Art Vuolo, Jr
Publisher’s Profile – R&R November 26, 1999
By Erica Farber
At almost every convention, a video camera is taping the event, and behind that camera is Art Vuolo, one of radio’s unsung heroes. Over the years Vuolo has become radio’s unofficial chronicler, making his business to record the industry’s great moments for posterity. He estimates that he has 6,000 audio cassettes representing over 10,000 hours of radio broadcasts, plus about 300 hours of video.
Most people don’t realize that Vuolo actually has a company, The RADIOGUIDE People. It’s a concept he developed in his senior year at college, and since 1972 he has published over 100 million guides, which, city by city, make it easy for radio listeners to locate their favorite programming.
How his love of radio began: “It probably goes back to 1960. I was a personal assistant to a gentleman named Jim Shelton. Jim was, at that time, probably the best-known disc jockey in the state of Indiana. He was at WIBC and worked there for 50 years. He never missed a day of work, which I think is a record that will never be broken. I was a listener of his show. He used to broadcast from different car dealers every night, and I would go down and hand him the ETs, the electrical transcriptions.
“He had two turntables, one for the 45s and one for the commercials, which were all on these big 16-inch platters. His show was called Platter Party. He could sell Fords one night and Chevys the next with total conviction. I’d take the bus down to wherever he was doing the show after school and help him out.
“My love of radio started when my mom gave me my first crystal radio, one you plugged in your ear and grounded with an alligator clip to an outlet in the wall. I fell asleep every night with that radio stuck in my ear, listening to WIRE in Indianapolis.”
Working in radio: “I worked at several stations, mostly after I moved to Michigan. I worked in Jackson, MI, where Jack Paar got his start. I was a board op. I had to learn how to back-time records to hit Mutual News, how to cut out Preparation H commercials, because the GM of the station didn’t think they were in good taste, stuff like that. They would lever let me on the air.
“I didn’t get on the air until 1967 in Ann Arbor. I remember being on the air the night the Detroit riots broke out. I had pretaped the show, but I was at the station, running the tape. One of the songs I played was ‘Eve of Destruction’ by Barry McGuire. The show was called The Sunday Night Music Mart. It was back in an era when you had nothing on on Sunday night. It was either me or Billy Graham. It is the same station where John Records Landecker got his career started.
“I worked as Promotion Director for WNIC/Detroit when Ed Christian of Saga was running it. I decided I didn’t like working for one particular station, and that’s when I started my company. It gave me a chance to work with many stations without allegiance to any one.”
How he answers when asked what he does for a living: “It’s very hard to describe. I kind of live a double life. I have video and RADIOGUIDE, which are totally different, separate, and unique. Basically, I tell people I publish RADIOGUIDE for people who travel and want to know what to listen to when they’re in a city they’re unfamiliar with. Then I find people who live in a particular city really don’t know the stations much better than the people who are visiting.”
State of the radio industry: That is so hard to answer, because it’s kind of a love-hate thing. I love the times now; I love the technologies. Look at the equipment today; we have come so far. I love the hot new formats. Believe it or not, I even love the consolidation, because it’s good for my business. I like the new things about the business.
“What I hate is the discrimination against talented executives and people over the age of 50. That’s because I already kissed my 50th birthday. I think to myself that maybe when Randy Michaels hits 50, it’s going to change. So many of my friends over 50 are crying to me that they can’t get any good jobs because they’re being passed over for people who are much younger and will work for less money. That’s my saddest commentary.”
On being named “Radio’s Best Friend”: I can tell you the exact date: it was May 17, 1985, in R&R’s Street Talk column, which was written in those days by John Leader. He was congratulating me and my company on getting a really big order for RADIOGUIDE, sponsored by General Motors. It’s amazing how many people know me by that handle. It’s quite the moniker. When it was given to me, a number of people said, ‘You should make that work to your advantage,’ and hopefully I have. The only bad thing is, being radio’s best friend means you have to do everything for everybody and then not get paid for it. It can be a curse as well.”
