents, I watched a monster truck show at the Pontiac Silverdome drinking beer with Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy. He autographed my can. Curly haired Dick Hafner, the bald news director at WJR today, reported the story. Slow news day. Channel 4 covered the story, too. Big D was a radio ride on both sides of the track I will never forget.
The daughter of Max Fisher, the richest man in Michigan, called to introduce herself soon after I first 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. She was keynote speaker at the August 1992 Republican Convention. All Mary Fisher had to do was snap her fingers and my first voice-over appointment for a Dodge Truck commercial magically appeared. Mary also introduced me to "Henry" (Henry Ford the 2nd) at the first Channel 56 auction. Mary Fisher was the originator of that idea. The deuce said "I've heard your show" and repeated something I said on the air. More about that -- Ford, Kathryn Duross and her friend Jacqui the psychic -- later in this bio.
Competition in a 5 million person radio market is intense. Fifty stations could be heard in Detroit. But 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), selected 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. Peter Storer decided the Detroit version would be different, a mixture of listener calls and country music hosted, first by Deano Day, our morning DJ who brought the idea from KLAC then by me, a slumdog. With the show being owned by the same company, and the help Bill Ballance provided me, on and off the air, success came to Big D within months of hitting the air. Fem Forum was #1 for 10 years in California and Michigan. After BIg D was sold I moved the across town to WXYZ. That's where the Forum helped kick start the broadcast career of CNN's Dr. Sonya Freidman.
Everyone was fooled -- Billboard Magazine honored my work, as did The Detroit News and Free Press. Those pictures of me on the cover of Sunday Parade Magazines were taken by famous photographer Tony Spina. Storer spared no expense. Promotion was first class -- our smiling DJ faces showed up everywhere -- on bus signs, billboards, posters, magazines, TV, newspapers, T-shirts, caricatures. Free restaurants, movies, cars, Hawaiian vacations, autographing skin, playing cards with Ron Kowalski (the sausage heir), a day named in my honor at Tiger Stadium. People love hanging with celebrities no matter who they are (Sanjaya Malakar invited to the White House proves that). Newspaper articles and press releases reminded Detroiters how hot I was. The truth? While I was doing the show, I had no real sense of the impact it or I was having on listeners. Lesson #1: "Do your homework!"
Because Fem Forum aired human experiences, hilarious to tragic, the show got lots of attention and gave people ideas -- an endless stream of wannabe broadcaster copy cats followed -- psychologists, sideshow carneys, lawyers (Geraldo), politicans (Jerry Springer), Oprah, the Newlywed Game, Cheating Spouses...all came from a seed in the mind of a blind man whose family happened to own some broadcast stations. There had never been anything like it on radio or TV before Fem Forum. My Detroit version dominated midday ratings during its entire 10 year run. The idea behind it lives on today through the O'Reilly Factor and those shows where they eat bugs (I get the 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, a sister named 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 broadcasting. A few were in over their head -- the imploding happening to the radio business today is proof of that. Joe Conway and John Mazer were the best, the most successful I experienced first hand. Joe Conway, as General Manager, hired Operations Manager John Mazer. They both had class and degrees in business and communications 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 I own he's one of them thar "illegislators" (I own the copyrights on that word) 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 blue collar callers who wouldn't shut up. When I didn't respond (I was told not to by Mazer) one writer began attacking 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 (the morning DJ) in heaven. Flat Rock police stopped her on the way to my appearance with a loaded 30-30 in the trunk. Some 'ologist' apologized for letting her out "a little too early." It was then I remembered having been 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 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..." In our excitement of opening a new business, we over looked the fact we had opened a redneck bar smack in the middle of a 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, wonder bras were non-stop.
The Widetrack Inn was a catch 22. To stay in business we had to hire expensive country stars (that's me pictured with Dolly Parton and Jerry Reed) to attract customers from outside the Pontiac area who knew nothing about the neighborhood where our bar was located. Like Chevy Chase in the movie "Vacation," they didn't know not to stop to ask for directions. The Widetrack Inn was a popular hangout for sports stars and other VIP's who in-turn attracted customers (sometimes) -- so 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. "Against the ropes" was a movie about famous female fight promoter Jackie Kallen who worked as a writer for the Oakland Press next door to our bar. In the movie Jackie was played by Meg Ryan. I liked Ernie Harwell and his wife Lulu best. They didn't drink.
