Amherst Magazine

Thomas E. Rounds '58

Deceased June 1, 2014

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50th Reunion


In Memory

Tom Rounds—TR to those who knew him well—a legend in the annals of radio—has left us, suddenly, after what was supposed to be minor surgery. He passed away on June 1, 2014, leaving behind his wife, Barbara; his children, daughter Michelle, son Tom (Thomas Emerson Rounds IV), stepdaughter Debbie; and four grandchildren.

Tom Rounds '58 - 2014.PNG
Tom Rounds - 2014

Tom's wife, Barbara, comments:
In my eyes, Tom was actually a modern day renaissance man. He had all the social graces and yet was extremely humble. He had profound insight. He was especially talented at bringing people out and getting them to recognize their strengths. If you were lucky enough to have a one-on-one relationship with him, you wouldn't forget it. He played classical piano but loved Gershwin all the way to the Beatles and well beyond.

He loved travel and visited over 100 countries; geography was his calling card and map reading a hobby. He was an avid reader and loved WWII books, but he researched and kept up with current literature. He loved to sail and captained many warm water trips. He probably chose warm waters because he knew I loved to snorkel. TR organized many camping, hiking and backpack trips. Once, we traversed the California Sierra starting from Mosquito Flats on the eastern side to Lake Edison on the western side. TR's motto was, "Outside is where it's at!" Every year since I can remember, he planted an organic vegetable garden. Today as I write this, a month has passed, and I have a garden full of tomatoes, squash, chilis, etc., and a trellis of sweet peas. I will always miss this very special and unique man. He was an original. I consider myself fortunate to have spent more than 50 years by his side professionally as his partner and collaborator in our business and as his wife, friend, cheerleader, and soul mate.

Peter Strauss recalls: TR was my closest friend during our first two years. We, it seemed, lived and worked and played mostly in the musty basement of good old Walker Hall, in the studios of WAMF. He, the late Peter Gardiner and I were inseparable way back then. When we did leave the studios and come up for air, rather we came up for pizza, and could often be found at Grandy's, crouched over hamburger and mushroom pies.

We stayed in touch through all the years between Amherst and now. Phone conversations with TR were always a ray of light. I cherish the memory of our times together, here in the Bay Area and down in Southern California.

Bill Jackson remembers: There was the time I drove Tom and Rusty (Tom's girlfriend and first wife) back from New York. They proudly announced that they had composed a song over the weekend and started to sing it to me. "Fried clams at midnight; just take a big bite." I thought it was a great tune, but the lyrics needed work. I don't know how many seconds, minutes, hours days passed before I realized the tune was "April in Paris."

Tom Rounds '58 with George Crockett.PNG
Tom on location with George Crockett, his predecessor
as Station Manager for WAMF

Dick Hubert '60 recalls: "I knew Tom as an Amherst undergraduate, Class of 1960. Even then he was "TR" to us and a subject of flat out awe and admiration. I first went to the studios of WAMF, then in the basement of Walker Hall, in the Fall of 1956. I expected a primitive recording studio. What I found instead was as professional a broadcast operation as you could find, run by a guy everyone called 'TR' and who masterminded the high profile afternoon show, SURVEY. I  was on the news side of things—always was, and had no experience in 'programming'—but watching and listening to Tom was a full course education in itself. My biggest disappointment was that I was two classes behind Tom, and so he graduated and went off into the broadcast world while I toiled away at Amherst. I seem to remember that I once went to WINS to see him up near Columbus Circle. That was indeed the big time. By that time I graduated, TR had gone on to bigger things, and so I have spent a lifetime reading about him, listening to his shows, and cheering him on."

Bob Leeder, WAMF staff newsman, Class of '61: "Tom was a terrific mentor for me. I remember the very day he asked me to join him at WAMF. He was kind enough to comment on my voice when he heard me talking to a fellow student. He then told me that the college wanted to clean up the on-air performance at WAMF, and he asked if I would come to help him. In return, he said, he would teach me a lot and help me get a summer or part-time job in radio. He was so very professional that I learned all the right ways to do things, and all that stood me in good stead later in life when I worked at several radio stations and at CBS in New York. I spoke to Tom several times over the years ... when we would meet at National Association of Broadcasters meetings, when he decided to sell his company, Watermark, later when he went into international distribution. We have all lost a very spectacular friend in Tom's passing. ... We all owe a lot to TR."

