the radio station in Natchez we had a couple of real “live wire”
salesmen. The amount of business they brought in each month was
phenomenal. Radio advertising is traditionally one of the most difficult
things to sell. I know, I’ve tried it. They did it well.
These two fellows had worked together before coming to Mississippi.
They shared with me an experience they had at a radio station in
Gary, Indiana. The broadcast signal of that station reached into
the Chicago area. The manager was in dire need of revenue because
none of his salesmen had been able to crack that tough market. There
were so many radio stations competing for the advertising dollar
their small facility got lost in the shuffle. That is when our
two salesmen came on the scene. They made a deal with the manager
to be paid a higher commission than the going rate if they were
successful where others had failed.
Successful they were. They worked hard and used all the skill and
cunning they had garnered in their many years in the business. It
wasn’t easy, but the first month they hit pay dirt. In fact, they
struck the mother lode. When the bookkeeper totaled up the income
the station owner was ecstatic. His company had never seen that
kind of profit before. He was dancing around in delight. Then he
found out how much of the gross was going to the salesmen in commission.
He was furious about the money they were “taking away” from him.
He kept repeating, ”I can’t afford to pay you that kind of money.
It’s too much!”. It was pointless to explain to him that the more
money the salesmen made the more the radio station earned. The owner
stubbornly held his ground and refused to pay them the agreed upon
The two salesmen quit over the incident. They said that the tight
fisted radio station manager paid dearly for his greed. His business
plummeted after that and never came close to the income he had received
with the help of the two salesmen. However, he never could understand
that the folly of his ways was the cause of it all. The only thing
he remembered was how much money they were “trying to take away”
Unfortunately, this example of poor judgment in radio station management
is not uncommon. In my nearly 40 years in the business I witnessed
many more instances of such insanity.
The salesmen had some major problems in Natchez too. Most radio
stations have an extra control room for recording commercials. Not
so in at the Natchez station. We used the same control room that
was used for broadcast purposes. We had to wait for the station
to sign off at midnight or do it the hard way by recording while
we were still broadcasting. In order to record commercials we had
to switch to another channel on the control board that didn’t go
over the air. This could only be done a few hours before sign off
because of the busy schedule the rest of the day.
I remember the frustration of the salesmen, who had already put
in a hard days work pounding the streets, coming in about nine o’clock
at night to produce their commercials for the next day. Because
I was single and had no family to go home to I would often come
in to help them. I was glad to get out of my lonely apartment for
awhile anyway. The ordeal would sometimes take hours and I had to
be up by 4:30 the next morning. Our recording sessions had to be
interrupted often in order for the announcer on duty to make announcements
on the air. I had requested that the downtown, unused control board
be moved to the radio station and had my plea fall on deaf ears.
We just had to live with it. It was not a perfect world.
I remember when the salesmen decided to bring Jim Reeves to town
to perform at a local auditorium. The overhead of producing the
show was more than either of them could scrape up so they borrowed
money from friends and relatives to finance the affair.
the big day arrived I was performing my usual morning duties at
the radio station when I looked in the lobby and saw Jim Reeves
himself smiling at me through the glass.
I had met him before at the Louisiana Hayride but it had been a
long time so I didn’t expect him to remember me. While a record
was playing I went out to meet him. As I was about to introduce
myself he said ,“good morning” and called me by name. I guess that’s
one of the reasons they called him “Gentleman Jim”.
He was there
to see his sponsors, the salesmen, but they were not due in for
at least another hour. I got him a cup of coffee and asked him if
he would join me in the control room. The show had to go on and
he understood because he owned a couple of radio stations himself.
I’ll never forget his casual way as he sat there singing along with
the records I was playing and seeming to be enjoying every bit of
it. It is one thing to hear him on his recordings and another to
hear his live, unamplified voice. The resonance and timbre could
actually be felt in the walls, the furniture and the floor. It was
the same when he spoke.
I had to keep reminding my self that I was in the presence of the
great Jim Reeves. He was so unassuming and down to earth it was
as if an old friend had just dropped by. I asked him if he would
like to go on the air and talk about the show he was doing that
night. He gladly obliged. We chatted about many other things as
well. His adoring fans called and asked him questions. He was always
polite and friendly with them.
When I finished my shift I had to go through a new shipment of records
we had received.
It was my job
to listen to them and decide which ones we would want to present
to our listeners on the “call-in and vote” show. Jim took a great
interest. After he listened to them he offered his evaluation. It
was an opinion I greatly respected. When the salesmen finally arrived
he thanked me for keeping him company and left. The radio station
seemed to have an aura of grandeur about it for days afterwards.
night I went to see Jim Reeves put on his show. For some inexplicable
reason the crowd was shockingly small. That had no effect on Jim’s
enthusiasm. He was a true professional and he gave a performance
like he had a packed house. The few who came got a lot more than
their money’s worth. I’m sure they remembered it for a long time.
The poor salesmen lost their shirts on the venture. I felt their
pain. They had done their best but some things just can’t be predicted.
They later told me they really appreciated all my extra effort and
assistance I gave them at the Natchez station. They said they would
never forget it. They didn’t. Many years later I received a phone
call from them after they had tracked me down from three stations
back. They had managed somehow to buy a radio station in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana and they wanted me to come to work for them. I didn’t
take them up on their offer. For the life of me I can’t remember
© George Lester
Flat and Beyond - A Memoir
October 1, 2007 column
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