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Country radio legend Rowdy Yates planning return with new show

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Since late July, millions of classic country music radio listeners across America have wondered what happened to their friend, Rowdy Yates, longtime host of “Country Gold Saturday Night.”

The hugely popular syndicated show - a staple of Saturday night radio for nearly 25 years – airs on 150 radio stations around the country, including Brewer’s WQCB Q 106.5. The show underwent a surprising shakeup when Rowdy was replaced by country singer Randy Owen, lead singer of Alabama. With 42 number one country singles and more than 60 million albums sold, there is no denying Randy’s country pedigree - but as a radio personality, Rowdy he is not.

Listeners immediately let it be known that they wanted Rowdy back – the man they invited into their homes, their cars and their backyards every Saturday night. Q 106.5 morning personality JR Mitchell says the listener response was immediate. “We received calls, emails, Facebook messages, texts from friends. The outcry to bring him back has been huge.” It’s likely that each Country Gold affiliate saw a similar response.

Rowdy says that, for the first time in his 25 year radio career, he was fired. “Usually, personalities who have a show on 150 radio stations don’t get fired unless they did something really stupid - and I didn’t,” Yates told me. “I could understand if I was being replaced by a superior product. In my opinion, I’m not hearing it.”

Aside from losing Rowdy’s energy and personality, the new version of the show is very obviously a “produced” product. Owen’s pre-recorded segments are essentially stories about his interaction with some of country music’s most legendary artists. Rowdy’s show put the emphasis on the music and its place in the lives of the program’s listeners. “I would do requests, dedications and giveaways – that’s always been a huge part of the show,” Yates said. “On the new show, you can tell that all of the phone calls come from a voice-mail message. The classic audio cut and paste is what it sounds like to me.”

Q 106.5’s JR Mitchell says the new show has been an uncomfortable fit for many listeners. “They took a country star and a great singer and tried to turn him into a successful radio host. Imagine trying to take a successful radio host and trying to instantly turn him into a country star with a #1 hit. It’s not always going to happen.”

Why was Rowdy fired by the syndicator? Why must he wait before returning to the airwaves, and when will he be back on the air in Maine? As you’ll read in my Q&A with Rowdy, it’s likely to happen soon, and he can’t wait to return to Maine’s airwaves. “For my show, some of the most responsive people have been in Maine,” Yates told me. “Over the years, I heard from hundreds of people from Bangor to Millinocket and all of the towns around and in between. It seemed to me that everybody was listening. It was like THE Saturday night lifestyle thing to do. And they had great advertisers – we’d help ‘em out and cut their commercials. I didn’t have to do any of that. I wanted to because I knew it would make the show sound better. The response from airing my show on Q 106.5 was immense.”

While his Saturday night schedule has been a little more open over the last few months, Rowdy is as busy as ever. For the last 18 months, he’s co-hosted a morning show on Tulsa, Oklahoma’s KVOO, and prior to that he spent 15 years at Houston’s country powerhouse KILT – a job that lead directly to his years on Country Gold Saturday Night. Yates, in his early 40s, is the youngest person ever inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.

Dow: It’s clear that you have radio in your DNA. Tell me about your dad.

Rowdy Yates: My father was a Dallas/Ft. Worth-based broadcaster. He was also one of Paul Harvey’s substitutes for more than 10 years. They would fly him to Chicago or New York to fill in when Paul Harvey took a break or couldn’t be there. My father was a newsman and I decided I wanted to be a personality instead. He was known as the dean of Texas radio news. I grew up in the radio business, and I thought that every kid my age could go to the mall and meet Peter Frampton or that all of the other kids got to hang out with Donny and Marie. I look back on that and think, “These people became icons.” I remember running down the halls at a radio station in Dallas with the Osmond kids because the youngest ones were about my age. I was so enamored with the show business part of it – the crowd response – the reaction people had. My dad was famous and I was bitten by the bug at an early age.

Dow: So what’s the story? Why were you replaced with Randy Owen?

