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
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
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
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:
-- The End --
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.