Lagniappe has been a free newspaper for nearly 12 years and will continue to be even after we start publishing weekly in April. But as doubling our output is quite an endeavor, and also that readers frequently ask how they can help make sure their favorite newspaper is there to report the news, we’ve decided to do something that will help us and our readers.

That’s why we’re announcing “Friends With Benefits,” a way for readers who want to pay a little something for their Lagniappe to do so while also getting Something Extra back. This is totally voluntary! People who want to continue picking up the paper as they always have or reading us online are absolutely welcome to do so.

But if you think we’re worth less than the cost of a Diet Coke a week, then we hope you’d like to become one of our Friends. I promise we’re better for your bones than that Diet Coke, and if you do sign up, we’ll give you a little something back in return. Here’s what we’ll do for those who sign up:

Send you a list of the weekend’s musical offerings each Thursday;

Send you a list of some recommended weekend activities each Thursday;

We’ll email our “Friends” a selected article every Wednesday so you can read it hours before it hits the streets. That way you’ll feel smarter.

Any concert, festival or event ticket giveaways or contests for other treats will go exclusively to our “Friends.” That’s a pretty good “benefit.”

And we’ll try to get some of our advertisers to reach out to you with great deals and specials aimed at FWBs.

Most of all you’ll get the good feeling that comes with knowing you’re helping your community have a great newspaper.

What are we asking for? Not much. Friendship is pretty cheap. We have three sign up packages — $1.15 a week; $5 a month or a one-time $50 payment. In the first two, your credit card would be run for those small amounts on a routine basis. You can stop anytime you’d like.

Give some thought to becoming a Lagniappe FWB. We promise we won’t ever ask you to help move our furniture.

Gardner hits fourth decade on Azalea City airwaves

Making it 40 years in any form of media is an accomplishment, but managing to do it in Mobile deserves more than a pat on the back. On Feb. 1, Wayne Gardner marked his fourth decade on the Mobile airwaves in a career that’s seen him spinning country music hits on AM radio to getting up each morning to lead the discussion on FMTALK106.5.

Gardner says he recognizes how unusual it is for someone in his business to stay in one market for 40 years and to be successful doing so. His plans were quite different when he came to work for WKSJ-AM in 1974.

“I was married with a 6-month-old kid at the time. I thought I’d come here and do well and move on to a bigger market,” Gardner said.

But Mobile got under his skin and he couldn’t leave.

“I like everything about it. I just enjoy it here,” he said.

A South Carolina native, Gardner’s radio career started out with a Mobile connection, as he took his first gig at a station owned by the father of Mobile radio icon Ken Johnson. It was a country AM station and before long Gardner said he was given a choice of moving to either Stubenville, Ohio or Mobile. While he says he wasn’t sure he’d ever been south of Atlanta, he figured Mobile would be more familiar than the heartland, so he headed down to work with Johnson at WKSJ-AM. That pairing would last 30 years.

Gardner became one of the voices of WKSJ’s morning show for many years as FM came to dominate and AM waned. Eventually the station was sold along with others in Johnson’s group to Clear Channel radio. Gardner stayed there for a couple of years, but Johnson eventually wooed him over to WNSP-FM, a sports talk station.

“It was totally different, but I’d cut my teeth with sports,” Gardner said.

He found the move to talk radio suited him and when the opportunity came five years ago to join Sean Sullivan — who had been working at WNSP’s sister station WZEW — and Don Bigler as a part-owner in WAVH-FM, he jumped at the chance. The station operated briefly playing music, but soon switched to an all-talk format. Sullivan and Gardner hosted “Mobile Mornings” together until last year when Sullivan took on “The Drive” in the evenings and now a midday show as well.

Gardner contrasts working in an all-talk format to his early days of spinning records, noting that as a DJ he could show up 30 minutes before his shift and be ready to go. For his morning show Gardner says he gets in the office closer to two hours ahead of time.

“There’s nothing worse than looking up and having four minutes of time to fill and nothing to say,” he said.

He believes local talk is the most logical future for terrestrial radio as more and more people get their music from the web services or listen on phones or iPods. FMTALK’s growth seems to bear that out as it has steadily gained listeners over the years.

Looking back on four decades in the same mid-sized market, Gardner says he has no regrets. He is comfortable with his decision to stay in Mobile and says the city has treated him well.

“I’m pretty comfortable with my legacy here. I’ve been successful here for a long time and enjoyed all of it,” he said.

Stations for sale?

Speaking of the radio business, Hadden & Associates media brokers had a blind ad in a recent online offering showing three nearby stations on the block. A Hadden & Associates could only say they are stations whose signals reach Mobile, but they are not located in the city.

The ad reads — “AL – Mobile market, 2 FM Class C and 1 AM group, cash flow positive, staff in place, real estate. Terms to a qualified buyer; $1.1 M.”

According to those knowledgeable of radio terminology, Class C stations are larger and have a stronger signal.

More changes at the P-R

Press-Register subscribers got a special letter wrapped around their Sunday paper Feb. 16 explaining several changes in that day’s edition that represent a new direction for the print offering.

The most noticeable of these changes was collapsing the number of sections to just three on Sunday. The Wednesday and Friday editions will have just two sections, according to internal documents.

These changes were introduced in a letter by former Press-Register Managing Editor Dewey English, who has been working at the Birmingham News for almost two years. English added “Press-Register employee” under his name on the letter, sparking rumors he is returning to Mobile.

Other major changes announced were the end of the Baldwin Register and Mobile Press sections that handled mainly community news. Still, even with those sections gone the P-R’s leadership are vowing the paper’s redesign will bring with it more community news than ever, along with more local news and investigative reporting.

On the advertising side of things it was announced to employees last week that Page 3 — typically the perch for a full-page Shoe Station ad — would no longer contain advertising. This spot has been reassigned for local news.

Patrick getting better, back soon

Many readers and WKRG viewers have called to ask the whereabouts of all-world sports director Randy Patrick, who has been off the air since the beginning of the year. I was able to speak with Randy and he said he’s been dealing with some health issues and has been “quite ill,” but is on the mend and should be back on the air by mid-March. Here’s wishing him a quick recovery.