7-9-15-Dick Purtan

Thursday, July 9, 2015

This week the 365 Stories will recall fun places, people, and local foods that defined living in southeast Michigan between 1950 and 1990.

Dick Purtan arrived in Detroit in 1969 as a new disc jockey for WKNR “Keener 13.” During the next 45 years, he perfected a morning drive format that blended witty conversation, music, and charity work, setting a new standard for other on-air radio personalities. Although he moved from station to station in the Detroit*, his razor-sharp humor and commitment to the community never changed. Over the years Dick Purtan raised more than $22 million for the Salvation Army’s Bed and Bread Club, which provides food and shelter to the homeless and people living in poverty.  Purtan and his crew of “Purtan’s People” were soon known and loved throughout the metro area.

“It takes a very long time to become what Purtan (is).” said Dick Kernen, vice president of industry relations at the Southfield-based Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts. “It takes years and years to establish being part of people’s day.”1

Purtan’s professional excellence was also recognized by his peers. He was inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the National Radio Hall of Fame, and the National Association of Broadcasting Hall of Fame, which only inducts one person from the industry each year.

On February 13, 2010 Dick Purtan announced that he would retire on March 26, 2010. In his final broadcast he thanked his family, co-workers, and listeners and pledged to stay in touch through his website and social media. Purtan also promised to continue raising money for charity and to spend time with his wife Gail, his six daughters and their families.  To hear his final broadcast go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-qnxPHOxhk

*WKNR (1965-67), WXYX (1968-1978), CKLW (1978-1983), WCZY (1983-1996), and WOMC (1996-2010)

1http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20100221/FREE/302219976/dick-purtan-leaves-a-changing-industry

Paul Richard “Dick” Purtan (born July 11, 1936) is a retired American radio personality. His last radio job was as the morning radio show host on Oldies 104.3 serving the Detroit, Michigan U.S. radio market. Purtan was also a disc jockey at WKNR-AM, WXYZ-AM, CKLW-AM and WCZY-FM which became WKQI-FM in 1989. Previous to coming to Detroit at WKNR “Keener 13” in 1965, Purtan worked at WOLF-AM in Syracuse, NY and WSAI in Cincinnati; he began his radio career in his hometown of Buffalo, NY at WWOL under the station-mandated name “Guy King”[1] and also worked for a very short time at WBAL in Baltimore (only to be forced to leave the station after his witty, sardonic humor clashed with the station’s conservative ownership).

Purtan is well known for his philanthropic work. Each year, Purtan and his “Purtan’s People” crew host a radiothon to benefit the Salvation Army’s “Bed and Bread” program. Through Purtan’s efforts, over 24 million dollars have been donated to the Bed and Bread program. The money has also been used to purchase additional Bed and Bread trucks which make daily deliveries of food to needy people in the Detroit area.

While in Cincinnati, Purtan gathered together $12,500 and promoted and emceed the Beatles in concert.[2]

Purtan had a voice over role in Beverly Hills Cop III.[3]

On the morning of February 13, 2010, Purtan announced his retirement effective March 26, 2010.[4]

He and his wife, Gail, reside in West Bloomfield. As of 2014, he and one of his six daughters, Jackie, continue to keep up with his audience through his blog every weekday and Facebook. He also started producing a weekly podcast, which can run anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour and have had on various “Purtan People.

On February 11, Purtan announced he would be retiring.

He has worked in local radio for 45 years. He has hosted the morning show at WOMC since April 1996. He said he has loved the job with all his heart, but the passion is not there anymore.

Purtan, 73, said he and his wife, Gail, had decided over Christmas that it was the right time.

He said he is looking forward to throwing away the alarm clock.

He did joke that he was waiting to retire until the Detroit Lions won the Super Bowl, but he was getting tired of waiting.

Purtan’s co-host and one of seven daughters, Jackie Purtan held back tears at the thought of not working with her father everyday.

“It’s hard to see him go,” said Jackie Purtan.

