The Flannel Shirt Radio Network Goes Dark
As of next Monday there’s going to be a gaping hole on my radio dial, a hole in my morning schedule on Tuesdays and every weekday thereafter a hole in my heart. My pal Dusty Dunn has decided to hang up the spurs. After a mere 45 years behind a microphone, for some odd reason he’s decided to ride off into the sunset.
For roughly the last third of that span, yours truly has been a regular guest on Dusty’s show, sitting in for half an hour on Tuesday mornings for no apparent reason other than the fact that I never met a microphone I didn’t like. Our little collaboration began at the old WKEW under Bill Mitchell’s ownership, moved to the new WKEW under Steve Hutchinson’s ownership, then to the mall location of the new WWBG, which was supposed to be the old WBIG. Then when that station was sold to Disney, Dusty moved over to WSJS, where the format was more rigid, more corporate, and my guest spots more infrequent. After he was shown the door – as happens to all radio personalities several times during a career – he eventually landed in High Point at WGOS. The station owner, Simon Ritchy, also happened to own a building in the heart of beautiful downtown Greensboro in historic Hamburger Square, and soon set up a satellite studio, “the Dusty Dunn Ballroom high atop Ritchy Towers.”
It was there that Dusty, by his own admission, had the best deal he ever had in radio. The past five years have brought a host of technological advances, from podcasts to streaming audio to Sirius and XM Radio, but Dusty not only remained true to AM but actually produced a one-man revival of sorts for the format. His morning slot actually made the Arbitron book several times, an unheard-of feat for a 1,000-watt “daytimer.” In a fragmented media market with over a hundred choices on the radio dial, it’s fair to say that Dusty had the most dedicated audience in the Triad. Perhaps not the largest, not the hippest, not the most sophisticated, not the most cutting edge, but without a doubt the most fiercely loyal.
Dusty’s listenership was not exactly a cult, but more like a big extended family, a looseknit group of distant cousins. Not only did we feel we knew him personally, but we actually felt we knew one another. Many of us have bonded over the simple fact of being listeners, callers and guests of the Dusty Dunn Show.
Dusty’s down-home, flannel-shirt style was the perfect antidote for the morning screamers, shock jocks, 12-in-a-row, syndicated, homogenized, formulaic, in-your-face formats. He was a throwback, the guy you felt comfortable inviting into your home each morning, ultimately becoming intertwined with the morning routine, as comfortable as your bedroom slippers, as familiar as your route to work, as welcome as your first cup of coffee.
While Dusty pulled stints in Cincinnati, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington and a few more remote outposts, the bulk of his career has been right here in his hometown. He became a celebrity early on, “spinning stacks and stacks of hot wax” at WCOG, then one of the top three rock ‘n’ roll stations in the state.
He helped launch Cat Country, helped take WRQK to the top of the ratings for a while, and was there to the bitter end at revered WBIG. His résumé was sufficiently impressive for Rep. Howard Coble to nominate him for the NC Broadcasting Hall of Fame, into which he should be inducted shortly after his retirement.
I dare say the bit of notoriety I enjoy around the Triad comes not from the fact I’ve headed up several weekly newspapers or written a column for over 20 years or been a weekly guest on a community news show the past couple of years, but from sitting in with Dusty. It used to be a running joke when someone would tell me they heard me on Dusty I’d ask, “Did you happen to read my column in ESP?” “No,” came the constant reply, “but I heard you on Dusty.” I can’t tell you the number of folks I’ve met over the years who identify me with Dusty’s show, and it’s that fact that gives me legitimacy.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is that makes Dusty special, and it is this: It’s not that his voice and his name are among the most recognizable in the Triad. Nor the fact that he interviews a constant stream of the famous and near famous. Local celebs, politicos, musicians, authors, civic leaders, newsmakers and policy makers are his regulars. But so is the poor, black, retired garbageman who gets hounded by his neighbors; and the guy with emphysema so bad he can barely be heard; and the lady who needs to vent about the city manager; and the old boy who hung Sheriff Barnes in effigy; and the guy who’s trying to quit drinking and just needs a voice on the other end of the line to talk to. Each gets treated with the same level of dignity and respect as a US senator, a rock star or a millionaire power broker. Presidents and paupers all have value and worth, and deserve to have their voices heard. Dusty knew his voice was heard daily and made sure anyone else who wanted theirs heard was allowed to let it out.
And now he’s made the decision that his voice has been heard enough. While I respect his decision, I still don’t have to like it. Dusty Dunn is the fulcrum around which the rest of us revolve, and without him we are all going to feel a bit lost for a while. Probably a long while.
An era has ended and it won’t ever be quite the same.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth on ABC 45 at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and on WMYV 48 at 10 p.m. Sundays. But he can’t be heard any longer on Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM.