Getting Away Scott Free In The Morning

I may be hundreds of miles away from Indianapolis. But, I’m rooting for the morning team of Julie and Steve who are making their much publicized return to the radio air waves on WENS-97.1.

Aside from the fact I’m following broadcasting brethren, why the hell would I be interested in this? Here’s the answer.

I’d love to see Julie and Steve stick it to Scott Sands.

Scott, you see, was a former co-worker from the WNSL days. If you lived in South Mississippi for any length of time during the early to mid-’90s, you’ll remember him as “Scott in the Morning” on SL-100.

Scott is now program director at WZPL-99.5 in Indy. Previously, he was in similar capacities in San Diego and the Mississippi gulf coast.

I mentioned previously at DougMorris.org I’d document Scott’s antics and lack of cooperation one day. With Scott probably wondering what will happen with Julie and Steve’s much publicized return to the air — after not being allowed on the radio for six months after their departure from ZPL — now seems as good a time as any.

Seven years ago this week, I was Scott’s substitute for a few days. My fill-in stint began a day after Scott had done his annual “Elvis is dead” tribute show on August 15, 1995. Why not August 16, the actual anniversary day Elvis left the building? August 16 marked the beginning of Scott’s vacation. Why he couldn’t wait a day I’ll never know — but that’s not important.

Here’s what is important, though. One day the previous week, I came just to sit in and take notes on Scott’s airshift. Quickly, I learned a few lessons in how not to do his show.

For one thing, Scott showed up to work at around 5:50am — 10 minutes before he was due to begin his shift. This isn’t any normal airshift, folks, this is morning drive — a crucial daypart for any radio station. His lack of preparation showed on the air.

Later that day, his interview with cheerleaders from the Philadelphia Eagles (the NFL team and the New York Jets were due to face off in an exhibition game in Jackson the following weekend) didn’t go all that great. Out of respect to Eagles’ fans and the Eagles organization — including the cheerleaders themselves and family friend Todd Pinkston (an Eagles wide receiver who played his college ball at Southern Miss, another land of Eagles) — I won’t document what happened.

Also, Scott got upset when some equipment malfunctioned (as it often did in my days at NSL) — and just threw stuff around the studio. Scott proclaimed that August day as his worst show ever. And I couldn’t help but silently agree. In fairness to him, his jets cooled over time and was ready to do his last show before his vacation, the aforementioned Elvis tribute.

But, let’s turn the clock back further to late winter/early spring of ’95. I’m not sure exactly when this happened — all I know is this occured before 104.5 came back to life on April 1 of that year.

Scott had left for a morning show convention. While he was on this business trip, he was suspended for inflammatory remarks during an on-air discussion with listeners about a man fatally shot for flying the rebel flag on his property.

I’ll admit, the memories of Scott’s suspension are fuzzy at best. This occured in my final semester of college. Many people — fellow students and professors — were asking me what was up with Scott. My response: I’m trying to concentrate on finishing up school and the only aspects of radio I have time worry about amount to SL-100’s BackTrax and my normal Saturday show — so I don’t know the full story.

Selfish? Of course. But Job #1 was at the time was student, not radio air personality.

The Sunday after Scott’s planned/forced absence from the air, one of my frequent callers to BackTrax said, “I bet yer buddy Scott ain’t gonna say (the “N” word) again.” No this conversation didn’t end up on the air. And while I agreed with the caller — deep down I thought, so that’s what happened.

Between his business trip and the suspension, Scott’s absence from the air was quite lengthy — almost two weeks. That may not seem long to you. But trust me — not having Scott literally in the morning for that length of time seemed longer. An editor for one of the local papers wrote an opinion piece about Scott and noted how he was going “down the toilet” so quickly.

This was publicity NSL didn’t need so close to a ratings period — which witnessed the dawn of another classic rock format on WHSY-104.5 (dubbed “Rock 104″ on the air; later to take on the calls WXRR) in addition to the rock already being played on a relaunched WKNZ-107.1.

Coming back from his suspension, anytime Scott would be in “talk radio mode” with his listeners, he treaded very lightly. When he sensed he’d say something that would get his ass in a sling again, he backtracked (pardon the pun) and went on to something else.

What else made Scott tough to work with? Well, there were the many times he would be handed some commercial voicework to do — and secretly left it in someone else’s mailbox.

The other thing, the live remotes. If Scott were broadcasting from a local watering hole, he felt he was right at home. If it were any other location, he’d be ready for the remote to be over right when it started. I’d hear from a few friends and listeners Scott was rude and mean during the non-bar remotes. Again, not the kind of pub NSL needed.

Then, there was the time a former co-worker in sales lost seven accounts in one day over something Scott said. What did Scott say to piss off seven local merchants? At the risk of being labeled one-sided and ignorant, I don’t know. I only got the sales rep’s side of the story. But, consider this, if an account exec notes several businesses want to cease doing business with a radio station over something an air personality said, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s at fault.

