Doug Balogh recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Doug’s name may not mean much to you, but Doug meant the world to a bunch of youngsters who worked at the radio station he and his wife Linda owned and operated for more than two decades in Oxford, Ohio.
97X was a tiny station in a small college town. It had a weak signal, and it played weird music. Not exactly the recipe for runaway success. In fact, it barely registered on the quarterly list of radio ratings for Cincinnati and Dayton stations. But if you define success by the joy that station brought to both the station staff and the small-but-mighty group of dedicated listeners, then Doug’s ratings are off the charts — on the good side.
Doug gave countless young adults – many of them still in college or recently graduated – a chance to work in radio. For that reason alone, he deserves a ton of credit. But he not only gave them opportunity, but also a ton of freedom to do what they thought was best. To play the music they wanted. To be total goofballs on the air. To learn on the job. To grow up under his tutelage.
I’m probably the poster child for Doug Balogh’s Radio Refuge. I worked in radio for a few years after I graduated college, doing behind the scenes work at a company that ran an AM oldies station and an FM country station. I discovered 97X because they played bands you couldn’t hear anywhere else (Replacements, Connells, They Might Be Giants… I could go on and on). I wound up weaseling my way into some weekend air shifts there. I probably spent more in gas money than I made in hourly wages, but I didn’t care, because I had a freedom I couldn’t find elsewhere in the formatted-to-death world of corporate radio, and a connection to the listeners that made it feel like we were all one big (or not so big) happy family.
But then I had my “lost years”… I wound up leaving the radio biz and was living with my brother in Bakersfield, California and working as a travel agent. I knew I was deluding myself but I was in a bit of a rut. When I finally worked up the courage to try to get back in the radio game, the first call I made was to Doug. He had no business putting out the welcome mat for some travel agent in Bakersfield who did a few weekend shifts at the station three years prior. But somehow, some way, Doug brought me back into the fold. Because he saw something in me that I myself often struggled to see. Doug was an ace salesman, but his greatest skill was talent scout. He had a preternatural gift for sensing the right “fit” in the people who came looking for a job there.
I worked overnights for a year, mornings for a year and afternoons for six months before leaving for a larger station in Cincinnati. 97X was where I found myself… it was the radio reboot I desperately needed. It was a second chance at my first love. It was all that and more, thanks to Doug and Linda.
That was 30 years ago. I’ve said many times since that 97X was the least amount of money I’ve ever made… and the most fun I’ve ever had. The latter is much more valuable, and more precious, by far.
Prior to Doug’s big BD, his son Marty and daughter Kristy asked me to reach out to a bunch of 97X alums and get a birthday greeting from them. Several responded, and I edited the clips together for an audio surprise (seemed like a fitting format for a radio guy) that Marty and Kristy shared with Doug during the birthday celebration. I won’t share the total clip here, but you’ll hear snippets from three folks who worked on the morning show (in order: Julie Maxwell, John “JJ” Jesser and Steve Baker)
“Mentor. Coach…. wonderful place”
“Best years of my life”
Some folks may think that Doug and Linda ran a tiny radio station for 20 years. But I know better – they created a magical place that still exists in our minds and hearts.