Something about him that may surprise our readers: I was going to try to think of something clever to say, like, ‘Let it be exposed that Art Vuolo leads a double life: He’s both in radio and in video.’ I took those two things and combined them into video airchecks, which, believe it or not, I’m almost better known for than the RADIOGUIDE. I’m archiving the industry with video tape. It’s a way for me to leave a mark. I’m somebody who likes to think being nice to people is still in vogue. I try to bust my butt for everybody. The only person I ever screw over is myself.”
Career highlight: “I would have to go to 1995, when Ford Motor Co. – the electronics division, at the time called Ford Electronics – bought 10 million guides to promote college football on the radio.”
Career disappointment: “Losing sponsors because of changes in ownership or personnel. You work with someone at a certain company, then they leave the company, and it’s the old, ‘you go out with the bathwater.’ That’s how we lost Buick, even though the promotion was tremendously successful. When you sell a company, you’re really selling people. People are the company. New, younger blood came in, and they wanted to do it their way. Even if our idea was good, it made no difference; they had their own ideas, and they were going to do it their way.”
Most influential individual: “So many people have affected my career. There’s a friend of mine – I always say that he sits at the right hand of God because he works with Randy and Tom Owens at Clear Channel – Sean Compton. I call him the Boy Wonder. He’s only like 25 years old. He knows so much about this business, and I’m better than double his age. It scares me how many sharp people there are out there, who are so young and know so much. One of my best friends in the business is Steve Cooper in Indianapolis. He was in my very first video in ’78. I got inspired by a tape I saw from Shotgun Tom Kelly of B-100 in San Diego at the 1977 R&R Convention in Dallas.”
Favorite radio format: “News/Talk and Oldies.”
Favorite air personality: “Everyone knows that I am most fond of Bob & Tom.”
Greatest radio moment caught on tape: “One of the most mesmerizing was in 1985, during a Detroit radio reunion. Some guy was mimicking the late Byron McGregor, doing the blood-and-guts 20/20 news. While the guy was doing it on the air, in walked Byron and his wife, JoJo. Thank God the tape was rolling, because in those days I had a camera that would have taken eight to 10 seconds to warm up, and I never would have caught it. At CRS in Nashville I got the late Minnie Pearl doing a riveting keynote that only I have on tape. Also, the induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of the legendary jocks. I was the only one who taped that. It was history.”
His funniest moment: “I can’t remember which convention it was at, but Randy Michaels got up to the podium and said, “I see Art Vuolo here, and he’s wearing a really nice-looking suit. I’m just trying to figure out which radio station is giving away suits.’ It gets a huge laugh to this day. Everybody is convinced that I buy none of my own clothes, because everything I own has a logo on it. As I’m sitting here, I’m wearing a T-shirt under my sweater from a station in Indiana, and I wearing a sweater with the Lion’s and WXYT’s logos on it!”
Favorite song: “I love oldies, but I love the oldies that don’t get played – the ones by Bobby Rydell or Connie Francis or Fabian, the lost gold that didn’t test well for some reason.”
Favorite television show: “Frasier.”
Favorite book: The Hits Just Keep on Coming by Ben Fong Torres. There’s a new book by Joey Reynolds called Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella and Don’t Get a Mouthful of Rain.”
Favorite movie: “Breaking Away” and “One on One.”
Favorite restaurant: “Honest to God, any Las Vegas buffet. My parents moved there 14 years ago, and that was the end of my waistline.”
Beverage of choice: “Diet Mountain Dew.”
Hobbies: “Producing videos of special events – college football games to bar mitzvahs.”
Communication medium of choice: “The old-fashioned telephone. I really prefer it, but e-mail is becoming a necessity: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My website is at www.vuolovideo.com.”
What he is most looking forward to in the new millennium: Making a mark and being successful enough to keep a roof over my head. It sounds corny, but that’s one of the reasons I do videos and stuff: I want to leave something of a legacy. In the radio business, I’d like to see a little less business and a whole lot more radio. We need to stop letting Wall Street “manage us”, and Madison Ave. “program us”. There are enough talented broadcasters out there to keep radio sounding great all by itself.”