RIP, Nick Michaels

| May 29, 2018

Tribute By Holland Cooke

 

PINECREST, Fla. — When MTV first popped, NBC followed with “Friday Night Videos,” after Johnny Carson.  The host, heard but not seen: Nick Michaels.  Elsewhere within 30 Rock in the early 1980s, Nick’s voice was also heard on NBC Radio’s innovative network The Source.  And when “Dallas” returned to resolve who shot J.R., three of the back-to-back-to-back network commercials in the mid-break were Nick voice-overs.  Got a headache THIS big?  “Excedrin, the most medicine you can buy without a prescription.”

This past weekend, as his syndicated classic rock show “The Deep End with Nick Michaels” kept a listening appointment with raving fans unaware, The Voice fell silent.  Sudden heart attack.  Nick was 67.

“In The Over-Communicated World, a whisper becomes a scream.”

On Facebook, heartbroken David Hall recalled: “The first time I met him, he screamed at me.  Screamed.  About how I didn’t get it, how radio program directors are all idiots.  At some point I got a word in edgewise and we quickly found that we were actually kindred spirits.  He was the voice of KFI in Los Angeles in my last year there, and then came with me to CBS to voice KNX in Los Angeles, WCBS in New York, and KCBS in San Francisco.”

Ditto.  Some of my favorite work was done collaborating with Nick.  Once we argued for at least 10 minutes over two words.  My promo copy for a news station was “Set a button right now” (for an instant update, anytime).  “You’re not talking to the dog!” Nick barked.  Rather than a command, the finished product was a friendly offer: “You can set a button right now.”  He was right, I was wrong.

Also from Nick’s Manifesto of The Over-Communicated World:

  • “What the audience discovers is more important than what they are told.”
  • “For advertising to work, it must detach from selling.”
  • “Write powerfully, speak humbly.”
  • “Speak in a human voice.”
  • “Make them feel.”
  • “Time is the new currency.”
  • “Every message is a meeting.”
  • “All messages swim in the same ocean.”
  • “The best way to attract an audience is to back away from them.”
  • “Instead of trying to make the consumer understand your product, be the product that understands the consumer.”
  • “The audience is us.”
  • “The best messages empower the audience.”
  • “The negative space matters.

Think about that last one next time you’re tempted to use Adobe Audition’s handy Time/Pitch function to jam 65 seconds of copy into a 60.  Re-write to 55 seconds and let it breathe.

Nick’s work was like a thoughtful black-and-white TV commercial between two annoying car dealer spots with flashing graphics. “Loud and fast is a thing of the past.  Low and slow is the way to go.”

“Wasn’t I right?”

Nick could distill each major radio format to three words.  For talk radio: “Wasn’t I right?”  Thus the way we unambiguously image my Limbaugh/Hannity-affiliated client stations as safe space for the like-minded.  Everyone else is fake news.

Nick’s three-word take on other formats:

  • All-news: “Now I know.”
  • Sports: “My team first.”
  • Classic rock: “Take me there.”
  • Country: “Share the feeling.”
  • Adult contemporary: “Time for me.”

Three years ago when we signed-on a new talk FM in coastal Georgia, the client let me choose the call letters.  And Nick’s voice assured that, “When you need to know, WBQO.”  But only until 7:00 pm each weeknight.  “Enough talk.”  We repurposed his 4-hour weekend music show to 70 hours of night time programming; and “The Deep End” remains the most popular programming on the station.  He got mail from listeners who thought he was local.

The Vulcan Mind-Meld, at Denny’s

A dozen years ago when the NAB Radio Show was at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, I introduced Nick to TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison at the Denny’s across the street.  Over eggs, I thought I was seeing the reunion of twins separated at birth.  Five years ago this past weekend, Michael and Nick co-hosted “The Classic Rock Summer of ’13 Kick-Off,” a two-hour show they gave stations free, for the love of our craft.

“Deeply saddened by the loss of a legend and dear friend,” Michael remembers Nick as “the very best of the concept of ‘old school.’   He was so good at it, he seemed  positively futuristic.  He was all about preserving the mood and passion of the music.  He believed that every inch of radio should be engaging, including the commercials.”

Nick REALLY got it: “When great radio is your main focus the audience and the advertising money will find you.  When money is your main focus, the audience and the advertising money will go looking for great radio.”

The Healing Waters

A dunk in Nick’s salt water swimming pool was like visiting Lourdes.  His mansion in Pinecrest, the Beverly Hills of Miami, sits in an old mango grove.  Nick and Diane and their three adult children — Nick Jr., an attorney; Dr. Amanda; and future Dr. Alexandra — always welcomed me like family.  They baked me birthday cakes; and when they sang it was a two-fer, because Nick was born seven days after I was.

Nick and I spoke every week, only half the time about radio.  That I will miss, a lot.  But he will never leave me.

Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show on RT America.  Follow him @HollandCooke.  And if you’ve never heard it, click-to-listen to some of Nick Michaels’ work at HollandCooke.com

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Category: Features