Broadcaster Carl P. not getting good reception

March 29, 2004

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He long dominated the airwaves in Nashville and even won the large-market radio personality of the year award in 1995 from the Country Music Association. But now, Carl P. Mayfield says Nashville radio isn't giving him the time of day.

"I tell you, I've called every radio station in town. I once thought I was a commodity and worth something, but not a single station has called me back," Mayfield said when contacted at home recently.

The 34-year veteran of country radio, and rock before that, suddenly departed from the airwaves of WGFX, 104.5 FM, and "The Zone," its morning show, in December after only three months on the job. Since then, he's been looking for his next opportunity, although he can't work just yet.

Mayfield and the station owners, Citadel Broadcasting, failed to reach agreement on his contract renewal at the end of February. A non-compete clause prevents Mayfield from working for a station in the Nashville market until June 1.

Mayfield said the contract also restricts him from talking about the events that transpired at The Zone. But when it expires June 1, he plans to tell all about "what happens to a 34-year market veteran when the cost cutters of corporate radio come to town."

It was rumored for a while that Mayfield was in discussions with WSM-FM 95.5, the only one of the FM country stations in Nashville he hasn't worked for. But Mayfield says that station won't return his phone calls either.

"No one's more surprised than Carl P. about that one," Mayfield said.

A matter of timing

While few dispute Carl P.'s long-time stature and name value in the Nashville market, his timing may simply be off, a couple of industry observers noted.

"You've got to position yourself for an opportunity. Some stations will build a format change around somebody like that. Sometimes they want to wait out a (ratings) book to see whether or not what they're currently doing is working," said Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, based in Nashville.

Openings in the radio market are scarce right now where Mayfield would fit in, said Robert Unmacht, a Nashville radio consultant. Radio teams have been settling into their slots over the past six months. WSM-FM just established its morning and afternoon on-air teams.

"There aren't a lot of jobs for high-priced people in particular" at a time of consolidation in the industry, Unmacht said. But he pointed out that Mayfield has been very consistent in delivering the numbers for the radio stations at which he's worked.

A top performer

Mayfield started making a name for himself at WKDF 103.3 FM when it was a rock station, but made his real dent as the afternoon deejay on the WSIX 98 FM country station. In combination with Gerry House in the mornings, the two powerhouses dealt a one-two punch in the radio market.

"Jerry and I worked at WSIX for 10 years and the station absolutely ruled," Mayfield said. "I mean, we were staying there with 19, 20 shares (of the radio audience), and then the other closest station might have had an eight (share)."

But in 1998, Mayfield decided to go back to WKDF to compete directly against House in the mornings. When the rock station flipped its format to country, Mayfield was part of its success, Unmacht said, although House remained on top.

WKDF, which was eventually purchased by Citadel, moved Mayfield to mornings at sister station WGFX in September of last year after switching its format from classic rock to sports/talk.

Pay may be an issue

Unmacht speculates that the new assignment wasn't Mayfield's choice.

"I have to think that his paycheck and the new owners, Citadel, were what caused the parting of the ways, that they just didn't want to pay that much money," Unmacht said, noting that he does not know Mayfield's salary.

Although a radio deejay on a morning-drive team, the most coveted spot, made an average of $72,550 last year, according to Radio & Records magazine, top radio personalities can draw in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to industry observers.

George Plaster, popular sports commentator for WGFX in the afternoon, was drawing a salary of $150,000 in 2002 when he worked for talk station WWTN 99.7 FM. His contract was divulged in a lawsuit filed against Plaster by WWTN's previous owners, Gaylord Entertainment Co.

Mayfield said although he hasn't tried yet to look outside the Nashville market, that might be his best shot, some industry watchers say.

Mayfield is "a fixture in the Nashville market, he's legendary in this market, and has years of proven ratings and has a large fan following," said Jeff Green, executive editor of Radio & Records. "I imagine there are a lot of markets where Carl P. Mayfield would be very successful."

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