These past few weeks – OK, maybe months – have been a roller coaster of information about the pandemic, the vaccines, and the return to “normal.”
Will we need a booster shot? Will there be another mask mandate…or worse? Can our hospitals take another wave of the sick…and dying? Will in-person events go on as planned?
If you were paying attention last week, it was another 7-day period of conflicting COVID news: rising infection levels in most states, increased hospitalizations, the Olympics are off to a shaky start amidst the pandemic, and anti-vaxxers are mostly sticking to their guns.
But there was one sign we may be making our way out of the woods.
Out of nowhere, the Rolling Stones announced the continuation of their twice cancelled “No Filter” tour. These stadium shows were first put on hold late in 2019 when Mick Jagger underwent heart surgery. Yesterday was his 78th birthday, and all reports indicate he's hale, hardy, and ready to continue the tour. Obviously, the meds are working.
And then came COVID, and “No Filter” dates were cancelled along with everything else.
When the news broke last week the tour was back on, starting with 13 dates, everyone rushed to their computers and phones to see if their city was on the list. After all, a Stones concert in your town is a great experience, guaranteeing millions in revenue to the local economy.
This time around, the tour starts in St. Louis, makes its way to Detroit, and ends up in Austin. But looking over the itinerary and venues, there's one stop that stands out because it looks nothing like the others.
On October 13, the Stones' “No Filter” juggernaut heads into New Orleans to play that city's iconic Jazz Fest. For the city fathers and mothers in the Big Easy, this is a true feather in their collective hats.
According to NOLA.com writer Keith Spera, the 51 year-old event had booked the Stones in 2019, but that date was deep-sixed when Jagger needed surgery.
For this year's Jazz Fest, the Stones are front and center, a big win for festival organizers. Like the band appearing at Lollapalooza or Coachella, this is not your ordinary booking. And that's what makes it so special.
Don't miss The Rolling Stones on October 13, the first-ever Jazz Fest Wednesday!
Tickets on sale Friday, July 30 at 10AM.
Visit https://t.co/siDGJzjRZf for more information.#jazzfest pic.twitter.com/4HHrjbL3rW
— New Orleans JazzFest (@jazzfest) July 22, 2021
How did they manage to pull it off? After all, Jazz Fest is an unlikely event for the Stones.
But they asked.
And the three word response?
“Mick said ‘yes.'”
When explaining this amazing booking coup, Jazz Fest's producer and director, Quint Davis, explained, “It's the biggest band in the world doing an American tour that nobody knew about. And they're playing Jazz Fest.”
That story took me back to one of the most amazing radio promotions I had ever been involved with. Not in L.A., New York or Detroit. But in Richmond, VA.
Early in my consulting career, I was consulting Capital Broadcasting's XL102, a truly successful station, programmed by a rambunctious PD, David Grossman.
There was noting subtle about David. He told you what he was thinking. If he disagreed with you, he got in your face, and he was not a quiet guy.
But he was a dreamer. A big dreamer. And he had great aspirations for XL102. He didn't just want great ratings. He wanted the station to do big things.
David had a dream he could convince Yoko Ono to let him press a limited series of white vinyl copies of Lennon's “Happy Christmas” in time for a Christmas promotion.
David knew a guy who knew a guy who supposedly knew Yoko. And once he had her contact info, David began to pepper her with letters and calls. From a distance, I thought this was at best a very long shot, and at worst a waste of time. After all, why would Yoko grant this request for a rock station in Richmond, Virginia, of all places?
David was relentless, and eventually convinced Yoko (and Capitol Records) to press 102 white vinyl 12″ limited editions of “Happy Christmas” to benefit the Central Virginia Food Bank.
That's right – Yoko said “yes.”
Suffice it to say, it was one helluva promotion. No other station – WNEW-FM, KMET, or The Loop – all the big rockers back in the day, were able to take part in this.
In an interview that took place in support of the fundraiser, Yoko was asked what made her finally decide to give her blessing to this project. Why XL102?
Her simple response said it all: “Because no one had ever asked before.”
Yes, I have a numbered copy of “Happy Christmas,” one of the few pieces of memorabilia that I've kept over the years – a great reminder of the power of a radio station and one programmer's dogged pursuit to think big, and not be afraid to do “the ask.”
These days, there is a lot stacked against programmers and marketers in radio. Budgets have been decimated, contesting has been put on hold, research has dried up, and every manager has morphed into “Dr. No.”
In this kind of environment where many feel beaten down, you might not fault a manager for not even bothering to do “the ask.”
But that would be a huge mistake.
The person in history who perhaps is most credited with making requests against all odds is Mahatma Gandhi. He is credited with this timely quote:
“If you don't ask, you don't get.”
You just never know.
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