By Bob Andelman
(Originally published in Players Magazine, 1991)
Mason “Lee Roy Pee Wee Bodine Moonpie, et al.” Dixon is once again a restricted free agent.
The former Q105 afternoon personality and operations manager was taken off the air last March from WRBQ after a decade of high ratings, controversy, internal struggle and – in the end – a pig in a poke. At the time, Dixon had a year left in his high-priced contract with the station – a contract the Q is still paying. The non-compete terms prohibited him from working in the Tampa Bay market. It did allow him to seek employment outside the Bay area, with his Q salary reduced by whatever he could earn elsewhere.
Early last fall, Dixon turned up in Birmingham, Al. at the helm of WKXX (106 FM). He transformed the station into the “Power Cow,” a goofy satire on his former competition at WFLZ (93 FM) in Tampa, the Power Pig. Along for the ride was Brian Christopher, Dixon’s assistant at Q105.
It was a much heralded transformation for the Birmingham station and a big opportunity for Dixon, generating a good deal of attention in the radio industry.
But just before Christmas, on Dec. 21, Dixon and the Power Cow burned leather.
“Mason picked up his toys and went in another direction,” according to Brian Christopher, program director for the Power Cow. “Over the course of six months, a lot of things didn’t come through for both sides. There was mutual disenchantment.”
But, he hastens to add, “It wasn’t hostile, mean or ugly.”
Ratings – now, there’s a surprise – were partly of this action. “We were able to take this station from a 7 to a 4.9,” says Christopher, sarcastically.
Dixon, reached by telephone at his rented Birmingham home, says ratings were just part of the problem. Unkept promises of new studios and promotion budgets, undisguised racism, plus the hiring of Chris Murray as the station’s new GM sealed Dixon’s fate. Murray was sales manager of Y107 in Nashville before going to Birmingham. Y107 was owned by Jacor – parent of the Power Pig, WFLZ, in Tampa – and former roost of current Pig PD Marc Chase. After being humiliated by Jacor in Tampa Bay, Dixon couldn’t stand the thought of working in a Pig sty.
“(Murray) told me he was going to give us some pink vans to cruise the area and we needed some urban music,” according to Dixon. “I said fine, you do what you want. I’m not going to be part of a Jacor philosophy. I don’t subscribe to their philosophy or the way they do business.”
Why was Dixon even in Birmingham?
“I was given a lot of promises,” he says. “This was a chance for me to get practice doing a morning show, perfect a few things. Take the best of what I used to do in the afternoon, the best of what Cleveland Wheeler used to be. I accomplished that.
“I was going to take a radio station that was the scum of the earth for three years (and clean it up). Three years ago, (WKXX) was a Power Pig. It had big black ratings, but you can’t sell that in Birmingham. What they wanted to do with this station was bring it out of the doldrums and out of that black image. (But) the advertising agencies are all run by whites. If you have black ratings, they will not buy you. I’ve opened my eyes to the New South and Birmingham, Alabama is not where I want to be.”
Then there was the lack of a promotions budget or promotions director. Dixon has lots of examples, but one that sticks is of 2,000 screaming teen-age girls at a shopping mall to see TV’s “Guys Next Door” in a promotion sponsored by the Power Cow. Unfortunately, the station couldn’t afford to buy a sign advertising its call letters.
“In fairness to Mason,” agrees Christopher, “I don’t think anyone could come from being a legend for 12 years and pull it out just on charm.” He says Dixon wasn’t given much money with which to position the station.
Christopher and Dixon were together a long time. When Dixon was taken off the air at Q105, out went his lieutenants, Christopher and Bobby Rich (now midday man at WUSA 101 FM). Christopher malingered in Tampa, doing brief stints at the old WNLT and WFLZ before following Dixon to Birmingham.
Now, it seems, not only is their professional relationship over, but friendship is pretty tenuous as well.
