When I worked for Paul Drew, one of the most successful and influential program directors of the second golden age of radio, I lived in fear of making a mistake.
Blow the format and Paul was on the batphone taking you to task.
There are many of us out there who suffered the same fate.
And for those who have never been on the receiving end of a batphone, it’s a high intensity floodlight that flashes so it doesn’t ring in the studio when the boss calls.
If I learned anything from Paul, it was to be thorough and hardworking – something that served me well later as a program director and in life.
Paul Drew died yesterday in his beloved state of California after years of a distinguished career in radio and music at the age of 78.
He was a mentor and one of the most colorful people that I have ever known in radio.
Today’s suit and tie CEOs are operating in an alien world compared to the days of Bill Drake and Paul Drew and a handful of other talented and great program directors.
Everyone has a Paul Drew story – and even if you dismiss half of it as embellishment, these tales are real and define this colorful man.
Paul worked at some big radio stations achieving success by adhering to high on-air programming standards.
KHJ, Los Angeles. KFRC, San Francisco. WQXI, Atlanta. And, of course, “The Big 8” CKLW in Detroit. He was Vice President of Programming for the RKO Radio group at one point, the most powerful radio chain in the country. He traveled with The Beatles on their U.S. tour along with my WFIL friend Larry Kane. Dabbled in the music business with a Japanese act called Pink Lady and not long ago appeared once again on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
Paul Drew also worked at the less memorable WIBG in Philadelphia where I worked for him.
The station’s signal was so bad, you had to rent a helicopter at night if you wanted to hear it.
On the night I was to do my first show, he sent me a memo that said, “Jerry, your name is Jim Barber. Paul”.
Paul didn’t see the need to share this type of information in advance and I had such a hard time remembering my name that I wrote it in big black letters and put it on the glass in front of me.
Paul once lectured me on the importance of a big news story. He said, “A really big news story is a power hit and should be played as such”.
When I returned to WIBG to become the program director, I inherited his office and his files filled with memos to staff. But I could never fill his shoes.
Paul loved to write memos – short, sweet, sometimes appreciative, sometimes critical.
Among the qualities I admired is how determined he was to stick to the format.
When he was going to launch the “All Time Top 300” Friday at 3pm running until midnight Sunday night, he secretly bought an ad in an afternoon newspaper with the “Top 300” printed in time for Friday afternoon so listeners could follow along.
Unfortunately, Jimmy Hilliard who was running WFIL (and with whom I was also privileged to work for) picked up a copy of the newspaper before 3pm and launched “WFIL’s All Time Top 300” at five minutes before three using our playlist.
WIBG’s 300 playlist, five minutes ahead of Paul full well knowing Paul would rather die than skip a record or two to catch up. As a result, WIBG ran five minutes behind WFIL with WIBG’s exact Top 300 hit playlist all weekend.
Paul refused to skip a number and catch up.
The night before as we were auditioning Bill Drake’s top of the hour station break cut for the occasion, I noted that it said, “You’re listening to the All Time Top 300 counted down in order from” – and then an a cappella singing station ID “WIBG, Philadelphia”.
I said, Paul “Why is Drake saying counted down in order?”
Paul answered, “That’s the magic of a countdown”.
I knew he would never interrupt the magic to one up his able competitor.
Paul could be tough, very tough.
He fired one jock a week from the previous format every Friday. You can imagine our nerves. Once he joked to me and Jerry Stevens, the holdover afternoon personality, “It’s Friday”. Stevens said, “So what”? And Paul said, “you’re still here”.
A few weeks later, Stevens was fired.
The kind of firing that went on then was nothing compared to what happens in radio now because we could always get another job across the street.
There were no Clear Channels or Cumulus Medias owning all the stations.
For all the radio stories about Paul, my favorite is personal.
When my son decided to go to college at The University of Southern California 3,000 miles from Philadelphia, Jerry ran into Paul at a music school event.
All Paul had to do was hear the name “Jerry Del Colliano” and the conversation began. They had not previously met because he was only a gleam in my eye when I was working for Paul.
Paul and his wonderful and kind wife, Ann, the best radio spouse I have ever met, took young Jerry under their wing, invited him to their LA home for dinners and kept a watchful eye on him.
Paul and Ann attended Jerry’s graduation party.
Jerry had been used to hearing my stories about the batphone and how terrifying it could be working for a perfectionist like Paul Drew.
In a late night call, my son said to me “Paul Drew is a teddy bear”.
I had an immediate allergic reaction to that imagery.
But in the end, his public persona and private side were very different, as I knew well.
Indeed, he was a teddy bear.
Paul Drew mentored a lot of radio people in his time and I am grateful to be counted among them.
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