Jackie is one of six daughters to Purtan and his wife; Jennifer, Jill, JoAnne, Jessica and Julie and seven grandchildren.

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When he was asked what it’s like to be a legend in the community, he laughed and said, “It’s like being old.”

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He is known for his on-air commitment to professionalism and his off-air commitment to his community.

“Detroit and southeast Michigan have always given back,” Purtan said.

Purtan said he will never give up his charity work, but he plans on doing a bit less.

Purtan is heavily involved with the Salvation Army’s Bed and Bread club, which helps feed and gives shelter to people in the community and provides assistance to get them back on their feet.

Over the years, Purtan’s radiothons for the Salvation Army have raised more than $22 million for the organization.

In 2003, Dick was inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and in November 2004, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

In April 2006, Dick was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasting Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

Only one person in the radio industry is inducted each year.

Known for his humor, charity work and trademark mustache, Purtan announced on Feb. 11 that he’s retiring next month from oldies station WOMC-FM 104.3, ending a career that began more than 50 years ago. That includes on-air stints at different Detroit stations since 1965.

Widely considered a pioneer of the modern morning radio format of comedy bits, chatter and music, and the recipient of nearly every imaginable award in the business, Purtan exits the industry at a time of immense change.

Some of that change has been pressure from radio station managers and owners to talk and laugh less on air, and play more music instead.

It’s the result of increasingly detailed and instant audience measurement technology, such as Arbitron Inc.‘s Portable People Meters that replaced the traditional written diary method in recent years.

“That’s been a problem. Music radio is music radio, and talk radio is talk radio,” Purtan said. “It’s harder to be a so-called personality and entertain on music radio. There’s not as much time as there used to be. Owners want to play more music.”

That pressure isn’t the primary reason Purtan is retiring, however.

Purtan, who has six adult daughters — including Jackie, who works on the show — told his family last summer that he planned to retire at some point in the next 12 months.

He reached the final decision during time off at Christmas after his wife, Gail, tearily told him she didn’t want him to go back to work.

Gail Purtan has survived ovarian cancer for the past 13 years and breast cancer for the past five years — diseases her husband has used his proven on-air fundraising abilities to fight.

“I decided it was time I devoted 100 percent of my time to her instead of 90 percent,” he said, adding that they plan to spend time in Florida and cruising while he mulls writing an autobiography and podcasting in retirement.

Some local radio insiders speculate the cost-cutting within the industry, which dwindled Purtan’s large cast of on-air sidekicks and production staff, also significantly fueled his decision to quit.

“I remember when Purtan’s studio looked like a circus,” said Dick Kernen, vice president of industry relations at Southfield-based Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts and a 50-year veteran of the radio industry who worked with Purtan over the years.

“This isn’t just somebody that decided to resign only to spend more time with his family. This resignation was because it wasn’t fun anymore,” Kernen said.

WOMC’s owner, CBS Radio Detroit, declined to renew two more of the show’s staffers last year, and Purtan doesn’t hide his displeasure at the state of the radio business.

“I wasn’t happy with that, but that was the situation,” he said. “Things have tightened up a great deal.”

That’s a departure from what he calls the freewheeling early days of his career, when he once interviewed John F. Kennedy from the lip of a stage during a 1960 campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla. — Purtan still remembers the questions he asked — and scraping up with other disc jockeys the $12,500 needed to bring The Beatles to perform in Cincinnati in 1964.

The next year, he hired on at Detroit’s WKNR-AM, better known as Keener 13.

He would work at several other local stations, and at one point had an equity stake in WKQI-FM 95.5, before launching his “Purtan’s People” morning show on WOMC in 1996.

His retirement opens an enormous gap in WOMC’s lineup, the lucrative morning drive-time slot sought by advertisers.

“At some point, when the time is right, we’ll talk about the evolution (of the morning slot),” said Deb Kenyon, senior vice president and market manger for CBS Radio Detroit. “We’re a great station today and we’ll be a great station six months from now.”