Trust me, I’ve got good things to say about Scott. But, continuing with this loss of seven sponsors, the account exec hopped in his automobile, drove like a mad man to the station, went toe-to-toe with Scott over his remarks that resulted in the loss of these sponsors — and basically Scott’s reaction was “So?” The same reaction came from the program director/in-house station manager and the general manager in Pennsylvania. Now that NSL is a Clear Channel station, no one in management would take an attitude of “So?”

Now, from the “believe it or not files”, while I’ve scorned Scott Sands so far (try saying that three times fast), there is a positive side to one of the most talked about people in all of South Mississippi broadcasting. This is stuff I probably would never mention in any other forum.

I’ve mentioned before the one Friday in 1993 he was discussing favorite songs and memories from the ’70s with listeners. It was going so well, he decided to “take over the radio station” and play nothing but ’70s rock and disco until about 3:00pm. Yes, it was more than The Scott in the Morning Show, it was The Scott in the Morning Show Plus. This would become a semi-annual tradition on his show.

In mid-August of ’95, during my guest host stint in morning drive, I played some of Scott’s funnier bits — the ones that made his show appointment radio and not the ones that got him in loads of trouble. I still had my Saturday show and the Sunday BackTrax — so the thought of working for “the other guys” at XRR hadn’t crossed my mind just yet. There was still some allegiance to NSL — and a chance to put a positive spin on Scott while he enjoyed some vacation time.

For example, I played a bit where Scott called the lost and found departments of several casinos on Mississippi’s gulf coast — claiming he lost $150 at the blackjack tables or $300 playing Keno. The results from the other end of the line were either hang ups or laughter and “That’s funny!”

Then, there was another bit involving a lady I know from Chicago who has called the Pine Belt home for about as long as I have. She called Scott pretending she took issue with something he said. The lady asked for the name of his boss. “Mr. Pidd,” was Scott’s response. “What’s his first name?” the caller asked.” Scott said “Stu.” The lady couldn’t believe it — asking, “You’re boss is Stu Pidd?” Scott’s response: “Hey, you said it. Not me.”

One of my favorite “Scott in the Morning” bits I got to play was the time he called Hoover Dam. Scott told the guy on the other end of the line he wanted to visit and asked things like “When do you have your Dam tours?”, “Is there a Dam restaurant?” and “Do you have a Dam snack bar?” Somewhat backhanded compliment: A copywriter came into the studio afterward and asked, “Doug, don’t you wish he’d do that more often?” “Yes,” was my immediate answer, “this is all Dam funny. Hope he tries more stuff like this when he gets back.”

But, probably the funniest moment from his show came with some help from a counterpart in Seattle. His name escapes my memory — but he could impersonate NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw right on the money. This impersonator called Whitney Vann — then an anchor at WDAM-TV, South Mississippi’s NBC station — to offer her a job. When Scott let Whitney off the hook, she was quite impressed with the joke — and the impersonator mocking Tom.

There was more to Scott that laughter, comedy and controversy. Here’s one of a number of moments I was actually proud to be associated with Scott and WNSL.

Days into the ratings period in the spring of ’95 — remember, two essentially new classic rock stations were in this picture — Scott wasn’t worried about the competition. He was concerned for the people of Oklahoma City. Terrorism rocked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19 of that year — at 9:02 that morning.

The next day, Scott headed a drive accepting donations of money and even teddy bears for the children affected by the tragedy at the federal building. This drive lasted about a week. With donations in hand, Scott flew to Oklahoma City to broadcast his show live via cell phone. Scott’s many critics would applaud his efforts.

Yet not long after this, it was back to the same old Scott. Same temper, same bad attitude, same lack of cooperation, same “Who did I piss off to get this remote at Paul’s Pawn and Trade?” mentality. All of which resulted in ratings and shares going “down the toilet”.

Well, if you’ve read my account of going from NSL to XRR once, you’ve read it a lot of times. Thankfully, I’m glad I began my association with Rock 104 when I did — Monday, April 1, 1996 (the new Rock 104’s RockTrax with Doug Morris would debut the following Sunday after several on-air promotions that week).

On my first day at XRR, Rock 104 marked one remarkable year on the air. I joined them in celebrating their accomplishments — nevermind much of them came at my former employer’s expense. I applauded their liner of, “Now you can wake up Scott free in the morning.”

My professional life was now Scott free. While I took care of a few important things and signed some papers to make my employment at XRR official, Scott stirred up the pot yet again.

April 1 of ’96 also marked the day a champion team in men’s college basketball would be crowned. Kentucky would face off against Syracuse that night. Or would they?

