TJ Griffin Remembers His TMA Time
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On January 22, 2005 we received this letter from
1980 WTMA air personality TJ (Tad) Griffin:

Looking over the wonderful Web site youíve developed Ė and continue to nurture Ė brings back some very strong memories for me. While I worked at WTMA itself for only a year, I spent almost three years in the building on Orange Grove Road.

Paul Mayer was the PD who brought me to Charleston in 1980. GM Claire Shaffner had given Paul the mission of rebuilding WTMA into the great Top 40 (more "AC" by then) market leader it had been for years and years. Paul also brought in News Director and morning news guy Brad Harris from Jacksonville and Memphis. Claire had also brought Diane Beam to Charleston from WAYS to help get the business part of the stations running the way Claire wanted it done.

Looking at these folks' backgrounds itís clear to see what the grand scheme was intended to be: 

  • All of us had experience with legendary Top 40 radio stations in The South. (And, yes, there was a vast difference in Northern, Midwestern and Southern radio, at the time. In The South, we always had more soul. The Northern stations were considerably more, well, plain and ďvanilla.Ē)
  • Paul, Brad and I had worked together at the legendary Memphis Top 40 giant, WHBQ.
  • Claire had run BIG WAYS in Charlotte and Diane had been a key part of the success of that great station.
  • We were all pretty young and wanted to grow our reputations in the business. Resurrecting the great WTMA would certainly be a lot of fun and a feather in our professional caps. Thatís a pretty important part of why Mayer and I were there. Sure as heck wasnít the money.
  • Living in Charleston, while getting to do all of that stuff, was a major bonus!

My job was to be the Production Director for both WTMA and Ė at the time -- WPXI. I also did 6 to 9 p.m. on the air at WTMA. Frankly, it turned out to be anything but fun and nowhere near successful.

There had also been discussions (that I wasnít supposed to know about, but I did) that WPXIís Urban format was going to be jettisoned to bring WTMAís Top 40 format to FM. This made real sense at the time, for the following reasons: 

  • WPXI was the number 1 rated station in the market, but was having real trouble generating revenue. There are a number of reasons for that Ė and none of them are good. WPXI was, without any question, the best radio station in the market. Tony Jameson was the PD and did the morning show. I donít think Tony ever got the credit he was due for the phenomenal job he did with that radio station. (Wonder where he went. Never heard from him after Charleston.)
  • "Top 40 radio on AM" was on its death bed. As a matter of fact, music on AM was on serious life support by 1980. Everything is cyclical. And with the surge in FM listenership, AM listenership as a whole was really suffering.
  • It was between WTMA and WCSC as to who would be able to get their programming on FM first. The very clever CJ Jones was running WCSC and the station sounded great. It was vitally important, if not critical, that WTMA Ė which did not sound quite as good, at that point Ė beat WCSC to the punch and get on FM first.
  • The parent companies of WCSC and WTMA both owned FM signals with good coverage. WCSCís FM was succeeding magnificently with a Beautiful Music format. WCSC was over-performing (from a ratings point of view) and making a lot of money. Short term, it didnít make any sense for them to pull the plug on either of those stations. They were making too much money. And THAT was great news for the (by then) Sconnix-owned WTMA and WPXI. The door was wide open. All they had to do was step through!

For whatever reason Ė and I have never been privy to the reason why Ė the plan for WTMA to go to FM never happened. Instead, WPXI would become 95SX, which is where you and I met and worked together of course.  

The first few weeks of 95SX were the kiss of death for WTMA. All of the energy in the building was clearly Ė and completely reasonably -- aimed at getting SX right.  

One night, Paul Mayer went across the street  to WKTM to work with his old friend Paul Sebastian. without any notice. (Sebastian and I would later work together in Minneapolis to introduce W-Lite 103 [WLTE] to the Twin Cities. Small world.) The next morning he was on the air at KTM. Claire was sure that I had known Mayer was going to leave. After all, he had been the best man at my wedding a few years earlier. The fact is, I had no idea he was going to leave. 

Here I was with a brand new baby (heís 24 now) and a 6 year old (heís 30 now) to feed. The guy who brought me to town disappeared. The station has become irrelevant even inside the building! I was nervous to say the very least. More accurately, I "was looking."  

