Monday, August 9, 2010

INTERVIEW: Legendary DJ and Voice Actor Richard Weirich ("Bob Burton") of Golden Hits Radio

The "Oldies" radio format has been steadily growing in popularity over the past few years (boomers anyone?). Here in Toronto, there are nearly as many Oldies stations as there are Top 40 stations, and you can now find them on the FM dial (they used to be the mainstay of the AM band). The format itself has expanded mainly due to the passage of time; seventies weren't oldies in the eighties - but they are now!

Which brings me to the recently launched Golden Hits Radio (GHR). While you won't hear GHR on any AM/FM tuner (it's a pure Internet radio station), it is in its own way more authentic than your typical Oldies station. What makes GHR such a joy to listen to - apart from excellent audio quality, song selection, DJing, and no commercials - is that it is brought to you by legendary radio personalities "Burt and Kurt". While I didn't grow up listening to "Burt and Kurt", those of you from Florida, Texas, Alabama, or Mississippi will like know who I'm talking about. The duo are famous for such characters as: Uncle Mack; Red Wood; Lonnie "The Beautiful Dude" Bumpus Jones; the Maha Richci Yogo Fogi Nanana Fanna Go Fogi; and many more.

I caught up with Richard Weirich (the "Burt" half of "Burt and Kurt") - an accomplished voice actor for this exclusive TUN3R interview.

Q1 Neil: Richard, thanks very much for taking the time to participate in this interview. On the Golden Hits Radio web site you mention that GHR is very much a "labor of love" and an outlet for your passion of music programming. Can you elaborate on that and describe how GHR got started?

A1 Richard: For nearly 40 years radio was my livelihood as well as being something that I loved dearly. More than a vocation radio is my passion which is why I launched Golden Hits Radio. I love music and the art of radio programming. It is something that I just have to do.

A while back I had a business called the Radio Format Factory in which I developed automation formats for radio stations. The radio company that I worked for took exception to my side business and ordered me to shut it down. Consequently, when I parted ways with terrestrial radio I still had the equipment and the music library which provided the foundation for Golden Hits Radio.

Q2 Neil: I've been listening to your station for the past week, and it's a remarkably well programmed. The song selection, transitions, and overall mix are superb. To my ear GHR is a prime example of how a great DJ can elevate the listening experience. What's your secret? Is there any advice you can pass on to younger DJs?

A2 Richard: You're very kind. Obviously years of experience in radio programming dictates much of my programming philosophy. But I also have a basic belief that radio killed radio. I don't think the demon was satellite radio but the poor choices made by corporate radio. Short playlists and cramming the same music down listeners throats was a recipe for disaster....especially when programming to adults. The basic formula for oldies stations was to play a handful of oldies (usually 200 - 300). The emphasis was not on "what to play" but... "what not to play." There is no wonder that IPods and MP3 players were so successful. Radio drove them away.

Golden Hits Radio is programmed with the expectation that oldies listeners want more variety and less repetition. The art is in assembling so many different kinds of sounds from a massive music library and making it all fit together in an entertaining and enjoyable music mix.

Internet radio is much like radio in the 60s and 70s. Back then you started at a small town radio station, made your mistakes, developed your craft, and moved onto bigger and better radio markets. Your best teacher was the school of hard knocks. The best advice that I know for anyone trying to make it as a DJ is to be your own best self and don't be afraid to take some chances. Learn your craft and always strive to stay relevant.

Q3 Neil: Apart from being a program director, you're also a seasoned voice actor. How did you discover this talent of yours? Was there someone from your youth that inspired you?

A3 Richard: Actually voice talent ( goes back to my childhood. As long as I can remember I liked to read out loud. Oddly, I have always been uncomfortable with my voice and I suppose it comes from being a perfectionist. I still haven't had my best recording session. I suppose that when that day comes it will be time to retire.

Q4 Neil: You have helped create such characters as Uncle Mack and Red Wood? How do you come up with new voices and characters?

