As I told you at the end of True Story #37, in May of 2006 I found myself out of the car business for the first time since I was 15-years old. It was an odd feeling, knowing that the following morning I would not get up at 6 AM to get to my office and start my day at 7 AM. I kidded that I might take up golf, but as you know from True Story #22, I hate golf.
I was legally bound by two non-competes. When I sold the Ford dealership, I agreed not to own a Ford dealership in Dallas-Fort Worth, or even go to work for one for two years. Working for someone else never crossed my mind and, surprisingly, I had some nice offers from non-Ford dealerships. That was not in the cards because I was in year one of a ten-year non-compete that said I could not own any other brand of dealership except Ford until 2015. Getting back into the car business day-to-day was not possible, but that was OK, I was ready to get out anyway.
Turn the clock back to 2000 when I was the Ford National Dealer Council Chairman. Thanks to Firestone (True Story #9) I was thrust into the world of radio and TV. I was intrigued by the media, I will admit. I never shied away from an interview, partly because that was my job as Council Chairman, but also because deep down, I knew I liked doing it.
One day, while at my dealership, I got a call from a lady named Connie, she was the producer for the very popular Kevin McCarthy show on KLIF, 570 in DFW. She told me Kevin would like to have me in the studio the following morning to talk with him about the Firestone issue. We'd do a 15-minute segment. Kevin could be combative with his guests, but still I accepted the invitation, confident in my knowledge of the issue.
I went to the KLIF studios and took my seat across from Kevin. I believe we started at 10 AM and we had a great conversation. On the air, Kevin asked if I could stay longer and maybe even take some caller questions. I was nervous, but said I would be happy to, figuring another 15 minutes was no big deal.
The calls poured in, this was a hot topic. I believe we went to the top of the hour and he asked me to stay for the 11 AM hour, so that initial 15 minutes went to two hours total.
This experience was my first in a big-time radio studio with the on-air light brightly shining. I was impressed at all the things I did not know went on behind the scenes. Live talk radio was a production, something I never really realized before. Hitting the breaks on a split-second, the call screen showing you who was on hold, choosing the next call, all these things fascinated me. It was much harder than I imagined.
Doing My Homework
It was shortly after I had the vision. I knew people had a fascination with cars, and at the time, trucks. The SUV craze was just beginning, but the bottom line was people loved to hear about vehicles.
There was a man named Ed Wallace on KLIF, who did a show on Saturday mornings about cars. I listened as often as I could. He had been on the air at this time around six years. He talked about a lot of things besides just cars and he was very knowledgeable about many different topics. He had dealership sponsors, and when an opening for a Ford dealership came up, I got on board with his show.
It made me wonder: What if there were a show dedicated to people who wanted to know about what goes on inside a dealership? Would a show that actually peeled back the veil of secrecy in the business make it?
I mulled this over in my head for many months. In the summer of 2001, I started talking to radio stations and decided to test my theory for six months. I would pay for the two hours out of my dealership ad budget, just to see how it would go.
I was smart enough to know that to be a success with a radio show, I needed help on the air. I reached out to Kevin McCarthy, who had left KLIF and I asked if he would be my co-host and mentor. I told him I was not willing to pay any money at this point, but I would give him a new Ford to drive in exchange for two hours on the air every Saturday. He was under a non-compete and had to get permission from his previous employer to help me with this experiment, and they saw no threat and agreed.
We were all set to go with the Jerry Reynolds Auto Advice Show on the second Saturday of September 2001. The station I chose was a Fox Sports affiliate that had crap ratings, but a good signal. I knew if we could get people to call in at this station, we'd be good.
On the Tuesday before we were going to have the first show, America was attacked on its own shores. The World and America were in a tailspin. I canceled the start of the show. I told the station I would get back with them.
On the Air
Two weeks from the original start date, we began. The studios were horrific, they were dirty and nasty, and the chair where I sat (Kevin had the controls) was a tall stool with no back. It had a back once, but now just had a tall metal post that dug into my back.
We went on air at 9 AM, and after the commercials for strip clubs and offshore gambling websites, Mr. Announcer welcomed everyone to the show, telling people this was the place to get "straight talk and honest answers about the auto industry." He went on to say, "and here's your host, Jerry Reynolds, the Car Guy."
Kevin hit the mic button, the red on-air light came on, my mouth opened to talk, and nothing came out. I looked like Princess Anna in Frozen.
After an uncomfortable few seconds of silence, Kevin picked up and said: "I'm not Jerry, I'm his co-host, and my name is Kevin McCarthy". He asked me something about what this new show was all about, and that cured my lockjaw. We were off and running.
I admit our first caller was a friend. He had a legitimate question, but it is doubtful he would have heard the show had he not known about it in advance. If you listen to the WBAP show in Dallas, our first caller on our first show was the Average Guy.
Much to my surprise, after that first call, others started to call. I looked and the lines were full. I don't remember many of the calls that day, but I do remember one in particular. She was a young girl who had just bought a car and got a really horrible deal on a Honda. I advised her how to handle it, and got an email from her a few days later saying my advice had worked like a charm. She was waiting for us at the station the following Saturday when we arrived and she brought us a plate of cookies.
The show, which evolved into being called "The Car Guy Show" went well. I looked forward to doing it every Saturday. Calls poured in and as we neared the end of the six-month contract, I knew it was time to move to a bigger station, and I knew WBAP was where I wanted to be.
