OPW INTERVIEW -- Sep 11 -- Meet Dick Syatt, the original king of Singles Events. During the 25 years he hosted his radio show, he could pull a crowd of 1200 singles together in an afternoon. What does he think of online dating? Here’s our interview with Dick Syatt, a man ahead of his time. - Mark Brooks
When did you run your first singles event?
In 1976, long before the Internet, as a radio talk show host at WFAA radio in Dallas, I created the very first on-air radio dating show. My show allowed singles to call in, describe themselves and whom they wanted to meet, and then we’d exchange phone numbers off the air.
It wasn’t long after that the singles parties started, because the radio show became very popular. We were featured in Playboy, the New York Times, Phil Donahue, Good Morning America, among others. By early 1977, I was hosting parties in Dallas which were attracting 800 -1200 people. In 1981, I joined WRKO radio in Boston and the same thing happened. The show was an enormous success. The New York Times showed up and put a counter on the phone to see how many hits (calls) came into the radio show on an average Saturday, and there were over 40,000 calls during that four hour time span.
In February of 1982, a hotel in Boston called me to do a singles party on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm. We had no idea how many people would attend, we estimated 200 if we were lucky. That same afternoon, we had 1200 people.
How much advanced notice did they have?
Two or three weeks; it was promoted heavily on my radio show. For most of the next 20 years, I had as many as seven dances a week simultaneously in different locations.
Around 2000, when the online services really were ramping up, my dances were failing, and it was clear to see that instead of getting dressed up and going to a dance, it was much easier to sit at home in your bathrobe, fill out a profile and have your inbox fill up with inquiries from other singles.
What do you think of online dating? Does it work?
The whole process can often take weeks. When you finally meet, in most cases, there is no chemistry. While I’m not knocking online dating, the reason I started the dances again is because I think that nothing will ever replace human contact. For 25 years, people told me on my radio show that looks don’t matter. Of course that’s nonsense because no matter what you look like, looks matter. When you and I meet, we know in 5 seconds whether we appeal to each other. We need to see face to face. So earlier this year I went back to a club, Vincent’s, where I host the singles dance. For $5, we offer a free buffet, great music and an ability to be in a Disney World for single people.
How should events be integrated into the Internet dating sites?
My intention is to partner with an online site at least locally, perhaps via banner ads that target people who live in the greater Boston area, who would be encouraged to come to the Singles Links party. So you meet online, you’re introduced online and then you meet in person at an event.
Some people don’t feel comfortable venturing out alone to meet someone new so maybe they want to go where there is a big crowd of people. Safety is key for many people.
You’re absolutely right. At one of my events, you walk into a club that holds 1000 people; there is music, doormen in tuxedos, its safe and very public. We have our conversation and maybe we’ll hit it off and live happily ever after or we can both say “Hey this was fun and I’ll see you around.” Then we turn around and have another 999 people to choose from.
What single thing would you change, if you could, with all online dating sites?
When I hosted the online radio dating show for almost 25 years, I interviewed people. I asked questions like “What do you do? What do you look like? What are your interests? What kind of food do you like? Do you smoke? Pets? What kind of person do you want to meet?” I wouldn’t allow people to say anything generic or obvious. Everyone thinks they have a great sense of humor, everyone thinks they’re a nice person, so if all you tell me is “I want to meet a nice person who likes to have a good time and go out to eat.” well, that doesn’t narrow down your search by an iota.
So I’d like to see online sites become more diligent about insisting that members do a better job filling out their profiles. This will not only benefit their rate of return, but also will also give companies more credibility, while making the sites more interesting and entertaining. When I see the numbers and I see companies who have 275,000 members at $40 a month, I don’t see why this can’t be remedied.