I had worked the graveyard shift on the AM dial for more than two years when the idea struck me – Why don’t we have a sports department? I knew from first-hand experience the Yale hockey team had a fan base well beyond the campus borders. New Haven, back then at least, thrived on the skates of its minor league hockey team. Yalies and townies alike delighted in the drama provided by the Yale icemen and their young new head coach – but only during home games. When the team went on the road, it left the fans high and dry, yearning for a shred of news. Until I had my idea…
The AM dial – my home – had a limited audience due to FCC restrictions on its signal. The FM side, however, reached halfway into the Long Island Sound. This fact, given few people actually lived on the Long Island Sound, was less impressive than it seemed. More impressive, however, lay in the detail that radio signals swept a circular area, meaning two-thirds of the signal strength seeped into homes along the southern Connecticut shore and into the very heart of the state. Within these homes lived tens of thousands of hockey fans. It was the call of these people that brought me to the ominous boardroom door we must all eventually face.
I waited outside the meeting room until my name appeared on the agenda and a kind person called me in. My sweaty palms clenched the pages of demographic data I intended to hand out. I felt I had prepared a very good case for my proposal. Despite a generally confident demeanor, the reputation of the personalities that lay on the other side of the double doors did intimidate me. I had no discernible management – make that “business” – experience. Many of the individuals I would soon confront had worked at the radio station long before I was old enough to realize radios did not really contain little people inside them. I couldn’t let them see me sweat, though, so I puffed up my chest and strode through the heavy wooden doors.
I didn’t enter a boardroom. I entered a war room.
Among other notable events, New Haven hosted the controversial Black Panther trials. The trials occurred only a few years before, and their scars (in some cases quite visible) remained. WYBC-FM was less a radio station than a demilitarized zone. On one side of the table sat the bulking ominous proponents of the Soul music format. Opposite them sat the angry young men (and women) who preferred playing Punk music.
This wasn’t a metaphor. This was precisely what I faced the moment I stepped into the room. Radio station politics stared straight at me in plain black and white – literally. No sooner had I begun then…
“What?!” declared the Soul men, “You want us to give up four hours a week?!”
“What!?” complained the punkers, “You want us to give up four hours a week!?”
I had tried to be fair and ask for an equal share of time from each. That obviously didn’t work.
But I had an ace up my sleeve, one that changed the room from its harsh monotone contrast to the reality of vivid Technicolor. To avoid inciting a riot, I focused on the one hue everyone agreed on – Green. I knew more about station finances than I did about any particular music format. That proved the winning point. Soul and Punk could fight for all the airtime they wanted, but neither had the clinching argument. Neither format brought in enough advertising revenue to pay the bills. They all knew sports could.
I had won the argument – and received as a reward an offer too onerous to accept.
“Sure, Chris,” said the general manager, “we agree with you about sports having the ability to bring in more advertising. So, you can broadcast your hockey game – provided you sell at least $200 worth of advertising spots during the game. You have until our next meeting to do this.” The Board knew they might have lost the battle, but they felt assured they had won the war.
My heart sank with all the finality of a lead balloon. I politely thanked them and sullenly left…
…Back in the dorm my classmates waited with rapt anticipation to hear the outcome of my pitch. I told them not to get too excited. I told them the station had agreed to broadcast the games, but not unless I could get $200 worth of advertising. I plopped onto my chair, a beaten man.
“What’s your problem?” asked one of my roommates. “You should he happy! They’re going to broadcast the games!”
“No they’re not,” I shot back. “They said I had to get $200 for a four hour broadcast. Do you know what the station currently gets for that amount of time? Twenty dollars – and that’s if they can sell any advertising at all. They want me to sell ten times more than anybody else is expected to sell. And I’ve never sold anything in my life!”
My roommates looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny,” I glared, thinking they were making fun of me.
“Man, don’t you get it?”
“Huh?” was all I could mutter.
“Chris, you watch sports on TV, right.”
“And what do you always see advertised?”
“That’s right. And what do hockey fans like to drink?”
“So, get on the phone and call the local beer distributor.”
And so I did. I found out the local beer distributor didn’t buy ads. Again my heart dropped – but only for a moment. For no sooner had the distributor informed me they wouldn’t buy the ads, then they immediately said Budweiser actually had to purchase the spots. Distributors, per the Budweiser contract, only arranged for them…
…A few weeks later, I again faced the board. Never before had the two warring sides seemed so, well, together, in their anticipation of my report. They expected my failure and looked eager to dispense with me and get on to what they really liked to do, which, it appeared, was mostly to argue with each other. When I told them I found an advertiser willing to sponsor four games, they stopped smiling.
“So, that means they’re going to buy $800 worth of ads, right?” queried an incredulous board member.
“No,” I began without a blink. I detected the start of a smug smile on his face. “They offered to pay $1,500…”
Jaws now openly gaped.
After a sufficient pause, I casually added, “…per game.”
“You just sold $6,000 in ads?” asked the unbelieving general manager. I nodded.
The program director of the Soul format and the program director of the Punk format looked at each other, then turned to the room and simultaneously proclaimed, “Folks, let’s congratulate our new Sports Director and here’s to WYBC’s new format!”