Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rowdy Yates talks his Houston radio career at KILT and KIKK with Mike McGuff

Former 100.3 KILT afternoon (and morning) jock Rowdy Yates shocked the Houston radio world when he recently left for Tulsa for his wife's new job. Don't worry about him, he's already landed a morning show at 98.5 KVOO (he starts May 9th at 6am)!

But what about his time on Houston radio at the former 95.7 KIKK (now KKHH) and 100.3 KILT? He talks to all about it.

Mike McGuff: When you got to Houston in 1994, did you ever think you would remain in Houston for such a long period of time?

Rowdy Yates: No. My plan was to log about three years tops. I had always wanted to work on the West Coast and even told our GM (station general manager) at the time of my intentions. Just a month or so in at KIKK, HE goes to Los Angeles and I spend 16+ years in Houston. I have no regrets.

MM: What was it like moving over from KIKK to KILT?

RY: It was most certainly the pivotal point in my career. Without KILT there never would have been any major awards, industry nominations and national recognition that came from working a key time slot at such a powerful and respected radio station. KILT allowed me to really learn and flourish those early years as a personality, plus we all encouraged one another to do our best. I learned a lot about ‘friendly competition’ from the KILT staff.

I am so grateful to KIKK for bringing me to town. KIKK was my first full-time major market job. It broke my heart to see KIKK go away for good, and all of the unnecessary (and all too frequent) changes made to KIKK when the solution to its ratings woes was so simple - just let KIKK be KIKK. I loved my time at KILT, but I will always be a KIKK’er.

MM: What made 100.3 KILT such a powerhouse over the years?

RY: The people. Truly the most gifted air staff I ever worked with had to be the KILT crew. I was honored to be a part of it from 1997 up until just a few years ago. The morning show, the news department, the full and part-time lineup was so solid. The folks on the street and an awesome behind the scenes staff were equally as talented. They all contributed to the success of the station all those years. Program Director Debbie Brazier, who hired me at KILT, was of the belief that the most important thing was what came out of the speakers. If we did our job there, everything else would fall in to place and it did.

MM: What was it like taking over for Hudson and Harrigan?

RY: Difficult and exhausting, but very exciting. I was notified of their departure after being on vacation for only 17 hours. Needless to say, we packed up our beach house and rolled back in to town. I assumed the morning slot within a few days. That began a year-long BLUR I am just now looking back on and trying to process. On one hand, I hated to see the guys and the brand go away because it was so big for so long. But, I knew as well as anybody it was time for a change there, and also what a difficult choice it had to be. But, it was essential for the survival of the station itself to explore new options for KILT in morning drive.

With that being said, I was particularly proud of what we were able to accomplish in our nine month run. We stopped the ratings slide (which had gone on far too long) and we managed to get the station in to the top 5 in morning drive for the first time in several years. We worked very hard to keep advertisers on the morning show (and the station) after H and H left, and the good news was they all stayed. Then, new advertisers came on board. We even beat KKBQ’s morning show fairly early on. They had been the country radio ratings leader in morning drive for the past few years. That had to be somewhat embarrassing given we were just a ‘fill-in’ show.

Was I disappointed when I did not get the morning job? Yes. I won’t lie to you. But that was their decision, and I respect them for it. It is their train, and I was paid to toot the whistle-whenever and wherever. I certainly wish the new crew well - it was a real treat to observe how Greg Thunder works. He is a master at his craft, a great guy and they will do well.

My departure in many ways will be good for a lot of others at KILT. Steve Rixx who was laid off due to budget cutbacks over a year ago has assumed the afternoon drive slot, and is back to full time status again. “Cowboy” Dave Kelly, who joined Erin and me on the morning show, ended up becoming the full-time producer for the new Foley and Thunder show. Even Tom Fontaine, who was a victim of the same budget cuts as Steve is now working behind the scenes on the new morning show.

The best news out of all of this is that I managed to land a morning show of my own! When we arrive in Tulsa, I will have a real opportunity to learn and grow as a morning personality. Not just a fill in or replacement jock. The experience will be invaluable, and hopefully put me in a position to go on to do bigger and better things later in my career, as a bona fide morning radio star. That is what I want to be. So, I’ll begin the morning show on legendary country station KVOO 98.5 FM May 9th at 6am.

MM: What will you miss the most about Houston?

RY: The beach, Buc-ee’s, and 6.0 beer!

MM: How did you make it through your last day on the air?

RY: It was not difficult at all, as nothing was ever said on the air. It was business as usual. Since I resigned and was not fired, and because I elected not to do a ‘Swan Song’ show, I merely introduced the last song around 6:55 and left. I have been gone since Friday (the 22nd) and did not even turn in my key-card until about five days later. KILT and CBS management offered me the opportunity to say goodbye and in a number of different ways. I just did not feel comfortable drawing that much attention to what even I considered to be not that big of a deal. The move was about my wife, not me.

MM: Can you give us some wacky story that really stands out during your Houston tenure?

RY: There were several. We did a 19 hour long April Fool’s joke that still goes down as one the all-time best radio gags I have ever been a part of. Due to the time change, we managed to convince listeners that the electronic clocks at the station had gone haywire. So, we switched all our shifts around. Complete with wrong time checks, jingles, newscasts, traffic, etc. We did our night time request show in the middle of the day, the morning show in the afternoon, afternoon show in morning drive. It generated a lot of chatter. That is what KILT was so good at ‘in the day’ (for decades for that matter) was engaging the audience, and getting them involved in the fun.

I recall the time that I accidentally gave away $10,000 to the wrong person in our “Song of the Day” contest. I thought I was fired for sure, but that ‘goof’ if you will, generated ten times that amount in publicity for the afternoon show and KILT. While I was advised to be a bit more attentive, even the General Manager agreed it made for some entertaining radio.

The funniest story, looking back (though it was not at the time) had to be the execution of Karla Faye Tucker. Wait for it...she was the first female in Texas to be executed in almost 100 years if I recall. It drew international attention, and since KILT was the FM station for late breaking, up-to-the-minute news and information, we had the story. Shortly after 6pm, News Director Jim Carola waved at me from the news booth to interrupt the song for the official word that she had met her maker. I fired off this big sounding musical news into, complete with a man with an even bigger voice than Jim’s, that says “this is a KILT News special report…” and Jim informs the thousands tuned in that “Karla Taye F*cker” had just been executed! At the time, neither one of us thought much of it. Jim looked over his glasses at me for a split second, and moved on just like a pro would do. It was only the next morning after H and H got wind of the slip that the field day began. *Sad that poor Jim’s 40 year career at KILT would be remembered more for that accidental slip of the tongue more than anything else he had accomplished during his four decade run.

MM:  What's going to happen to Country Gold?

RY:  I will continue to work with syndicator Westwood One, and hopefully KILT will continue to run the show in Houston. If not, I think that there would be another signal in the market that would be delighted to run the show. Suits will have to work that out, not me. The show now clears in about 130 markets from Coast-to-Coast, and originated from my home studio in Greatwood. The aforementioned studio is currently shoved in the back of my F-150, bound for Tulsa. Listeners around the country will not notice any changes or interruptions, other than I accidentally disconnected the toll free number. I gotta get that fixed PDQ!

I am very excited about the future, and what it will bring for my wife and me. I leave knowing that KILT is in good hands. Recent ratings prove it. Mark Adams, who is KILT’s new Operations Manager, is a brilliant guy and Brian Purdy is without a doubt the best General Manager I have ever seen. I say that not to kiss up, but for the simple fact that it is true. Growing up in the radio business, I have seen some super managers. This guy is without peer. I hope to work with him again.

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