AccuRadio takes a gamble on programming retread

August 27, 2010

Bill Gamble

Let's face it: There's never been anything fair about broadcasting. Some guys -- no matter how talented or hard working they are -- can't catch a break. Others -- no matter how badly or how often they bomb -- just keep getting hired again and again. (Insert the personality of your choice here.)

Today's sterling example of the latter is Bill Gamble, a veteran radio programmer and consultant who's called the shots at six Chicago radio stations in the 30 years I've known him. He's nothing if not a survivor. Gamble's most recent gig, as program director of CBS Radio country WUSN-FM (99.5) and adult contemporary WCFS-FM (105.9), lasted eight months until he was fired earlier this year. And now he's back.

On Thursday, Chicago-based AccuRadio announced it had hired Gamble to consult and program its 18 online country-music channels, known collectively as AccuCountry. They include customizable channels organized by decade as well as "New Country Hits," "Country Love Songs," "Women of Country," "Married, But Not to Each Other" (songs about cheating) and "Country Heritage," among others. In addition to overseeing AccuCountry's music, talent‚ and social networking, Gamble will serve as the company's liaison with the music industry in Nashville.

I have nothing but the highest regard for AccuRadio's Kurt Hanson and John Gehron, two of the smartest and most respected men in the business. So if they think Gamble is right for the job, who am I to question their judgment? "As we continue to grow AccuRadio, look for us to continue to partner with the industry's top programmers," Gehron said in a statement. "Bill's experience and expertise will help us make the AccuCountry channels a primary choice for country music fans."

Still I couldn't help recall all that I knew from observing Gamble over the years. How he shucked and jived his way through Emmis Communications WKQX-FM (101.1), hiring and firing morning hosts at the drop of a ratings book. Think I'm exaggerating? Under Gamble's programming leadership, Q101 went through seven morning shows in just four years -- Robert Murphy, Mark Goodman, Bobby Skafish, Robert Chase, Heidi Hess, Lance Tawzer & Doug "Stoley" Stoll, and Wendy Snyder & Bill Leff. By the time Mancow showed up, Gamble was gone.

From there he landed at what is now Citadel Broadcasting WLS-FM (94.7), turning country WKXK into classic rock WXCD. Despite a promising debut, the format soon fizzled under Gamble, who changed the station's call letters to WZZN and began spinning a roulette wheel of formats -- from all-'80s to modern rock/adult-contemporary to alternative rock to active rock -- all within a matter of three or four years.

At every step along the way, Gamble had a facile excuse for why his ideas weren't working. Until he finally ran out of excuses. In 2006, he moved to Denver. His latest Chicago flameout -- eight months at US 99.5 and Fresh FM - speaks for itself.

On Thursday I picked up the phone (like an old-school columnist) and called Gamble to ask a few perfunctory questions. To say it went badly would be an understatement. I tried to ask him for his middle name. He refused to give me an answer. I tried to ask him how old he was. He hemmed and hawed and refused to answer that, too. Barely concealing my frustration and disgust, I quickly terminated the conversation and hung up.

About 10 minutes later, Gamble called back to say he was 56. But I never did get his middle name. I'm betting it's "Survivor."

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