Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WDFN: The End, As Always, Was Quick And Unyielding To The Listeners

The death of a radio station, as we know it, is always swift and final. It doesn't sneak up and infect the body, withering it away in slow and painful fashion. It's always, "Here today, gone tomorrow." That's just the way radio works.

The suits don't let the on-air talent make any final goodbyes or pontificate on why they're being let go. Usually, they do their shift and are then notified: see ya -- wouldn't want to be ya. We're switching to country music, or all-news, or, whatever. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

WDFN died last week. Suddenly, swiftly, without much warning. The usual path to extinction.

The bosses at Clear Channel took a wide broom and swept out just about all of the local voices, including even the venerable Mike Stone and Bob Wojnowski -- Stoney and Wojo to their listeners. Their replacements are syndicated names who wouldn't know Madison Heights from Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe from Eastpointe.

Sometimes, when I listened to The Fan, I wondered if certain of their folks knew the difference between something a little more private and anatomical on their own bodies. Same thing with the bozos who phoned in to put their ignorance on display in car radios all over town.

I scowled when the talk often turned from sports -- instead drifting over to locker room talk about flatulence, pretty girls, and drinking.

There were times when I wished WDFN off the air, because if they weren't going to talk about sports, then why bother?

Well, now they're gone, and as mad as I could get at them at times, I'm still very sad and sorry to see them go. They may have been maddening, but they were mine to browbeat; nobody else had better do it.

From a business standpoint, WDFN has probably been teetering on the brink of this plug-pulling for quite some time. Their ratings were never any good, and it's like recruiting in college sports: if you don't have the ratings/recruits, you don't make it. Simple as that. You can't charge a lot of bucks for advertising, if your numbers are scraping the bottom of the barrel. And if you can't charge a lot of dough for advertising....

The Fan was regularly getting its ass kicked by WXYT, with its combination sports/news/pop culture format. For whatever reason, Program Director Rona Danziger and her staff couldn't quite find the answer for XYT's dominance. They did the usual juggling of staff and shifts and such, leaving afternoon drive time to Stoney and Wojo, and hoped for the best. But nothing really worked. And the radio business doesn't listen to the loud minority; it only is concerned with the bottom line, which screams.

So it doesn't matter how many people are left without their Sean Baligian in the morning or their Stoney and Wojo on the way home. Doesn't matter if there are protests or angry e-mails or general whining about the matter. The decision is done, is final, and if you don't like it, tough.

In the summer of 1994, I was at Lions training camp, with a videographer, waiting to get some post-practice comments from coach Wayne Fontes and his players. It was back in my days in local cable TV. Training camp was held at the Silverdome back then.

Suddenly, this attractive blonde who'd been sitting by herself on a small hill, some 25-30 feet away, approached us. She was cheerful and curious.

"Whatchya guys doing?," she asked, attracted to the video camera and microphone.

And Jennifer Hammond started talking. She was gushing over her new gig -- the one that caused her to move from Chicago -- and how excited she was to be in a major sports market, doing radio. She was high energy and I liked her right away. I wished her success at her new job, working for that new station in town, WDFN radio.

Hammond, "The Hammer", is still in town, of course, plying her trade for channel 2 and nationally for Fox Sports during the NFL season as a sideline reporter. She's done quite well for herself, by all appearances.

I wonder what she's thinking about the demise of WDFN. Many, many characters -- Hammond's early colleagues -- have long come and gone. The early on-air personalities were mostly not from Detroit, and it was painfully obvious at times. But then The Fan got it together and began doling out jobs to those who actually grew up around here. Baligian was one of those, and the passion he has for Detroit sports was made loud and clear every morning. I rather liked him, and told him so when I would see him from time to time.

So WDFN is no more. Cut out of our consciousness by the emotionless radio management scalpel. The surgeons have no real idea what it is they excised. Nor do they really care, I suppose.

That's radio for you.

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