They were able to clear the 4 PM to 6 PM timeslot, and we began in March, 2002. There was a big difference in the call volume, and the quality of callers. WBAP had a more mature audience, and aside from the fact that we endured quite a few pre-emptions from Baylor football, it was terrific.
After a year on Saturday afternoons, a slot opened from 9 AM to 11 AM on WBAP and I jumped at the chance. This was prime time, arguably the most coveted weekend time available. We started in March 2003, and remain there today.
In 2006, when I knew my decision to sell the dealerships was imminent, I had to make a decision about the show. Did I end it or continue it? I figured since I had nothing else to do, and I enjoyed it, I might as well keep it going.
Being a native Dallas-ite, I knew just about every car dealer in North Texas. I went to work asking if they'd like to advertise on the show, and that I would only have one dealer per brand. The response was surprisingly positive.
I needed a Ford dealer badly. I needed a place to send listeners, but I also needed a place to send the thousands of Ford customers I had acquired over the years. I knew the Ford dealer group better than any other brand, and I knew and respected Sam Pack, even though we were competitors for many years.
I met with Sam at his office in June 2006, and pitched to him becoming my Premier Show Sponsor. He seemed enthusiastic about my idea, but wanted to meet with his General Managers. He called a few days later and asked that I meet him and his GMs over lunch to discuss. I invited Kevin and we presented the plan. There was some skepticism in the room from Sam's staff, no doubt about it, but Sam said he'd give me a call with the final decision, and that call came later in the day. It was a go.
A year or so later, a guy came to visit me who had owned the ad agency I used at my own Ford dealership. He was based in Houston and asked if I wanted to expand the show to other markets. I was clear that the Dallas Fort-Worth show would always be a local show, but that I would be agreeable to doing a secondary show in other markets. I hired him for expansion and he went to work.
Houston came on quickly, then as I recall it was followed in Texas by Austin and San Antonio. A Los Angeles station came on board early on, although not a powerhouse station, it was still L.A. and that was big. We eventually moved to where we are in Los Angeles today, KNX. KNX is a legendary station with a massive signal. Later came Cleveland and Detroit, both of which have been great markets for us.
There have been failures along the way, but primarily due to the dealers' lack of acceptance, not the audiences. We didn't make it in New York, Boston, Phoenix, or Chicago, although the listeners loved us and reacted very favorably. We tried some mid-sized markets in Charlotte, in Mississippi, and in Florida, but there was not enough dealer revenue for the stations. They could sell the time to financial shows and vitamin makers for more than we generated from car dealer ads. Plus, a lot of dealers wanted on the show that didn't fit my rigid standards.
We are in a good spot now, firmly established in every market we serve with a great group of dealers we've acquired over the years. Is there more expansion in the future? Very possibly, but it has to be the right station and there have to be great dealers who share my vision.
The Car Pro
Along the way, ten years or so ago, I got an Attorney letter saying someone had the rights to the phrase "Car Guy" and we had to change the name of the show to Car Pro, but one thing has never changed-that is my desire to help people make good car buying decisions, and above all else, to give "Straight talk and honest answers about everything automotive."
I am often asked if I ever saw the radio show being as big as it is, and I always say no. I was content with doing the Dallas-only show when I sold the dealerships.
In 2009, the late Terry Box who was a Business Writer and car reviewer for the Dallas Morning News, did a long interview with me about the show and getting out of the car business. Here are some excerpts from the article:
After decades on the auto industry roller coaster, Jerry Reynolds finally got tired of the ride.
Three years ago, Reynolds walked away from his job as managing partner of the high-volume Prestige Ford dealership in Garland, leaving behind the manic peaks and plunges in the business. He planned to decompress some and focus on his Saturday morning auto advice show on WBAP-AM (820) radio.
But Reynolds, 52, is strapping in now for a different set of thrills, far removed from his old corner office.
His "little" Saturday morning show expanded into Houston three years ago and enters car-conscious Los Angeles next month, headed for KLAC-AM radio and a weekly spot on KTLA television. He will also write a weekly car column for the Los Angeles Times.
"I no longer consider myself a car dealer at all," said Reynolds, who is about 90 pounds lighter than in his dealer days but still chews on an unlit cigar.
The LA radio and TV stations were initially concerned about how a Dallas guy with a Texas twang would go over in trendy, pretentious LA, but advertising for the show is already 90 percent sold, Reynolds said.
"I don't think it matters where you're from if you can take some of the fear out of buying a car," he said.
McCarthy, a radio veteran who agreed eight years ago to work with Reynolds as his on-air partner for a "few weeks" between jobs in return for a loaner Expedition SUV, (yes, this was the one he quickly totaled) says he didn't expect this level of success. But he says he knows why the show attracts listeners.
"Jerry's unique," said McCarthy, a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. "If you provide worthwhile information in an entertaining fashion, you will find an audience."
Tyler Cox, who has worked with Reynolds at WBAP for eight years, says he isn't surprised that he will soon enter the second-largest radio market in the U.S. He won't discuss ratings for Reynolds' show but says he has a "loyal" base of listeners.
"I look at his show as the model for weekend lifestyle shows," said Cox, operations manager at WBAP. "What you hear on the air is what you find when you meet him on the street, and listeners sense that."
Reynolds draws from a deep well on that subject. He got his start in the business as a sophomore at Samuell High School in 1972, washing cars at the old Horn-Williams Ford.
The story below about the show appeared in 2002 when I was named Dealer of the Year by Ward's Dealer magazine.
Credit: Ward's Dealer Magazine