It’s long been said that the Devil dances in empty pockets. You’ll also hear that the Devil is in the details. And in the summer of 1979, as John Saint John, I was dancing a very detailed jig with the Pulitzer Family along the banks of the Mississippi in Saint Louis, Missouri.
This whole tawdry memory & story was triggered this past week as I received a rather innocent enough email to the Airlift Productions Studios from a Lance Hildebrand (traffic reporter/VO guy), looking for a studio to work from while visiting New Orleans this fall. The subject line was “We’re both KSD Alums”. Really?
Hired by the Pulitzer Family in the summer of 1978, I’d packed up my entire life, hopes & dreams and moved over 800 miles from Harrisburg, PA to take on the afternoon drive shift at 55-KSD radio in St. Louis. Excitement was hardly the word!
That summer the Pulitzers held and owned pop/adult 55-KSD Radio, NBC-affiliate KSD Television, AND the property that first put them on the map – The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, the most widely read paper in town. Long before there was a radio or a television set, Joseph Pulitzer had made his name in print. The “Prize” was to come years later.
Little did I realize when I first took the job that this stunning combination of power, strength and reach would serve to ultimately lead to my untimely dismissal.
Let’s face it, in 1979, before the birth of the internet, the web & a digitally-connected America – one company could, in effect, monopolize what people would read in their newspaper, listen to on their radio, and watch on their television! What in the hell else was there?
Apparently, by 1979, the FCC had come to the same conclusion.
The Ronald Reagan years of deregulation and consolidation were yet to come, and the Federal Communications Commission, the government’s watch dog, had been wagging it’s paw at the Pulitzer clan for quite some time. And the time had come.
Music DJs Ron Morgan, Ed Scarborough, and yours truly were all shown the door as Combined Communications out of San Diego purchased KSD Radio from the Pulitzers, changed the format to News/Talk and decided to duke it out with KMOX.
Ironically, my afternoon news dude, the amazingly & wickedly talented Bob Hamilton, was retained through the transition, and later went on to legendary status at longtime CBS kingpin KMOX, where he still cracks the mic today! Let’s hear it for the on-air longevity of an outstanding newsman’s career.
Yes, despite my #1 ratings with women 25-49 in afternoon drive at 55-KSD – precisely what Lee Fowler, Ed Newsome and the Pulitzers had hired me to do – newly married and with a child on the way, along with the rest of the on-air music staff, I was summarily let go/fired in the late summer of 1979. A pawn in quite the elaborate and corporate chess game.
But as my pop used to say “Illegitimus non carborundum est” (Latin for ‘don’t let the bastard grind you down’). I picked myself up, dusted myself off … and headed to Nashville. But that’s the story for another blog another time.
Yeah, those summer nights after Cardinals games, I dreamed of having quite the career in Saint Louis, maybe after radio parlaying my on-air work into writing for the Post-Dispatch one day, but that story was never to happen.
Dancing with the Devil? He’s in the details? You betcha’! And I guess I should have seen it coming. When radio got into bed with big business, you knew it wasn’t going to end pretty.
And when you get into bed with the Devil … you better be prepared to get it on.