Legendary programmer Paul Drew, best known as the influential PD of such iconic Top 40 stations as KHJ/Los Angeles, CKLW/Detroit and KFRC/San Francisco to name a few, died yesterday morning. Drew was 78 and had been in an assisted living facility in Glendale, CA. Originally from Detroit, Drew broke into radio in the early '50s while attending Wayne State University, landing gigs at WCAR/Detroit and WHLS/Port Huron, MI. In the late '50s he made the move to Atlanta, hired as a jock at WGST; four years later he crossed the street to WAKE where he built up a sizable teen audience. In 1963, Drew segued over to WQXI/Atlanta to do nights, later rising to PD. His career really escalated after that -- he was hired to program the mighty CKLW/Detroit, followed by stops at KFRC and KHJ. He was later upped to VP of Programming for RKO Radio and subsequently served as a consultant to RKO. As legendary air personality Charlie Van Dyke recalls, "Drew was very proud of the fact that RKO only had two VPs of Programming -- Paul Drew and Bill Drake."
John Landecker worked for Paul Drew. In fact, he's the first one who hired him for a major market radio job. John was a student at Michigan State University at the time, and Paul Drew was the program director of WIBG in Philadelphia. John has kept the letter Drew sent to his professors to secure his release...
The following is an excerpt from the book "Records Truly Is My Middle Name" about Paul Drew...
Jim Donahue and Dave Alberry were fellow Michigan State students, and huge radio fans. They contacted me at WILS one night when I was on the air, and we hit it off. They were radio geeks just like me. I started hanging out with them at their apartment after I got off the air at 1:00. Another person that hung out with us was future actor Robert Urich. He was an MSU student too. I met Bob when I directed him in a Fresca commercial that we made for directing class. At the time he had already done some actual paid commercial work. He was in a Frito Lay commercial and a couple of other things, but he hadn’t broken through yet. I believe he eventually became the most watched actor in television history because of the many, many shows he starred in — everything from S.W.A.T. to Vega$ to Soap, to Spencer for Hire, to Lonesome Dove, to Love Boat. He was a great guy. (I reconnected with him many years later, after he was diagnosed with cancer, and we talked all about those days in Lansing. He died in 2002.)
Radio was a favorite topic at Jim and Dave’s apartment. They had gotten enamored with a radio consultant named Bill Drake, who was one of the most famous Top 40 programmers in radio history. I never did the “Bill Drake” format per se, but I did do similar formats, and it’s safe to say that the things I later did at WLS like “Boogie Check,” “Can I Get a Witness News,” and “Americana Panorama” would never have been allowed at a station programmed by Bill Drake. He was a strict format disciplinarian.
Well, somehow, and I’d still love to know how they did this, Jimmy and Dave got their hands on the control room phone numbers of the Bill Drake consulted radio stations across the country, and began calling up disc jockeys, pretending to be Bill Drake. Take it from me, when the hotline rings in a radio studio, it can stop your heart. Anybody that has ever done a radio show knows what it means. It means you’re in trouble. And when these poor unsuspecting jocks picked up the phone, they’d hear...
“This is Bill Drake, who is this?”
Followed by Jim or Dave bitching at these poor saps for doing the format incorrectly. It was actually pretty hilarious. They had it down. They knew how the format worked. They knew all the tricks. All of these jocks fell for it.
One of the Drake guys that Donahue and Alberry called was named Mike Rivers. Mike was doing afternoons on CKLW in Detroit (actually Windsor, Canada — just over the border). Without my knowledge, Jimmy and Dave gave a tape of my show to Rivers. Rivers gave that tape to his boss, Paul Drew, shortly before Drew left Detroit to program WIBG in Philadelphia. All of these balls were rolling without me having the slightest idea.
So, I was more than a little surprised when I got a call from Paul Drew. He said he wanted to fly me out to Philadelphia to interview me.
“Are you kidding me? Of course I’ll come.”
When I got there, he offered me the job.
