Mix Master

Who do we have to thank for Rod Stewart every hour on the hour? This guy, Guy Zapoleon.

"[Shaw] opened it up and said, 'Wow,' " remembered Zapoleon. "He had never seen anything like that."

There were similar charts circulating around magazines and radio stations, but nothing so extensive, nothing so accessible to the everyday reader. "[Shaw] sent me right down to the PR department," said Zapoleon.

"This is Guy Zapoleon. He can prove that Chubby Checker, Billy Darin [and] Ferrante & Teicher Š were more popular than the Beatles in Los Angeles," read the cover of Circular, a monthly newsletter distributed by Warner Bros. WB public relations chief Pete Johnson had received Zapoleon's charts from Shaw and was impressed. So impressed, in fact, that he dedicated a dozen pages of the circular to Zapoleon's project, wrote five reasons why Zapoleon should be in the industry and put the shy guy on the cover. The newsletter reached approximately 1,000 radio stations across the country.

Guy Zapoleon perfected the art of packaging a station, to the point where one consultant called his Mix formula the "cat food" of commercial radio.
Fred Harper
Guy Zapoleon perfected the art of packaging a station, to the point where one consultant called his Mix formula the "cat food" of commercial radio.
General manager Clancy Woods knew who he wanted to program his new station in Houston. He wanted the "best": Guy Zapoleon.
Amy Spangler
General manager Clancy Woods knew who he wanted to program his new station in Houston. He wanted the "best": Guy Zapoleon.

Not long after his mug appeared in that Warner Bros. promotional mouthpiece, Zapoleon was the subject of a brief Rolling Stone article. Shortly after that, the job offers came. Billboard, Record World, RKO. Seemed like everybody in the biz wanted that young go-getter with the made-for-radio name.

Zapoleon's first full-fledged radio gig came a few months after the Rolling Stone article. Betty Brennamen, national music coordinator at RKO, which owned KHJ, met with Zapoleon and hired him at local KRTH FM, where his first job was simply to rearrange the station's tapes. For the next couple of years, Zapoleon worked 20 hours a week at KRTH, coordinating music and working in traffic and continuity (which is radio patois for "scheduling commercials").

In 1975, degree in hand, Zapoleon got the word from Dad. "It was either get a full-time job or go into the executive training program with [clothing company Federated]," remembered Zapoleon. Not one to displease his father, Zapoleon entered the program and, six months later, completed it. And just when Zapoleon's position as assistant manager for housewares was getting interesting, he got a call from KRTH. The station wanted him back as full-time traffic-continuity coordinator. "I told [Dad] I proved I could do the executive training thing," Zapoleon recalled. "So I asked him, 'Now, can I do what I want?' He said, 'Yeah.' " Zapoleon worked at KRTH until 1977.

He then worked at local Los Angeles oldies station KRLA for a year and a half, went back to KRTH as music director for three years, then landed his first programming job in September 1981, at KRQQ FM in Tucson, which was owned by Western Cities Broadcasting. "It was Top 40," said Zapoleon. "That's what I wanted."

Yes, Zapoleon was impressed with himself. Having worked his way up from bedroom scientist to music programmer before his 30th birthday gave him reason to believe he was hot shit. But once he got to Tucson, he realized creativity and good taste weren't the only things that made a station tick. He soon learned about promotions, about "call out" surveys that solicit listener responses to new music and about "the clock," that simple clock face on which precise times for announcing station IDs or promotional spots or contest giveaways were written in indelible ink.

After perfecting his trade for two and a half years in Tucson, Zapoleon spent nine months in Pittsburgh working at the ultra-poppy "B-94 FM," before he was called back to Arizona. He wanted to be close to his father, who had suffered a heart attack since moving there. Zapoleon got a job at KZZP FM in Phoenix, which was owned by Nationwide.

Four and a half years later, Zapoleon was in Houston, preparing to launch Mix 96.5.

It didn't take long for The Mix to connect with audiences in Houston. One day after the station was up and running, President George Bush launched Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. Zapoleon, Pogge and Woods decided to do their part for the war effort: They began passing out somber yellow ribbons, which, according to Pogge, "created an element of community" and "was emotionally relating to our listeners."

But the promotional gimmicks were just part of the package; The Mix also interacted with its audience, whether by regularly asking for requests or by posing such questions as "What was your best brush with greatness?" on the Larry and Susan morning program. The Arbitron share numbers rose accordingly.

Local stations were definitely paying attention, particularly since they were losing audience share as a result.

"They found a niche and did real well in it and got real good, real good ratings," said Dickie Rosenfeld, general manager of KILT, where he has worked in various capacities for 40 years. "Yeah, you watch 'em. You see what you can do to take some of their audience away without messing up your own format."

Said DJ Scott Sparks of KRBE: "The Mix was something new and original. The advantage that it had was it had '70s music. Unlike '80s music [KRBE's focus at the time], '70s music had hit a wall. But by the mid-'80s, there were 'Disco Nights,' and radio started embracing '70s hits. The '80s were always there. The Mix had a unique advantage. Their demo[graphic] was older -- and is getting older -- and with '70s music, they were in line for success."

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