The Man You Hate to Love

The toughest executive in Denver radio pleads his case.

 Bob Visotcky attracts negative press like the Backstreet Boys attract preteen girls.

The overseer of six Denver-area radio stations owned by Dallas's AMFM Inc., a brand-spanking-new conglomerate created by the merger of media giants Chancellor and Capstar, Visotcky has spent most of the past four months being publicly pilloried. He was the primary local heat-taker following controversial comments by veteran shock jock Howard Stern the day after the Columbine shootings. (For those of you with long-term-memory problems, Stern, who is heard locally on KXPK-FM/96.5 [the Peak], puzzled over the fact that gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't tried to force sex on any of the extremely "good-looking" female students at Columbine prior to killing themselves.) Then, in late May, Visotcky was again cast as the bad guy when he relocated Denver's only commercial classical-music station, KVOD-FM/92.5, to an acoustically suspect frequency -- 1280-AM, previously the home of the late, unlamented talk station KRRF-AM (Ralph) -- in order to bring to Denver an R&B-oriented format dubbed "jammin' oldies." (The call letters for the FM outlet were subsequently changed to KDJM, while the AM was designated KVOD.)

Supporters of KVOD-FM, led by Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole (who co-founded the station), reacted to the switch with horror, castigating Visotcky for putting profits ahead of community service. And inside the industry, Visotcky earned the nickname "The Killer V" for his willingness to sack anyone and everyone he sees as dead weight.

Don't touch that dial! You're listening to Bob Visotcky, the Killer V.
Don't touch that dial! You're listening to Bob Visotcky, the Killer V.

Amid this turmoil, Visotcky has tried to keep the focus off his peppery self and on AMFM's local holdings. But get him talking and there's no stopping him. In conversation, Visotcky comes across as an exuberant booster of the medium, waxing nostalgic about the thrill of listening to New York's WABC-AM during his New Jersey boyhood. "I was totally fascinated by the DJs and everything," he says. "I got completely hooked -- and I still am." But at the same time, he's a man who understands that the radio business is a game judged by ratings and profits, not good intentions, and he makes no apologies for playing to win.

"Why should I?" he asks. "When you go into a market that's doing poorly, there's got to be change or else it's going to continue to do poorly. Look at Bill Parcells -- when he went to the Jets, he made a lot of changes when he first got there. And the same thing with Jimmy Johnson in Dallas and Miami. But do people remember that? No. What they remember is that they built unbelievably successful franchises. And do you know why? Because they don't surround themselves with mediocrity -- and neither do I. If people are happy with just getting by, then go work for another company, because, hey, we owe our bosses and ourselves the best we can possibly give them on a daily basis -- and if I'm not getting that from people, they're not going to be around me. People can call that whatever they want, but if you want mediocrity, then you should hire mediocrity and leave me alone."

In the beginning, Visotcky's temperament wasn't so fiery -- but it didn't take long for him to stoke the flames. He first got wired into radio in the mid-Seventies while attending West Virginia University, where he majored in broadcast journalism. Before long, he'd landed an internship as a newscaster at two radio stations in Morgantown, the college's headquarters, and a weekend DJ gig at a Top 40 purveyor in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, about an hour's drive away. One night, he remembers, he was heading home in the middle of a snowstorm, "and I was off the highway and didn't even know it. True story: I didn't see any signs or anything like that, so I followed my tracks back to the highway -- and that's when I realized I was in the middle of a field."

But Visotcky had a more serious problem than a dangerous commute: By his own admission, he sucked behind the microphone. "I did one newscast in Morgantown so badly that when I got off the air, the general manager and the news director were waiting for me. They said, 'Bob, you're terrible. You've got to stop doing this and do what your niche is.' And I said, 'What's my niche?' And they said, 'You're a people person -- a natural salesman.'"

At first Visotcky resisted this advice: "I didn't go to college to be a salesman," he points out. But with graduation looming, he finally saw the light and canceled a spring-break trip to Fort Lauderdale in favor of going to New York and trying to talk his way into a job. He managed to line up three interviews through sheer chutzpah, returning with an amorphous promise of employment from WPLJ-FM big shot Larry Divney, who went on to executive positions at MTV and Comedy Central. After graduating in May, Visotcky went back to WPLJ, where Divney told him he'd arranged for him to meet the station's general manager. "I walked into the GM's office, and I was so nervous, I tripped over his coffee table and fell right on my ass," Visotcky remembers. "He looked at me lying there and said, 'Oh, good -- this is the kind of guy we need working here.'"

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