Bob “Doc” Fuller was born in Newburyport, MA, and raised in neighboring Newbury. Ron Chapman − later to become a Texas radio legend – allowed him to speak his first words on the radio, introducing a record on WHAV-AM in Haverhill, MA. When Fuller was 12 years old, his brother built him a closed-circuit radio station in the basement of the farmhouse where they grew up. The station had wires going to two adjacent homes so the neighbors could listen to Bob’s station.
Four years later, when Fuller was 16 and a junior in high school, WNBP-AM signed on the air in Newbury. Fuller went to work at WNBP, making $1 per hour but becoming more popular in his high school than all the football stars because he was on the radio (41 years later, Bob Fuller would own that station).
Back when Fuller got into the radio business, the choices were limited; Boston had five or six viable full-time AM stations, and FM wasn’t yet a factor. In 1960, Portland, ME had three full-time stations and two daytimers, and the newspapers called it “the most over-radioed market in the nation.” So not everyone paid much attention to radio in the ’50s and early ’60s.
When Fuller turned 18, in 1958, he took a job at Boston’s Top 40 WMEX and became the market’s youngest DJ. At 19 he moved to WJAB-AM in Portland, ME, where he met J.J. Jeffrey and the number one DJ at the time, RL Caron. Through his late 20s Fuller worked at various jobs on the air and in sales from Maine to California. Then, at the ripe old age of 31, he became the national sales manager for programming consultants Draper Blore Consulting (Ken Draper and Chuck Blore). But Fuller had his sights set on bigger things in the business: He wanted to own stations.
Fuller had remained close to Jeffrey, whom he had met 15 years earlier, and together, with an original investment of $16,000, the two started Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting with the purchase of WBLM-FM in Litchfield, ME. The station covered Portland from a single-wide mobile home made into a radio station, right below the tower; in the winter, the ice falling off the tower would come crashing into the mobile home’s roof.
Fuller was 35, and his dream of becoming an owner had become a reality. Between 1975 and 1999, Fuller-Jeffrey would grow from that one little station in a mobile home to 60 stations, spanning the country with signals in Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, and California. Jeffrey tells Radio Ink the company was a magnet for the best people. “Many of the stations we had still have people we hired back in the ’90s,” he says. “And they’re still leaders in their markets.”
In 1999, Larry Wilson came knocking: Fuller had something Wilson wanted. “I knew Bob
through the industry for quite a while,” Wilson says, “but when I really engaged with him was when I wanted to buy his Modesto [California] radio stations. There were two Class Bs in Modesto; I owned one and he owned one. I went to him and said, ‘You ought to sell to me.’
“I didn’t really say it that way, I think I said, ‘One of us ought to get out of here, and I’m not leaving.’ So we had a lot of fun, and we talked. I bought his radio stations in Modesto, and we became friends right away − instantly, really. If you don’t like Bob, then you don’t like life. Bob is just a wonderful human being. He really is. He sold to me, and we turned it into a monster. We had a huge share in Modesto by the time we were done.”
But the relationship didn’t end there; Wilson says that from that point forward, he started working with Fuller to persuade him to sell his stations up in the Northeast, in Maine and New Hampshire. “I literally worked on that for five years,” Wilson says. “I saw him every opportunity I could get. Finally, he agreed to sell to me.”
But Wilson wanted that friendship with Fuller to continue. Within a year, there was an opening on the Citadel board of directors, and he asked Bob to join the board. “You’d think I just asked him to become president of the United States,” Wilson says. “He coveted that role. He was a great member of our board. He knows facilities and towers, engineering better than any owner I’ve ever known. He was a great resource for me.”
Wilson also recalls a story about the closing of the deal with Fuller-Jeffrey. “J.J. Jeffrey is a notorious talent on radio,” he says. “He is still notorious to me because he’s the most unique individual I have ever met. I remember he came to the closing of our deal when we were buying their north New England stations. He showed up without a tie. Bob met him outside the building, took him to the store, and bought him a tie. I don’t think the guy had ever worn a tie in his life. That really tells a lot about Bob. He’s incredible. He’s very proper, very gentle. That’s just the way he is.”