Now, as excited as I was by this turn of events, I also knew that if I took this job, I had to do something else. I had to drop out of college. My father was on a sabbatical overseas teaching in Germany when I got the job offer from WIBG in Philadelphia. I knew he wouldn’t understand the implications of this offer, but I sure did. This was a leap into market number four from market number nowhere. It was the #2 rated rock station in Philadelphia — this was a huge deal.
I talked to my professors about the job offer. They all told me to take it. I also talked to my in-laws, my father-in-law had gone to Harvard and MIT and my mother-in-law had gone to Vassar, and they supported the move too. Everybody pointed out to me that this was the reason I was going to college — to get an offer like this. So, I leaped at the opportunity and informed my parents overseas that I was dropping out of college my senior year to take the job.
I’m sure there was disappointment on their end, and I guess deep down there is some on my end too. Every once in a while, I remember that I never graduated, and I have fantasies of going back to Michigan and getting a diploma. I even went so far as calling up University of Michigan’s admission office once looking for my high school transcripts. I told whoever was on the other end of the phone that I had attended University of Michigan High School, and needed to get my records. Her response?
A PHILADELPHIA STORY
The jocks that were on the radio in Philadelphia at that time were real characters. Jerry Blavat (The Geator with the Heater), Joe Niagra (The Rockin’ Bird), Hy Lit (a guy who once had a 71 share). Huge names. Real characters in the history of Philadelphia radio; larger than life.
But I had a slightly different style. Ted Heusel, Tom O’Brien, and Joel Sebastian were my influences. Ron Britain in Chicago. Dave Pringle and Ollie McGlocklin from Ann Arbor. I was different than what they were used to in Philadelphia, and I knew it.
I have never been as nervous as I was the first day I went to work at WIBG. It was the big time — no question about it. I had arrived. But when I arrived, I also discovered something else. I was no longer John Records Landecker.
Paul Drew had changed my on-air name to Scott Walker.
Scott Walker? Really?
I had been in radio for only a few years, and this was already my third name. But unlike “Dow Jones,” I never cared for this one. It made no sense at all to me. They had hired the John Records Landecker Radio Leviathan Program. Why on earth would they put generic old Scott Walker on the air instead?
At first, WIBG was an absolute nightmare. Paul Drew was a micromanager’s micromanager. He would wear an earphone wherever he went to constantly listen to the station. It seemed like he listened 24 hours a day. There was a spotlight in the corner of the studio connected to the studio hotline, and it went off all day long. Paul called to correct every jock every time he did something wrong, even if he was in the middle of a sentence. The joke at the station was that we all had sunburn on one side of our face because of that studio hotline light.
It’s not that Paul mistreated me — he didn’t at all. He was a very nice guy. In fact, he was incredibly generous in retrospect because he didn’t fire me — and I gave him plenty of reasons. I even screwed up a countdown once.
I mean, I was just not gelling with this format at all.
I really thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life by going to this station. I had dropped out of college and moved across the country with a wife and kid, and came to a part of the country that wasn’t comfortable to me — I wasn’t an East Coast guy. I remember being in this hotel room one night, studying this ridiculous manual about the format — and breaking down because I believed there was no way I was going to be able to do it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but everything was about to change.
The station was sold to Buckley Broadcasting and Paul Drew was let go. I remember going over to Paul’s apartment after I heard the news.
He asked me: “What do you want to do with your career?”
“Well I’d like to go back to being John Records Landecker,” I said.
“You’re never going to make it with that name,” he said. “Why don’t you go down to a medium market, somewhere like Atlanta, and get it out of your system? There was no way I could have used a John Records Landecker here, but in the end, I could have used six Scott Walkers.”
He was trying to compliment me, trying to tell me that I did a great job executing the format, but being Scott Walker never felt right to me. In his defense, after I became a big success in Chicago, I did get a letter from Paul mocking himself for saying that to me. He wrote, “I guess what I should have said was ‘I could have used six John Records Landeckers’.”