Friday, April 23, 2010

Recognizing The Competition

By Frank Absher

It’s safe to assume that just about every media outlet has firm policies regarding the public mention of “the competition.” That’s why it’s a refreshing surprise when someone in the media actually shines a positive light on a competitor.

I heard it happen in the late ‘70s, and it impressed me so much I never forgot it.

In those days Wally Phillips ruled the Chicago airwaves in morning drive on WGN. His show could best be described as carefully planned spontaneity. There were always callers – many with questions. Wally seldom answered them directly. Instead he would bring in someone from the newsroom or get a call from a knowledgeable source, or he’d solicit his listeners to call in if they knew the answer. The producer made it sound as though everyone who was anyone listened to Wally, and they would call in with the answers. It was very effective radio.

One day someone called in to ask Wally the dates of the next Rolling Stones’ appearance in Chicago.

Instead of checking with his newsroom, which probably had the press release, Phillips phoned the jock who was on the air a few blocks away at WLS, which was then a Top 40 power. He talked with the guy, putting the conversation on the WGN airwaves, and got the answer.

Stop for a minute and let that sink in. The guy on the air at the #1 station puts an announcer on his program who is actually broadcasting at the same time on a competitor, and the competitor cooperates. They bantered like they were buddies.

It blew me away. I never did find out how the Marilyn, the producer, arranged it, but it was great radio.

The messages it sent to the listeners were numerous, and they were positive from every angle. Obviously, WGN was so confident and sure of itself that it had no problem mentioning another station and putting a positive light on it in terms of the information provided. WLS deserves credit for not burying its head in the sand and refusing to help a competitor. And both announcers came across as a couple guys helping each other out, without fear of retribution from management.

It was truly excellent radio. The sad part is that it is so uncommon.

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