Update: November 28, 2006: Rick Shaw announced his retirement from daily broadcasting after 50 years of continuous on-the-air radio announcing. He will continue to work with the Majic Children's Fund, sponsored by WMXJ-FM 102.7, and will fill in for disc jockeys on vacation. He will no longer have to rise at 4am during the week to host the morning show on Majic. Congrats Rick, you've set an all-time record for longevity that will never be surpassed. It's a sad day because we've listened to you since 1960.
November 28, 2006 by Glenn Garvin http://miamiherald.typepad.com/changing_channels/
Goodnight, my love
Rick Shaw, the last South Florida veteran of Top 40 radio, announced his retirement this morning on his WMXJ show. And when Shaw packs up his microphone after his final show, he probably should go ahead and take WMXJ's records -- well, mp3s -- with him. Oldies radio radio is dying fast -- big stations in New York, San Francisco and Chicago have dumped the format in the past 18 months -- and it's hard to see Shaw's departure as anything but an ominous portent of things to come, soon. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Elvis Presley, the Four Tops and Aretha Franklin.
Even stations that don't formally renounce the format are quietly shedding it like an old skin. Hardly anybody anymore plays Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly or other 1950s rock and roll giants. And an increasing number of oldies stations are abandoning 1960s music, too. Although Gene Pitney hit the charts 24 times during the 1960s, you can't hear him on WMXJ -- not Town Without Pity, not (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance, not It Hurts To Be In Love, not I'm Gonna Be Strong, even though they were all Top 10 chart records. Even before Shaw announced his retirement, WMXJ had one foot in the 1970s and was headed inexorably for the 1980s. Any day now, expect to hear an "oldies" station that plays U2 and eminem.
It's not that there's no audience for 1960s rock and roll. Are you kidding? Baby Boomers are the biggest demographic bulge in human history and will remain so for another 20 years. And they still want to hear their music, which is why Barbra Steisand and Paul McCartney have made more money than anybody else on tour in the past year. The problem is the same one that afflicts television, the belief by advertisers and their hunchback assistants, the programming consultants, that anybody over 50 might as well be dead. WMXJ finished 10th in the market in the summer Arbitron ratings period, ahead of 17 other commercial stations, but too many of its listeners are past that deadly 50th birthday.
Someday advertisers are going to wise up; there are all kinds of studies showing that Baby Boomers have a lot more money than anybody else and, as part of their lifelong obsession with being hip, are eager to use it to try new things. Until that happens, the best bet for 1960s music is satellite radio, which doesn't care how old its listeners are as long as they fork over the $13 a month subscription fee. In fact, Rick Shaw in his mid-60s incarnation as a WQAM boss Top 40 jock can sometimes be heard on XM satellite radio, which uses old tape to recreate the sound of 1960s stations.
Meanwhile, I laughed out loud this morning when the first thing Shaw did after announcing his retirement was to violate WMXJ's Stalinist playlist restrictions: He cued up Goodnight My Love by Ray Peterson, the 1959 record that was his signoff back in the Top 40 days. Maybe, before his final shift at WMXJ next month, he'll even play a Gene Pitney record. (I vote for Looking Through The Eyes Of Love, Rick.) What can the programmers do, fire him?
What they'd do if they were smart is give Shaw a couple of hours on the weekends and let him play anything he wants: hits, near-hits, misses, flip sides, novelty records, anything that struck his fancy during 46 years in South Florida radio. Come on, WMXJ. Give us decrepit 50-year-olds something to listen to while we shop for satellite radios.
Posted by Glenn Garvin at 11:59 AM in Radio Permalink
Posted on Monday, June 19, 2006
Mr. Radio's career passes half a century
By Kevin Baxter, Miami Herald kbaxter@MiamiHerald.com
PERSISTENT PERSONALITY: Morning DJ Rick Shaw, with morning co-host Donna Davis, is celebrating 50 years on the air.
