By, Bob Shannon
January 13, 2006
"Show me the money."
No, those probably aren't the exact words Les Garland used when he quit K-100 in Los Angeles, but it was the bottom line. It was 1974, he was 27, and he'd only been on the job eight months. "I didn't know if it would destroy my career or not, but I stood firm on my principles and had no regrets," he says. Still, you had to wonder: What would possibly provoke him to give up a dream job with Bill Drake at one of the most high-profile radio stations in America? What could justify giving up the opportunity to work alongside Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele on an FM Top 40 station in Los Angeles?
Re-wind. By the early seventies, Bill Drake had overstayed his welcome at RKO and there was a bitter falling out between the consultant and the company he'd virtually raised from the ashes of ratings and financial despair. "Drake and Chenault broke off from RKO in 1972-73," says Garland, "and bought an FM in LA -- K100." Less than a year after the station signed on, Drake invited his young protege (Garland was programming KYNO/Fresno at the time) to a meeting at his home in Hollywood. It began innocently enough.
Garland was a first-time programmer; smart, but still wet behind the ears. Drake was king of the radio world and had just gotten out of the shower. "He was in a robe when he called down and invited me to join him in his bathroom," recalls Garland. The young man went upstairs, took a seat on the only sitting area in the room (you know what I mean, don't you?), and was quickly floored when Drake, with shaving cream lathered on his face, offered him the reins of K100. "I accepted the job at once," says Garland. "Here I was, this small town Missouri kid, and I was never so flattered." Blinded by the light of ambition and the lure of Tinseltown, Les Garland was ready to rock. In the glare of the moment, however, his salary was never discussed.
Several months later, money, bonuses and a contract still hadn't been addressed and Garland went through an awakening. "There I was in Los Angeles and still working on the same financial terms I'd had in Fresno," he explains. When negotiations finally began, Garland says he was insulted by the offer management proposed. "I felt that if I had been hand-picked by the most successful guy in the business, I should be rewarded for what I was doing. I remember that Bill supported my position but that nothing happened." Garland says he looked at Drake and said, "I will leave."
One night, over drinks, Garland told his friend, Eric Chase, that the next morning he was probably going to do something "very crazy." When dawn arrived, his mind was made up. At 9 am he walked into the manager's office and delivered the news. "I'm out of here," he told them. They stared at him and asked, "Where are you going?" "I don't know," responded Garland, "but I'm leaving."
In hindsight, Garland doesn't recall who the bad guys or good guys were (perhaps time heals all wounds), but he realizes that standing his ground was something he had to do. "I left, and thank God I did," he says. "From my perspective it was the dignified thing to do. For myself."
"And that's when I hooked up with Paul Drew."
A New Haven
Garland escaped to the mountains for a few months to clear his head. He was closing in on his tenth year in radio and wasn't sure what the future held. He was, however, clarifying his thoughts. "Great radio stations," he decided, "all have a great soul that's shared amongst the people inside and, if that soul doesn't exist, then the station is doomed." In his mind's eye he saw that compelling radio stations were those that reflected a mix of art and science, and that "those stations were a direct reflection of the program director's personality."
Paul Drew had stepped into Bill Drake's shoes at RKO and, like many in the industry, he'd been surprised when Garland skipped out of K100. "After my LA experience, Paul called and asked me to meet with him at his home in LA," says Garland. The two men clicked and Drew invited Garland to head east to WAVZ/New Haven and, also, to help him with some of the other stations under Drew's purview. It was the beginning of a long relationship. "Radio itself was an art," Garland told DISC AND DAT in 2004, "and both Drake and Drew were holding paint brushes and taught me how to put the paint to canvas."
He was in New Haven for less than a year. "Drew and I thought that, in some ways, WAVZ was the east coast version of what KYNO had been in the early days of RKO with Drake," explains Garland. "It was owned by two gents, Messrs. Kopps and Monahan, and they thought programming was king and that sales would follow, a philosophy I've always found to be the magic formula."
Drew's mentoring continued and, next, he sent Garland to CKLW/Windsor-Detroit, a monster radio station that, at night, could be heard in 38 states and two countries. Of his experience in Detroit, Garland says it's the people he remembers. "Rosalie Trombley, Herb McCord, Byron MacGregor (the Big 8 newsman whose recording, "The Americans," was a Top 5 hit in 1974) and Bill Gable; they were all very talented people and we were a family," he recalls.
While CKLW had executed Drew's (and Garland's) vision of what an RKO Top 40 station should be, it was not, in fact, an RKO O and O. But, WRKO in Boston was the real deal.
"One of the first things I did at WRKO was staging The Spring Fever Festival," says Garland. He got city permits, talked with the Mayor's office and told them he only expected 20,000 people to show up. He lined up the bands, plastered promos all over the station and, on the day of the event ("the most perfect spring day you've ever seen," recalls Garland says), close to 200,000 New Englanders showed up. Trouble! The concert screwed up a Boston Red Sox game and the Mayor's office got flummoxed and, believe it or not, requested that the music be turned down. Despite their assurance to the Mayor's office that the station would comply with the request, the volume stayed right where it was.