“Let’s just say my philosophical views on how things should be done were very similar to new management’s,” says Christopher, who is staying on at Kix 106. “Philosophically, Mason and I, our ideas are changing. There’s a big difference in our ages, how we see things, how we see the world. The groundwork has been laid for us to work apart.”
“Brian had a little different attitude,” says Dixon. “He wanted (WKXX) to be more like the Power Pig. I pulled it more adult. We didn’t see eye-to-eye. I hope he does well. It’s time for him to try his wings. He’s been in the Mason Dixon shadow for a long time. If he succeeds, it’s to my credit.”
Christopher says the “New Kix 106” has already begun de-emphasizing Dixon’s Power Cow.
“It was fun to get people talking,” he says. “It has run its course in terms of establishing the radio station. We’re going to establish the cow as a mascot and use that to market things, much as the Tookie Bird was to Q105. They never called themselves Tookie 105. (The Power Cow) has run its course on the air.”
As for Dixon, the option on his Q105 contract may be renewed in April or allowed to expire, permitting his return to Tampa Bay radio. A year ago, a flusher WRBQ might have picked up that option, keeping Moonpie at bay. Today, the under-performing station is counting pennies while paying out two fat contracts, Dixon’s and Cleveland Wheeler’s.
“They’re kind of … ‘Oh, my God, we can’t afford to keep (paying) this,'” says Dixon. “These guys (at Q) are saying, ‘Make us an offer.’ To which I say, I can’t make an offer until I can negotiate. Contractually, I can’t really negotiate with anybody (in Tampa).”
Dixon believes he may be allowed to begin negotiations with a Tampa Bay station as early as this week and have his Q105 contract bought out by Feb. 1 – especially if he can hook up with a station that WRBQ considers non-threatening.
And don’t doubt for a minute that Pee Wee wants to come home. Literally.
“We still have a home in Tampa,” he says. “The renters will be out by the end of the month. Yes, you will be seeing me back in Tampa. At what point you’ll be hearing me on the air, I don’t know.”
And now, The Pledge. Remember it in a few months, okay?
“This is 1991, not 1990,” says Mason Dixon. “1990 was not a very good year for me. That was then; this is now. I have no ill feelings toward anyone. No antagonism. If I get back on the air (in Tampa), I won’t do any Q-bashing. Why kick ’em while they’re down, anyway? I hope they come back. Nothing would tickle me more than to see them beat the Power Pig. I am not a fan of Jacor.”
So the fun begins. What is Mason worth in today’s market and who wants him?
“I’ve had phone calls with several people,” says Dixon. “The feelers have been put out. I’m hoping over the next few weeks I’ll be able to meet with a few people. It’s like a fresh start. But where everybody else is at a standing start, I’ve got a running start because of past accomplishments.”
The rumor mill is ripe on this one.
“The big rumor is he’ll surface here (in Tampa) when the non-compete ends,” says Jack Harris, morning personality at the Power Pig. “We’ve all been speculating.”
Top-rated country station WQYK (99 FM) is oft-mentioned. So is WMTX (96 FM), the re-cast Lite rocker.
“I have talked to Mason frequently since he left ‘RBQ on a social and professional basis,” admits Tom Rivers, PD of WQYK. “Mason has my private number. If he calls to say, ‘Hi,’ people think we’re trying to work a deal. He’s a great broadcaster and of name value in this market. But as far as I’m concerned, the dollars Mason would seem to need do not make him viable for us. The other problem is where to put him? The entire staff we have has been very good and hard-working. Who am I going to replace to hire him? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. WQYK doesn’t appear broke; I’m going to be very reluctant to ‘fix’ anything. I’m very happy with my staff.”
Dixon doesn’t think QYK would work out either, and not just because the station can’t afford him.
“While I like a little Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Kentucky Headhunters, I can’t do what QYK is doing,” he says. “I’m not a country DJ. I like contemporary music. Period.”
Look for Dixon to be a free man soon (with Wheeler not far behind?).