From Jon Rappoport '60: In 1955, when I was a freshman, I wandered into the campus radio station. TR was the man to see about volunteering. I told him I wanted to do a jazz show. He laughed and told me I had to jump through a few hoops before anything like that was going to happen. So jump I did, and a few months later I was on the air, from midnight to 1, playing the music I loved. That was the beginning of our friendship. TR spent his life doing good things for people. I was one of them. I can still see him in one of the practice rooms at the college sitting at the piano playing Bach, the green maple trees outside the window.

Tom Rounds '58 - Radio Express - mid-1990s.PNG
TR gazing over a dream control panel (Radio Express, mid-1990s).

Many of us from WAMF went on to radio careers of varying lengths, but TR was the champion. He began his professional career at WINS, working with, among others, Murray the K.

After WINS, TR moved to Hawaii and KPOI, where he made a name for himself as an on-air personality and program director. While there, he established the stay-awake-and-broadcast record of 260 hours non-stop, running his show from a department store window.

In 1964, Rounds joined Honolulu entertainment entrepreneur, Tom Moffat, and Ron Jacobs to form Arena Associates. This company was responsible for bringing mainland music acts to the newly built Blaisdell Center. The most prominent event of Arena Associates was the Miami Pop II Festival, held in December 1968. The event led by Rounds and Jacobs was hailed two weeks later in the New York Times as "a resounding success in both organization and programming, making it the first significant major pop festival held on the East Coast." New York Times reviewer Ellen Sander noted that, "the Miami festival truly represented the full spectrum of popular music acts, rather than relying on the presence of a few headlining acts to generate revenue."

In 1966 TR made a move back to the mainland and a position as program director of KFRC in San Francisco. KFRC, under his leadership, was a major force in broadcasting of a kind guaranteed to attract and keep the young moderns listening avidly. He then branched out, and with the station behind him, organized and staged what he used to refer to as the MMMFFF, the Magic Mountain Music Festival and Fantasy Fair. At the top of Mt. Tamalpais, in the outdoor amphitheater, there was a non-stop parade of musical greats over a weekend, including, among others, Dionne Warwick, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and other acts. It was the first Rock Festival ever, preceding the Monterey Pop Festival. When TR left KFRC, the story was featured on the front page of the very first issue of The Rolling Stone.

In 1967, Rounds then joined Amherst classmate Peter Gardiner in a new Los Angeles-based video production company, Charlatan Productions. The company is acknowledged as being the first to focus exclusively on the use of cinematography and music together in the form that is now ubiquitous among major music acts, the music video. Rounds led the company to successfully produce several dozen "artist-promoting films" for acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and The Animals, working with many record companies.

In 1967, TR founded Watermark, which produced American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, beginning in 1970. It became one of the most popular radio shows ever. Peter Strauss said, "I had a chance during one visit down south to sit in while TR and Kasem were putting together a show. It was fascinating to watch TR, so at ease in his element, organizing and orchestrating the show, using recorded voice breaks by Casey, and plugging in the songs. He made up script on the spot, and ended up with a show that still stands as one of the best of its kind. American Top 40 reached audiences at over 500 radio stations in the United States by the '80s."

After ABC acquired Watermark in 1982, Rounds started Radio Express in 1985 with ABC as its first program supplier. In 1990, Rounds announced the introduction of American Top 40 syndicated programming into the Soviet Union, adding that country to the list of 70 countries outside the U.S. where the program was heard. By the late 1990s, Radio Express was producing most of its own product. Together with its multilingual team of radio and marketing professionals, Radio Express has partnered with global brands including Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, McDonald's, Gillette, Kodak, KFC, Pepsi and Heineken to bring branded hit radio shows to local markets in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The company was the first to introduce barter syndication to the international radio market. Currently, Radio Express, Inc. is the world's leading supplier of entertainment programming to radio outside the U.S. It has since established relationships with over 5,000 radio stations in 130-plus countries, creating the most extensive "network" of radio stations in the world.

