The American Advertising Federation of Tucson revealed its 2012 Golden Mic Award winner last week—and he's a big talent, both literally and figuratively.
Allen Kath, known to radio and television audiences as "Big Al," said he has the market cornered for older, larger men on TV.
Cornering the market—whether in a facetious or a practical manner—is not new territory for Kath. As the Tucson manager of Metro Networks, he dominated the traffic-report niche in radio and television from the late '80s until 2006, when the organization downsized his position.
In the process, Kath opened the door for a number of familiar media personalities, providing them with early opportunities in the industry.
"I hired all kinds of people who are still in the business," Kath said. "Tim Tyler (KHYT FM 107.5 morning host and longtime market talent) worked for me. Shannon Black (KIIM FM 99.5 morning co-host) worked for me. (KGUN Channel 9 meteorologist) April Madison, (Cumulus traffic reporter) Cricket and others who are no longer in the market or in the business—(many) of them started with me. They were young, and they learned how to do it."
Kath recognized the value of good leadership when he started his career in the late 1970s in Phoenix. Among other things, he did afternoon traffic reports for news/talk station KTAR for two years before stints with other well-known stations such as KSLX, KFYI and KOOL FM. In the process, he worked under a number of talented radio personalities, including Bill Heywood, who committed suicide with his wife at a resort in Phoenix in early January. Kath attended last weekend's memorial service for the couple.
"When I came to Phoenix in 1978, my first job was at KOY, and he was the morning guy," Kath said. "Their talent bench was so deep, you couldn't help but learn when you were a teenager in Phoenix during that time. You worked with some of the best people in the industry at that time who were riding the wave of greatness. When you're around that, you learn how to win. You learn how to do the right things, and not make the mistakes you might if others were training you, because those guys were the class of the field. I did learn a lot from Bill. It was sad to see what happened to him and his wife. The service was both funny and sad in spots."
At the peak of his legendary career, Heywood was a morning institution in Phoenix. He was also a model for the industry's excesses: The Heywood morning show had not one, but two news voices; two character actors who made up skits on the fly; airborne traffic reports; and an in-house meteorologist with radar used exclusively for that show. It was highly successful, but also pricey.
After his storied career started winding down, Heywood attempted to transition into high-end real-estate sales—but his timing was terrible. He began just as the market was starting its free fall. At the time of his death, Heywood was dealing with bankruptcy, and his wife of 34 years was enduring the pain of debilitating illness.
Kath has certainly witnessed his share of industry changes. For most of his run with Metro Networks, he provided morning traffic reports from an airplane. Metro discontinued that practice a few years ago. Kath pretty much created the traffic report in Tucson, including what he believes to be one of the only examples of a private/public traffic-reporting arrangement, which led to the construction of the city of Tucson's impressive traffic-monitoring room downtown.
After Metro Networks, Kath transitioned to KGUN Channel 9 and owner Journal Broadcast Group's cluster of radio stations, where he remains a fixture on KGUN's morning-news program, Good Morning Tucson. He provides updates across Journal's radio stations, most notably as a regular contributor of personality-driven traffic reports alongside fellow Golden Mic recipient Bobby Rich on the morning program at KMXZ FM 94.9, aka MixFM.
"They've let me be me on TV and on their four radio stations, and that's been great," Kath said. "MixFM continues to be an extremely successful station. The (Mix) format is clean fun; kids can listen, and we're the 'at work station' for their parents. I enjoy working that type of format. I've been with them since 1992. Bobby trusts me enough that if I have something to contribute, not necessarily just traffic, he'll let me."
Kath also provides traffic info for the Jon Justice Show on KQTH FM 104.1, aka The Truth.
"It's a different show, different audience, and that show makes me think a lot about Jon's perspective on things. He's just signed a new agreement, so he's on his way to becoming a long-timer, too," said Kath, who will receive his Golden Mic during Tucson Advertising Federation ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Fox Tucson Theatre.
"Looking back, I know my family has sacrificed a lot. ... I wasn't around home in the mornings," Kath said of setting the alarm for 3 or 4 a.m. "Plus that kind of shift necessitates that I go to bed early, so they're up at the regular hours of the evening when I'm going to bed. It would be nice to have fixed a few more breakfasts and taken (the kids) to school more frequently when they were younger. I don't have normal hours. I never did.
"The business is changing, but I would always like to find a way to adapt and make my skill set relevant, and keep it relevant for viewers and listeners. I've been in it since I was 14. It's still a good gig."