Pat Fant talks Runaway Radio Rewind podcast
KLOL documentary director Mike McGuff talked with KLOL founding father, Pat Fant, about his latest project runawayradiorewind.com. The new video podcast takes Rock 101 fans back in time with interviews from the people who were there.
Mike McGuff: Could you have done that work today if you had been in a corporate environment or kind of the way society is right now. Do you think you could have done the same work you did back then with KLOL?
PF: The work we did at KLOL in the late 80s and early 90s. Well from 83 to 95 would not fly in today’s corporate broadcast environment. No it would not because we didn’t focus group everything we didn’t test everything we didn’t over test everything. We used our instincts and instincts were good. They could have just as easily not been but it turned out that they were and we would go to lunch have a great idea come back write it record it. Put it on the air. And it was running by 5:00 in the afternoon. And that’s how you take advantage of moments of of of brilliance and excitement and and topical things that really drove the station to reflect what was going on in Houston, Texas. So we wouldn’t be able to do that today because corporate media would expect you to turn in a report that backed up your findings. We said that’s that’s horse crap we don’t do that. We’re just going to go do it. It’ll be wonderful trust me. And it was 99 percent of the time.
MM: So I don’t see much change from when you know you signed on the station in 1970 as like a guy in his early 20s. When you return in the 80s had really that much changed or did you kind of run it in the same way that you had in the past kind of seat of your pants?
PF: No, it changed. And you know it was it was designed to feel like the seat of your pants but it was pretty well you know thought out and organized it just happened quickly and without all the corporate B.S. but it was organized. I mean there were a lot of moving parts to the street side of it to the marketing and the visuals…the visual side of KLOL was always a powerful tool that was nonstop. People expected that backed up what they heard and what they saw worked together and back to each other. But no. The style in in 1970 when we signed it on compared to 1983 when I went back was vastly different. What had happened in the meantime the 10 years that I was gone and was shooting films and directing corporate TV shows and commercials and things the station was on a very moderate contract. I mean it was the rock n roll army and it was cute and all but it wasn’t going anywhere. And the competition was coming in and overwhelming the KLOL that had been there with a lot of budget high dollar advertising and promotion. And the the KLOL before I walked in and 83 didn’t have the spark to answer that challenge. They just wanted to research the records and play the hits and tell you what you needed to hear. But but there wasn’t the extra. So we gave it the extra you know and gave it enough imagination and enthusiasm and surprises day in and day out that people started to expect that when they heard K 101 it was going to be something that they would remember and take to work and talk about with their friends when they got there.
MM: Do you ever get tired of talking about KLOL? Has there ever been points where you’re kind of like enough is enough. That’s in the past or is it always something that you still hold dear?
PF: Well I hold it dear because of the people that were that were surrounding me. I think that the whole point is pulling together the right team and having them share the same imagination and vision. Of doing the best work of their lives. And that seemed to work year after year after year where we continually had discovered or found or attracted people that have proven to be just enormous talents and creative visionaries. So that part never gets old. The the other part of it is that you can’t bring back the past. You cannot recreate. Oh people say why don’t you bring back KLOL can’t be done. Times have changed the competitive environment is different. Certainly the ownership profile of of corporate broadcasting is totally erased the opportunities for a station that did what KLOL did in in those years to be able to do that today that that does not exist and will never exist that exists elsewhere. That’s online or that’s well that’s online. Really. I mean you’re not going to find a station that that has the freedom and the impact to think that way unless it’s probably off the air.
MM: So you know I’ve been working on a documentary now for was it eight years off and on. How does it feel to know that we’re getting closer and closer to something that people who don’t know the documentary is really as much about you as it is KLOL. Well it’s kind of like you and KLOL are very much tied together since you did sign it on. Yes. And then brought it back later on when you returned. So well how does it feel to know that you’re going to have a look at your life upon the big screen coming soon?
PF: Well it’s very exciting frankly that the story is going to be told and the talent is going be unmasked and all the wonderful people that were part of the creative success of KLOL will get to celebrate the finest work of their lives in your documentary. That is very much anticipated by a lot of people. So yes it’s exciting that it’s going to be coming out really. I can I can hardly wait. I think a lot of people share that. And then people who don’t really know the subject matter clearly as you and I do that are younger or didn’t live through it or maybe weren’t from the Houston-area in those days. Boy are they going to feel surprised when they realize that there was a radio station that did all that right here. No no way.
MM: You say you can’t live in the past and you certainly don’t. Because right now you have your company RFC media that is very much living in the future. Just talk a little bit about that for people who don’t know what you’re involved in today. I mean clearly the KLOL revolution lives on in you and new media.
