By Dick Luedke
The story has been told over and over again. The American citizen presses his shoulder to the wheel for 40 years or so and finally makes it to a finish line that at times seemed unreachable. Retirement! The hard-working American rides off into the sunset for two or three decades of extreme leisure. It’s this image that allows so many of us to keep our shoulders to that confounded wheel.
But for some, that image turns into a mirage. There will be no into-the-sunset riding for 78-year-old John Meyer, President of Meyer Broadcasting and founder of The Breeze and The Sea Breeze, Internet radio stations that feature what we know as beautiful, or easy-listening, music.
“I don’t ever want to retire. I love what I’m doing,” Meyer says.
What he is doing, and has been doing for the past 43 years, is promoting the music he loves through the medium he loves, radio.
“I think it started when I was about 15-years-old,” he says. “I remember listening to my folks’ music and I was entranced with the different record labels and the color of the labels. I took a real liking to it and I started my own collection.”
That collection has grown to many thousands of albums and CDs. What could be the largest collection of beautiful music in the country, if not the world, is in mint condition and is elaborately catalogued at Meyer Broadcasting’s headquarters in Crown Point, Indiana and Meyer’s home in nearby Valparaiso.
The First Radio Station
Meyer launched the fulfillment of his passion for beautiful music and radio in 1970 by applying for an FM radio frequency in Crown Point, a bedroom community for the steel mill-dominated cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago in the northwest corner of the state.
There was no radio frequency assigned to Crown Point, a community of about 12,000 at that time, and so Meyer had to determine if there was another frequency somewhere in the U.S. that was not, in the estimation of the Federal Communications Commission, fulfilling its community service obligations, a frequency that the FCC would be willing to turn over to him. Two years later the FCC issued the frequency. Meyer signed his station, WFLM (fine listening music), on the air.
While he was eager to play the music he loved, Meyer was even more committed to meeting his radio station’s community service obligations.
“It was rather unique because we lived under the blanket of Chicago,” Meyer says. “People (in Crown Point) were tuned to television and radio stations in Chicago. They thought Mayor Daley was mayor of Crown Point. Everyone knew what was going on in Chicago. But they didn’t know much of what was happening here. And so we were able to provide that information”
WFLM provided that information and played fine listening music until 1993 when the economic challenge of locally-owned radio stations finally caught up with Meyer (as it did many others). The FCC removed its limit on the number of stations within a specific geographic area one company can own. Broadcasting conglomerates began eating up stations like WFLM.
A Changing Industry
“I think the broadcasting business is in deep trouble,” says Meyer. “One of the first things that happened when the large companies owned all of these stations is that they cut off people. We’ve gotten away from serving the public and that’s the whole purpose of radio. The bean counters are making all the decisions.”
And so Meyer moved his business to the Internet. And while The Breeze and The Sea Breeze are devoted to providing beautiful music to those around the world who love that genre of entertainment, Meyer has maintained his commitment to serving his community. Residents of Crown Point can still find out what is happening in their community through the online services of Meyer Broadcasting.
The Magic is in the Music
But Meyer’s priority now is his music.
“I started listening to music in the late 40s,” he says. “It was the end of the ‘Big Band’ era, and Glenn Miller was very popular at that time, and Tex Beneke, and the crooners, the vocalists and some of the vocal groups started to become popular, like Doris Day and Kay Starr.
“I had the privilege of meeting Kay Starr (when she came here to perform). I interviewed her for WFLM. She is now 95. I just saw a blip on her the other day.
“Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Andy Williams came along. I really had an interest in Vic Damone and others who had great voices. That was a time when every song had a melody and lyrics you could understand. What passes for music today, I think, is basically noise.”
Meyer acknowledges that his feelings have changed about some of the music that he used to perceive as noise.
“I was never a big Beatles fan, but in hindsight I think I see them in a different light. A lot of the stuff they wrote is great music and can be done by many different artists and sounds very good.
“But today I can’t understand the lyrics, and I don’t think I want to. There is a lot of obscenity and promoting of drug use. The use of instruments like the piano and the soft guitar and any strings, that’s gone. Now it’s just heavy metal and drums; everyone will be deaf.”
Not Just the “Oldies”
Meyer has not totally divorced himself from contemporary music.
“Every now and then there is an artist who comes along in spite of all of this type of music: Michael Buble, Celine Dion, great voices, and they’ll be able to break through and become popular.”
But Meyer is fearful that his audience is aging along with his music.
“The question I have,” he says, “is do (people) mellow out when they get older, the people in their 40s and 50s who grew up on hard rock. When they get into their 60s and 70s, do they still like that stuff that they heard then or do they want something softer? I’m afraid they still like the hard stuff.”
However, Meyer will not allow this dose of pessimism to inhibit him from his passion. He believes he is providing something for which easy listening music lovers are thirsting. He says he receives emails from listeners across the globe thanking him for what he is doing.
“We’re offering something that’s not available on AM or FM radio anymore,” he says. “All the easy listening stations have disappeared. You used to have one in every major market, and a syndicator that would provide this music. You had custom-made music for this genre, and that’s not around anymore either.
“And so that’s one of the things that makes the Internet great because it can offer formats that you can’t hear anymore.”
And the Hits Just Keep On Coming
Meyer has no plans to stop offering his format.
“People who listen to easy listening music listen for longer periods of time than people who just want to turn on the hits. And they’re very loyal; the people who like this music are very loyal to what we are doing.
“And so I feel that if I am able to brighten someone’s day by what I provide during the day, I’m accomplishing something, and that gives me a good feeling.
“The other thing is I have a huge library. What good is it to put it on the shelf and let it get dusty? If I can share it and build an audience, then I’m accomplishing something.”
To John Meyer, accomplishments are as beautiful as the music he loves. His version of an idyllic ride into the sunset started with what he was achieving many years ago. Meyer says the fact that he is now well past what most consider retirement age is no reason to get off his horse.