We Now Pause for Station Identification

The top-of-the-hour station ID ain’t what it used to be. Once, radio stations were required to identify themselves by call letters and city of license once per hour between two minutes before and after the hour. That ID was often a significant anchor to station formatics. If the station was using a “hot clock” to dictate the placement of records and commercial breaks within the hour, it usually dictated that the hour begin with one of the strongest records in the music library. But even without a hot clock, the top-of-the-hour legal ID could still serve as an anchor for a station’s image—it’s a regular opportunity to remind listeners of who and what you are.

Many stations never use their call letters except at legal ID time—my station, The Lake, is one of these. (We’re officially WHLK/DeForest.) For this reason, many stations have abandoned the formal top-of-the-hour ID in favor of the “buried” ID—a quick drop of the call letters and city of license between a couple of commercials in the break closest to the top of the hour. (The Lake uses it on weekends, occasionally.) Because satellite radio stations aren’t obligated to ID at all, many don’t do anything at or near the top of the hour—their music stream goes on and on without interruption. (Neither are cable TV channels obligated to identify, although when I was in college, a TV director/radio geek I knew insisted on identifying hourly when directing live broadcasts on the campus cable station. The man had style.)

But I’m old school. I don’t like the buried ID, and I’m actually a bit disoriented as a listener by the lack of formal IDs on satellite stations. That’s because I cherish the classic legal IDs of yore, those blazing uptempo jingles with call letters and city of license, always followed by a big current hit or classic oldie, which propelled you, as a listener (and, for that matter, as a jock), irresistably forward into the next hour. Which is why I was enchanted by Tophour.com, a website devoted entirely to legal IDs. Most of them are fairly recent and a lot of them are nothing special, but a little browsing and searching yields some gems, like this fabulous montage, mostly from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Rockford, including the WCFL/Chicago ID from the mid-70s, the one with the donut for the jock to fill—the greatest legal ID the mind of man ever devised.

Geeks Gone Wild: Another similarly geeky pleasure I found recently is Formatchange.com, devoted to stations switching from one thing to another. It looks like it’s a sister site to Airchexx.com, the free aircheck site. Fooling around there not long ago, I discovered that they’ve archived hours and hours of the Big 89 Rewind, heard on WLS last Memorial Day. If you’d like to relive any of that, here you go.

Coming Friday: the Vinyl Record Day kickoff. Last call if you want to be on. E-mail me at jbemail229-blog at yahoo dot com.

9 thoughts on “We Now Pause for Station Identification

  1. Of all the top of the hour ID’s I’ve heard, I think my favorite is the KYNO Fresno ID from the mid to late 1960’s. Maybe they even used it later but the airchecks I’ve heard are from that era.

    Another sentimental favorite is the WXLW Indianapolis ID, featuring Gary Gears, that debuted sometime in the early 70’s and continued to be used until just a few years ago.

  2. jb, remember when we started out in radio and the FCC had recently phased out top AND bottom of the hour legal ID’s. That was even more fun to plan for.

  3. Spiritof67

    The WCFL ID is definitely one of the best examples of staging a top-of-the-hour legal ID. I’ll also add the jingle “Music radio WLS Chicago” to that list.

    In St. Louis, AOR KWK AM & FM had various (and long) legal ID’s. Since their FM was located east of the Mississippi river, its call was WWWK. This was before being granted a waiver and granted the KWK-FM call in 1981. Between 1979 and 1981 the legal went something like this: “St. Louis’ best rock KWK St. Louis, WWWK Granite City-St. Louis–the home of Rock & Roll.”

    Even though these countries did not require legals, CKLW had the jingle “CKLW–The Motor City,” at the top of the hour. X-Rock 80 had a woman voice the legal at the top and bottom of the hours as “Equis-E-R-O K Juarez Mexico.”

    My two personal favorites are these–before KHJ went country in the fall of 1980, they used Orson Welles-sounding Paul Fries as the voiceover of “The Rhythm Of Southern California” TOH legal. Check it out on sites like reelradio. The other was “Greetings QSL’ers, this is KAAY Little Rock.” I think Gary Gears voiced that one–he also voiced X-Rock’s English ID’s as well.

  4. Different topic, but related. Most stations today just play the music and never tell you who the artist and song are anymore. I hate that. Once I called a station to complain and they said that demographic research indicated that listeners really didn’t care and in many cases didn’t even want that kind of “unneccesary chatter.”

  5. jb

    Hyphenated city mentions is another interesting topic—like “Granite City/St. Louis.” (When using the buried ID, The Lake IDs as “WHLK/DeForest/Madison.”) I once heard a ID jingle for a station in central Michigan that sang “Bay City/Saginaw/Midland/Flint.” Going them one better was the legendary KFMH, a 100,000 watt FM album-rocker of great renown during the 70s and 80s in Iowa. They identified as “KFMH/Muscatine/Davenport/Iowa City/Cedar Rapids/Everywhere.”

  6. Charlie, it’s funny how one station’s research says one thing, but another’s yields a totally different result.

    The jocks on 98.7 The Peak in Phoenix announce every song and artist and make a point to direct listeners to their website if they missed them.

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