A new sandwich place opened near me recently, but I haven’t been in, and probably won’t anytime soon, for two reasons: 1) it’s in the same strip mall as a Jimmie John’s outlet, and I love their sandwiches; and 2) the shop’s name, Sandwiches And More, brings back memories of a bad meeting I attended nearly a quarter-century ago.
I was doing the morning show at WYNY, which was then NBC’s FM flagship in New York City (in the days when NBC was still in the radio business). The culture was incredibly corporate, and everyone had a title. The woman who hired me was Denise Oliver, the Program Director, but in our offices on the 2nd floor of 30 Rock we also had a Program Manager, a Program Administrator, and a Program Coordinator. I knew Denise was my boss, but I was always unclear as to what the job descriptions of the others were. And that didn’t include Bob Mounty and the other corporate vice presidents of radio on the 6th floor, who Denise and our General Manager answered to. It was no wonder that the only place I felt comfortable in the building was away from all of that, in our studio on the 9th floor.
After I’d been there a few months, someone decided we needed to re-position the radio station. We were an “adult contemporary” radio station, which put us in the middle of the pop music spectrum between top 40 stations Z-100 and WPLJ and light rock stations WPIX and WLTW. We didn’t seem to have a clear image in the radio marketplace, we were told, so the entire staff had to attend a meeting in which we’d forge our new marketing strategy.
When I say “the entire staff,” I mean everyone, not just those of us on the air. The sales staff, all the people with “program” in their title, the engineers, the secretaries, the receptionist — we were all told to be in the conference room at 3pm that day for a mandatory meeting.
As I said, I was doing mornings at the time, which meant my day started at 3am and I was on the air from 5:30 to 10:00am, followed by a couple of hours of production and planning for the next show. The only way I could live on that kind of schedule — which I did for 15 straight years — was to nap in the afternoon. Every day, around 2pm, I’d hit a wall and have to become horizontal for a few hours. Otherwise, I couldn’t function. In the winter, this meant waking up twice a day in the dark, but I got used to it (and always being tired) because I had no choice.
You can imagine how happy I was to have to attend a meeting at three in the afternoon. Not only was I going to miss my nap, which would screw up my body for the next morning, but I’d also have to drive home afterward in the notoriously bad New York afternoon rush hour. Needless to say, I was not in a very accommodating mood when the meeting began.
It started with an announcement that no critical comments would be allowed. Everyone would be encouraged to contribute, regardless of their position at the station or their length of service (several members of the air staff had been there for many years, while the receptionist had been there approximately two weeks, but that didn’t matter — no one was to put down any suggestions that anyone made. This is a guarantee that bad ideas will have the same voice as good ideas — even the ones so bad that everyone rejects them as soon as they’re said out loud. A recipe for disaster.
Big pieces of paper were taped to the walls so we could list the positives and negatives of WYNY and the four competitors. I wanted to raise my hand and ask that those who didn’t know this information already please leave the room as they were useless to us, but I held my tongue. The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt the proceedings and extend the meeting.
After 90 minutes of this (!), one of the people with program in their title said, “We’re making good progress, but we still have work to do, so I’m going to order pizza for everyone.” Since we couldn’t possibly continue with one of the group missing for as long as it took to call the nearest Ray’s Pizza, we took a break. I went to my office and put my head on my desk, silently hoping I wouldn’t wake up until it was time for the next day’s show. My partner on the show, Mike Wade, one of the easiest-going guys I’d ever known, looked like he wanted to kill someone.
When we came back, it was time to analyze all those strengths and weaknesses and come up with a new slogan for WYNY. It was to be something that concisely told our audience — and those that didn’t listen to us — what they’d find when they turned their dials to 97.1 FM, and why they should listen both often and for a long time. Keep in mind that this station was not a failure by any measure. We had good ratings and plenty of sponsors. But someone had written a memo demanding an image update.
I don’t remember all of the suggestions that went up on those wall easels, but at the end, there was a vote to see which one the crew liked best. The winner would be immediately embraced as the new catch phrase for the station, to be printed on our stationery and billboards and sung by Jon Wolfert’s jingle geniuses at JAM Productions.
That winning slogan: “97 WYNY, Music And More!”
Music And More. Two things that distinctly set us apart from the competition. Two things you certainly couldn’t get from WPLJ, Z100, WPIX, and WLTW. Two things that would grab people by the ears and make them listen!! The slogan was unique, because while some radio stations might give you music, and others might offer more, nowhere in the USA was anyone going to simultaneously deliver music and more. Yes, this was sure to be a game changer.
To put it mildly: Yuck.
To make a really long story short, I left WYNY a few months later. Less than a year after that, NBC got out of the radio business, selling many of its stations to Emmis. It’s too bad, because if we’d stuck together, I’m sure we could have had several more constructive meetings and developed a Mission Statement to go along with our New Slogan.
At the very least, instead of pizza, we could have ordered sandwiches. And more.