Kenyon said the station will be honoring Purtan on air in coming weeks.

“He’s not replaceable. There’s no talent like that,” she said.

A few names to take over the morning slot have been floated among radio insiders.

“It will have to be with someone who is well known, recognizable and has a proven track record of success in Detroit morning radio,” said Don Tanner, a partner in Farmington Hills-based Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications and radio veteran who just published an updated version of his book on the radio and music industries, No Static At All.

Tanner believes Jim Johnson or Lynne Woodison, who for many years did the “J.J. and Lynne” morning show WCSX 94.7 FM until 2008, are possibilities — but separately, because Woodison is suing station owner Greater Media Inc.

“Also intriguing is the duo of Chris Edmonds and Stacey Duford (formerly morning show hosts at WNIC 100.3 FM and recently teamed on WOMC’s Sunday Brunch program),” Tanner said. “A wildcard might also be Ann Delisi, who is doing her weekend show at WDET. She has a large, loyal following out there although has traditionally worked more with alternative music, including the original “River.’ “

Whoever takes over will do it in an uncertain economic climate.

Purtan said he’s heard that $100 million in radio advertising revenue has evaporated from the Detroit market, mirroring an industry trend that has forced the major radio corporations to cut jobs and belt-tighten.

“The economic situation has hurt radio a great deal. It’s a tough business now to be in,” he said.

“It could be $100 million or close to it,” said Bill Burton, CEO of Troy-based Detroit Radio Advertising Group, which sells advertising on behalf of a consortium of member stations. It gave Purtan a lifetime radio achievement award a few years ago.

“It’s a tough struggle, but it’s still a very good business,” Burton said.

Such lifetime awards are going to be harder to earn because the economics and culture of radio today make it much more difficult now for someone to spend decades in a market doing the same thing, radio industry watchers say.

“It takes a very long time to become what Purtan and people like that have done. It takes years and years to establish being part of people’s day,” Kernen said.

Matching how many years Purtan did it to his age is impossible because he’s coy about his birth date.

However, he did confirm that he was a senior at Syracuse University when he turned over his programming director job at the campus radio station to a hand-picked sophomore: future television newsman Ted Koppel, who turned 70 this month.

In the 1990s, Purtan was able to move from the traditional revenue-sharing model contract — in which he would get a cut of the advertising dollars from airtime sold during his show — to a straight salary deal that his lawyer, Henry Baskin of Birmingham-based The Baskin Law Firm P.C., said makes him the highest paid non-syndicated radio personality in the nation.

But it’s raising money for charities that may be Purtan’s real forte.

His annual radiothon benefiting The Salvation Army‘s Bed and Bread Program, scheduled for Friday, has raised more than $22 million for the program since 1988.

After retirement, he intends to stay involved behind the scenes with the charities, but not on air, he said.

Even when Purtan is wistful reflecting on his career, the trademark wit isn’t far off: “Forty-five years is a pretty good stretch of time to be doing a show in one town. The audience must have had strong stomachs to accept me for that long of a time.”

And don’t look for him shilling on television commercials, either, which he steadfastly said he will not do. Nor will his lawyer of 34 years allow him.

“I told him if I catch him selling windows or a piece of furniture, I’d come over and kill him,” Baskin said.

Bill Shea: (313) 446-1626, bshea@crain.com


To commemorate the City of Troy’s 60th Anniversary in 2015, we will publish a different story each day that highlights a person, discovery, or event that occurred locally, regionally, nationally, or even globally between 1955 and 2015 and that helped shape our lives and our community. We will try to post stories on important anniversary dates, but we also realize that dates are less critical than content and context. We will include the facts related to controversial stories, allowing our readers to form their own opinions. We invite you to read and comment on the stories. Your suggestions for topics are also welcome and can be posted on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TroyHistoricVillage. You can also email stories or ideas to the 365 Story Editor at ed@thvmail.org.

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