CMB Pioneers: Frank Reed
Welcome to another story about one of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music Radio. You can read previous stories here. Some of these pioneers started radio stations with just a few dollars to their name. Many had very little radio experience. Some worked in mainstream radio before coming to CCM. But each had vision, a calling, and a deep passion for using Contemporary Christian Music Radio to impact their community.
Frank Reed – From Mainstream to CCM Radio
Frank Reed was born and raised in Baltimore. He remembers that his mother dragged him to church every Sunday. She was the more engaged of his two parents. When he was around 10, his 16-year sister went forward to the altar and after the service, his mom asked him if he would like to accept Christ, too. So, he did. In his words, he “grew up with all the Bible stories.”
Around the age of 12, his family moved to Florida. “I loved being around the water!” he says. He spent every chance he could on the beach, in a lake, or in one of Florida’s crystal clear springs. In high school, he was insecure and struggled with academics. He admits that he really had no direction or plan for his life, but when a friend who worked overnights at the local top 40 radio station invited him to come over, he was hooked. He could not believe that you could get paid to do this! When he graduated, (having to go to summer school to finish), he signed up to attend the “Career Academy School of Broadcasting” in Atlanta. He worried his grades might keep him from getting in, but later realized…”If you have the cash, don’t worry about the grades, anyone can get into broadcasting school.” Seven months later, he returned to Florida with a 3rd Class FCC License, a resume, and an audition tape.
He hit the pavement looking for jobs and landed his first radio job at WFIV 1080 AM in Kissimmee, FL. It was a full-service small market station that played traditional country music and even a hymn once an hour. It was a great first-timer’s experience. Soon, he moved up to another AM station in Mount Dora (north of Orlando), but the station had serious financial issues and so he soon departed. (Actually, he and a few others who hadn’t been paid simply left the station and drove away while Frank was still on the air. He remembers hearing the actual record bumping on the turntable at the end of a song as he drove off.) He really wanted to work at the big top 40 station WLOF in Orlando, but they told him, “you have no future in the business!” So, he found another job across town at an AM Country station. Because he was 21 and unpredictable, he and a few friends left their jobs after a short period of time and went on a surfing trip to California. That lasted all of about 3 weeks, but fortunately he had left a tape and resume at WKIS in Orlando and they soon called him to do 7- midnight. This is 1972.
On the personal side, Frank had ventured a little bit in and out of the Jesus movement, but had no real spiritual depth during this time. He was living the life of a 20-something DJ in the 70s. He remembered the Bible stories but they really didn’t seem to matter in his life during this season.
When climbing the ladder of mainstream radio, you bounce around a lot. So, Frank moved to Cocoa Beach, Daytona, then Jacksonville where they had some ratings success. FM was just beginning to gain traction. WMJX 96-X (formerly WMYQ) soon called. They were in Miami and in the early 1970s were one of the first FM full power stations to play the hits. PD Jerry Clifton hired Frank to come and do middays, and he thought that he had finally landed his dream job! They were competing and they were winning. During this period, Frank put his faith on the shelf and his entire life was wrapped around the radio station. The on air team there became like family.
But even as they were having success, WMJX ran into issues with the FCC and they eventually lost their license. The whole situation left Frank very frustrated and he didn’t know what he wanted to do next. He was only 26 years old at the time. So, he took a break from the radio business, went to Sarasota, and took a job hanging drywall. After a few months, he was visiting a friend and heard that someone was trying to get ahold of him. There were no cell phones in those days. In order to reach Frank, this potential boss had to call Frank’s phone number in Miami where a friend that was taking care of his apartment told the guy to call Frank’s employer in Sarasota, who said to call Frank’s parents’ house. Frank’s Mom then told him to call Frank’s friend who lived at the beach. (Note: The point is that it took a whole lot of effort to track Frank down!) The PD was persistent. He was Bob Pittman who now runs iHeart Meida. But at that time, he was calling because he was completely revamping WNBC, (the flagship of the NBC owned and operated stations) and he wanted to know if Frank was interested in moving to the #1 market in America, New York City.
