Unhappy Together

Why doesn't KOOL want Barry Fey's money?

On May 10, representatives of Infinity Radio, a New York-based company that owns Denver stations KOOL 105, Jammin' 92.5 and KIMN, handed market manager Drew Hilles his head. At this point, the motivations behind the firing are unclear; neither Hilles nor Infinity vice president/programming Keith Abrams could be reached for comment. But after speaking with a person he describes as being "familiar with the situation," veteran concert promoter Barry Fey has a theory: "One of the reasons is what happened to me."

Fey is referring to a situation detailed in an April 26 complaint filed in Denver District Court on behalf of his company, Feyline Entertainment, against Infinity Radio and its corporate parent, Viacom Inc. The document took KOOL to task for refusing to let Fey purchase advertising time on the outlet to promote "A Salute to Dad," a June 18 oldies concert at Invesco Field that's slated to feature Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Temptations Revue, Three Dog Night, the Beach Boys' Al Jardine and the Turtles, remembered for their mid-'60s hit "Happy Together" -- which Fey and Hilles definitely were not, if their separate affidavits are any indication.

In the end, Judge Joseph Meyer turned down the suit's request for a temporary restraining order that would have forced KOOL to sell Fey spots, and the case was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. This designation allows Fey to refile later if he loses a pile on the concert, which is certainly possible. Fey says he needs to sell 40,000 tickets at the miniscule price of $3.50 per person to break even, and nearly a month after these ducats were made available, he'd only moved about 14,000 of them. He blames his inability to place commercials on KOOL -- which specifically targets those music lovers likeliest to be interested in the gig -- for the lackluster sales to date, and claims to have no idea why Infinity took a pass on his cash. "In 37 years in the business, no one ever refused to take my ads before," he allows. "Even when I was advertising massage parlors, they would take them -- and this isn't a massage parlor."

Fey day: Denver's newest underdog, Barry Fey.
Mark Manger
Fey day: Denver's newest underdog, Barry Fey.

In 1997, Fey retired from concert hyping after three decades in the business, but he got back in the game four years later as a senior vice president for House of Blues, the second-biggest promotion firm in the city behind Chuck Morris Presents, owned by Texas's Clear Channel. Fey stayed at House of Blues until late 2003, and the next summer, he relaunched Feyline. As Fey tells it, he met with Hilles and other KOOL personnel last November to discuss jointly putting on an oldies show during Father's Day weekend. In January, according to Fey, the KOOL folks told him that they "wanted to go in a different direction," so he secured Invesco Field and booked the bands on his own. Then, on April 12, Fey contacted the station to buy advertising, but Hilles turned him down.

After this rejection, Fey lined up sponsors such as KSPZ-FM, an oldies station in Colorado Springs, and Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson, which will be raising funds for slain Denver police officer Donald Young's family at the concert. Still, ticket sales remained anemic, and in Fey's mind, "it's because we can't get on KOOL." The lawsuit against Infinity maintains that because KOOL has a lock on the rock-oldies format in Denver, station managers who wouldn't sell ads to Fey "are willfully and unlawfully using their monopoly power to exclude competition in the relevant product markets." Among the cases used to support this contention was a 2001 lawsuit another local promoter, Nobody in Particular Presents, filed against Clear Channel. This dispute, which was settled last year after U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham declined to toss all of NIPP's anti-trust complaints, is widely seen as contributing to Clear Channel's April announcement that it is spinning off its concert division, including Chuck Morris Presents.

In its brief opposing Fey's request for a temporary restraining order, Infinity argued that NIPP's suit was not relevant to the motion, and countered anti-trust allegations by citing a slew of First Amendment precedents and rulings that stress freedom of association in a commercial context. KOOL "has legitimate business reasons to decline Feyline's advertising," the document emphasizes. "Moreover, it has the right -- with or without any reason -- to do business with whomever it chooses."

Not that Hilles lacked incentive. In an April 27 affidavit, he said his rationale for giving Fey the bum's rush had a lot to do with the eighteenth annual KOOL Koncert, which the station is staging in conjunction with House of Blues. Hilles noted that while last year's edition of the station's signature event took place in August because of "personnel changes and logistical problems," the show is usually held on Father's Day weekend. Thanks to "A Salute to Dad," however, the date had to be shifted to July 2, the Saturday before Independence Day, at Coors Amphitheatre, formerly Fiddler's Green. This change probably didn't endear Fey to Hilles, who declared that KOOL "has had unsatisfactory experiences in its business dealings with Barry Fey" that "resulted in significant financial losses" -- an allegation Fey says he doesn't understand. Hilles went on to state that KOOL "does not wish to broadcast messages that would tend to dilute its promotion of its own annual KOOL Koncert," and wants to avoid the appearance that it's endorsing Fey's show, because the powers-that-be don't think "the talent lineup for the ŒSalute to Dad' concert is a good one or that the business model for the concert is sound."

By most objective measures, the KOOL Koncert's bill is superior to Fey's: Warhorses such as B.J. Thomas, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Paul Revere and the Raiders are supplemented by Little Richard, the Box Tops (led by cult favorite Alex Chilton) and the Raspberries, whose original members are back together for the first time since their 1975 breakup. Even so, Fey says Hilles's logic left him feeling "disappointed and bewildered. All I was trying to do was put on a good show at a really cheap ticket price for Father's Day -- and if you buy my ticket, it doesn't preclude you from going to their show. After all, it's only $3.50." Prices for the KOOL Koncert aren't quite that cheap, but they're far from outrageous. Seats will go for between $20 and $40 -- a tag that includes all fees other than Ticketmaster charges.

In the meantime, House of Blues is promoting the Jammin' 92.5 Father's Day Funkfest, co-starring the Commodores, Kool & the Gang, and Morris Day and the Time, at Coors Amphitheater on June 19 -- the day after Fey's concert. Fey concedes that the Funkfest is aiming for a different crowd than he is, but he can't help but be suspicious about the scheduling of another oldies concert on Father's Day weekend, with promotion by an Infinity station. "There's a reason why they're doing that," he says. "I'm sure Infinity's behind anything they can do to hurt me."

That's news to Jason Miller, House of Blues' newly named senior vice president. "I didn't even know Barry had a dispute with Infinity," says Miller, who worked with Fey during the latter's House of Blues tenure and describes himself as an admirer. "No one at Infinity has made any mention of Barry's situation to me. We're promoting the show totally independently, and seemingly with no issues."

The campaign for "A Salute to Dad" hasn't been nearly as smooth, and Fey's feeling the heat. "There haven't been many times I've been an underdog, but I feel like a distinct one now," he says. He hopes that whoever replaces Hilles at Infinity will change the company's policy and let him buy advertising for his concert. The only thing that will happen "is I'll give them money," he allows. "And what's wrong with that?"

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