Michael Jackson and WMMS, Part two
Let’s get the weirdness factor out of the way. At WMMS we met many celebrities from rock and film stars to athletes and authors. Sometimes it was a real thrill to meet them, other times, a disappointment.
To empathize talent visualize the Scales of Justice. Talent is a blessing and a curse. Exceptional talent in one area often creates deficiencies in others, whether it’s lack of social skills or addictions and obsessions. Michael Jackson was one of the most unique entertainers and performers of any generation – but he paid dearly for that talent.
The deal we did to get the Jacksons tour to play Cleveland guaranteed the group $2.7 million up front for two nights at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. For that, we would get “WMMS Presents…” on all of the tickets and be the exclusive distributor. Belkin Productions would produce the shows. We faced major problems from the start. October weather was unpredictable. We had to sell out those two nights or come close, to cover costs. That raised a second problem. The tour was set up six to nine months past Jackson’s peak popularity – and this was a Jacksons concert – not a Michael Jackson show.
Prince had replaced Michael Jackson as our most-requested artist. Fortunately, the Jacksons’ Victory album featured two effective tracks: “Torture” and “State of Shock,” essentially a duet with Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger, which provided us with much-needed fresh material. Of greater concern was early news of ticket sales for the Prince tour that followed the runaway summer success of his movie, Purple Rain. It was scheduled to open at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on November 4 and 5 – but demand was so great that two nights were added, followed by two more, which sold out immediately, and a fifth. We also got word that Prince sold out three dates at Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland while the Jacksons concert at RFK Stadium a week earlier did not set any records.
Prince’s had two dates booked at the Richfield Coliseum in December. Because of the Jackson shows, Malrite president Carl Hirsch and Jules Belkin agreed to slightly delay their announcement and ticket sales. It wasn’t Belkin’s problem, it was ours, and we knew it. Jules Belkin, a true gentleman, did us a huge favor.
Denny Sanders flew to Chicago to see the Jacksons concert at Comiskey Park. When it came to illustrating an audio picture of the show, no one could do it better. He brought along a portable DAT recorder, which he used to get comments from those at the show. Many were inserted in our Jackson concert radio commercial. Leading up to the shows, the Buzzard Morning Zoo did a week of remotes live from Cleveland Stadium.
We lucked out. The nights were unseasonably warm. The ticket tally for the first night, a Friday, was at 34,210 and 47,186 for Saturday. It came out to exactly 8,604 unsold tickets, of a total of 102,000 for both shows. I went the first night, reasoning that I’d catch the song list, check the crowd demographics, and spot anything we could improve on to promote night two.
Our $2.7 million investment had created a huge chasm between Carl Hirsch and Malrite Chairman and CEO Milton Maltz. I went to the Malrite loge to watch the show and was waved over by Maltz, who was sitting in one of the outside seats. He launched into a tirade about Carl, which put me in an uncomfortable spot, since I had supported his decision to do the show. Throughout the concert and during every song, he would interrupt me to say, “This wasn’t worth it” and “Carl wasted the company’s money.”
The concert was only slightly memorable. Michael had the stage presence; his brothers didn’t. We pulled off a major coup when Kid Leo was approved to introduce them, thanks to our connection with Michael’s manger, Frank DiLeo, who we’d known since 1973, when he was a regional record promoter for Bell Records.
The concerts cost us $259,120. Based on a $30-ticket, we would have broken even with a sell-out. I viewed it as a major success. We had a respectable 10.9 percent share of audience in the fall ratings and, within a year, would increase our share to a 14.5.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, 1985 would be both the best of times and the worst of times.
Much more on WMMS and Michael Jackson in Chapters 23 and 26 in The Buzzard