Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Bartell Family Radio scam

Sometimes it's the unwritten history that's the most interesting. We lionize people, we demonize them. We exaggerate and summarize for both entertainment and convenience. The story of KYA for example is interesting on it's own. But the Bartell Family who owned them from 1958 to1958. No really, that's the part that takes explaining. The ownership of KYA was often tumultuous. But the period in the late 1950s was especially so. Rather than rehash it I'm going to quote the Bay Area Radio Museum.
"Over a period of almost twenty years, KYA was operated by no less than eight different owners! The Palo Alto group sold the station to Dorothy Schiff of the New York Post. In the mid-fifties, the station was purchased by Elroy McCaw and John Keating, doing business as KYA, Inc. They in turn sold the station to the Bartell Family Group in 1958, who subsequently sold to Golden State Broadcasters..."
I was having trouble working out the time line when I turned to Whites radio log. On May 1st 1958 Golden State Broadcasters bought the station from the Bartell family. That means the Bartell family owned the station for less than 5 months. What the hell was going on in there?

Total chaos it turns out. This quick turn around was the M.O. of Bartell Family Radio. They bought stations in trouble on the cheap and turned them around and sold them off as fast as possible. Like the people flipping houses two years ago. They came in slapped down some new carpet and a coat of paint and raised the price by 50 grand. The bartells brought in their own sales guys, and programmers and just ran a a razzle-dazzle campaign for a few months selling ads with whatever promo it took to get the job done. It was an investment, not a property.

The Bartell family began their incursion into radio land in 1947. They built WEXT, a 1,000-watt, daytimer in in Milwaukee. The Bartell brothers: David, Melvin, Gerald and Lee flipped the switch at WEXT on August 31, 1947. They followed that up by building 920 WOKY-AM which was licensed to run 24 hours a day. They shut down WEXT in 1950 when WOKY went on air.

Gerald had worked at WHA-AM and probably brought whatever industry knowledge they had to the table. When they shut off WEXT they sold off the hardware. I have no way to know where the idea came from but that little switcheroo taught them something. They went on a buying and building frenzy in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They built stations in Appleton, Sturgeon Bay, and Stevens Point, WI, Miami, FL, Charles City, IA. KYA had been their seventh property. Strangely it appears that Bartell ran KYA for another 2 years. It may have been an LMA type of arrangement. White Log clearly shows they sold it May 1st. But in 1960 they are also clearly auditioning tapes for new talent at KYA still under Bartell. The arrangement is unclear.

Then as fast as they bought these small market stations they sold them. They bought and then quickly sold KYA in San Francisco, KRUX in Phoenix, KCBQ in San Diego, WAKE in Atlanta, WYDE ' in Birmingham, Alabama, WADO in New York City, and WILD in Boston. More here.

In the December 1958 issue of Billboard Gerald explained his holistic approach to programming:
"The motive which compels most commercial organizations is that of profit. The company should make money for it's investors. How does commercial radio achieve profits? By sale of it's facilities and talent... but mostly the size of it's audiences. When it's audience is large the station prospers; when it shrinks the station's fortunes tumble. So that commercial programs are created to reach the largest buying audience."