Dick Witkovski is a Texas gentleman with a rich history in the radio business.
Dick Witkovski, still in the office at age 77.
Credit: Photo by Mark Persons Born a natural salesman in 1937, he was bored after two years of book-taught sales training in college. His approach was to make a customer feel comfortable before asking for a sale. Dick caught the attention of, and was subsequently hired by, James B. Tharpe, president of Visual Electronics in New York in 1957.
Visual was a manufacturer and rep for some 70 major vendors serving broadcasting worldwide. Since Dick was the only bachelor out of 42 salesmen at the company, he was selected to go abroad and stay there until the task was finished. It was good broadcasting education.
When Dick started in the equipment business, stations used disc cutters to record commercials on vinyl records, then they moved on to Ampex and Magnecord reel-to-reel tape recorders.
Visual sent Dick to Disneyland to develop a relationship with Lou Mackenzie, the person who provided some 500 channels of audio for sound effects in the park. Visual adapted the Mackenzie 5CPB Five-Channel Selective Program Repeater for top 40 radio stations to do tight news and production.
It was an early tape machine that featured “instant” audio. It revolutionized the way locally produced sound effects and commercials were put over the air. Dick traveled from New York to L.A. on that project. The photo above shows Dick demonstrating a Mackenzie machine at a Florida Broadcasters meeting in 1960.
When the Fidelipac audio tape cartridge was introduced, Spotmaster built cart machines to handle them. Visual became the largest Spotmaster dealer.
Since there was no Internet at the time, Dick simply got in his car and drove station to station in ten states showing off and selling this miracle product for radio. He fondly remembers meeting with many famous broadcast company owners and their program directors along the way.
After Visual developed a large U.S. customer base, the company decided to send Dick packing with cartridge machines to the BBC in England, where they were doing station breaks and IDs in 20 languages using reel-to-reel tape machines. Operators had to rewind and cue each one frequently.
Dick said, “You should have seen their eyes when they saw Spotmasters run network IDs. No manual cue time was required.”
He left England with an order for five recorders and 30 playback machines. In recounting the tale, Dick said, “I then knew the broadcast industry was where I belonged.”
He continued on to France, Spain, and Switzerland, taking orders from more government-owned stations. Private ownership of stations was not allowed there until the mid-1970s.
There was a major turning point in Dick’s life in 1962 when he married his dream girl, Bonnie Sue. Some 52 years later they are still together.
After his Visual days, Dick started what became Besco Internacional, a world leader in pre-owned AM, FM and shortwave transmitters. As technology changed, the market was flooded with used transmitters that needed to find new homes. His company has been doing that for the last 40 years.
Dick realized that FM was where the future of radio was headed when FM radios became available in automobiles. FM stations started with horizontal transmitting antennas. Car radios had vertical receiving antennas. It didn’t take long to see that dual or circular polarized antennas were the improvement required to give maximum coverage for FM.
Witkovski demonstrates the Mackenzie machine.
Credit: Mark Persons“FUTURE MONEY”
Many back then thought that FM stood for “Free Music,” but Dick said it was known as “Future Money” by industry analysts.
In 1973, Dick, his wife and youngest son went to Puerto Rico to scope out FM broadcasting in the Caribbean. Much to their surprise, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic were just learning about FM; a one-month visit became a three-year adventure.
The family moved to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where the pre-owned transmitter business began to blossom. Dick became the exclusive dealer for the CSI transmitter line. They were made in Boynton Beach, Fla. Dick became a close friend of pilot Bob Fleming, who would fly CSI equipment to Puerto Rico on three-hour flights from Miami for $100 per skid.
With FM becoming profitable in Puerto Rico, Dick sold new CSI units to 44 stations and took their used units on trade, then in turn sold them to stations 90 miles west, in the Dominican Republic. After three years, he sold approximately 80 new and pre-owned transmitters, made hundreds of new friends and drove 16,000 miles each year on an island only 125 miles long by 30 miles wide. Dick hosted some 85 houseguests and played golf on the nicest courses in the Caribbean with customers and friends.
The Canadian government allowed AM stations to shut off their AMs in trade for an FM channels. This opened an avenue for Dick to purchase well-maintained AM transmitters. In total, Dick bought and sold about 45 in the 5 to 50 kW range. Most went to Central and South America, in order to do charitable work for missionaries on limited budgets.
In order to locate even more transmitters, Dick wrote and printed ID Magazine. It was sent out to 12,300 stations in America, Canada and Mexico and was a success for three years until the Internet came along. Then Dick became his own best customer after observing profits being made on FM with the ability to buy rim-shot stations, which were then upgraded to serve much larger markets.
He has owned, operated and upgraded some 34 FM stations in the past 12 years. Dick relocated six in Dallas-Fort Worth taking them from 6 kW to 100 kW on towers as tall as 2,034 feet. Dick currently owns KOME(FM) in Meridian, Texas; KZRC(FM) in Bennington, Okla.; KMAD(AM) Madill, Okla.; KKHA(FM) Markham, Texas; and KBYC(FM)-Markham, Texas.
The FCC has always encouraged better use of the spectrum, and Dick did his part to help them accomplish the task.
After attending 27 NAB National Shows as an exhibitor, Dick attended four more as a broadcaster. It was much easier being a customer than an exhibitor, he said.
That brings us to the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say. One of the most interesting parts of Dick’s 58-year broadcast career was being involved in the development of commercial “pirate” radio stations. In a later article, we will relate Dick’s Radio Nord and Radio Caroline stories.
Mark Persons, CPBE, has over 45 years of experience. He has written numerous articles for industry publications over the years. His website is www.mwpersons.com.