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Radio Spirits Buys Up Classics:
An OTR Article by Read G. Burgan
Published In RADIO WORLD April 1, 1998:


Radio Spirits Acquires Charles Michelson, Inc.
Read G. Burgan

On December 12, 1997, Radio Spirits of Schiller Park, IL, acquired the radio portion of Charles Michelson, Inc. of Beverly Hills, CA, according to Carl Amari, CEO and owner of Radio Spirits. Amari would not comment on the price, but Michelson said it was in "six figures." This culminates six months of negotiations between the two companies.

Radio Spirits will acquire those portions of Charles Michelson, Inc. that relate to radio programming. In particular, Amari will be adding the following series to his holdings: Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy, The Black Museum (with Orson Welles), Box 13 (with Alan Ladd), Burns and Allen, The Cisco Kid, The Clock, The Falcon, Dragnet, Famous Jury Trials, Fibber McGee and Molly, Gangbusters, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Green Hornet, The Third Man (with Orson Welles), The Hidden Truth, Hopalong Cassidy, Horatio Hornblower, Jack Benny, Night Beat, Red Ryder, The Sealed Book, The Best Of Sherlock Holmes, The Six Shooter (with James Stewart), Stand By For Crime, Theatre Royale, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, X-Minus One and the War of the Worlds.

Some of these programs Michelson owns outright; for others he serves as the exclusive representative of the owners.

Amari fell in love with old time radio (otr) programming at the age of twelve when a friend's father played a cassette of a Suspense program during a sleep over. At the age of 18, Amari decided to use his otr hobby to help pay his college expenses by initiating a broadcast of otr programs on a local Chicago radio station. "Radio Spirits was founded in 1981 in my first year of college out of my parent's basement with a Radio Shack mixer, a Radio Shack microphone and a Radio Shack cassette deck," Amari said.

"That's when I first ran into Charlie Michelson," Amari remembers. "It didn't start out so friendly. I got these letters, 'You can't play those shows; we have the rights to them'. And sure enough, he did. That was my first education that these shows are not in public domain."

Over a period of time, Amari began acquiring the rights to various otr programs. His wrote, produced and narrated his own otr program aired in Chicago.. "My big break," Amari says, "came when John Doremos arranged to have my show aired on several airlines inflight programming." In 1988 Dick Brescia, a former CBS executive heard his inflight program and offered to syndicate Amari's program nationwide.

Currently "When Radio Was" is heard on approximately 300 stations, and his other two programs -- "Radio Movie Classics" and "Radio SuperHeros" -- are each running on 100 stations. The programs are distributed by satellite and on chrome audio cassettes.

Michelson began in radio back in the 1938 when he exported 52 episodes of "Chandu the Magician" on sixteen inch electrical transcriptions to Australia for $50 per episode. "We sent samples of other series, and each one we sent we got orders for," Michelson remembers.

"I finally got the message that I've got to get out of the export business and get into the radio business on the domestic end of it." In the 1960's, his Charles Michelson, Inc. company began providing radio stations with packages of 52 weekly programs including The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

At its peak, Michelson had 80 to 100 stations carrying his series. But in the last few years, that number had declined to 30 or so stations. "It came to the situation where barter took over, and the stations weren't willing to pay for programming anymore. They were getting it for free. So I saw the message on the wall," Michelson said.

The 88 year old Michelson has no intention of retiring. "Carl's acquiring the radio program rights, and we are going to concentrate on our television activities. I'll be selling television rights to some of the famous radio programs." One of his television projects includes a special for the A&E cable network. "I'm working with my two sons and we're putting together a documentary called the 'First Hundred Years of Radio.'"

Michelson is also working on a deal to donate his remaining tape library to the Braille Institute. "They are going to redistribute them to other blind groups. I understand they have 20,000 blind people around the country who listen to their programming," Michelson adds. He has multiple copies of 28 series in his library, each with 52 episodes.

Amari plans on honoring the existing Michelson contracts with radio stations. But ultimately he will fold the Michelson programs into his existing program vehicles and hopes that Michelson's current customers will subscribe to the Radio Spirits' series. Says Amari, "Actually, it will be better for them, because our programming is free. Right now Charlie charges stations for the programming."

Amari is able to do this by bartering time with the local stations. "When Radio Was" is hosted by Stan Freeberg and runs for one hour five days a week. His programs include commercials for national sponsors plus plugs for his own otr products. In exchange for airing the programs, the local stations get the otr programming plus six minutes of time for inserting their own local spots.

In addition, Amari has two other weekly programs: "Radio Movie Classics," an hour long program hosted by Jeffrey Lyons featuring radio adaptations of movies as originally presented on Lux Radio Theatre and "Radio Super Heroes," a half hour action programs for kids hosted by Kris Erik Stevens.

While others host the Radio Spirits programs, Amari is still involved in the details of their production. "I write what Stan says, and what Jeffrey Lyons says and what Kris Erik says. That's what I do," Amari says.

How does Amari make his money? "The selling of the commercial time on 'When Radio Was' is definitely a profit center for us. And the program enables us to reach the exact people we want to reach to provide a catalog. Our catalog makes about a fourth of our revenue. Half of our revenue is generated in our retail market place. And about a fourth of our revenue is through the radio show."

Amari is particularly proud of his relationship with The Smithsonian Institution. "About three and a half or four years ago, I got the idea to produce the top-of-the line product of old time radio. I didn't want one click, or one pop or any distortion. I wanted it to be perfect."

"The only system we saw out there that would do this was Sonic Solutions with No Noise. We started off with one computer, and now we have four. We do it all in-house."

Amari choose the Smithsonian Institution as a partner because he was looking for a name that was synonymous with quality. Each of the resulting collections features well written booklets with photos and a forward by a famous radio person. George Burns, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Kelk are some who have written forwards.

The sound quality is impeccable. The latest collection, "Superman with Batman and Robin" sounds as if it were recorded in a contemporary digital studio. There are virtually no pops, clicks or record surface noise apparent.

Has Amari's commitment to quality paid off? "The last two years we've been in 'Inc. 500' magazine's fastest growing, privately held companies 500 list. Our company over the last three years has grown more than a thousand percent per year. Last year we grew 1800 percent. Most of that is because of the retail (sales)." He currently has fifteen employees.

Stations interested in information on how they can carry the Radio Spirits programs should contact David West, Affiliate Coordinator at (201) 385-6566 or e-mail at DBASYNDICATORS@prodigy.com. They have a website at:

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Read Burgan is a free lance writer and a former public radio station manager who can be reached at (906) 296-0652 or through e-mail at rgb@up.net.