In the summer of 1977, Frank landed at LaGuardia Airport for his job interview for WNBC and he’ll never forget, they had him picked up in a limo. The limo driver had driven for celebrities like Bob Hope and others and pointed out all of the sites along the way in this incredible city. He dropped Frank at the 49th street entrance to Rockefeller Plaza. He did the interview and got offered the job that weekend. He also remembers that there was another thing going on at this very same time in NYC, the Son of Sam killer (who had been committing multiple murders) was arrested on the day Frank was hired, it was August 10, 1977.
Frank started as the overnight guy on WNBC, but it was only a few months later, he was moved to the 10pm-2am slot, and it was not long before he was promoted to Afternoon Drive. Don Imus returned as the morning show host with Frank in the afternoon. His career was over the top! He was making crazy money and landed a penthouse apartment on Madison Avenue. Most people would say he was having huge success in the radio business, but he developed a drinking problem. He couldn’t stop drinking. It became so bad that he wouldn’t go home to visit his parents in Florida, because he didn’t want them to know. He kept committing to himself to stop, but he couldn’t. One day he made up his mind to abstain, and he started to soon feel the full effects of alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms were so bad that it triggered an intense panic attack which he thought was a heart attack. He called an ambulance and on the way to the hospital, he literally thought he was going to die. He was only 31 years old. The hospital firmly told him, “You have a drinking problem! You need to be admitted to our detox program.” But he didn’t. (He knew his parents were visiting from Florida the next day, so he faked his way through that visit, using tranquilizers to get through. He acted like everything was great.)
But the severe withdrawal symptoms and the anxiety attack really were the wake up call he had needed. He knew that he had to stop drinking. He had an old Bible at the house and he started to read it. He started visiting a little church in Long Island. A Pastor friend that lived in Vancouver BC would spend hours on the phone with him, just giving him counsel and they would talk for hours (long distance). He began to ask soul-searching questions like, “How would this work considering the position that I am in? I don’t know if I can be a Christian and still work at WNBC?” He knew in his mind that if you are really going to follow Jesus, you can’t hide it. You can’t be one person at the job and another at church.
Looking back, he now believes that he should have gotten professional help during the detox period. He should not have tried to do it all on his own. He continued to have psychosomatic episodes. He would have chest pains, abdominal pain, and often severe headaches. He went to the doctor frequently, they would check him out, and find that there was nothing wrong with him physically. Eventually, he was recommended to a psychiatrist who evaluated him and said this, “It seems to me that you are struggling with a decision. This decision has you torn up inside. I think the answer is for you to settle it, make a decision, and put it to bed.” He remembers those words and felt they really did help provide clarity. (Even though the psychiatrist was not talking about Spiritual things, this is what his advice meant to Frank.) He took a risk and said a prayer like this, “Dear God., if this is all about you, I really need to know. I don’t know how I could follow you and continue to work at this radio station, but even if I have to let it go , I will let it all go.” And he ended the prayer, “Oh by the way, if the rest of my life could not be boring, that would be great too!”
In his words,“choirs didn’t sing, and there weren’t lightning bolt flashes in the sky”, but amazingly, within a few hours of this prayer, his WNBC boss randomly called an emergency meeting at the station. The meeting made him nervous that he might be getting fired, but instead they sat him down and said, “We love having you on the air and want to keep you. We are putting together a new line-up. It will feature Don Imus in the morning, followed by Captain Frank, and a new guy in Afternoon Drive, named Howard Stern.” He was stunned. This was the perfect scenario that he never could have expected or dreamed up himself! He says, “Believe it or not, I saw that meeting as a clear answer to my prayer to God. God had flipped the script on me. I thought my life and career was ending, but it really was just beginning!” He knew that now he was going to continue working for one of the biggest radio stations in America, but it was also going to be a lot less pressure. Now, all of the pressure was now going to be on that new guy!
