R.A.P. Interview: Joe Knight

Joe Knight, Free-lance Writer, Fort Myers, Florida

joe-knight-mar97by Jerry Vigil

Over the year's, RAP has interviewed many "veterans" in the business, but never have we interviewed someone with over a half-century in the business! And finding this person still in the business is just as amazing. Many of you will recognize the name Joe Knight immediately. Others may not. But there's no question that Joe Knight deserves all the recognition our industry can give him. Nestled cozily in Fort Myers, Florida as a free-lance writer working primarily for Storm 106/WJST-FM, The Music of Your Life, Joe cranks out the spec spots that make life for WJST's AEs a lot easier, and the clients get some of the most creative ads on the air. Most of Joe's career has been spent as an air personality, although he began seriously voicing and writing commercials in the early 1960s when he eventually hit the big time, writing and voicing syndicated spots for 640 markets worldwide. Much time has passed since then, and in 1988, Joe focused his efforts primarily on writing, voicing, and producing spec spots for radio station AEs. There's a lot to learn from Joe, and we scratch the surface of his extensive experience and knowledge in this month's interview. His earlier successes allow him to work for reasons other than money, something most of us only dream of, and it's a treat to discover someone who is living proof that what we do for a living IS enjoyable enough to do for life.

RAP: Tell us how you started in radio and how you wound up at WJST.
Joe: I was born in Kansas near Wichita in a place called El Dorado. My dad was with an oil company and moved around quite a bit. We ended up in Great Bend, Kansas, and I went through high school there. There was one kid chosen from every state in the union--there were thirteen original colonies at that time--and they were chosen to represent the nation in Denver, Colorado. Denver University had a great journalism and radio school, and you could take either one. I opted for radio. This was at the end of my junior year in high school. So I went out there and spent about three months. I came back before my senior year and bugged the local radio station to put me on the air. They finally put me on weekends making station breaks. Most of the programs, of course, were network. We were the Old Blue Network at that time, and we had fifteen-minute programs. I made the station breaks on the weekend and gradually just got into it. I wasn't doing much DJ-ing at that time, but I just kept on with it.

I went to Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas and took some radio courses, but I didn't finish there because I'd already had some professional experience in radio, and I really wasn't learning a lot. So I went back home to Great Bend and worked full-time there. Then I worked in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas, a four-state area.

I was drafted a couple of times. The war was still on when I got out of high school and was drafted, but then I flunked the final physical. I had bad eyes and flat feet, and they only wanted the real healthy guys because they thought they were going to have to invade Japan. Then, of course, the bomb dropped and that was all over. Then I was drafted again in '48 for the Korean thing which was really heating up. But that quieted down and I went back into radio. I was in Amarillo, Texas when they called that off, and I just stayed there and had a pretty good gig. I was there from '48 until almost 1950.

Then I went to work with Dean McGee and Senator Bob Kerr. They opened a station, KRMG, in Tulsa at the stroke of midnight in 1950. About eight months later, believe it or not, for the third time I was drafted because the Korean thing heated up again. So I ended up going to Europe from '50 to '52. I was on temporary duty with AFN, American Forces Network, out of Frankfort, Germany. They had stations all over Europe at that time, and I ended up doing a radio show. I billed myself as "Joe Knight, the Knight of the Spinning Roundtable," as I had from about 1950 on, and it worked wonderfully well. I had about sixty-five percent of my mail come from England, and I was the guest of a guy named Ted Heath, who was a big band leader. He's deceased now, but he was big all over the world with big band music. I was his guest at the Royal Festival Hall in 1951 where they had a lot of jazz and blues artists. It was really a wonderful time for me to meet some stars.

I toured the European Command with Vic Damone. Vic was our singer, and I was the announcer and sort of the emcee. Burt Bacharach was our piano player, and he did some arranging for us. We had about five or six guys, and we toured all around the European Command with a show. It was a lot of fun. I was also active in a thing called Starlift--fellows like Danny Kaye coming over to entertain the troops. I would go around with Danny and his group as sort of a liaison, and I'd do the emcee work for them. There were a lot of stars that came over at that time. Pearl Bailey and Louie Belson were there, so we had a lot of good music. After October 1952, my tour of duty was over and I went right back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I picked up my old job and started doing a lot more free-lance. I was getting into more writing, working with ad agencies, and things of that sort. I worked there from 1952 to 1957. I got married in 1956 to a young lady I'd met in Amarillo when I was working there. About six months later, I went to Baltimore, Maryland. The manager of the Tulsa station had gone there a couple of years before. A slot opened up, afternoon drive, and he offered me a very, very good job. I was there from 1957 to 1972 with WFBR in Baltimore. Then from 1972 to 1988, I was with WCBM, Metromedia. In 1988, the fellow who bought the station drove us off the air. We went black. You rarely hear of that, and I'd never been associated with anything like that. I had done a lot of writing, and the minute the station went off the air, everybody knew it. I got a lot of calls from stations wanting me to come over and work with their sales staff to produce and write spec spots. So I went with WYST in Baltimore and it worked wonderfully well there for me and for them for about three years.