It's a small world. Johnny Cash and I found we had a lot in common. Born poor, both of us worked in radio as enlisted men in the United States Air Force. Staff Sargeant Johhny Cash was a radio operator (listening for signals from the Iron Curtain), while I repaired equipment. Cash wrote "Folsom Prison Blues" stationed in Germany. Johnny Cash also worked on the GM assembly line in Pontiac -- where I later owned the country music nightclub. It was in Pontiac where Cash got the idea for the song "One Piece at a time". Like Walt Disney, bankruptcy taught Cash and me lessons. Unlike Cash, Walt and me 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 my days off 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 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 Gloria Steinem. WDEE's management team 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). Sponsors paid top dollar and Fem Forum was always sold out. Everybody wanted a piece of the action. For a short time I even worked for the Harlem Globetrotters. The 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 money. I did learn one other lesson at the Big D from Deano Day: "it doesn't matter what people say about you as long as they get your name right."
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 couple of years later. I passed. I've never liked living in the past. Country jocks get complaints every once in awhile from die hard country music fans who don't like "today's" music. I tell them country music today is as much about about real life as it always has been, but sounds much better technically. I'll bet if Hank Williams Sr. were alive today he'd love it, and wear earrings.
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 CK who withdrew the offer. I felt like the last prisoner of the Toledo War. Incidentally, it was I who first called Lew "Tricky Dickey. "
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 in Toledo 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. Northern Ohio is too flat for me...and Klinger wore dresses.
Fast forward to 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 Edwards 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 yelling, "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 I said "yes" and proudly explained the operation and Lew'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 competition at night at the rock n' roll station across town....incidentally, imposters have never beaten me in the ratings. Pinocchio Jim 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. Most of the calls you hear on Dick's morning show are edited for timing the day before. Like Seinfeld, Purtan leaves nothing to chance. Dick and his team spend hours fine tuning every bit, word, sentence, grunt. Detroit's radio pope makes millions just doing simple homework. Donald Trump is a billionaire for the same reason. Trump is prepared to counter any objection long 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 Dick Purtan twice, first at WXYZ and three years later at WCZY. Dickie P could not relate to the audiences I attracted. He had to sit in for me once when my Jeep broke down -- he moved to Canada shortly after. Dick made poking fun at me, "...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 has settled on all that, and I can see that Dick Purtan was among the best at what he did. Radio could be a super source of entertainment if every disc jockey worked one-tenth as hard as Purtan. Techology wouldn't stand a chance against hyper local personalities.
Water and Oil -- I simply "did not belong" (to quote Judge Smails of Bushwood Country Club). WXYZ was known for giving birth to upper crust 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 one of us, I got to know a really 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 to borrow a lawnmower. I can watch any good comedy repeatedly, but Caddyshack is my all time favorite. Knight filmed that movie right before we worked together, and told me to "watch for Lacy Underalls."
"Professionalism," "quality" and "image" were more than flashy public relations spin at ABC. My midday show enjoyed the best hands down producer in talk radio, an African-American. He 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 about being a serious broadcaster from Jack 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.
"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 is 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 big joke around WCZY. Jim Mulla tried to not pay it to me in one lump sum. Instead, and instead of mailing it, Mulla forced me to come back on payday (every other week as I recall) and wait in the lobby for hours to be paid. My attorney 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 disc jockey 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 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 -- not always successfully -- DJ's. 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: "Henry called me all the time looking for Kathy, he didn't trust her." Henry Ford had problems 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 he was jealous that she called me. Stevie Wonder picked my voice out of a crowd on two occasions years later. Stevie'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.
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 white suburb 15 miles west and rode to school with my best friend -- Dean -- and his dad who was a teacher at Wilbur Wright Technical High School. I selected Wright to learn the electrical trade because Dean's dad would give me a ride to school everyday -- accept when I was two seconds late and he forced me to ride a city bus. It was a two mile walk to the bus stop. Word of warning: never become friends with a kid whose father is a teacher 15 miles away in a ghetto or you may not get to school 'til after lunch. Kathy Duross went to Cass Tech to learn how to marry. Incidentally, Dean is where I got the idea for my radio name.
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 100 bucks a week in Sturgis, Michigan.
Radio was sometimes a very serious business -- because I had a FAA commercial pilot's license, I was asked by Craig Smith, a listener 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 an unusually busy place! We 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 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.
Radio 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.
"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 March 2010 Arbitron, Dick Purtan (WOMC) and Doctor Don (WYCD) were #1 and #2 in the Detroit market.
Catch them while you can as the 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 had been with "The RIF" for 39 years. Yes, things are definately changing. With the onslaught of new and growing technologies (satellite, HD TV and radio, ipods, Facebook and Twitter, to name a few) and major market broadcasters bringing never before competition into small towns, local media has it's work cut out.
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. Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, bloggers and other content providers are combining forces, partnering in the new medium -- 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 New York offers.