WLRN-Miami Herald News | Interview with Rick Shaw
WLRN-Miami Herald News | Aircheck of Shaw from 1963
MR. RADIO: For 50 years, Rick Shaw has been bringing us the music of our lives
There's no such thing as luck, says Rick Shaw.
"Luck," the veteran radio personality explains, "is preparation running into opportunity."
Maybe. But preparation and opportunity alone seem insufficient to explain Shaw's remarkable broadcasting career, one that passed the half-century mark last Friday.
What about timing, for example?
Shaw signed on for the first time when rock 'n' roll was just beginning, opening up microphones for kids who had a passion for music but no knowledge of radio.
Being in the right place at the right time helped, too.
When Shaw moved to South Florida in 1960, the area was little more than a winter home for snowbirds and a summer home for hurricanes. Now it's the 12th-largest radio market in the country.
And then there's . . . well, what else can you call it but luck?
In a profession where change is the only constant, where stations flip formats and fire DJs at the drop of an Arbitron diary, Shaw has been without work for just a few weeks -- combined -- over the last five decades.
''Oh, it's way unusual,'' says former South Florida radio personality Joel Denver. ``It's very hard. And it's a big, big, huge testament to [his] skills, [his] talent and [his] ability basically to listen to the marketplace, know what the marketplace wants and be able to deliver it to them on a steady basis.''
Shaw has made his mark in South Florida radio more through repetition than ratings, more through consistency than controversy, even weathering a 2002 conviction for drunk driving -- a mistake he apologized for on-air.
While broadcast legends such as Dr. Don Rose in San Francisco and Ron Chapman in Dallas left huge footprints behind when they left the air, Shaw's career has been noteworthy primarily for its length.
"He was a respected legend when I was there," says Dave Hoeffel, East Coast editor for the trade journal allaccess.com and a South Florida DJ from 1982-85. "He was already seen as a veteran and a legend and sort of a grandfather of pop radio . . . and the fact that we're still talking about him almost 25 years later, you can't be more huge than that."
Yet as remarkable as his 50 years in radio are, and as unprecedented as his 46 years in the same market may be, Shaw's most notable accomplishment may be that he's accomplished all that without making any enemies.
"He has a real everyman persona," says Donna Davis, Shaw's partner on the morning show at oldies station WMXJ-FM (102.7) for more than six years. "He doesn't have a huge ego. I really don't think that he realizes how much of an icon he is and how much impact he's had on people. Even though he hears it over and over again."
A huge bear of a man who wears a warm smile almost as often as he wears his trademark Greek fisherman's cap, Shaw passed through four South Florida radio stations before landing at WMXJ in 1995. Yet he's seemingly left nothing behind but good friends and better memories.
Part of that is Shaw's good nature. While off-color language and rude pranks have become staples at other radio stations, Shaw laughs easily and drops words like ''golly'' into normal conversation. And he humbly credits his radio success to everything but his own talent.
"Somehow I've been able to go with the flow enough to maintain reasonable contact with the present as well as the past," he says.
Adds Davis: "When you look at Rick you just kind of transport yourself back to that golden age in radio. He's been able to keep that."
Shaw got his start in radio by, well, by luck, actually, when he dropped in at a tiny East St. Louis, Ill., radio station to visit his high school English teacher, who was a part-time DJ. The station's news reader had called in sick just 20 minutes before he was to go on the air so the teacher pointed Shaw toward the Teletype machines and told him to prepare a script.
"I didn't blow a word," Shaw remembers. "Not a single word."
Never mind that the station had the signal strength of a light bulb and could barely be heard in the parking lot, Shaw was hooked.
"Just riding home that afternoon thinking about what had just happened. I was on the radio!" he says. "People all over East St. Louis could flip a little switch and hear me talking to them. Whoa, what a concept!"
"I just became obsessed with it. I said, `This is what I'm going to do. Somehow, someway, I'm going to do radio as a career.' I knew that."
The station manager hired him to read the news. Then, as luck would have it, a few months later one of the regular DJs called in sick and Shaw suddenly had his own show.
