The Lyons Den
Leo Lyons walked to work most days. He only lived a few blocks from the radio station on Greenville's River Street. WMEM was automated in its programming except for Leo's morning show which was broadcast live on Mondays through Fridays from six to ten.
The station struggled to compete with the popularity of local competitor WGRN which played adult contemporary music with a generous budget of a corporately owned chain of stations funding promotions and advertising.
WMEM was one of the last remaining family owned stations and the format featured a memories offering in an attempt to capture an alternate audience to WGRN. The station was housed in a former gas station converted years ago into the small office spaces and two studios (although the second studio was rarely used in recent years).
Leo let himself into the building each morning to do the live broadcast, sometimes assisted by his (owner) wife or daughter as engineer – but usually he was on his own to start the day.
By the time he got off the air at ten, the small group of employees – a front desk receptionist/phone operator, Leo's wife who functioned as station manager and sales chief, and a few part timers who recorded the news, sports, weather, and community news. Leo's voice was heard on 80% of the station's audio spots.
When he signed off from his live morning broadcast, Leo usually spent additional time recording weather spots, the lottery results, and sports updates for use during the rest of the day. Leo also spent time in his small office catching up on paperwork when he wasn't out making sales calls, doing promotional work, or participating in various community events.
The station relied on local advertising and listener financial support to stay on the air. WMEM also used volunteers and non-paid interns to keep the payroll low and the station partnered with other businesses and non-profits for fundraisers.
Leo was seated behind his desk in his small office working on paperwork. The office walls were covered with photos of Sinatra, Como, Clooney, Crosby, Goulet, Martin, Orbison, Torme, Vale, Williams and other crooners spanning from the '30s through the 80s. Broadway stills of various musicals were also displayed along with big band era black and white shots of Armstrong, Basie, Brown, Calloway, Ellington, Gillespie, Goodman, Miller, Kaye, and Shaw.
Those names was a majority of the station's play list along with love songs and ballads from Elvis, The Beatles, and other contemporary artists, along with covers from lesser known singers performing some of the all-time great songs.
Leo's wife Leah stuck her head into Leo's office door with a piece of paper in her hand. "Got an e-mail from Dennis Madison," she reported.
Leo glanced up from his paperwork and squinted at his wife. "You mean the backpack guy?" He asked with uncertainty.
Dennis Madison was a Greenville native who became a self-made entrepreneurial millionaire founding and developing a successful backpack line and stowage system with a focus on weight distribution and ergonomics. His company was based in Colorado but the Greenville News and Dispatch had done several features on his national success – a big local boy does good feel good account.
Leo was aware of the man's success but he had never met Dennis Madison.
"He wants to stop by and make a donation when he's in town next week," Leah said with excitement, always looking for new sources of revenue to help their fledging business.
Leo frowned. "Why doesn't he just mail a check to the Post Office Box or send it through Pay Pal like everybody else?"
"He says he wants to meet with you," Leah explained, glancing at the printed e-mail in her hand. "Whatever works for you."
"I don't know the guy," Leo said with confusion. "Why does he want to meet with me?"
"I have no idea," Leah admitted, stepping into the office and taking a seat on the edge of her husband's desk. "Do you think it might be a big donation?"
Leo did a quick google search for Madison Backpacks on the computer and he came across the company's website. He clicked on 'founder and history' and quickly scanned Madison's bio which only mentioned Greenville in passing. Then he clicked on Charitable missions and saw that the corporation had donated backpacks to underprivileged children and school districts throughout the country.
"Maybe he wants to donate some backpacks," Leo guessed.
"We could use cash more," Leah sighed.
Leo glanced at his wife. "Things around here are always tight."
"I don't know how we do it year after year," Leah groaned.
"Because of you," Leo replied with admiration. "You're the reason we're still on the air."
"Has it been worth it?" Leah worried. "Living on a shoestring budget with no cash flow year after year after year?"
"It's been worth it," Leo assured her. "Our music makes people feel happy."
"Our demographic is dying off with each passing year," Leah stated with concern.
"We can always change the format if we have to," Leo reminded her. "I can always do sports. Or even Christian radio!"
"Reverend Leo?" Leah smirked.
Leo flipped open his appointment book sitting on the top of his desk. "Tell our benefactor that I can meet with him Tuesday at eleven."
"If we could get ten grand out of him…."
Leo interrupted her by letting out a whistle. "That's a lot of money, Leah," he cautioned. "I wouldn't hold your breath on that one."
"He must be interested in us for a reason," Leah said.
"His parents probably listened to the station or something," Leo theorized. "Maybe he'll make a donation in their name or memory."
"I hope so," Leah said desperately. "We could really use a jolt to our cash flow."
"This place was on life support when you took over from your Dad thirty years ago," Leo reminded his wife. "We're still here. We've gotten through hard times before. We can do it again."
"I'll go e-mail Madison," Leah said, leaning over and giving her husband a thank you kiss. "Thanks for always believing in me."
Leo watched Leah sashay out of his office with her amble hips swinging under her dress. Despite the stress and hardship of running a fledging radio station, Leah had aged much more gracefully than her husband with his thinning hair and goatee long ago turned silver gray, not to mention his glasses lenses becoming increasingly thicker with each passing year.
But as long as his 'radio voice' endured and he maintained his on-air savvy, Leo would stay behind the microphone until Leah told him he was finished – or the station finally went out of business.
At fifty-eight, Leo knew he still had some good years left in him.