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.
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'd experienced enough of Detroit radio. Melissa and I opted for a slower pace of life. Being centrally located in Michigan made sense for our statewide real estate, aerial photography and internet related businesses. I no longer needed to drive an hour through road rage to a downtown big city studio to reach large audiences; the internet allows my shows to be heard worldwide. Instead of witnessing incredibly violent crime on Detroit TV seven nights a week, our home in northern Michigan is surrounded by small town parades, campgrounds, seniors riding bikes, wild turkey, water parks, spas, resorts, orchards, wineries, miles of sugar sand beaches and everything else out of towners pay handsomely to see. In rural Lake Ann Melissa and I are connected to the world via high speed cable and haven't missed a beat thanks to the internet. We have captured the best of several worlds. There are few hurricanes or tornados in northern Michigan.
Things are changing. Tens of thousands of stations in cities around the world can be heard online in homes, cars, planes and HumVees. The future has arrived.
Radio gets in your blood. But for the benefit of any veteran thinking of going back to small market radio and taking it easy, the reasons for not doing it are detailed in a book I'm writing. This is an excerpt...
Broadcasters by design are in the public eye and, unfortunately, my last days on the air were a matter of record for anyone who wanted to take notice.
During 25+ years on the air I worked for some of the best radio managers in the business -- Joe Conway, John Mazer, John Grubbs and Chuck Fritz to name a few. That made it easier to spot deterioration in the industry, which by 2009 had caused 260 radio stations to shut down. New technology -- the internet -- has taken increasing advertising dollars away from traditional media -- newspapers, TV and radio stations. The resultant cost-cutting is ravenous on and off the air. College degrees are no longer a requirement to being a manager. Those still employed are doing triple duty. Interns are free, and being in the public eye, the mistakes are obvious and costly -- NBC News repeated decisions to air unverified stories is an example. Some of the biggest and best in radio have been terminated by scapegoating supervisors -- Joey Reynolds WCBS New York, Gary Burbank WLW Cincinnati, Arthur Penhallow WRIF Detroit. Even Jay Leno took a huge pay cut, and half his tonight show staff was fired. 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 that -- PHD Rachel "Smirk" Maddow is my favorite example of the lunacy. The doctor has single-handely done more to damage the reputation of "NBC News" than any other apple in their barrel.Inside Music Media newsletters have daily articles on the subject of "downsizing the dumbing media".
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!" Merlin Dumbrille 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. I couldn't stop myself and went back on the air as "Part time Tom" playing country music again on WTCM-FM.
Most DJ's get into the public eye/ear business for the strokes we didn't get growing up. Soon after hiring me, I was toyed with like a cat by the morning DJ slash operations manager at WTCM.
In a surprise call to my home a few weeks after I joined the station Jack O'Malley asked: "what happened to the microphone missing from studio A?" (turns out the mic never was missing). Later, after I was finally invited to staff meetings, O'Malley hinted to the others in the room "Tom Dean probably forgot he took the Ray Stevens CD." I didn't catch on to O'Malley's bullying until symptoms of what doctors call "extreme narcissism" were pointed out by staff members (past and present, who explained why I wasn't being used on the air), a former softball coach who had dealings with O'Malley, our family doctor and friend's of his ex-wife who told of self grandiose street signs in the subdivision marking the route to his home -- "Jack's Trail" and "O'Malley Drive".
Jack's symptoms of extreme narcissism were similar to those of Barack Obama.
Tip of the iceberg -- not only was O'Malley never trained for management he was also what I would call nuts, and the owner must have suspected it..
About a year after I was hired, out of nowhere, O'Malley's boss (the owner) gave me full time hours and company paid health benefits. I was informed of the upgrade change in my employment not by Jack O'Malley but by the payroll secretary. No matter how hard I tried to convince him otherwise, O'Malley refused to believe that I had not gone over his head. It made me wonder what O'Malley had done in the past to be so notably excluded from the company chain of command.
Merlin Dumbrille, that 50 year veteran at WTCM, told me: "I'm glad you chose to work at WTCM...you've raised the bar." It's nice to hear something like that, especially from a peer, but I wasn't surprised. It was those 20 years in Detroit, and TV's "Seinfeld," where I learned the importance of preparing for radio/TVshows. I spent as many hours off the air writing and preparing for my show as I did on the air delivering it. It was obvious (I was reminded by listeners and advertisers) that I was the only one on the staff who did. Unfortunately, the result of my efforts put me in a catch 22 -- the harder I worked at it the more insecure O'Malley became -- I tried dumbing down but the "get rid of Tom Dean" snowball had already started down the hill.