Because of that series of events, Frank started praying about everything. He started believing prayer really works! This was around 1982 and for the next 3 years Frank was on the air between Imus and Stern. Later WNBC added Wolfman Jack to the on air roster, too. What a lineup to be a part of! But his life was changing as he began drawing closer to God. He wasn’t a Bible thumping evangelist at work, but the word quickly got around that “Captain Frank is born again!” Both Imus and Stern had a field day making fun. During those years, when Frank often went into the studio to grab his music log, Imus would be on the air and would often say, “Sit down Frank…Did you talk to Jesus again this morning?” Looking back, he describes Imus as playful about all of this, but Stern was more intense and confrontational. As Stern’s ratings increased, he became more unpredictable and unfiltered. Because of that, Frank kept his relationship at a distance. After 3 years, Frank was replaced by the TV personality Soupy Sales, but it was a great run of almost 8 years. He finally had peace in his life. Radio was fun again. He even had peace about being replaced and facing unemployment.
Prior to this time, Frank was introduced to CCM music by Lloyd Parker who was running WLIX in Long Island. He didn’t even know CCM existed! He developed a great friendship with Lloyd and his wife Ellen. There was even a short period of time at WNBC when he found out that a Sunday morning Public Affairs program was being canceled, so he convinced WNBC to run a Christian music program on Sunday mornings from 5:30-6a as “public affairs.” Lloyd helped him with the music. They played DeGarmo and Key, Sandi Patti, Amy Grant, Michael W Smith and even Dion. “I really owe Lloyd and Ellen a big debt of gratitude,” he says. “They really introduced me to the format and industry and have remained dear friends.”
After departing WNBC Frank moved back to Orlando and did something he had always dreamed of; He had a custom lakefront home built. He settled in again to life near the water. He listened to CCM station WCIE in Lakeland in those days (Jon Hull would become a friend) and loved the station, and he took a job at a Hot AC station (WOCL FM) doing afternoons in Orlando. He loved his quality of life. He was water skiing every other day. Things at the station were going well, He was plugged into a great church. But for some strange reason that he could not explain, he was not able to work out his next contract and he received a random call asking him to come back to New York from Joe Battaglia to work for a Christian station called WWDJ-AM in NY. He had never really considered it. He didn’t think he would be a good fit for CCM Radio. One weekend, Joe’s consultant, Brad Burkhart, traveled to his lake house and that weekend made a huge impact. They talked all weekend about how he might fit into Christian radio. He struggled and grappled with the decision, but he eventually knew he was being called by God to go. He moved from the lakefront home into a basement apartment (sight unseen) in Hackensack NJ and hit the ground running.
“Making that move to NJ was monumental in my life,” he says. There were so many great things that came from it.” The biggest was meeting the lady who would become his wife, Patti. “I met her at church and we’ve been married 31 years. I could easily be a workaholic but she has helped keep my life in balance. She’s an independent, fun, strong Jersey girl and I couldn’t imagine life without her. Aside from my salvation, she is God’s greatest blessing in my life.” He looks back fondly at his years at WWDJ. God was working on him and developing his character so that he could then minister to others.
A year later, Frank and Patti were not yet married when Jon Rivers called from KLTY in Dallas, Texas asking Frank to come and become his Afternoon Drive host. He initially resisted. He was content in NY and knew that Patti was not very interested in moving to Dallas, but Jon was insistent. It took a special recruiting trip where KLTY flew them both down for a few days of Texas hospitality. By the end of that weekend, Patti was open to making a move and Frank and Jon struck a deal for the next two years.
