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An interview with Gil Gross

Philly Talk Radio Online - July 10, 2001

On November 6th, 2000 WWDB stopped broadcasting it's talk format at 9am just before Gil Gross was about to go on the air.  A popular and respected voice in radio, Gil was brought in to do the AM drive news oriented show along with Pat Farnack.  He later moved to the 9-12 spot when Dr. Laura and Rush went to WPHT.  While at ABC Gil became the youngest anchor at the age of 23.  Gil then went to CBS where in 1992 he hosted the Gil Gross show, the first CBS talk program in 30 years.

Gil Gross Archive Page (picture and biography)

Philly Talk Radio Online:  Mr. Gross, Gil if I may, you've been heard doing the Paul Harvey spots, what else have you been up to over the past 8 months and what would you like to do more of in the future?

Gil Gross:  I've been waiting until school is out for my son to make my final decision about where to go.  I've been doing talk shows for KGO, KLAC, WMAL & KHOW, as well as doing the Paul Harvey "fills" and special events for ABC news such as Long Form Coverage and specials on the McVeigh execution.  I'm deciding among several offers.  What I'd like to do more of is whatever has me with my family more than anything else.  Sounds like a Miss America answer, but it's true.

 

PTRO:  What do you miss most about WWDB and doing a talk show in Philly?

Gil:  I miss the people at WWDB.  I've seen people write that we all hated each other.  I  only had trouble with one host and it was someone I really had very little contact with.  It was a good group.  Philly should be a great talk show market filled with local talk.  I miss the last 3 months when management and consultants who were clueless on running a talk station finally just left us the hell alone.  I think that last summer and early fall were the only shows I did that I really liked.

 

PTRO:  Do you have any thoughts on the format flip that killed Philly's heritage talker, WWDB .. the first FM talk station in the country?

Gil:  Well, I think the ratings speak for themselves.  The company hadn't a clue as to how to run a talk station and if they cared at all about Philly they would have sold it.  They would bring in talk Program Directors, from Casale to Mark Williams to Jeff Hillery, and just ignore them.  With Alice, Jammin', Mix or whatever it is today, 80's music was the last thing that the market needed.  As for WWDB being a heritage station, it was like having someone come in from out of town, buy the Liberty Bell and melt it down for scrap ... or something that rhymes with scrap!

 

PTRO:  Anything special about talk in this market and what does this market need?

Gil:  It needs compelling local talk.  The problem at 'DB was they couldn't decide what it was.  It called itself NewsTalk but Irv, Susan and myself were the only ones who talked about news.  Everyone on the air was talented but we shouldn't have been at the same place doing all those different things.  For instance, they could have kept Kent Voss, Jay & Hilarie and killed the rest of us and gone lifestyle.  WPHT is now a good classic conservative talker.  I think the market still needs a young talker though WYSP seems headed there now, maybe a lifestyle station.  A classic NewsTalker could work but it takes money and time.  I don't see any companies going that way in this economy.

What it really did not need is what we did.  Pat & I were brought in to do a news oriented talk show.  The concept I was brought in to do was a show where Pat would do news and then I'd go to the phones.  We'd go to a street reporter getting reaction from people on the street ... Pat and I would then interview the newsmaker involved and then I'd take more calls.  It would have worked.  Two weeks before air they chickened out and decided to take on KYW which was insane and I told them that.  The consultant, who was certifiable, had promos on the air telling listeners how they couldn't hear KYW in Bucks County but they could hear us.  Who the hell was that spot for?  Was it to convince people who couldn't hear a radio station not to listen to it?  They were full of neat stuff like that.

The concept the sold me on was we'd do the news and then concentrate on the big talk story of the day.  We never did it.  Pat & I basically introduced John Brown.  John was cool.  It just wasn't the format we were supposed to be doing.

 

PTRO:  With traditional talk radio seemingly on life support in this town do you have any thoughts on its future hear and around the country?

Gil:  Maybe Philly Talk is cursed.  I hope not.  I wish WPHT luck and hope they do a local morning drive show.  It is healthy around the country.  DB got out before the biggest talk radio ratings book in history.  I'm on KGO this week.  It's #1 and its sister station, KSFO, is #2 in San Francisco.  That's market #4.  We're just one below that at #5.  That should be US.  We're hurt somewhat because ABC and Clear Channel, the 2 big talk chains, don't own talk stations in Philly.  If the Beasley's finally leave this market you could see 96.5 go talk again but Clear Channel is at capacity and ABC seems to be buying only for Radio Disney and ESPN so there's nothing in view for Philadelphia.

 

PTRO:  You've done a great deal in your career, what part did you enjoy the most?

Gil:  Working with musicians.  Going to the North and South Poles.  Meeting my wife at WNBC.

 

PTRO:  If you hit the lottery for a huge sum and had the ability to purchase a major market signal would you or is it just too much trouble running a station and being a broadcaster?

Gil:  I don't think it's really a problem.  WWDB could have been reorganized in a year and have been a 5 rating radio station.  Radio is, with very few exceptions, badly managed.  Good General Managers that can meld programming, sales and promotion are hard to find.  I've worked for people that can do it.  Mickey Luckoff at KGO/KSFO, Lee Simonson when he was at WOR, Bob Hyland, Jr. at WCBS.  Sure, I'd buy a station.  I'd buy the former Jammin' from Greater Media and put on a kickass talk station that promoted like a rocker.

 

PTRO:  We have a lot of young talent in this town, do you have any advice for those interested in making radio a career?

Gil:  Be yourself.  'DB was probably the only place I violated that.  When they threatened to fire me for being funny [Honest to God.  True story!]  I should have just let them do it.  I had just moved my family , enrolled my kid in school and bought a house and sacrificed myself for my family.  I learned not to do that ... ever.  It is a great career.  For all the bitching and moaning you hear from people, it's a great life.

 

PTRO:  Mellany Armstrong was always one of my favorites.  It's been said that she has one of the sexiest news voices around, would you agree or is your wife in the room?

Gil:  Mellany has a great voice, is a nice person and a terrific news person.  If you like intelligent, hip women then the whole damn staff was pretty sexy.  Fortunately, my wife is incredibly sexy and has great taste in men.

 

PTRO:  What about Pat Farnack?

Gil:  I miss her the most.  Pat is probably the lifelong friend I made there, along with Larrimore .. who I see a good deal.  I have had some awful co-anchor experiences but Pat was a total pleasure.  Smart, professional, good sense of humor.  I loved working with her.

 

PTRO:  Any other thoughts?

Gil:  WPHT is all you're likely to have for the foreseeable future.  Even if they do flip WPEN someday I don't think its signal allows it to be a major talk contender.  If I had to guess, I'd think it will end up being leased or sold to ABC as an ESPN affiliate.  I think you have to work on WPHT doing a morning show and a local show before Rush.

If you get a 2nd station, don't slaughter it for not being everything you want it to be.  No station is or ever will be.  Support what you like, rally for what you want, but don't slaughter what's not for you or you'll end up with nothing.

I'm not likely to ever be part of WPHT but even as you fight for what you want on the station, try to give Dom and Smerconish the benefit of the doubt.  They're what you've got.  You want the station to do well enough that someone else comes in as well and let them both look to serve you best, rather than have one roll over and die ala WWDB.  Right now Philly has an undeserved reputation as a lousy talk market because of DB and the various 1210 formats of the past.

 

 

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