On Scott’s show, he noted Mississippi State, who was eliminated in the national semi-final round that year (or “final four”, for those of you in Magee), was in the championship game after all. The good news for Bulldog fans came after it was discovered Syracuse used players that were academically ineligible in their semi-final match-up — as well as throughout the season and post-season. Scott noted the discovery of the players’ low grades had just come to light — and it was going to be an all-SEC final match-up after all.

Many of the State faithful called his show thanking him for passing along the good news. Ah, but the good news for the maroon and white fans came crashing down by 10:00 that morning when Scott said, “Guys…April Fool!”

News of this joke made ESPN’s SportsCenter. Once again, bad pub struck NSL. Only this time, I was witnessing all this from the other side of the… well… “trax”.

Move forward to the summer of ’96. I was just getting into the rhythm of my new full-time gig as morning news producer at WDAM (Whitney Vann was long gone by then). Between this and RockTrax, the work week would average to nearly 50 hours a week — which is still the case to this day. I’m not complaining; it’s worth it when you’re working for people that know what they’re doing.

Kelly Sanner was hosting WDAM’s morning show at the time and poked fun at Scott on the air. What Kelly said I can’t remember for the life of me. All I remember is later that morning Scott called the newsroom — pissed. And I was there to pick up the phone.

I won’t even discuss how this “reunion” turned out — except to note it proves Scott loves dishing it out and making fun of public officials, co-workers and the like; but, when it comes to return fire, Scott just can’t take it. He even poked fun at the editorial writer who opined Scott was going “down the toilet”.

By the fall of ’96, upper management finally had enough of Scott and fired him — which wouldn’t have mattered anyway. During Scott’s waning days at NSL, he was in the midst of secretly meeting with a longtime friend of his from Mississippi’s gulf coast and reformat a Lumberton-based podunk country station into Live 95, a hit music station with a bit of an alternative flair.

He and his friend would make up the station’s morning team and go on to win “personality of the year” awards from the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters. This was one of few highlights for the station.

Much of the same temper, same bad attitude, same lack of cooperation and same “When will this remote at Hal’s House of Halibut end?” mentality would do him in at Live 95. I can remember logging on to their website and read guestbook messages of how Scott was rude at personal appearances and remotes — just like the NSL days.

Live 95 would later become Power 95. The station retained basically the same format — just without Scott and his friend’s input. After he was ousted and before he took a job in San Diego, Scott came back into the picture doing voicework for a furniture store on the gulf coast. Months later, the store would hold a “going out of business” sale. A former NSL colleague reacted, “Scott gave ‘em the kiss of death.”

Another friend of mine in the business told me when Scott took this job in Indy, the station had a 7 share. Since then, the ratings have tumbled to a 3 share.

Why? I don’t have the definite answer — especially when you consider the last time Scott and I exchanged e-mails was a couple of years ago. He’d asked if Kelly was going to the 2000 running of the Indianapolis 500, as he does annually, and I responded I wasn’t sure. Kelly’s wife died earlier that year and I could only suppose he was going to bypass an Indy trip. Turns out he went after all and even phoned in live reports from the stands during the Memorial Day weekend 2000 edition of RockTrax and RaceTrax; Kelly would do these remote broadcasts before I had to take a network feed from NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Thankfully, Scott’s voice was nowhere to be heard during this broadcast del grande supreme (between Indy updates and the Coke 600, it was a 12-hour day for me). Scott and I haven’t really been in touch ever since I left NSL. These e-mails and the “pissed call” of ’96 have been about it.

So, here’s a hypothesis why ZPL’s not doing well on Scott’s watch: it’s gotta be his same temper, same bad attitude, same lack of cooperation and same “When will this remote at Carl’s Cavalcade of Corn Cobs end?” mentality.

To Julie and Steve in Indy, I won’t ask why your days at ZPL ended. Frankly, it’s none of my business. But, having worked with him, I’m sure Scott was either a reason — or the reason. I’ve had no reason to regret my move away from Scott professionally. May you never regret your move either.

Admin note Feb. 07: Needless to say, this has been one of the more visited pages to Doug Morris dot org — with the most recent response coming days before this note. Further reactions may be e-mailed to doug at doug morris dot org. -D.M.

4 Responses to “Getting Away Scott Free In The Morning”

  1. I remember being around the station a couple of times when Scott was around. My assessment still stands: "Every once in a while, you find a heart buried in all of that testosterone. The rest of the time, he’s just a dick."

  2. Doug Morris says:

    LOL! If there were ever a great two-sentence summary of my entry, you just wrote it!

  3. Even with my penchant for rambling, I can occasionally be concise.

  4. Tara Rule says:

    Wow, sounds like he has changed since then. That was sarcasm. Must of been nice to know him then. Not only is he rude he is dis-respectful to say the least.