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The Man You Hate to Love

The toughest executive in Denver radio pleads his case.

Apparently he wasn't joking: Visotcky was hired. Over the next several years, he moved from sales jobs in New York and Chicago to general-manager gigs in a slew of top radio markets, including Denver; he helped launch classic-rocking KRFX-FM/103.5 (the Fox) in the mid-Eighties and subsequently helmed KHIH-FM/95.7 (K-High), a station that played smooth jazz before the term was invented. (Today both the Fox and K-High are owned by San Antonio-based Clear Channel, AMFM's primary corporate adversary in Denver; the signals were previously held by Kentucky's Jacor Broadcasting, whose assets Clear Channel recently swallowed.) Along the way, Visotcky, a married father of two, had a number of stations sold out from under him, leaving him so frustrated with radio's gypsy lifestyle that he insists he briefly considered getting out of the racket altogether. Instead he headed to San Francisco in the mid-Nineties and re-enlivened a longtime under-performer known as Wild 94.9, then landed in Los Angeles in time to participate in a bit of radio history -- the creation of Mega 100, the first jammin'-oldies station in the country.

"I had to put a staff together in thirty days, and because I'm not from L.A. and had never lived there, I didn't know anybody from Adam," Visotcky notes. "But I was able to hire unbelievable people because I shared my vision with them. I said, 'Ten years from now, you're going to kick yourself in the ass if this thing hits and you didn't sign up, because you could have been part of building a legendary radio station.' And it worked. The revenues went from $7 million when I started to $17 million last year, and they're going to do close to $30 million this year -- and now jammin' oldies is being copied all over the country."

Visotcky didn't get long to bask in this triumph. Last year, Jimmy de Castro, his figurative godfather at Chancellor (de Castro is now vice chairman of the board, president and CEO of the 485-station AMFM), "tapped me on the shoulder and told me, 'We have a disaster in Denver. We've got six radio stations, and we think every one of them needs a lot of work. We want to make sure all of our clusters are strong, and if any cluster is weak, we want to fix it.' But they also wanted to try something a little different. They wanted to have a general manager who not only oversaw a couple stations, but was also the market manager who could make tough decisions and try to consolidate -- and they thought I was the man to do it."

After some initial reluctance ("I was in the biggest market in the country, and I'd already been in Denver twice. Why would I want to go back?"), Visotcky returned to Denver and began remodeling the stations, which included KALC-FM/105.9 (Alice), KIMN-FM/100.3 and KXKL-FM/105.1 (Kool 105). Alice, for example, sounded "embarrassing," because the previous regime had gotten away from what had made it successful in the first place. "It wasn't the music that was the problem," he explains. "It was the attitude. Alice was built on irreverence. It was a fun radio station, but the fun was gone." He also disapproved of the previous management's treatment of morning-show personalities Jamie White, Frosty Stillwell and Frank Kramer, whose show, which began in Denver, is now beamed in via satellite from Los Angeles. "The program director was trying to push them out, and since corporate wouldn't let him do it, he was trying to undermine them from the inside," he says. "I picked up on that the second I got here and fired him two days later."

Visotcky believes that Alice's strong recent performance -- in the spring Arbitron ratings, it's the seventh-most-listened-to station in the market, and the morning show is number one in the 18-34 demographic category -- can be traced to the recruitment of a more energetic on-air crew and a renewed commitment to Jamie, Frosty and Frank. "Now they know that we love them," Visotcky says, "and just that minor change of letting them know that we care has made all the difference."

For KOOL 105, which Visotcky says was "one of the worst-sounding oldies stations I'd ever heard" when he returned to Denver, he brought back the morning team of Paxson and the Coach and chose new, more chipper DJs. "Now it sounds like people are having fun inside that station," he declares. "I believe that if people are having fun inside the station, it'll come out on the speakers, and listeners are picking up on that. KOOL had huge numbers in the last ratings book."

The same can't be said of KIMN, currently known as the Mix; its cumulative spring Arbitrons were actually down -- a fact Visotcky blames on "confusion. It's had something like ten different formats in the past five years." But as usual, he's aggressively confident that this situation will soon change, thanks to tweaking intended to differentiate the Mix from its primary rival, KOSI-FM/101.1. "We're 'Denver's Bright Mix,' not elevator music," he says. "Instead of playing background music, we're a foreground station that people are actively listening to, so advertisers will actually get more bang for their buck."

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