Every night during Broadway’s “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” the old, familiar Y-100 logo lights up the New York stage. The sight brings a taste of South Florida to the Big Apple.
Credit David Ross, the radio station’s former general manager.
Ross, who died Sunday at 66 in Deerfield Beach of complications from Lewy Body Dementia, a neurodegenerative disorder, helped expand the Estefans’ careers by playing their first English-language single, “Dr. Beat,” on Y-100 in 1984. No one else would support a crossover tune. That story is featured in the Broadway musical.
“We love him,” Emilio Estefan said. “He was so nice. When we started out you never forget the people who helped you when nothing was happening. He made a huge contribution to Miami music. He took a chance. To have a Latino name and play percussion wasn’t that cool. When I went to Sony they said, ‘You have to change your name and sound.’ But that is what we are. Dave supported that and everything else.”
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Ross helped guide Y-100 into becoming the longest-running contemporary hit radio station in the United States. (The station signed on to the 100.7 FM frequency in 1973, 43 years ago).
Ross was a character. If the ’70s sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” exposed the oft-wacky and irreverent personality of contemporary hit radio to the masses, then Dave Ross was that persona for Y-100.
“Imagine putting a 28-year-old in charge of a 100,000-watt radio station. He was very much a visionary and innovator and he liked to push the limits — sometimes we had to pare back some of his ideas,” says Julie Wilson-Watson, president of Clear Results Marketing, who, for 24 years, from 1981 to 2005, worked alongside Ross as the station’s marketing director.
She cites the time Ross inserted the station into the Jacksons’ Victory Tour by booking the Miami Orange Bowl for every day the tour needed, ensuring Y-100 had naming rights and access to thousands of seats for radio listeners to that 1984 concert.
In 1996, he, along with his popular DJ Footy (aka John Kross) and his on-air partner Bobby Mitchell, wanted to honor Brothers to the Rescue pilots. A listener had called in to the station and asked Footy to get a message to Fidel Castro. The DJ wondered, “What am I going to do, put it in a bottle and drop it in the water?”
He was a leader and let us go in terms of letting us perform the Wing Dings and the concerts, Springsteen and Michael Jackson, Gloria and Emilio Estefan. He was instrumental in that. He was a superstar. We love him and respect him and will miss him.
John Kross (aka Footy, a former Y-100 DJ) on general manager David Ross.
Precisely. Ross took a look at the Fort Lauderdale station’s water cooler as the three chatted. “Well, there’s your bottle,” he said. Soon, thousands of messages were sealed in an empty five-gallon water bottle and pitched overboard near where the Brothers pilots were shot down. Call it the Fidel-Express.
“Dave was a genius,” Footy said. “He was a good, decent man. He was a superstar in the radio business and he was also a friend and a mentor for over 30 years. One-of-a-kind.”
Ross, raised in Cleveland, Ohio, became GM of Y-100 in 1978. As the ’80s dawned, he recognized the cultural changes in South Florida and sought to play pop music with rhythmic beats, a la “Dr. Beat.”
“Dave gave me my first real adult job running a powerhouse radio station and for that he made an indelible mark on my life and career,” said Y-100’s former program director Frank Amadeo, who for the past 24 years has been president of Estefan Enterprises. “He was passionate about Y-100 and making it not only a powerhouse station in the eyes of the radio industry nationally but, more important, it was its connection to the community … that made it the success it was and is.”
That’s an example of Ross’ nature, Wilson-Watson adds.
“He always wanted to win the hearts of the people,” she said. “A lot of commercial radio stations didn’t care about doing community service or charity work because it wasn’t financially gaining. Dave’s feeling was, ‘If we won hearts and did the right things we’d win listeners full time.” As a result, Y-100 championed charities like the March of Dimes, Humane Society, American Heart Association and others. “It was the station of South Florida and that was always his goal.”
Ross is survived by his wife Valerie, son J.P. and stepdaughter Nicole. Services are at 11 a.m. Sunday at Glick Funeral Home, 3600 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Donations in Ross’ name can be made to Lewy Body Dementia Association or Broward County Humane Society.