PF: Well RFC Media builds private label online streaming channels for brands and events. And what that means is that if you have a brand why don’t you have a radio station. Why don’t you have the streaming radio expression of your brand. What is your brand’s music signature. Do you have one? If not why? If you don’t have a music signature get one. Say you’re the people in Dallas with Gas Monkey just came across that the other day. Very cute idea. Got a lot of image a lot of vibe a lot of fun around. I can’t tell you what I think they sell an energy drink. They sell t shirts. They’re sort of involved in antique cars and now so am I. So but if you’re somebody called Gas Monkey and you have a brand that’s got all these different moving parts and it’s all great fun. Why in the world would not be able to go enjoy Gas Monkey Music Channel. You know because if you find a brand you identify with. You want to experience more of it. So that’s what our RFC Media does. We have a Web site have a radio station have a companion piece that has an audio expression that really matches your vibe with a music signature brings it all together and gives it to the customer in a way that you can spend more time with them and do it through music. So that’s what RFC Media was built on and we have a station that we do for NASA that is one of the most listened to online radio stations anywhere in the world and it should be. It’s explore and discover new worlds of music. So we take the explore and discover theme pull that metaphor forward into music discovering match it up with comments and sort of ongoing narrative update about what NASA is up to and mission to Mars and space station and all sorts of things and all the discoveries and match all that together and make radio out of it and do it around the NASA brand for the express purpose of attracting more young adults to the world of aerospace and science and technology and engineering and math. So and it doesn’t sound educational because it’s a great rock station. You know I guess one of the crazy things about my association with KLOL is the fact that in 95 I got recruited away to go to work for the Disney people. And I started The Buzz in Houston in 95 after leaving KLOL. I thought well it’s time I’ve built the Corvette. Now want to build the Porsche. So the buzz was designed to be the sort of next generation the wave of the mid 90s modern rock was was hitting and hitting hard and 101 couldn’t have one foot in classic rock and another foot in this new music and do it justice because it’s hard to play Aerosmith and Kurt Cobain back to back. So off I go to start the buzz and that coincided with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that gave radio owners the opportunity to own as many channels as they wanted in one market up to eight five of one service AM or FM and that was kind of the beginning of the end that a lot of ways because it started to tear down that cross town radio war competition that kept everyone on their toes. And so now everybody is trying to fight through and around bankruptcies of of giant groups of stations and all that’s great and everything but where’s the product where were you training the new Stevens and Pruett? Where are they getting their small market experience to learn their craft. Get ready to go to Houston. Or you know where do you find the next Grego and Outlaw Radio to come in. Are they on the air now in a small market trying to learn and be better at what they do and or creative or are they being pushed into an eight second long DJ break and don’t let it go nine seconds because you’ll get a phone call from the program director. It’s just wrong and it’s hurting people.
MM: Well if you’re listening to this you’re not Houston I should mention that The Buzz is still on the air today. All these decades later so it really now is a new generations KLOL.
PF: Well it is. It really is it started both of them. Yeah that’s right. And it was designed exactly that we started buzz fest and we put all the all the while the logo is the same logo that I came up with but course they always want to change a little you know a little bit here just to say see we changed it. Well good but it’s still the same. The red oval and again our visuals at The Buzz were superb. You know people couldn’t forget the vote for The Buzz billboards that were still just you know whacked out crazy remarkable things. But you you see this imagery alongside radio and you get excited. So what we’re doing as a company today at RFC Media is our sweet radio division which is for broadcast. We’re syndicating 24 hour formats back to broadcast. And we’re creating really great radio that is offered by format to in the beginning small to medium market operators because they’re the guys that are hungry for fresh new product that they can’t really effectively create very well locally on their own. And we’ve teamed up with Rowdy Yates. He’s part of our new country station called The Brand Sizziling Hot Country. So it’s a great sounding radio station. It’s today’s country hits. We are about to take our Made in Texas Radio to broadcast which we haven’t really talked about before so we’re turning that into a 24 hour format. Gonna offer that to Texas broadcasters and if you have something called Made in Texas radio that’s about as good as it gets. I mean why would you not want to have that on the air. And we have so many great names on our stations. We have Donna McKenzie, Atom Smasher, Maria Todd, Outlaw Dave, Steve Robison and Pam Kelly. You know we’ve got all this talent that are on our classic rock, our alternative, the Hot AC, and now the country. And then when we add Made in Texas and we just keep bringing in keep bringing in more radio people that that we that we know want to do good work. So we’re given a platform to do that.
MM: It’s just too bad for us listeners we can actually hear him here in Houston right? There’s no really no way to hear a lot online.
PF: Yeah those are those are 24 hour form. Made in Texas Radio is online and it’s going to stay. OK. But it will also be a broadcast format.
MM: All right well thank you for talking to me and make sure to go to Runaway Radio rewind dot com I got to get through that alliterations to Runaway Radio Rewind three times fast.
PF: But that’s that’s where you’re going to get the new episode and you’re going to learn a lot about what happened in the glory days of KLOL. And you’ll see video that no one has ever seen.
MM: Oh that’s true. I can say that for certain Absolutely.