On Sports Radio stations, a surefire way to get those phones ringing – especially on a slow day – is to launch a G.O.A.T. debate.
For those of you who aren't rabid fans of any of the major sports, that stands for the “Greatest Of All Time.” And these days, those debates always generate passionate opinions – on the air, on Twitter, and in bars (when they're open).
There are those elite athletes that always stir up conversations. In the NBA, the conversation often centers around Michael Jordan versus LeBron James, both of whom are deserving of G.O.A.T. honors. But inevitably, a fan is likely to bring up players like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, or Larry Bird. All earned multiple championship rings, but they also have one very important trait in common:
They played their entire careers on the same team in the same town for the same fans.
That's right – guys like Magic, Bird, Cal Ripkin, Barry Sanders, Stevie Yzerman, and Derek Jeter weren't just amazing performers on the court, diamond, ice, and gridiron.
That's a high bar, and one where the player is often not in control. Trades are made, deal are cut, and there is always free agent money to be had. But these really amazing, stable, and yes, loyal stars often make sacrifices to ensure their careers were played while wearing the same jersey.
And in many ways, radio is no different. This is another sad week in radio where furloughs (that turned into terminations) have affected scores of industry veterans. It's been said sarcastically that you never really work in radio until you've been fired – at least once.
To illustrate my point, every August we celebrate National Radio Day, a “holiday” that seems to earn more attention with each passing year, thanks in large part to social media.
A common way for veteran air personalities to acknowledge the day is by posting throwback photos of themselves in the studio or at remotes, coupled with the list of call letters on which their voices have been heard, over the years and even decades.
And for some seasoned jocks and hosts, it can be a long, impressive list of legendary, respected stations all over the country. Some have worked for so many stations, they cannot even recall all the places they've been and all the jock lounges they've hung up their headphones.
So, when you run across a radio talent or executive – or both – who has excelled in radio – not just for a few books, but for their entire careers, you have to stand back and give them that slow clap they richly deserve.
Ten years at the same station in a prominent role is an incredible accomplishment. Twenty is an amazing achievement. And a quarter century? It's a rarity to be sure.
Now, I know some of you who fit in this group will add comments here and on my Twitter page, as you should. I can think of a handful of standouts who have achieved this feat. But there aren't many.
And so, when I saw the news the other day that Larry McFeelie celebrated his 25th anniversary with KUPD – first as an intern in 1994, later on the air, a fixture in middays, and eventually as program director, a position he holds to this day. KUPD (it was known as KUKQ back then) celebrated 40 years as Arizona's Rock Station in 2019. And Larry has been onboard for the majority of those years.
And the thing that makes it more special is that Larry grew up in Phoenix – it wasn't a market he moved to. And yes, I see a little of myself in him because I, too, got to program my favorite station growing up – WRIF.
The difference? I worked at WRIF for four years – Larry's been with KUPD for a quarter century. It's the only station he's ever worked at – period. (Larry also bakes an amazingly tasty bagel whereas I have mastered the microwave oven.)
Most PDs I've worked with over the years are committed people, caught up in the 24/7/365 cyclone of radio programming. But Larry's connection to KUPD (and his hometown of Phoenix, of course) is at a different level.
There are lots of famous PDs and personalities in the radio business here in the States. Stars like Scott Shannon, Delilah, Kevin Weatherly, and Ryan Seacrest come to mind – people who have excelled at their jobs under the hot lights for years and years.
But it's the small number of often unsung heroes in an elite category that combines success with longevity and serving the same community at the same set of call letters that is so impressive.
Like other great stewards of their brands, Larry has helped his staff navigate multiple sales of KUPD. The station is one of a handful that remains in its original rock format, true to its brand equity. It was purchased by Hubbard in 2013, and the station has continued to flourish under the leadership of Trip Reeb, another guy who knows a little something about longevity and radio greatness.
Larry's had some help along the way – a stable staff of dedicated, passionate rockers who live, breathe, and eat KUPD. Superstar John Holmberg and his Morning Sickness teammates, along with promotions and marketing whiz Mark Randall, have been along for most of the ride.
I caught up with Larry this week, and asked him how this longevity thing happened, and how he's managed to keep KUPD successful for so long.
Fred Jacobs: How did you end up getting your shot at KUPD? How did it happen?
Larry McFeelie: I was looking for an internship in radio and “Jonathan L” let me in to the KUKQ/KUPD building in 1995 and put me right to work. I remember watching him do a break on the radio and when he finished the break, I asked, “So what will I be doing?” and he answered, “That! What I just did on the radio.” I was shocked that I was being thrown right into the lion’s den.
FJ: Did you have any idea when you first started working there that it would become your “life’s work?”
LMcF: Not at all. I actually thought it would be a nice springboard into the music industry, but never thought I would be running a radio station… let alone the mighty KUPD that I had grown up listening to in Phoenix.
FJ: What are the advantages to having worked for the same station this long – in your hometown market?
LMcF: Having grown up here, I really have a sense of not only how passionate the community is about the radio station, but also how it can comfort them throughout rough times, much like our current situation.
I can remember when I was a kid helping out with the school yearbook in 7th and 8th grade, taking surveys of student’s ‘favorites.’ 98KUPD was ALWAYS the favorite radio station every time. I understand what this station means to the people that live here because it meant and still means so much to me.
FJ: Last year, KUPD celebrated its 40th. What does KUPD mean to the community?
LMcF: For many, it is their connection to the music world. The community not only views KUPD as a heritage radio station, but also as their reliable source for what’s happening in the valley. With the amount of charity work and donations we’ve delivered over the past 40 years, I think the community also views the radio station as a kind-hearted entity that would never turn its back on them.
FJ: How’s the station doing today? What are you working on that you can share?
LMcF: In the midst of the chaotic world we’re living in, KUPD is weathering the storm with ease. We’re all stuck without concerts right now, but the listeners of the radio station keep coming back daily for tunes, content and entertainment. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of “Holmberg’s Morning Sickness” on 98KUPD, and we’re trying to schedule out a year’s worth of events while we aren’t even sure when life will be returning to normal. It’s frustrating, but it’s the bed we’re all lying in at this point. We’re currently planning as if concerts and events will be back by the summer of 2021.
Next August when National Radio Day rolls around again, you'll see a veritable alphabet soup of call letters from industry veterans who have certainly been there and done that.
But don't look for Larry McFeelie. He's got one of the most boring resumes in radio. And he's proud of it.
Congrats to Larry and the KUPD team.
And a shout-out to the other long-timers who have shepherded their brands through the decades, on the air and off.
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