I was a sports fan–the kind of kid who kept statistics while watching games on TV–before I was a music and radio fan. So once I discovered music and radio, it was only natural that I would become a chart freak. A record chart is like the weekly baseball stat sheet I used to pore over in the Sunday paper–who’s up, who’s down, who’s hot, who’s not. The yearend chart is something extra-special, and the yearend radio countdown of the top songs quickly became an important event in my life.
My first introduction to the concept came in 1970, when I stumbled across the Big 89 of 1970 on WLS from Chicago. By the next year, I am pretty sure I was listening when they counted down the Big 89 of 1971, although I don’t remember precisely. If I was listening that year, I almost certainly began the tradition of keeping track of the songs as they were played, just like scoring a baseball game at home. By 1972, I was definitely scoring at home, and wouldn’t miss a year until 1977, when going to a party on New Year’s Eve became more important than the countdown. Yet even then, we would often have somebody’s countdown on the radio while the party went on.
It wasn’t until 1981 that I actually hosted a yearend countdown on the radio, at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa, but it would be almost 10 years before I did it again. By then, I was at a tiny station in a different Iowa town, and I did the countdown not on New Year’s Eve proper, but during my afternoon show on December 31. In fact, the last radio show I ever did as a full-timer in the biz was the 1993 yearend countdown, before I got sacked on the first working day of 1994 and decided my radio career was over.
Coming on Friday: Number Ones–and Number 89s–from the Big 89 countdowns, 1967-1986.