Rowdy Yates: What happened was, Westwood One, the company who syndicated my show for all those years, merged with another syndication company called Dial Global. Dial already had a classic country show and so did Westwood. Even to me, it made no sense to have two syndicated shows with a similar format. However, of the two shows, mine was far more popular and aired on so many more stations. I was clued in about what they were thinking of doing and said to them, “This makes no sense. Why are you thinking of getting rid of me and keeping the less popular program?” I think they took that to heart and, in a move typical of radio networks and radio stations’ cost cutting ways, they decided to fire both the talents and put together a brand new program. Enter Randy Owen.

Dow: There is no denying Randy’s status as a country music legend, but as a radio host, the new show is seriously lacking. Your show was upbeat and fun, and you clearly had a strong bond with your listeners as your ratings proved. If you can be objective, what’s your take on the new show from a listener’s standpoint?

Rowdy Yates: It’s not being very well received. Early indications in the ratings indicate that it’s not doing well at all. I would never take away from Randy’s contributions to country music. The man sold and sang on 63 million records. He is a delightful individual, and he’s done some amazing work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I think it was a very unique but odd pairing of programming with personality. You’re right. It doesn’t have the energy of the weekend show that me and my friend Chad produced, and that hurts.

Dow: Since you left Country Gold, the response from your fans has been amazing. They’ve definitely made themselves heard – both on Facebook and at the affiliate level. How does that feel?

Rowdy Yates: It’s been a tremendous shot in the arm. For a couple of weeks, I just let it lie. The listeners were the ones who weren’t going to stand for it. When it happened, I just put a simple message up on my website and my Facebook page saying, “Hey, that’s the radio biz.” I posted some of the listener’s emails, and then the calls started rolling in from program directors of stations who aired my show and also calls from their competitors saying, “We want you!” It’s because of the fans that I’ve decided I’m not going to just fade into the sunset.

Dow: How long before the offers started rolling in?

Rowdy Yates: Within a month, I was contacted by every major syndicator out there. Today, I could pick up the phone and have a show going in a couple of weeks if I wanted to. There is one particular group who has really made an effort to court me and we have been in negotiations. I’m holding out for a few things – and they are for the listeners. I’m talking about the availability to stream the show, a mobile app where people can listen to recorded portions of the program on demand - and this is important: There has to be no doubt in anyone’s mind who owns this program and it will be mine. I don’t have to worry about anything except someone to distribute it and sell it, and there’s one group out there who said, “That’s OK!”

Dial Global was under the impression that my contract was about to expire, which in fact it wasn’t. That means I’m still getting a paycheck from them. Initially, they seemed agreeable about letting me out of my deal, but after they started seeing the audience reaction to the new Country Gold with Randy Owen, they decided to keep me right where I was – on the sidelines taking their paychecks but unable to make a move until the contract is up.

Dow: When will you be in the clear to launch your next national show?

Rowdy Yates: If everything goes the way I think it’s going to, you’ll hear me in the spring. If we get a little legal wrangling out of the way, there is a possibility that we’ll have a Jan. 1 start. However, just because I may have a new show on the air, that doesn’t necessarily mean that existing Country Gold stations will be able to just start airing it and stop airing the Randy Owen show. They’d have to wait until their current agreement expires.

One of the reasons why I was so excited and so at ease about doing the show is the way it was done – out of my house. Since I started the show, I’ve actually lived in three different places. With increased technology and the ability to have a studio here, it just made more financial sense for me to build my own studio. We bought the best equipment, took care of the carpentry – everything. The reason it sounded so good – high-level network broadcast quality – is because that’s the way we built it out.

Dow: So all of the calls were coming into a special line in your house.

Rowdy Yates: That’s right, and they still haven’t disconnected that request line! On Saturday nights, I’ll still get telephone calls saying, “Hey man, where are ya?” I’ve made it a point to reach out to some of the fans who’ve made it clear how their Saturday nights just aren’t the same. They’ll post like something, “It’s Saturday night, I sure wish Rowdy was still on the radio – it’s my birthday.” A couple of weeks ago, I called a girl in Missouri, and she didn’t believe it was really me (laughing).

Dow: For you, what is it about radio that makes it such a special medium?

Rowdy Yates: It’s the immediacy of it. Radio is still faster than the internet. It’s still faster than television. Other than the telephone, there is nothing more instant than radio.

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 October 2012 19:20

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