In October of 1991, Frank and Patti were married, went on their honeymoon, and moved their life to Dallas where Frank would be doing afternoon drive and eventually became the PD. He did not know it then, but it was to be a 31-year career move. Later, when Jon Rivers unexpectedly left in 2001, the GM asked him to cover mornings for a while as they searched for another morning show. That ‘covering mornings’ turned into 21 years of Frank waking up Dallas-Ft. Worth with “The Family Friendly Morning Show”, and later as co-host of “Frank, Starlene, and Hudson in the Morning”. When Salem Media purchased KLTY in 2000, he was told that being PD and morning host were too much for one person. He had to decide. “Do you want to do mornings or program the radio station?” Frank loved both but loved being on the air the most, so Chuck Finney was recruited from mainstream radio to become the new PD. They always had a great working relationship. “I think Chuck and I were on the same page 99% of the time. It was a wonderful season. We made some great memories together, had a bunch of fun and also a lot of ratings success.”
“30+ years on KLTY went by so fast,” he says. There were so many great moments, and so many great friends.
He loved and valued his relationships with so many artists, but his relationship with Steven Curtis Chapman goes all the way back to his earliest days in CCM radio. “I met him backstage at a little high school in New Jersey, just a young man and his guitar. His longevity and ability to stay creative and connect with listeners over a long period of time is amazing, and I have deep respect for him. After all the success, the highs and lows, he’s still the same person I met in 1988,” he says. A few months ago, when the on-air announcement about Frank’s departure from the KLTY Morning Show was made, he chose the new Steven Curtis Chapman song, “Don’t Lose Heart” to be played. “When Steven visited the station a few weeks prior I had told him, “Trust me Steven it’s a hit!” It eventually became his 50th #1 song, and Frank adds, “I’ve been fortunate to play every single one of them!”
Frank’s final break on the KLTY Morning Show was December 23, 2022. But he’is not retiring. Wanting to stay productive, he calls it “semi-retirement!” In some ways, he is busier than ever doing public speaking, fundraising, talent coaching, and in January partnered with new friend David Sams and KLTY to launch Keep the Faith- Dallas/ Ft. Worth, airing Sunday mornings on KLTY.
Looking back, here are a few thoughts in Frank’s own words…
“Joe Battaglia continues to be a mentor and trusted friend, he’s a gift to me and so many others”.
“Brother Jon Rivers wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m forever in his debt! Love the man.”
“Mike Prendergast is one of the best PD’s in our business and I’ve loved working for him. He’s always had my back professionally and personally and I’m grateful.”
“KLTY GM Jeff Mitchell is probably the best leader I’ve ever worked for, hands down. His kindness to me over the last few years and the way I was honored during my exit is something I will never forget. It was priceless.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever spent time with KLTY consultant John Frost and not come away without learning something. A brilliant radio person and good friend.“
“The highlight of my KLTY career has to be the final years of Frank, Starlene, and Hudson in the Morning. I think it’s because each of us were from such diverse backgrounds, and the chemistry of 3 completely different people coming together and sharing life together on the air really made it work. It was magical. Some of my best moments ever on the radio were with these two very special people. I love them both dearly.”
“One thing I have always loved about KLTY is our pursuit of excellence. We wanted it to be the best station coming out of the speakers, regardless of format, period.”
“I love our format and the difference it makes in people’s lives. When I hear air personalities connecting on a deeper level and our format executed well, it makes my heart happy.”
“Since I’ve stopped working full time, I have more time to stream stations from around the country while I’m out walking or on my recumbent trike and I’m convinced that the best radio right now (and the most meaningful) is being done by Christian music broadcasters.”
Dear CCM radio,
I was asked to write you a personal note as if I had been given the opportunity to speak in front of you. Here is what I want you to know. What you do is noble, good, and wonderful. You’re involved in a craft that has eternal significance. You won’t always do it perfectly. That’s ok. Just keep showing up! Do your best. God will fill in the gaps. I’m honored to be one of you. I’m cheering you on!
Who is a CCM Radio Pioneer that should be featured in a future article? Reach out to me at email@example.com.
Faron Dice has been in Christian Music Radio for almost 40 years. He is the former Chief Content Officer for WayFM, and currently loves working with radio stations and artists as National Director of Radio and Artist Engagement for OneChild.