For those of you outside of Detroit radio circles, this morning’s post won’t have the impact that it will for the Motown media community.
It’s been a tough month for TV and radio icons here in The D. Earlier in the month, the most famous anchorman in Detroit history, Bill Bonds, passed away. And then over the weekend, Bill Burton, head of the Detroit Radio Advertiser Group (DRAG) and former chief of the rep firm Eastman Radio left us.
If you could retire someone’s number in radio, no one would ever wear Bill’s jersey again. Well, actually a tiger-striped sport jacket and cap because “you have to be a tiger in this day and age.”
Unlike most of us, Bill Burton actually coined his own catch-phrase that became part of the radio lexicon forever – “Be Fabulous.”
It summed up his approach to selling, but also to life. In everything he pursued, Bill exuded a sense of showbiz and style. At a time when so much in radio is being sanded down by layoffs, budget slashing, and cutting corners, Bill personified doing it big and doing it well.
Bill was old school in the best of ways. He was a master schlepper – a guy who could sell you anything. In fact, one of his favorite phrases was “Don’t take NO from someone who can’t say YES” – a directive to get to the decision-makers in the buying process.
Long before today’s radio CEOs were running around extolling the virtues of the industry to Wall Street investment firms and VC’s, Bill’s “Why Radio?” presentations were known far and wide. He was radio’s #1 ambassador. And when I bumped into Bill in recent years at my neighborhood Starbucks or at industry events, he always pumped me up, reminding me of the importance of staying positive about the “fabulous” industry of radio.
My brother’s Bill first job in the business was with Eastman Radio back in the ‘80s. He has fond memories of working for Bill Burton, a guy whose enthusiasm for the radio business knew no bounds. Here are his memories of Bill Burton from those days:
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Walking into Eastman Radio in August of 1987 was nothing less than surreal and unnerving. One minute I’m a college kid at Michigan State, and just a few short weeks later, I’m in a skyscraper at One Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. After interviewing with Alan Tobkes and a young Charlie Sislen, I was led down the hallway to the executive offices, the ones that actually looked right down on the famous Rockefeller Plaza, and into an office adorned in green, Michigan State’s color. And there sat Bill Burton who, as it turns out, was an alum as well.
That immediately made me feel at home, but not as much as Bill himself did. For a man of moderate stature, he filled the room. Impeccably dressed sporting a crisp white shirt, he looked and even smelled like a million bucks. To this day, I’ve not met a more dynamic, enthusiastic, champion of radio and of life. After being hired, few days went by when Bill would not poke his head into our lowly Research Analysts’ office to not only provide encouragement but to cajole us into loving radio every bit as much as he did – and it worked.
Bill lived his own personal slogan – “Be Fabulous” – at all times. Arms outstretched, he never left a room without saying that to everyone in the company. A great leader, a great man, a great motivator, and a great loss for the industry we love.
Even after Eastman was sold in the ’90s, and Bill “retired” for about a cup of coffee, he came back to run DRAG. He just couldn’t stay away from the industry he loved.
And despite surgeries that would have benched most people, Bill continued to show up for everything. And he was always thinking, strategizing, and learning about radio as it moved from dominance to the challenging competitive arena it finds itself in now.
None of that fazed Bill as he continued to cheerlead for radio, year after year, talking to anyone and everyone about the medium and why it matters.
He was especially intrigued by what was happening on the automotive front – in the same way that we at Jacobs are. As a Detroiter, he recognized early on that radio’s past, present, and future was tied up in cars. It was all summed up in his now-famous quote, “The automobile is a radio with 4 wheels.” He knew.
And despite all sorts of health issues, he was present, accounted for, networking, and learning at both DASH conferences these past two Octobers. He was instrumental in getting the word out about this initiative inside the Detroit radio and advertising community.
As it turned out, radio’s master videographer, Art Vuolo, was on hand at DASH, recording vignettes with a number of prominent attendees – including Bill. In the tribute clip below, you’ll get a sense of Bill’s outlook, his enthusiasm, and his ability to understand the changing industry around him:
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There’s a lot about the way radio used to be that people often say they miss. The industry will most definitely miss this guy. It only took a first meeting to realize there was no one else like him.
Bill was an out-sized personality who inspired us to stay upbeat, be proud of what we do, think big, and above all…
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.