We now live in an era where we have so much multimedia, from so many sources, we can’t pretend to process all of it. This is quite different from “the old days” (everybody under 30 roll your eyes, please..) when even when one was in a large city, the options were much more limited than now.
I grew up in Alpena, in northeast Michigan. Alpena was, and remains, the largest city in Northeast Michigan. Not to be confused, though, with a LARGE city. Alpena’s population was between 10 and 15 thousand and remains at that level today. You had to drive to Bay City, 130 miles away, to find a larger city.
In those days (the 60′s and 70′s until about 1975) Alpena had no television station. It had one radio station. Everybody listened to WATZ and Roy Beard in the morning. For a young man with visions of working someday in radion, WATZ wasn’t cutting it. Since FM radio had yet to make an impact, the youth of America in small towns like ours couldn’t wait until it got dark and you could listen to REAL radio stations from the big city.
It was my dream to be a disc jockey. Nighttime meant I could sit there huddled up next to the radio, trying to listen to those far off stations through the static. Those stations included WOWO, Fort Wayne, WABC, New York City, WBZ, Boston (and The Sports Huddle!), WLW, Cincinnati, WGAR, Cleveland and on an occasional lucky night, KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The stations we listened to ALL the time, though, were three: CKLW, Detroit (actually, Windsor, Ontario) and WLS and WCFL, both from Chicago. This was only 10-15 years removed from the time frame depicted in the movie “American Graffiti,” so what you heard in that movie with regard to the radio station with Wolfman Jack wasn’t that far away from life in our town. Only, our Wolfman Jack wasn’t local. He was far, far away.
Radio had much more a mystique then. Reality TV, of course, didn’t exist, so much of life was still a mystery to most of America unless you were actively involved in something. Those disembodied voices playing that jammin’ music and screaming their heads off with those loud jingles was the greatest thing. Screaming Top 40 DJ’s are, for the most part, a thing of the past. Changes in radio ownership rules and changes in technology have greatly affected the radio business. It is much more homogenized and bland and much less local. There’s a very good chance the person you are listening to on your “local station” may never have set foot in your state, much less your town. Technology enables that.
Those guys like “Super Max” and “Brother Bill Gable” on CKLW (and the “20/20″ News Team. Wait until you hear THOSE guys). Dick Saint and Big Ron O’Brien on Super CFL. Jeff Davis on WLS. Larry Lujack – if conditions were right in the winter when it got dark early – on Super CFL and WLS. But most of all, John “Records” Landecker on WLS.
WLS was one of those stations that added effects to their audio – the announcers sounded like they were in an echo chamber of sorts, which added to the mystique. John Landecker was one of a kind. What you’ll be hearing is an “aircheck” – radio without the songs. The songs are all thesame no matter what station plays them – it’s the elements aside from the songs that distinguish a station, which is what the aircheck records.
Eventually, I was fortunate enough to have a brief career in radio and did get to play Top 40 music for four years (and country for one). My only claim to fame (or infamy, seeing as how it has turned out) was to be the Program Director – and hence, the boss – of Bob Kevoian & Tom Griswold, better known as “Bob & Tom,” in their last “gig” prior to moving on to Indianapolis, where they remain today and are syndicated across the country. Their act in Northern Michigan was nothing like what I hear they do now – back then, they were funny without being disgusting. But moving on to the matter at hand…
Is it – Top 40 radio from the 70′s – “antiquated” and “old-fashioned?” Sure. Is it an acquired taste? Yes. Is it great stuff? Absolutely. Wait until I post a “Boogie Check” or two down the road…
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