Expo 74

The Voice Of Expo - Tom Read

 "I have said this to many others, many times, but the absolute fact is that had it not been for Tom Read and his organization and Dick McConnell and his organization, Expo '74 would not, without any doubt, NOT have been the resounding success that it was."

That is a direct quote from Jim Key who is the one that got me involved with the World's Fair in Spokane.  I was still very young and certainly had no experience with a World's Fair.  However, I did express some ideas to Jim Key at a dinner we had at the Spokane Club.  I simply shared what I thought the fair should do with respect to the electronic media, radio and TV.

Little did I know that Jim was taking note of everything I was saying and the next day shared my ideas with the head of the PR department, John Musgrave.  But this is getting a little ahead of the story.

Everyone in Spokane knew of the efforts by a group of downtown business leaders to find a way to clean up the downtown area and get rid of the train tracks that went through the city.  Since Seattle had hosted a world's fair about ten years earlier, and it left a much improved Seattle; it was a reasonable question, "why not a fair for Spokane?".

Jumping ahead in the story of Expo, the voters turned down a temporary B & O Tax to help finance the Fair.  However, after the Fair opened and it was obviously a success, you could not find anyone who would admit they voted against the tax.

Originally, Expo tried to do the job with local people.  It became apparent that things were not going well and the Board of Directors had to find professionals who were in the business of producing expositions.  

Petr Spurney was such a person and was hired as General Manager.  Petr realized it would be difficult to hire some top people in their field for a one year job.  So he recommended that Expo contract with outside independent contractors, as they are known.  One such was Tommy Walker who's company was given the responsibility to produce the opening day ceremony and head the Entertainment Department.  Tommy had produced the grand opening ceremonies of Disneyland for Walt Disney.

John Musgrave was brought in from Boeing, not Boeing in Seattle but from Omaha.  He was a true expert in the print media, especially magazines and newspapers.  However, he openly admitted that he knew little or nothing about the electronic media and therefore knew he needed someone who understood film production and television.  That man was Jim Key.

Jim had been at KNX, CBS in Hollywood for five years, had worked in TV production and was looking for a better place to bring up his young daughter.  He heard Expo was looking for a producer with his experience so he flew up to Spokane to talk with John Musgrave and was hired on the spot.

I don't remember who told Jim about me but I got a call from him and was obviously curious what was really going on down at Expo and willingly accepted an invitation to meet and have dinner with him.

As I mentioned, Jim either took notes of our conversation at dinner or had a great memory, because when he told John Musgrave the next morning what I thought Expo should be doing in the radio and TV area,  John asked Jim to set up an appointment with me right away.

We met the following day in John's office at Expo and he said he was very interested in my ideas for Expo and wanted me to elaborate on each.  I told him that radio and TV stations were basically lazy and if you wanted to get exposure you should do their work for them and hand things on a silver platter to the media.  

I suggested that Expo build one or two radio studios from which stations locally, and from around the state, could originate their programs live.  Since the research firm Expo hired reported that the perception of the opening day ceremonies would mean the success or failure of the exposition, I said we should broadcast the opening day ceremony on every radio and TV station in Spokane and on some in other key markets outside of Spokane.   

My third major recommendation was to produce and distribute to radio stations in the three or four surrounding state area, a five minute daily radio program that would include interviews with the celebrities that would be performing at Expo and information of what was going on each day to build up excitement and  a "we just have to go to Expo" attitude.   I also said that we should feed all of the press conferences John told me he was planning, live, to all of the key local radio stations in Spokane and that we needed to have installed equalized broadcast lines, by the phone company, from the studios I suggested that be built on site, to each of the stations.

I think John was a little overwhelmed by everything I was suggesting and finally asked if I could put it all down on paper.  Then, as Jim and I were about to leave, he added that I should also indicate the costs involved to implementing everything..

As Jim and I walked down the hall away from John's office, Jim smiled and noted that John was very impressed with me and how soon could I get everything I had talked about on paper.  Like the next day, he hoped.

I worked on the project that night at home and was ready to meet again with John the following day.  John looked over my written suggestions, complete with cost estimates, and then shocked me by asking how soon could I come on board and implement everything.  My reaction was that I was not looking for a job or a new client, I was just wanting to be helpful as I knew Expo was going to be an important event for the future of Spokane.  In short, I was just being a good citizen.

John said they were looking at contracting with outside firms and that he wanted to arrange to have my company, American International Productions, set up and oversee the suggestions I had made, including producing, hosting, and distributing the daily 5 minute radio show and the radio broadcast of the opening day event.  I was trying to wind up things in Spokane since the sale of KUDY and get back to school if I was to be the next Perry Mason or accept a job in Seattle or try my hand at the big time and head back to LA where I had gone to engineering school.  All of this was flashing through my mind as I could see that John was expecting an answer now, not later.

The most important consideration going through my mind at that moment was if I said YES, I would be committing to staying in Spokane for at least another year with little time to get away to get back to Tacoma.   I knew if I said YES, it would be a 24/7 responsibility for the next year plus.

Editor's Note:  The information on this web site is basically taken from a forthcoming ebook by Tom Read on his broadcasting career.  This web site is a work in progress and will be added to with pictures and sound on a regular basis, so  you will want to visit this site often.

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