It was there at Willis Broadcasting that I learned the rudimentary skills of radio sales and marketing. Beginning with the lost art of developing leads through cold calling (approaching businesses unannounced, developing a relationship with the decision maker, introducing the radio station I represent and how by exposing their commercial message to my audience demographic, they would grow the business and finally closing the deal), writing proposals, making sales presentations, writing and producing effective commercials, directing remote broadcasts. Because Bishop Willis owned several different formats in various markets around the country, I was exposed an enormous amount of research data and materials which strongly enhanced my sales presentations. Bishop, as he was affectionately called was a strong believer in allowing individuals the freedom and creativity to use their skills to achieve their goals. That suit me fine, because I definitely had some ideas about sales, marketing and promotions that I thought would be successful. Ideas I thought a lot about while in L.A. However, being in Hampton Roads (Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake) provided a landscape of radio opportunity I could not have imagined. And the fact that Bishop Willis was the first Black radio station in the area ever, well, politically, socially and otherwise it proved to be quite a training ground.
Just about 18 months into my tenure in Norfolk, Bishop Willis approached me about possibly moving to Columbia, South Carolina. He owned two radio stations in the area, WKWQ in Columbia and WKSO in neighboring Orangeburg, South Carolina. Bishop was dealing with management issues and it was time to make a change and I was going to be charged with turning those stations around. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. The situation had deteriorated to the point that Bishop himself would escort me to Columbia to make the change personally and to inform the staff of the details of the change. And of course introduce me as the new general manager. That title had a great great ring in my ears.
Finally, I thought, the opportunity of a lifetime. The one I longed for. To call the shots. To develop operating budgets, set sales goals, to develop sales and promotions strategies, hire qualified personnel and fire those who did not make the grade, interpret and comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, regulations and guidelines. I would quickly learn that the bottom-line in managing a radio property is your ability or inability to generate the necessary revenue to not just break even, but also deliver a significant profit to the owner. So it was Bishop L. E. Willis who opened the portal to my ambitions and would give me my first opportunity to manage not one but two radio stations. Over the next several years I would go on to manage two more radio stations WCKO, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and WCOO, New Bern, North Carolina
When Bishop passed it caused me to reflect on the influence he had in my life. It also had me consider what he must have seen in me to single me out for that opportunity. What I thought he undoubtedly saw was Dr. Don Mc Call, Chairman of the Radio Broadcasting Department at Los Angles City College, I thought he must of seen the countless hours I spent in Studio C in the department learning the nuances of radio, the hours spent as a raw and I do mean raw amateur on the campus radio station, he must of seen, what the Bible speaks of as "iron sharpening iron" that is talented and challenging students in the class of 1972 at LACC who unwittingly caused me be at the top of my scholastic game, he would have seen the intelligence and skills of Don T. Riley, Mark Little, George Washington, Roy King and Ralph Sutton. No doubt Bishop saw Los Angeles radio legends Don Tracy (Happy Don), Rick Holmes (Holmes in your homes) and Roland Bynum (Roland saying good By num) who allowed this then college student to sit in on his show when KGFJ had studios on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. The Bishop certainly would have seen in me the likes of Del Shields (former GM of KACE and Bill Shearer (former VP/GM KACE and KGFJ.
The Bishop would have seen the experiences afforded me by Danny Bakewell, President of the Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade as the organizations Public Relations Media Director and he certainly would have seen Congresswoman Maxine Waters who encouraged me to apply for the Press Secretary position for the 1988 Presidential Campaign of Jesse Jackson. I got it. Thanks Maxine. Bishop would have seen all of those influences that aided in shaping and readying me for that chance he gave me. I will be ever grateful to them and to him. Bishop Levi E. Wills has cast a long shadow. God Bless you, Bishop.
Note: Rick Roberts is currently:
Â¥ Executive Director of Christar Community Theater Group, a non-profit organization that focuses on youth and the arts
Â¥ Media Consultant
Â¥ Life Insurance Agent specializing in the senior market
Â¥ Resides in North Carolina
Â¥ Can be reached at