After all this time, students of radio still reflect on the brilliance of KVIL (Dallas-Ft. Worth). I was lucky enough to be an early-twenties guy arriving in Dallas to take a great job with the then globally renowned TM Companies. On arrival there as a northern "radio snob" raised on Chicago and Detroit behemoths, I naively thought nothing in DFW would compare. It took two weeks to digest 103.7 KVIL at which point I proclaimed to no one in particular, this is the greatest radio I've ever heard.
KVIL broke all the rules starting with exquisite talent development. No one sounded like a jock; instead they were intimate, personal, always upbeat and listener-empowering. Ron Chapman (now a Hall of Famer) was the personification of morning ringmasters in the Metroplex, nearly as revered as the Cowboys' franchise. Behind the KVIL larger-than-life aura was Fairbanks Broadcasting, smart enough to bring Canadian George Johns to the project, entrusting Johns and Chapman with keeping their market-leader so out in front they played in another league. The rest of the DFW market incidentally was no roll-over; exceptional talent, programming, and marketing. But there was only one KVIL. Nothing the station did was conventional...when everyone else was going east, KVIL was going west. KVIL's winning streak ran-long, until a couple of corporate sales in the nineties meant a different direction. It took about six months to deconstruct what Fairbanks' years had built in Highland Park.
Today, many still reverently speak of KVIL's gilded run including a fun remembrance which underscores the typical brilliance of "K-VIL's" thinking. One day the largest TV franchise in Dallas-Fort Worth challenged the KVIL staff to a charity tug-of-war across the Trinity River. Everyone at the station was jacked-up, sporting new T-shirts with bright red "KVIL" across the front. The team was pumped beyond measure; that is until Ron Chapman gathered his staff and said, "Hey gang, we're going to lose." Perplexed, the horrified staff moaned "but why?" Chapman went on to explain that if KVIL won, they'd probably not make the evening news. But if they lost, they'd be assured of at leasta five minute slot in front of hundreds of thousands of DFW viewers! Ron told them their job was to prolong the tug as long as physically possible, then collapse into the Trinity River.
As predicted later that night you could still see the big red KVIL letters on wet, muddy T-shirts and to top it all, you could see them for a total ten minutes over both TV newscasts. George Johns summed it up with the not-so-obvious: "sometimes you have to lose to win."
Fast forward to present: there is absolutely nothing to prevent any program director or market manager from thinking the way Fairbanks thought. In fact there are some outposts of the KVIL mentality alive and well (though too few and seldom applauded for it by the industry). On taking inventory there is no shortage of people with exceptional creativity. The shortfall lands squarely with some companies who haven't the faintest idea of how to encourage those minds or where to engage them. The truly "gifted" are those who see things inside-out, hear what others don't, underscored by a raging passion to do the unexpected. That was KVIL.
There can be much more of course if only leadership endorsed risk-taking (when there's clear-cut gain) and are willing to break the surly bonds of "we don't do it that way." Before Corporate Radio thought it could improve on KVIL by engaging bi-rote sloganeering and deemphasizing swashbuckling talent, some people in Highland Park, Texas created something extraordinary. The legend lives on. What's past can be prologue.