Wilson says their friendship grew as the years went on and as Wilson faced some adversity of his own. “During the time my wife was sick and after she passed away, he was what I call a real, genuine friend. He was always checking on me. I can’t say enough about the guy. I love the guy and his wife, Linda. She’s fantastic. They’re just really good people.”
Fuller was a founding investor in Larry Wilson’s Alpha Media; he’s not involved in any day-to-day stuff, but he and Wilson talk a lot, even today. “Larry is a guy who everyone likes,” Fuller says. “He has a winning attitude and track record, so it’s fun to be part of what is now a very big company.”
So many people in the industry have great admiration and glowing words for Fuller. Longtime friend Dick Ferguson says, “Beyond his expertise in the ‘art and science’ of radio, Bob is a caring man of principle. He is both generous and intensely loyal to his many friends in and out of radio. He’s been known to hit more than his share of great golf shots, all the while making sure that those in his foursome are observing proper golf etiquette.
“‘You couldn’t ask for a better friend’ is a common refrain among those who know him. For over 40 years, I’ve been blessed to count myself in that group.”
Richard Blackburn of Blackburn and Company says Bob Fuller is a classic broadcaster in every sense of the word. “He’s full-service to his communities, creative, makes aggressive efforts for his listeners and his advertisers, and just terrific with his partners and co-workers,” says Blackburn. “It comes naturally to him, and he makes it look easy. He plays to win, but remembering people who have helped him along the way and treating them in a proper and special way is important to him, and he works at it. Bob is very special that way.”
Former Joint NAB Board Chairman Ted Snider has known Fuller for many years and served on the Citadel board with him. “He is an outstanding broadcaster, very knowledgeable, with great insight,” says Snider. “A real credit to the broadcast industry.”
Tim Moore, who is now a senior VP of programming at iHeartMedia, worked with Fuller and says he’s “just as much at home sharing a beer with a part-time DJ as he is sharing cocktails with Larry Wilson or any other prominent or famous person.” Moore goes on, “He has the biggest heart of anyone in the business, and there are countless stories of Bob — flying under the radar − helping someone get back on their feet after a setback, all without calling attention to himself.
“A believer in research − and goodness knows he probably spent millions on perceptuals, music tests, and focus groups − Bob Fuller has the best instincts of anyone I ever saw in the business. After two $30,000 studies that pointed to a Classic Hits/AC hybrid as the most opportune format hole in Portland, ME, in 1996, Bob’s instincts told him that a CHR could work, and the rebirth of WJBQ (Q97.9) happened as a result. That station went from worst to first and more than quadrupled its billing as a result. Any other owner would have subordinated his ‘gut,’ but not Bob Fuller.
“His belief in me − and the support he gave to me and my fledgling staff of young DJs − is something that I will be forever grateful for. He always seemed to sense the best course of action to take. While I will never duplicate the success or impact he had on broadcasting, I nevertheless strive daily to conduct myself as Bob Fuller would. Wish I had a dime for each time I asked myself, ‘What would Bob do in this situation?’”
Alpha Media President and CEO Bob Proffitt says, “Bob Fuller is a true legend in the business, and has to be one of the greatest and most genuine operators I’ve ever been around. From the early days at Citadel when we purchased Modesto, to the later parts when I was more involved in Portland, ME and Portsmouth, NH, you absolutely knew when you were taking over a Bob Fuller radio station. His soul, heart, and energy was everywhere, and it’s always been a delight to work with him and be the steward of his radio vision. Congrats on many years in this great business, Bob, and hold on for another 60.”
On April 20, Bob Fuller turned 76 years old and celebrated 60 years in radio. Today, Fuller is once again a partner with J.J. Jeffrey: Their Atlantic Coast Radio has four FMs and two AMs in Portland, ME. But he’s still a behind-the-scenes guy; as he says, “Been there, done that. I just sort of help out when asked.” Wilson says Bob Fuller is what we need more of today: “He really is. We need some young Bob Fullers coming along.”
Send congrats to Bob at [email protected]