After 37 years in a business where today's music is tomorrow's ratings scramble, former station manager and radio pioneer Ben Miles trades corporate crunching for consulting on the greens.
Ratings aren't everything. Just ask Ben Miles. As general manager of WCDX Power 92, a dominant force in Richmond radio for more than a decade, Miles has been the envy of every radio station general manager in town. Anyone who knows numbers, knows why. Power 92 ranks No. 1 among the prime demographic of local listeners: adults 18-34 years old. No other station even comes close. But that all changed abruptly, and with little attention, two weeks ago. After nearly 40 years in radio, Ben Miles, general manager of Power 92, Magic 99 and The River, has retired. According to Miles, the decision was mutual. Six months ago, Sinclair, the company that owns and operates the three stations managed by Miles, decided to sell to another company, Radio One Inc. based outside Washington, D.C. "The sale has not been consummated," explains Miles, but it's as good as a done deal. Steven Grolsch, director of human relations for Radio One, declined to comment on the company's Richmond stations or any questions raised by Miles' leaving. The takeover by Radio One caused Miles to reevaluate his place in today's radio, as general manager for three leading stations where maintaining an edge is crucial to success. Increasingly, Miles was feeling out of touch with the music. "I know it's the music of the younger generation, and they [the radio stations] prosper from rap," says Miles. "Today's music in various forms I can't say it's my favorite. I think they [radio station programmers] didn't think it would last." Ben Miles doesn't remember the first 45 record he bought at the Church Hill Record Shop. But years later, the store's owner remembered Miles. As a kid, Miles loved music. Loved it all, especially the R&B of James Brown and Aretha Franklin. And at the little record shop in east Richmond, Miles was a valued customer. "Joe Turnage, the owner, used to say that one of the worst things that happened to him was that I got a job," laughs Miles. That first job as an announcer and DJ for WANT-AM, Richmond's first black radio station, yanked him at once out of the purchasers pool. From that day forward, Miles got most of his records for free. Three years ago, Miles took a stand on the offensive language he kept hearing over the airwaves.With three sons and a wife who is a teacher, Miles took his responsibility seriously, perhaps even personally. Miles insisted the music was unfit for his listeners and forced the record producers to pay the cost of dubbing in order for their music to be given airplay. This move proved popular with parents, but prudish and costly with radio executives and younger listeners. Still, Miles' insistence on quality programming has earned him renown from his peers in a sometimes cutthroat industry. In 1992, Miles was elected President of the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, the first African-American to hold the post. In 1996, Miles received the association's Calvin T. Lucy Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor accorded a member. "I still love radio," explains Miles. But the days of small city radio stations having their own format playing what they want, when they want are, according to Miles, over. "We used to play what we wanted to play. Now that's left to a computer." Miles says he got out of radio before it got the best of him. "It was definitely a high pressure job," confesses Miles, who plans on spending afternoons on the golf course and taking on public relations consulting jobs. With a little less at stake, maybe he'll be able to enjoy his records again. "I used to be an avid collector," says Miles. "I guess I just got
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