About that time, Claire left. She went to work for Capital Broadcasting, as I think I remember. It seemed that she and Sconnix didnít see eye to eye on some things. (In radio!? No!) 

Within no time, I was asked to join 95SX, which is where you and I met. 95SX cleaned up in ratings and became a revenue monster. It was an unqualified success in every way. I have read elsewhere on this site some sentiment that 95SX "ruined" WTMA and that 95SX was never a ratings or revenue success. Nothing could be sillier or more petty in either case.  

Sconnix has also taken a bad rap for "what they did" to WTMA. I was never part of the management team at either station, but Randy Odeneal always answered my questions and showed me numbers Ė ratings and revenue Ė whenever I asked. Rick Green, a tremendous sales manager, always had ambitious numbers to hit and was very open with his sales staff Ė and me, whenever I asked Ė about "where we stood"  in relation to the goal(s).  

After 95SX had gotten its legs, Program Director Bill Martin had a real clear vision of what 95SX was supposed to be and did a fantastic job growing the station. It was at this time that Sconnix, in my opinion, showed how much they cared for WTMA.

They brought in Craig Erickson, one of the best AC morning guys Iíve ever heard. He did a great job as WTMAís morning guy and PD. The station sounded solid as a rock. It sounded more like a WGN, Chicago or a WIBC, Indianapolis or a WCCO, Minneapolis. Ken Moore from WOWO in Ft. Wayne, who was one of the best AC guys Iíve ever heard, was doing afternoons by then. And the station sounded very much like a Midwestern AC station. It just didnít fit Charleston. I donít know how much Craig or Ken liked Charleston. It didnít seem like a good fit, for whatever reason.  But itís not like Sconnix didnít spend some money to bring in good air talent and a smart PD!  

Next, Sconnix brought CJ Jones in to program and do mornings as part of CJ and Buzz. To this day, I thought they had one of the best morning shows Iíve ever heard. WTMA started sounding exciting again. While I donít know for sure, I am relatively sure that CJ and Buzz werenít cheap. I left Charleston shortly after they arrived. CJ was always a class guy as far as I was concerned.  

While Randy Odeneal and I had our (tiny, almost meaningless) disagreements, I always thought that he was proud to be a "radio guy"Öthe best you can be without having ever done the all night show on a 500-watt daytimer. I know for a fact he was proud of WSSX and WTMA.  

There were a lot of great people at WTMAÖ 

Iíve often wondered whatever happened to one of the funniest people I ever met. Steve Overton was a news guy at WTMA while I was there. He went to Channel 4 to do sports and was phenomenal.  

Patrice Smith and my wife were "birthiní babies" at Roper at the same time. So was Diane Beam. We were a prolific bunch! What great people. I miss them all very much. Well, except my wife Kathy. Sheís still here! (Go figure. THAT may be the biggest miracle of all of this!) 

As you know, I live in Richmond, VA. Have for the past 15 years. Claire Shaffner was the manager of XL-102 when I arrived in town. She, Kathy and I had dinner one night a few weeks after I had gotten here as the PD of a cross-town (country) station. We had a  really nice evening catching up. As we parted, we vowed to kick each otherís butt. Havenít seen Claire since. (And we did kick their butt, too. Yea my team!! <lol>)

As the Grateful Dead said so many times, what a long, strange trip it's been. While it seems like a million years ago, so many of the memories seem as fresh as yesterday.  

Itís hard to believe that the building at the end of Orange Grove Road is gone. I can imagine that late in the night when itís quiet, that a hologram of the Charlie Daniels Band playing "Wooley Swamp" is magically cast on the trees. And some of the biggest damn raccoons in the history of the world are scampering around looking for freaky, long haired disc jockeys to scare the crap out of!  

Long live the Memories of WTMA!

Tad (TJ) Griffin
Richmond, VA
TadG@GolfPaper.com

Aircheck: TJ Griffin (1980 #1)
(3:04) - 1080 KB - MP3 Format

Aircheck: TJ Griffin (1980 #2)
(:57) - 338 KB - MP3 Format

______________________

Are you a former WTMA employee or listener with a story to share?
We'd love to hear from you! E-mail John Quincy.


 

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