The following is an interview with John F. Dille, CEO of Federated Media in June 1996. It was published in the book “In the Public Interest” a history of radio broadcasting in Indiana. This article chronicles much of the broadcasting history of Federated Media.
The office of John F. Dille III is on the second floor of a downtown commercial building at the edge of Elkhart’s business district in Northern Indiana. Like his father before him, Dille heads a small group of media companies. Dille began his career in journalism as a copy-boy for the Washington Post and then became a reporter for Thomson Newspapers Ltd., with assignments in England, Scotland, and Wales. After a tour in the service, Dille returned to Indiana, where he worked for the Mishawaka Times and the Elkhart Truth, both of which were family-owned. While his father was primarily in the business of operating newspapers and television stations, Dille became involved in radio in 1971 when he was sent to “see what to do” with WMEE and WMEF in Fort Wayne, Indiana (the former WKJG stations). Success with the Fort Wayne stations led Dille into acquiring other stations.
So, we thought we’d try to be a clone – we didn’t use those terms – of WMAQ, which had really met with some significant success. But this was very offensive to people who had enjoyed Frank Sinatra. The notion of hearing Waylon Jennings instead of Frank Sinatra was just absolutely an anathema. There was a newspaper columnist who just stirred and stirred this thing. We didn’t know it but the disc jockeys were on the air saying. “If you don’t like this proposed change” (which is another way of saying that we’re not going to be a part of this sort of thing, because we’re probably going to get fired) “write to the Commission.” So, fifteen hundred people did. So many letters and so much commotion that Bill Gradison, then congressman, called for a congressional hearing of the matter of WCKY’s format. Well, it is preposterous. Anyway, it was out of that case and a couple of others akin to it that the Commission concluded privately [that] they had no business in the content regulation portion of broadcasting activity. But I recall Dick Shiben, the bureau chief, then called me up and said, “How would you like to take this case to the Supreme Court?” And, I said, “Well, it scared the hell out of me.” Anytime you get a call from the Commission it’s frightening, at least to me. But I said, “No. I don’t want to; we can’t do that.” Anyway, about that time they decided they had no business doing that, and they removed those questions. They subsequently granted the transfer on Valentine’s Day of 1976.
WOWO’s Bob Sievers
In the 1970’s… talk began, but it didn’t find its way to fruition till the early 1980s, and you’ve heard this discussion from others called Docket 80-90 wherein additional radio stations were created? Had the effect of increasing inventory which had the effect of decreasing, in the end, profit. Profit is not a dirty word. Broadcasters were then so squeezed, some of them lost money. I should say, many of them lost money by the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s …In this country, we thrive on competition. It’s a very good thing. But there comes a point where – and it’s hard to, given the way that we’re geared [with our] capitalist economy – but there really is too much competition. Because there are licenses that the marketplace can’t really behave as freely as it could. We’re in a free market because of the structures of government.
At WOWO …they billed themselves as “The Voice of a Thousand Main Streets.” I always liked that line. An in that way WOWO did bind together those listeners from across the land in a common experience of listening to the radio. As today, we can – setting aside your views of a person – listen to Rush Limbaugh. There is a common experience listening to him across the land, as there is in television. I mean the Johnny Carson Show, everybody was, “Did you hear what Johnny Carson said last night?” And Letterman’s Top 10 lists are repeated on the radio the following morning. I don’t think radio wants to be the one thing to all people. I suppose on one hand, each station] might think it great if it could have all of the listeners. I’m not sure that’s really a very good idea, as an economic argument. Radio is local, that’s its value.