In the interim I had been working with radio syndicators, the Golnick Group was one of them. Leon Golnick had an ad agency in Baltimore for years and years. He was a heck of a guy, an entrepreneur, and he evolved this thing built around a guy named Louis R. Mills, Jr., who at that time and still is one of the best production guys I ever worked with. He was just marvelous, and he was the guy who did the production for us. We had sort of a stable of announcers, men and women. The nucleus was myself, a guy named Walt Teas, and the gal was Flo Ayers. They're both still there and still active. To keep it simple, we would work up campaigns for primarily automotives and furniture stores, and we would come up with some sort of a campaign theme like, "Nobody walks away from Smith Chevrolet; They drive away...," and that type of thing. We would have maybe three or four jingles--rock and roll, contemporary, country and western. Then we'd also have maybe ten or fifteen spots in that "Nobody Walks Away" package. We had salesmen out in the field all over the United States. How many, I don't recall offhand, but they'd go up and down the streets of Wichita or wherever they were and sell these campaigns. If Smith Motors didn't buy it, they'd go across the street to Dave's Used Cars. Then they'd go back to their motel that evening, make up an order for whatever they sold, and phone in the order. We'd sit back at the studio and do the spots they wanted--versions one, seven and nine. We'd do comedy spots that we already had written. We just plugged in their names and sent them out. It was incredible. Eventually, we did work for 640 markets here and abroad. We made a lot of money and so did Leon Golnick. He eventually took his whole act down to Florida, and I don't know what happened. I think they went out of business. But that's the type of thing I was doing. I was creating an awful lot of written material. I liked to write, and doing impressions and radio acting was always a fun thing for me to do.

When my daughters got married and moved away, I came down here to Fort Myers. I have two daughters. Lisa Klepac, is the Corporate Sales Manager at The Grand in Atlanta. She works on the hotel side. My other daughter is Kim Bostwick. Kim uses Kim Knight on the air because I was known for decades as Joe Knight. She is the traffic gal with Metro Traffic and has been for several years. She is also on television mornings and afternoons with the traffic report, and she's also into doing some free-lance. She currently is doing a TV documentary on angels which will be syndicated around the country, and she does voices and stuff, kind of following in the old man's footsteps.

So I came down here to Fort Myers about five years ago in '91. I talked to some radio stations and landed a very good gig with WARO-FM and WNOG-AM/FM. They built a studio for me here in Fort Myers in their business office. Their sales staff and stations are down in Naples. The problem was the sales staff was down there and I was sort of out of sight, out of mind, so I really didn't get as much action as I wanted. I don't want to kill myself, but I like to work. When those stations were bought out recently by Meridian Broadcasting, I had a chance to come over to WJST with Bernie Green. I'd worked with Bernie when he was an AE at WARO, and he was after me from time to time. So I came over to WJST. I've been here maybe a month or so, and I'm very happy and keeping very busy doing spots.

RAP: You're basically a free-lance writer for the station. Do you have clients outside of the station's clients?
Joe: Yes. I have some clients out of the state. I have some in Baltimore, and I work with some small agencies occasionally when they need something special. I do have a couple of banks I work with, and I have some automotives up in Brunswick, Maine, guys I've worked with for a while.

RAP: Do you office at the station?
Joe: Yes. I work right here and share some studio time with Andy Frame (Production Director, WJBX/WJST). Andy is such a great guy to work with. I met Andy working with him on a syndicated thing for an insurance consultant. Andy and I created some characters, and the insurance guy sent this stuff out all around the country to independent insurance agents showing how he could help them. So we did a little formatic back and forth situation-type thing, Andy and I, and that's how I met him. I was happy to join him over here. He's very generous with his time. He lets me get in that studio, and he's a terrific production guy. I'm still working with tape, and he does the real fancy stuff.

RAP: Describe your creative approach to writing copy?
Joe: It's visual. It's situational. I just wrote a spot a little while ago on a place called Taco Caliente, and the guy says, "I don't know what it is doctor, but every time I hear a bell I get a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach." And the doctor says, "You've got that big taco chain syndrome. What you need is a little TC." "Tender care?" "Taco Caliente." So it's that type of thing. I also write a lot of straight copy and some nice, warm stuff, too.

I try to write with humor and with a lot of different elements in there. The listener may not catch it all the first time, but by golly, on down the line they'll hear it again and they'll say, "Hey, that's that spot with the elephant, and now I heard something else." I try to keep it different, keep it so it sounds fresh almost every time they play it. If I was going to do a spot that was only going to be played once, then I would give the phone number eighty-three times and the guy's address and say, "Come down now."