Drumroll, Please! Please stop calling RadioRadio asking for the latest count on ex-Q105 employees. What with all the people who are being paid to not work, or not to do what they’re best at, we’ve completely lost track here at Mission Impossible.
However … Add five to the last figure you have. That’s the latest number to get their walking papers. The most familiar name is Shauna Stevens, a 10-year veteran of the Q Morning Zoo who was originally hired by Scott Shannon.
“It really falls under the line of cutting back for ’91,” says Q105 Operations Manager John Clay. “This station isn’t making the money it used to. We took care of what needed to be taken care of from a budgeting standpoint.”
Shauna, Shauna, Shauna! I spoke to Shauna Stevens on Jan. 7, the day she was fired by Q105.
A little background: Stevens was the morning personality on the old WAZE (860 AM) in Clearwater a decade ago, cracking wise, spinning golden oldies. Scott Shannon – Cleveland Wheeler’s original partner – was late to work one day, caught her schtick and hired her for WRBQ.
Stevens started from the bottom at 105 – overnights – and worked her way up. When an office position on the Q Morning Zoo opened up, she took it and gradually became part of the menagerie. Some days she’d be heard in the background behind Wheeler and McKeever or Wheeler and Harris. Other days she’d fill in for Wheeler or co-host with him. She became an unofficial producer of the morning show.
Here’s what she had to say about being fired:
“This morning at 9 a.m., I had a job. At 9:02, I didn’t.
“It was kind of a shock. I got called into the office and the door was closed.
“I was still working on the FM. When the new morning show (Mike Elliott and Kent Voss) took over, I was helping Cleveland (on WRBQ 1380 AM), but I didn’t do too much. They didn’t want anybody helping Cleveland. I screened calls for the FM show – when there were calls – did my nails, caught up on the news …
“I was told I was much too talented to be screening calls and being a board op. I said, ‘You’re going to take this talent and give it to some other station in the market?’ That makes sense to me. … They might be thinking my loyalty was to Cleveland and not Q105. That’s the problem I had with Mason. He thought I was loyal to the enemy camp – Cleveland. I think the gist of everything is to get all the old blood out of there so there’s nobody who knows what the station was like before.
“When Cleveland was moved (to the AM) they said I still had a job, it was no reflection on me. I went back again a month ago and they said, ‘We’re going to keep all the good people.’ A month ago I was fine, now I’m not fine. But I’m ‘very talented.'”
Stevens – who had no contract with the station – says she would be paid through the end of January.
“Not bad for 10 years,” she says. “Three weeks pay, 60 seconds and boom, you’re shown to the door.
“The relief,” adds Stevens, “will be not hearing people come up to me and saying, ‘What are they doing to that radio station?’ I don’t know – I don’t work there anymore.”
Q105: The Next Generation! Jay Taylor is the program director at Q105. The station had been without a PD for months. Taylor comes to the Q from KOUC in Las Vegas. … Patti Cheek, the Jacksonville real estate broker turned overnight disc jockey on Q105 quietly was dropped from the station’s rotation in October. “It has to do with personal problems,” says John Clay. “Let’s just say it didn’t work out.” She’s been replaced by Mark “Mojo” Allen, a former Dallas club jock who knows Vanilla Ice personally ! Mojo comes highly recommended to RadioRadio. And he’s only 19. … Is it true new hires at Q105 are only being signed to 90-day contracts? The things our grapevine hears …
Q-Drive! Two more familiar aspects of Q105’s traffic patrol have moved on. Reporter Nancy Alexander – who recently married former Q Morning Zoo cast member Ward Smith – is moving into the sales department. And the station has apparently lost the Bill Curry Ford account to WQYK (99 FM), judging by the Bill Curry Courtesy Van’s new home at the country station, with Marc Miller behind the wheel.
War Watch! As we went to press, most stations in town were considering how the Middle East conflict would affect normal broadcast operations.
