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If You Want To Play The Music You Love, Just Buy A Radio Station

For Jim Slone, retirement had lost its luster. The longtime Tucson radio fixture managed a five-year hiatus after selling his block of stations to Citadel Broadcasting Corporation for $62 million.

And if life after radio doesn't interest you, why not get back in the game?

"I kept trying to think about something that would occupy my time and keep my mind busy, because just driving around and gazing at the moon gets old," Slone said. "I don't think it's healthy for a person, especially when they're healthy enough and capable enough to do something. I took a legal pad down and wrote down the things I might enjoy doing, and I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do. I don't golf. I didn't care to spend a half-day golfing every day. Everybody said, 'Get computer literate; then you'll get on the Internet, and you'll get all excited.' You know, I have absolutely no interest in that. I'm not big on traveling. I will go, and I've been somewhere each year that I've retired, and I've enjoyed it when I got there, but I'm ready to come home real quick. I'm not a worldwide traveler, even though I could do that if I wanted to. That takes up so much of your time. What are you going to do when you get back?"

The answer: Run a radio station. KCEE AM 1030 begins its Slone-driven format in mid-January. Even before a radio career that has spanned 40-plus years in Tucson alone, Slone has been passionate about the music of his youth. As a result, KCEE will reflect that with a standards format.

"When I formed my musical love, it was right before rock 'n' roll, when we had crooners like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin," Slone said. "When I got through with my legal pad, it all came back to music again: 'Well, I need to buy a radio station to play the music I like.' That's what I did. I found this station, and I'm going to play the music I like that gives me joy and comfort and is fun for me to listen to. It's a pop-standards format. It's very familiar music for senior citizens. I tend to play hit records."

During his youth, Slone had something of a music career in his own right. He toured out of college and even got some radio airplay, most notably in the Northwest. But he never quite made the big-time.

"I was told in college that I sounded like Perry Como, and then when I went out to get a record contract, I went to several companies. One was RCA, where I met with Steve Shoals, who was the head of all the RCA artists, including Elvis. He said, 'Son, you've got a real pretty voice. You sound just like Perry Como. We've already got a Perry Como. We don't need another one.'"

Even though his music career never took off, his radio career certainly did. Slone's sale to Citadel earlier this decade marked what many in the industry viewed as the end of an era: local ownership of numerous stations. Today, national entities Citadel, Clear Channel, Lotus and Journal operate the overwhelming majority of stations in the Tucson market. Slone is not about to get into the cluster game again; one station is just fine.

It's a perfect fit for him in other ways as well. Ratings don't drive the product. While it's a strong AM signal--10,000 watts--KCEE's Arbitron numbers probably aren't going to threaten the more-dominant FM powers in the market, including country power KIIM FM 99.5, which Slone ran during its rise to No. 1. With KCEE, the only bottom line he has to tend to is his own.

"I don't have to please Wall Street or anything like that, and that's what's really nice," Slone said. "I don't have to report into New York every day to see if I've met my budget. People who get to work there are going to be very fortunate, because they're not going to be bean counters. They're going to be able to enjoy themselves without feeling all that intense pressure you have with big corporations."

Cathy Green jumped at the opportunity. A sales representative at Journal prior to her move, Green will act as general manager of KCEE, overseeing a very small staff in the station's initial stages. Even so, she was instrumental in Slone's ultimate decision to make the buy.

"I have great confidence with her," Slone said. "She's very well-liked. I called her and said, 'Cathy, if you don't come run it, I won't buy it.' I think she was thrilled I had that kind of confidence in her. She's happy that she's not working in a big corporation. We're very compatible with one another."

KCEE will be the second station in the market to broadcast a standards format. KTUC AM 1400, one of the stations Slone sold to Citadel, is the other. Even so, Slone expects KCEE to reflect his understanding of music from that era, and reflect the tastes of his demographic.

"I have every song that ever made the Top 10 from 1940 to 1975. I have the perfect library for this format," Slone said. "I'm confident there will be a large number of senior citizens who will like what I like. I've had that kind of success before in picking music. I was blessed with an ear to know what the majority of the people like. I'm confident there will be a large selection of the audience that will like what I like.

"Fortunately, I like what most people like. I'm enthused about putting it together and playing it. I have confidence people will like how it's put together."

More by John Schuster

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