O'Malley controlled only two of the company's 6 stations -- WTCM AM/FM -- which is why I was approached directly by family member John Dew who managed "92.9 The Breeze" and asked for help with that struggling station. It went against everything I knew about "stick with winners", but things had gotten so bad (ER, etc) on the O'Malley side that I finally accepted John's offer to keep my sanity. It was the difference between night and day. I was treated with respect and encouraged. I loved every minute of it, and I never sounded better. Voice-tracking (recording the show) allowed me to: 1) remove mistakes and fine-tune bits and banter to perfection, and 2) continue doing my "live and local" WTCM-FM Sunday afternoon show. Adjacent to myself on the dial, 2-6PM, I stood out like Secretariat given his head on one station while being held back, undermined, dodging Jack's bully bullets on the other. 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. I don't know how he did it or what he told the owner, but Jack O'Malley would later succeed in making sure that my seed would never pullulate at Midwestern Broadcasting.
As my following grew (to be the largest in the company on Facebook) obstacles were increasingly thrown under my wheels. O'Malley stopped at nothing to demoralize trying to get me to quit -- ratcheting up when none of it worked -- like leaving the wrong disc jockey's name (instead of mine "now on the air") on the web site for 18 months (anytime I mentioned it gave cause for him to argue), surprise deleting my computer files (including listener phone calls, contest winner excitement and other bits I had edited/prepared for my shows), cutting my hourly rate 30%, then months later cutting my hours in half. After my third trip to Munson ER for stress, on the doctor's recommendation, I asked for a meeting with Jack and his boss with the list of problems I was having. The owner's response? "Right or wrong, Jack is boss." Instead of addressing the employment issues, the company coddles those responsible -- more than one female employee reported harassment, I'm told that similarly fell on deaf ears. I didn't quit the job, stayed for over 5 years, because O'Malley's morning ratings had started to decline before I started working at WTCM in 2004 and dropped to their lowest level by the spring of 2010. I thought professionalism would outlast the glaring mistakes that were being made both on and off the air. I was wrong. The situation was not unlike one of those small town crazed sheriffs you see in movies who get away with jailing "outsiders." Dealing with the O'Malley situation was the most patience I've had to excersize -- 5 years -- in my life. After the WTCM jobs ended I kept quiet about what had gone on there no more.
It was a five year gamble that turned out (it was suggested by a former staffer that I keep a diary -- 22,000 words at last count) to be fodder for a few chapters in a book about radio.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. Typical of responses, a couple overheard me ordering from a restaurant menu and said: "You're Tom Dean aren't you? We just want to tell 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 engine could have gone, but the owner changed the Breeze format...again (6 times in 6 years). After the "retirement" from the payroll of legend Merlin Dumbrille -- he had a desk and a computer and remained on the air after his retirement party -- radio no longer made any sense. It was as eye-opening as the Ernie Harwell firing, just plain crazy. "What happened to the stability," I thought. The guillotine came five and a half years after I started working at WTCM, after the economy folded and advertisers quit paying their bills. I had to guess being the only part timer with company paid benefits I was a luxury they could no longer afford. I say "guess" because O'Malley, his boss and their lawyers refuse to tell me why I was "let go". He's posted a few things on Facebook about it, but nothing to my face or for the record.
It's no wonder radio is dying, falling victim to technology. I can laugh now, but I will never forget what Google doctors agree on: "Never work for an extreme narcissist." Honestly, I don't know if I feel sorrier for Jack's ex or next wife. Being in the public eye today the truth is harder than ever to hide. After 25+/- years JoAnn O'Malley was thrown out with the trash.
It was the best thing that could have happened to her. A picture of JoAnn during the last years of her marriage to Jack was displayed on the internet -- she looked old and tired with unstyled gray-hair and wore no makeup. The picture on her Facebook page today is of a totally reborn person, a beautiful woman looking decades younger.
Note: Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony: A Psychological Portrait by Keith Albow has helped reinforce the irrationalism of why my presence was minimized at WTCM.
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 services to top Realtors for more than 25 years. Hundreds of thousands of collectable postcards have been sent to homeowners whose homes were pictured. Postcards are effective marketing tools --homeowners won't throw away a free aerial view of their home or neighborhood. My Realtor customers (other agents) have spotted their personal marketing postcards hanging on refrigerator doors in homes years later. Homeowners can buy close-ups because our Realtors guarantee to give their money back if ever they sell their property through our real estate networking companies.
AirSho 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 back. With 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. 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. The woman was 85 years old at the time of her first flight. (No, that's not Nellie. It's Melissa)
Let's do business...