“The tone of everything you do on the radio changes if you go to war,” says Q105 Operations Director John Clay. “It’s hard to say, ‘The latest war casualties are … And now here’s the latest from Vanilla Ice.'”
Along that line, WTKN has switched from all-business to all-news … and a little business. The station is now simulcasting CNN Headline News for 15 minutes each hour on the hour from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. At other times, WTKN will offer the Business Radio Network, Florida and local news with Kira Kinkead.
New Kid on the Hog! Welcome Hawk “The New Hoss in the Saddle” Harrison, direct from Y107 in Nashville (beginning to see a pattern here? Right – job openings in Nashville), the new night-time jock at the Power Pig. He picks up Tim & Tom’s old 8 p.m.-midnight slot as the T&T boys move into Jon Anthony’s former 4-8 p.m. afternoon drive slot.
Also, Voncile Anderson, Q105 promotions director from 1978-85, has taken the same post at Power 93.
Is That Anything Like Wingo? Which FM station’s staff has invented a game called “Dongo”? It’s played behind a certain executive’s back. As in “Where’d Don go?”
Is It Live Or … ! Word from 98 Rock (WXTB FM) is that due to the popularity of the live remote broadcast of the Every Mother’s Nightmare concert on New Year’s Eve, the station will commence a monthly live show from area clubs. Shows will feature new artists heard on the station.
Another addition to 98 is Al Keck doing sports in the morning. The WTSP-TV Ch. 10 sportscaster will offer reports via telephone during the All-Request Morning Show. 98 is mulling installation of a fiber optic line direct from Keck’s home to the station’s studios to improve audio quality. Sports reports begin Jan. 21 and can be heard at 6:50 a.m., 7:50 a.m. and 8:50 a.m.
Daddy Throws Best! Congrats to Jack and Joy Harris who are expecting their first baby. Jack, 49, says, “I’ll be out there, on a walker, throwing the ball to the kid.”
Mix This! WMTX – the new Mix 96 – will do live remotes from the garage at Cold Storage in downtown Tampa during Super Bowl weekend.
Super Radio! Hey, sports fans, don’t forget Chris Thomas and Tedd Webb will be sharing their microphones during Super Bowl week with the announcers from CBS. John Madden, Jack Buck, Hank Stram and Greg Gumbel will be on location at area sports bars with WFLA (970 AM) Monday (6-8 p.m.) and Tuesday-Friday (6:30-8 p.m.). The station will also offer an extended pre-game show live from Tampa Stadium beginning at 3 p.m. on Jan. 27 before picking up the CBS network for live Super Bowl play-by-play.
U R Outta Here! Mark Myers’ tenure at U92 is over. He’s been replaced by WNLT veteran Steve Michaels on weekends and vacation fill-ins.
Program Notes! Here’s a few WYNF (95 FM) specials to note on your radio calendar:
Jan. 20, 10 p.m.: Billy Idol Concert
Jan. 21, 11 p.m.: Rockline guests include Jimmy Vaughan
Jan. 25, 6 a.m.: Ron & Ron kick off a 16-hour live remote from Ybor Square as part of Super Carnivale de Ybor. Russ Albums, Charlie Logan and Scott Phillips will all originate their shows from Ybor as part of Super Bowl.
Jan 27, 10 p.m.: UpClose: Music and interviews with The Byrds
Jan. 29, 6-10 a.m.: David Lee Roth joins Ron & Ron live in the studio to promote his new album, “A Little Ain’t Enough”
Feb. 3 Neil Young Concert
Feb. 4, 11 p.m.: Rockline guests include Queen
Feb 10: UpClose: Music and interview with Phil Collins
Feb. 14: Rockline Special Edition with Sting
Country Gets Its Own! WQYK has joined a network of country stations carrying their own monthly version of “Rockline” called “Countryline USA.” The show debuted in December with Leeza Gibbons (“Entertainment Tonight”) as host. Clint Black will be guest on Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. Fans are invited to talk to Black by calling toll-free 1-800-537-3774.