The timing couldn't have been better. That January Elvis Presley released Heartbreak Hotel, his first gold record, kicking off the rock 'n' roll revolution. As radio executives clamored to catch up, the industry underwent massive upheaval, replacing veteran personalities with kids who understood the music but nothing about the business.
"With Top 40 radio there were no books to read. There were no classes to take. Because nobody knew what was going on. All the rules were changing," Shaw says. 'If you were a kid who had a halfway decent feel for rock 'n' roll and music and stuff like that, you could do what we did on the radio."
And they were in demand for doing it. Soon Shaw moved to a station in Omaha, then Denver, which was experiencing one of its coldest winters on record. That's when he looked on a map and found Miami. Within days he mailed out a air check -- an audio clip -- and in 1960, less than four years after his radio debut, Shaw signed on for the first time as the evening personality on WCKR.
When he moved east, Shaw left more than the cold behind. He also left his name. Born Jim Hummel to a couple who ran a sporting goods store in Illinois, he was given the stage name Rick Shaw when he got to Miami. That seemed a small price to pay.
"When I came to South Florida, I said, `Man, this is paradise,' " Shaw remembers. ' `This is as good as it gets. Whatever I'm going to do with my life, I'm going to do it right here.'"
So Shaw settled in and began narrating the soundtrack of a generation, helping start Stevie Wonder's career, breaking the Beatles' first U.S. release and once earning a record 54 share of the South Florida audience, meaning that for one month more people were tuned to him than the rest of the market's stations combined.
And rarely does a day go by without someone reminding Shaw of a special moment they shared together.
"The first time they drove a car, there was a radio. I might have been on it," he says. "The first night they went out on a date and kissed a girl, I might have been playing the right song. Radio is a powerful, powerful vehicle. And people remember some of the silliest things.
"They turned on the radio and there I was. So I was part of that whole experience."
And there will never be another time like it. At least not in radio.
"It will never, ever happen again," Shaw says. "The ingredients, the formula that it took. All the things that had to happen at exactly the right place and exactly the right time cannot happen again.
"They talk about the golden age of radio as the '40s. I don't think so. I think it was the '60s. It was a great time to be doing what I was doing."
As for how long he'll continue to do it, however, Shaw is uncertain.
"I cannot imagine that he is getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning and showing up every single morning," says Davis, herself a veteran of 20 years in radio. "He's never called in sick. Every morning I drive in, his car is already there.
"He has often said that this is what he does and he doesn't know how to do anything else. He can't imagine not doing it."
Yet there are few milestones left to achieve, and even though he's healthy, he'll be 68 in October and concedes the early-morning wake-up calls are getting increasingly tougher to answer.
But then he smiles and quotes legendary South Florida TV newsman Ralph Renick.
"When it's time," Shaw says Renick once told him, "you'll know. So I'm waiting."
One of Shaw's fondest radio memories actually had very little to do with the radio -- but everything to do with the impact he's had on his audience.
Every winter Shaw works tirelessly on behalf of the Majic Children's Fund, for which he's raised nearly $3 million over the last 10 years. Three years ago, a single mother and her young daughter, newly arrived from Atlanta and penniless, called and reluctantly asked for assistance at Christmastime. Shaw responded with supermarket vouchers and Toys 'R' Us coupons, then quickly forgot the whole episode.
But the woman and her child never did.
So 18 months ago, while Shaw was having lunch at a restaurant in Davie, a woman interrupted his meal by starting "you have no idea who I am. [But] I know who you are."
After recounting the whole incident in great detail, she called her daughter over, pointed to Shaw and said, "This is what Santa Claus looks like when he's not wearing the red suit."
Shaw's eyes still water at the memory.
"What greater compliment is there than that?" he asks.
And to think it might never had happened if the news reader for a small, low-power station in East St. Louis, Ill., hadn't called in sick 50 years ago last week.
What a lucky break.