That was our TR, a true pioneer in his field.

He was a devoted family man when not entrepreneuring himself to pieces all over the globe.

Tom Rounds '58 with son Tommy - ca 1961.PNG
Tom and son Tommy, racing in a Hobie Cat 16 - ca 1961

 

Tom Rounds '58 and family - 1978.PNG
Tom, Barbara, Michelle & Tommy, 1978

 

Tom Rounds '58 with Barbara and grandson Eli - 1999.PNG
TR, Barbara and grandson Eli, 1999

 

Tom Rounds '58 with Lee Follett and Bill Jackson - 2003.PNG
Lee Follett, Bill Jackson, and TR - Tahiti 2003

He stayed in touch with many of us who had been close to him during our Amherst days. He was a treasured friend, and we miss him terribly. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to Barbara and the rest of his family.

Tom Rounds '58 at the beach.PNG
"Outside is where it's at!"

Peter Strauss '58, with Barbara Rounds, Lee Follett '58 and Bill Jackson '58

50th Reunion

58 Thomas Rounds.jpgSince the question was "What impact do you feel your time at Amherst had on you?..." I'm sure we're all scrambling for the real answer to this question, since none of us can very well imagine what life without Amherst would have been. For me it was and continues to be an integral part of the "self" that I have conjured up.

At the very least, Amherst gave me the confidence to go forth into the world without much of a game plan. I was ready for TV but in '58 there was a recession and networks were laying off production people. I'd had a summer job at WINS 1010 New York in '57, and the connection was strong enough to gain a foothold as Assistant Record Librarian. The station had become a Top 40 with Alan Freed, Murray the K and an entire cast of characters. I worked my way up to News Supervisor before leaving NYC for good seven months later.

58 Thomas Rounds 5.jpgI think the Amherst strategy, especially in the first and second years, was to focus on problem solving. We were in many cases (English 1 and Physics for sure) left to pretty much figure things out for ourselves, and I seemed to have sallied forth with a "do it myself" mentality that has stuck with me in the media and ad business for 50 years.

This spirit took me through successful radio station programming and management jobs ... and number one ratings for nine consecutive years in Honolulu and San Francisco. I started my first business in '67 (the first music videos), and have been back in radio ever since. Radio Express provides production, programming and marketing in 100+ countries outside the U.S.
Back in the '50s we didn't even have electronic calculators, Correcting Selectrics or copiers, and we certainly could not have imagined a wireless Internet. Did doing the grunt work at Amherst make us smarter, more reliable?


58 Thomas Rounds 3 .jpgWAMF, which I managed in '57-'58, wasn't even wireless. The station was a carrier current AM. The signal was in the plumbing! We reached almost no one unti1'56, when we installed a 10-Watt FM transmitter. Then the station reached everyone, because it came in right on top of TV audio.

In the '50s, before pop culture took hold, we had trouble raising an air staff to keep the station on six hours a day. In the early '90s I went back to consult with the kids who managed WAMH. Student participation had risen to hundreds. The station ran 24 hours a day! The music business had discovered college radio was the place to break new bands. I pitched community involvement to unreceptive ears, and WAMH remained within the Amherst bubble and under the spell of the music moguls.
But that evolved, Amherst in the '90s was still imbuing its students with what I saw as a heightened state of self-reliance. The school must have been on to something. And yes, the new tools have enriched our lives because we had already been trained to handle process and distill information by the terabytes before we had even heard the word.


58 Thomas Rounds 4 .jpgBut in the end, it's the friends. It's the people I connected with at Amherst that gave my life the most shape...I found people who were more like me than anyone in high school. And today, the ones I have kept in touch with continue to keep me connected with that unique Amherst experience.

 

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