Live Your Life in the Songs You Hear on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio

(This post has been slightly edited since it first appeared.)
If you love old-school Top 40 radio–or you’d just like to find out why I love it so much–you need to click over to Reelradio for Christmas-season airchecks from two of Chicago’s legendary radio stations.

First, the ultra-professional Bob Dearborn at WCFL, on the air 33 years ago today. All these years later, Dearborn remains the smoothest jock I’ve ever heard–a smoothness I could recognize even before I knew much about being on the air, and a smoothness I admired even more after I got into radio myself. It’s about 40 minutes unscoped, which means you get all the music, commercials, and news. Hearing “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” back-to-back with “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes is positively joy-inducing, as is the outro of the included newscast. The audio has been restored–and it actually sounds better now than it would have on your AM radio back in the day.

The second one is from WLS, December 20, 1974, featuring the inimitable Fred Winston and J.J. Jeffrey (who was pretty smooth himself, with an uncharacteristically soft voice for the classic Top 40 era). They’re getting ready to change shifts at 10AM, and enjoying some holiday cheer a couple of days early (and goofing on a perfume commercial). Plus you get a complete newscast featuring Lyle Dean, and the classic WLS and ABC Contemporary Radio news sounders. The audio quality of this aircheck is great, too, with tons of reverb (is it my imagination, or does the reverb diminish after Jeffrey takes over?) and some tremendous music, so crank up the speakers, especially toward the beginning for “Tears of a Clown.” (But beware, Bobby Vinton’s “My Melody of Love” appears toward the end.)

Both of these checks (but especially the one from WLS) crackle with energy and attitude, but also contain great warmth and humor–a necessity in an era when radio stations reached for broader demographics than they do now. (On the second part of the J.J. Jeffrey aircheck, notice the contest winner who says she’s been married 26 years and needs the cookware set she just won. A few minutes later, Jeffrey plugs an Alice Cooper album giveaway.) Most of today’s formats, by their very nature, exclude people. These stations were inclusive–speaking to a community, rather than to scattered residents of individual islands. There’s something especially appealing about that, a couple of days before Christmas.

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