A4 Richard: All the voices, except mine, were created by my longtime radio partner, Kurt Kilpatrick. He and I first teamed up in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the most talented individual I have ever encountered in radio. We first teamed up in 1974 and even to this day he still cracks me up. Most of the characters were based on real people. Before Kurt and I teamed up he was a tv news reporter. Uncle Mack was based on an old gentleman that Kurt interviewed. Red Wood was derived from a boss he had in one of his first jobs.

Q5 Neil: Can you tell me about the "Kurt" half of "Kurt and Burt". How did you form your partnership?

A5 Richard: Kurt is a very successful motivational/humorist speaker. We first met in 1974 when Kurt had a record produced featuring his impressions and comedy and brought it by the radio station to see if I would play it. I liked what I heard and invited Kurt to join me on my show as a guest. That morning the phones rang off the wall from listeners who loved what they were hearing. Shortly after I offered him a job....and fortunately for me he accepted.

Q6 Neil: When is the best time to listen to GHR? Are there any shows or sketches where we can hear your voice characters?

A6 Richard: Every hour is consistently the same. There is no dayparting due to an international audience. It's always prime time somewhere. We still have yet to add live talent. That's coming in about a month when we will be joined by Shane Wison, Scott Evans, and Dave Mack. All of them are seasoned radio veterans and share a common love for good radio. As far as the return of Burt and Kurt I am still uncertain how I want to handle that. I don't know how heavy doses of personality will work with the flow of Golden Hits Radio. I am leaning toward offering Burt and Kurt personality breaks in a podcast format. That way listeners can hear us when they want and we won't get in the way of the music. We recently recorded some new material that I will soon make available at our website.

Q7 Neil: You've been on air since 1974. I'm sure you've met some interesting characters and have had some interesting moments. Are there any characters or stories that stand out for you?

A7 Richard: Actually....I first broke into radio in Norfolk, Virginia at WCPK in 1970. '74 was the year that I teamed up with Kurt. Indeed there have been many interesting people and situations encountered along the way. I am reminded of an incident involving a DJ who worked at WSGN in Birmingham about 1973. He did the all night show and would occasionally bring his German Shepherd to work. The station was located in the 21st story penthouse of the City Federal Building. There was a fenced walkway around the penthouse and he would let his dog get some exercise in the late night air. Most often he would clean up the dog's residue and carry it out in a plastic bag. One night....for whatever reason....he decided to heave the mess over the wall. Upon leaving the building he was greeted by a startled paper delivery man who was cursing like a sailor about being hit by droppings from a huge bird.

At WJDX in Jackson, MS....I was listening one night when our station went off the air. I began to call the air talent on the hot-line trying to find out what had happened but there was no answer. Frustrated at not knowing what was going on I drove to the station to get the answer. Prior to arriving we came back on the air but I completed the drive to make certain that everything was OK. The DJ was quick to apologize and told the story of how he had to leave the controls because a naked girl was climbing our station tower and he took it upon himself to rescue her. As it turned out she was the daughter of one of Jackson's most prominent attorneys. I feared repercussions but fortunately there weren't any.

Another story that comes to mind....the program director that hired me at WIST in Charlotte, NC preceded me on the air...which was not a problem....except for the pet boa constrictor that he brought to work with him. The boa rested securely around his neck while he played the hits. I refused to go into the studio until he and his friend left the room.

There are many cherished friendships and memories from my radio past. It all went by so fast.

Q8 Neil: Do you have a favourite song? Or is there a song which you feel exemplifies Golden Hits Radio?

A8 Richard: I have so many favorite songs it would be impossible to single out just one but a song that kind of catches the essence of Golden Hits Radio is Rock and Roll Heaven by the Righteous Brothers.

Q9 Neil: Where do you see Golden Hits Radio going? Is your vision complete, or do you see evolving?

A9 Richard: Golden Hits Radio still has a long way to go. We've been on the air less than three months so there's a lot of growing to do. My vision involves getting GHR played wherever there is a potential audience. That means staying on top of the technology. I also foresee branching into other niche formats. The biggest challenge is generating enough income to keep the project moving forward. I remain committed to commercial and subscription free radio. Radio has given me so much and now I want to give back to the great listeners who have made it all possible.