Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"Butterfly Kisses": The song you almost never knew.
In the 1990s I was a radio program director in Wheeling, WV. My station was WKWK-FM. We were a highly successful "Lite Rock" station in what is known as the Ohio Valley. Wheeling is right on the Ohio River across from Ohio. One hour from Pittsburgh.
Starting in 1990, I quickly became known as the program director with "Golden" ears. Almost without fail, I picked and predicted the hits at Adult Contemporary radio. Record companies would send me albums (CDs) and ask me what the "hits" were. This knack of knowing what people like is nothing more than knowing what I like: Good Music. I was one of the fist half dozen radio program directors who played Natalie Cole's duet with her father; "Unforgettable". Even the record company wasn't sure if contemporary radio would embrace a 40 year-old song sung in part by a dead guy. I voted yes; and eight or nine million copies and several Grammy awards later, we were proven right.
In August of 1996, an independent record promotion firm (Donna Brake Promotion) was asked to "work" a Christian label song that had had some success at Christian radio called; "Butterfly Kisses". Michael W. Smith; Kathy Troccoli and Amy Grant had scored hits at Pop radio in the early '90s but things were drying up at that time for Christian cross-over artists so breaking a record across formats was not as easy as it had been. Grunge; Alternative; Rap; Dance and the Lilith Fair sound were dominating the airwaves.
Thirty programmers at AC radio were sent copies of Butterfly Kisses and asked to review and consider for airplay. Twenty-seven totally passed on the song. Three stations gave the song "test" spins. WKWK was one of them. From my first listen I was convinced this was a hit that would be perfect for my station and our format. The tear that I wiped from my face was all the proof I needed. From the very first spin on my morning show, the phones blew up! This song connected unlike any song I had played in my previous 16 years in the business.(Or since) One father in particular, who had recently lost his daughter, would call and request the song frequently. Butterfly Kisses went in to immediate heavy rotation.
Meantime, according to what the record promoter told me; a station in Albany, New York and Seattle, Washington were the only other stations to give the record a shot. One station literally got scared by the phone reaction the song received and stopped playing it because he didn't want to get "stuck" playing this "sappy" song for six months, or something to that effect. The other station said they were going to "save" the song for the Spring 1997Arbitron ratings period, thinking it would help with their listenership. One station and one station only chose to "stay" with the song: WKWK and Doug Daniels.
In September, we decided to change our live Nite Lite Love Song to the very new and syndicated: "Delilah After Dark" love song show. (This was the beginning of consolidation in the radio indusrty and cuts were being made right and left) At that time the trick with the Delilah Show, which was on less than 15 stations at the time, was to make her sound as "local" as possible. (That lasted until Delilah started appearing in national magazines and TV talk shows). When Delilah debuted on WKWK-FM it occurred to me that it would be a dead giveaway that the show was not originating locally if she wasn't playing our #1 song; Butterfly Kisses.
I overnighted Delilah the Bob Carlisle/Randy Thomas song about fathers; daughters; weddings and endearment kisses with a letter explaining that 1.) I thought she'd like this song and 2.) that it was important she play it or it would be obvious her show wasn't local. The next evening, a Wednesday evening, Delilah played Butterfly Kisses for the first of what would be hundreds and hundreds of times. She talked about her difficult relationship with your own father; played the song and wept openly on the air. Her listeners reacted the same as ours. The phones melted. For the next several months she would play this song, often, two or more times in what is only a five hour show. That was, and still is, unheard of. I was happy that my gift of this song; meant so much to her and so many others. The Delilah Show's popularity soared like a bionic butterfly; ratings went through the roof; her show added affiliates at a record pace and the Christian label Butterfly Kisses was on (Diadem) was selling a ton of product.
From September, 1996 to April, 1997; the Butterfly Kisses story grew. Almost unthinkably though, outside of my radio station and the Delilah show, almost nobody else at secular radio was picking up on the obvious, that this was a hit and they should be playing the song.
In mid-February 1997 I was attending the Gavin Convention in New Orleans. Gavin magazine was a "trade paper" with record charts. I had heard through John Brake at the record promotion company, that a major label was interested in "picking up" Butterfly Kisses from its small Christian label and realeasing it nationally. As God as my witness, I was in an elevator with a fellow from JIVE records named Jack Satter. As we were going up, I whispered: "Butterfly Kisses". He turned to me and said :"What did you say, what do you know about Butterfly Kisses". I said: "I know you are considering picking the song up for a national release...do it...it has been my #1 songs for nearly six months". He said; thanks for the info and smiling broadly, exited the elevator. I knew then what you know now, Butterfly Kisses was going to FINALLY be set free.
To make an already long story a little less so, JIVE records did release Butterfly Kisses and it went to #1 on five different charts in the spring/summer of 1997. But now you know where its' secular success began. In my office at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling, WV when what went in my ear came out a tear.