The next day the front page of The Boston Globe showed a picture of the concert shot from a helicopter and, yes, WRKO's call letters were big and prominent. Drew later told Garland "it was one of the greatest radio events ever." Garland remembers that the politicos were "totally pissed and wanted to railroad me out of town."
"Try to imagine," he says, "how much I really cared."
I Want My KFRC
It's funny what your heart knows even when your mind doesn't. Since his days at KYNO, Garland had fantasized about programming KFRC/San Francisco and, though he never said it out loud, he believed it might be the last station he'd ever work for. As it turns out, it was.
When the call came from Pat Norman, Drew was against him going. "KFRC is already number one with nowhere to go but down," Drew told him. Garland disagreed. "No, Paul, it's only the number one MUSIC station."
His goal was to make KFRC number one, period. And he did. "KFRC was the top of the mountain," Garland explains, adding that his timing there "was as magical as the city of San Francisco itself." KFRC, according to Garland, was the pinnacle of his radio career. "Dr. Don Rose did mornings, Dave Sholin was the MD (Dave has some of the best pop ears in the business!), and Pat Norman was the coolest GM I ever worked with. And, like all RKO stations, programming ruled."
KFRC's promotions were gigantic: The KFRC Long Run with the Eagles; The KFRC SuperWalk with Robin Williams who, by helicopter, dropped into 13 locations around the Bay Area and wowed the crowds; and, the KFRC Skylab Promotion, which came about when a piece of the Skylab crashed to earth in western Australia. "We actually smuggled this 3000 lb. piece of metal into San Francisco and held a press conference," says Garland. Later, in a stroke of money-making genius, Garland sold pieces of the space craft to other radio stations for $1,000 an inch. The final touch memorializing the moment came when John Belushi did a skit on Saturday Night Live about it. The seventies were coming to an end.
For The Record
In 1979, Garland left radio and joined Atlantic Records. Looking back at the past decade, he says, "Those were incredibly fun times. We all loved music, the artistry of making music and the business of tastefully exposing the music." When you think about it today, MTV was the next logical step.
For Les Garland, the 80's were about Music Television and the opportunities that new medium suggested (see "Les Garland - Part One" in the All Them Big Dogs Archive). After MTV, he and Bob Pittman formed Quantum Media, a company that produced the short-lived-but-sensational "Morton Downey Jr. Show," launched a record label, and dabbled in national radio programming with Lee Abrams by creating "Radio Lisa," an idea Garland now admits "may be have a few beats ahead of its time."
Then he took some time off to pursue another passion -- golf. "I wanted to experience big time golf and, of course, improve my own game," he says. Through a series of serendipitous events, Garland got a shot to go out on the PGA Tour with his friend, Tommy Armour. "If I ever write a book," Garland promises, "those experiences alone will fill a chapter."
Then, in 1990, Garland became an executive at The Box, the nation's interactive music channel. "Between 1990 and '97 we rolled into 25 million homes in the United States and, internationally, we added another 25 mil to the mix."
Sadly, as the millennium approached, tragedy hit. While vacationing in Jamaica, Garland was involved in a horrendous car accident. Air-lifted back to Miami, he spent six months recuperating and giving thought to what a new century might mean. This led to the formation of AfterPlay Entertainment, a multi-faceted venture which included the development of The College Television Network, a music and lifestyle channel available to 2500 colleges across America. "I like to put music on television," Garland says, "and I don't believe those who say it won't work."
Today Garland's energies and talents are being applied to The Tube Music Network (www.thetubetv.com). According to the Gar-man, it's a music video service meant to attract the eyeballs of people who still buy over 50% of all music sold -- the 35 plus demo. As he told DISC AND DAT in 2004, "The Tube is honest, has integrity in music, is simple, intelligent and slightly irreverent." (By the way, keep your eyes on their website for exciting news in the near future.)
After 40 years in our business, Les Garland has a set of values that may inspire you. "Be aware of your passions," is how he put it. "Apply those passions to ALL that you do: family, friends, hobbies, career, principles and beliefs. Trust and remain true to yourself. Be honest, credible and maintain your integrity. Be loyal, while appreciating and rewarding loyalty in return."
Garland continued. "Constantly re-examine short and long term goals, and then set the bar higher than you actually think you can jump. This is America," he proclaimed. "We can do whatever we want in this great land. There is more opportunity in media today than there's ever been and the digital age has created incredible opportunities for change -- which is a good thing and should never be feared."
I asked if he had a final thought.
Les Garland pauses. "You must chase your dreams," he says. "You never want to look back and say, 'I wish I'd done that ...'"