Top 5: The Key Men Open the Door

My first paying radio gig was at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa, beginning in 1979. Across town, our competitor was WDBQ. I had some college friends who worked there, and sometimes, I secretly wished I did too—while KDTH was a full-service station that played mostly country music, WDBQ was a Top-40 station.

By 1979, the morning, midday, and afternoon guys had all been there a long time. The morning guy was not a rock fan, so almost everything rock-oriented was dayparted out of his show. (That he later put a classic-rock format on a station he bought surprised practically everybody who remembered him.) The midday guy always “looked in the ol’ lunch box” each day at noon, describing what he’d packed for that day. He also regularly promoted that he was going to do this, several times a day. The afternoon guy had the slick pipes of an old-school Top 40 guy. The night guy was younger, hipper, and generally more in tune with the audience, as night guys had to be. The overnight jock was a woman with a cool, sexy vibe, who eventually crossed the street to KDTH, where her husband worked.

Because the part-time staff was made up mostly of my friends, I hung out there sometimes, although I suspect WDBQ’s management would have been less than thrilled by that. The WDBQ studio seemed to have an energy that KDTH lacked. They were still playing 45s, while all of our music was on tape cartridges. In retrospect, the coolest thing at WDBQ was that all of their jingles and records were labeled by key, and jocks chose jingles based on the key of the record they were jingling into. (I wonder how widespread a practice this was in the biz back then.)

All of this is prelude to discussing a survey from WDBQ dated July 5, 1968, with its slogan, “Let the key men of music open the door to good listening to you.” The slogan is a bit less of a nonsequitur when you know that Dubuque used to call itself the Key City, but its lack of sizzle remains remarkable.

1. “Indian Lake”/Cowsills (up from 3). When I ring changes on the glory of bubblegum, I am forever forgetting the Cowsills, which I should not do, given “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things,” and this.

5. “Can’t You See Me Cry/New Colony Six (up from 8) and 9. “Young Birds Fly”/Cryan Shames (up from 10). Plenty of Midwestern flavor on this survey with these two Chicago-area favorites. Whatever the New Colony Six did was big in the Midwest (like “Can’t You See Me Cry,” which did only #52 in Billboard), and how they missed being massive national stars in the late 60s I do not know. I’m not quite as impressed with either the Cryan Shames or “Young Birds Fly” (#99 in Billboard), but the record must have sounded great on the radio back then.

14. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”/Rolling Stones (up from 24). Seems rather out of place compared to the rest of the stuff on this survey. In addition to being the hardest-rockin’ record by a mile, it’s also the blackest, although in the station’s defense, there was precious little R&B topping the pop charts at that moment. Another odd omission from this survey: “Mac Arthur Park,” although it had already begun its descent on the national charts, so maybe it was already gone from WDBQ’s regular list.

Discoveries (bottom of chart): “The Land Where Animals Are People”/Legard Brothers. This act is properly billed as the Brothers Legard, country-singing twins from Australia who became TV stars Down Under in the 1960s and even appeared in an episode of Star Trek in the States. “The Land Where Animals Are People,” a Jimmie Haskell production, is a bit of sunshine pop just trippy enough to appeal to the kids but not so psychedelic that it would put off their parents.

So it was probably OK for mornings on WDBQ.

11 thoughts on “Top 5: The Key Men Open the Door

  1. Tom Weeden

    I was the Saturday night guy on WDBQ from late ’78 through April ’79 during my senior year in college. If I recall, they were called “Chromakey” jingles. There were 24 of them, a fast and slow version for each note on the chromatic scale, plus the legal ID jingle: “Rollin’ down the river, W-D-B-Quuuuue, Dubuque!” There was a pitch pipe in the studio in case you didn’t believe the person who scratched the “C#” on the 45 label as the key of the first note of the song. Those jingles were a blast.

  2. Yah Shure

    Not too many years back, I dug out some airchecks I’d taped from the late ’60s, but had not heard since. A brief segment on one of those proved to be a real slap in the memory face: the jock on KDWB was Gene Leader, who I didn’t even recall having worked there (his brief stay at Channel 63 preceded both a longer stint at crosstown WDGY and his “Mean Gene Okerlund” personna.) The other ear-opener was the unannounced record he was playing, “Young Birds Fly.” I’m guessing it was the only time I’d heard it as a current and had no idea what or who it was until buying the Shames’ ‘Sugar And Spice’ CD eons later. By that time, I’d forgotten I’d ever heard it on the radio, so its appearance on the aircheck came as a total surprise.

    The Cowsills have always been the real deal. Their garage-punk attitude on 1965’s “All I Wanta Be Is Me” should have made it a natural for the ‘Nuggets’ series, and 1993’s gorgeous “Is It Any Wonder” showed that the magic was still there, even if the mass audience wasn’t.

  3. Dean Kallenbach

    I was part-time newser at ‘DBQ (and its beautiful music sister KIWI — really) in ’79. Got in early Saturdays (about 4:30) and it was always nice to visit with Carol Tenley, who I think called herself “The Lady East of Midnight.” Got to drive in stock cars for two WDBQ Half Price Race Nights…that was fun!

  4. “Relax with us . . . we’re KIWI . . .K-I-W-I . . . 105FM . . . with just . . . beautiful . . . music.” I used to listen to it in the dorm to drown out the noise from the hall. And many belated thanks to Dean (and his roomie Bob) for letting me sleep on their couch on weekends in the summer of ’79 while I worked at KDTH (and they worked at WDBQ). I learned a lot that summer, and not just about radio.

  5. porky

    big fan of both the Cryan’ Shames and NC Six. The latter started out tough and ended up wimpy and the former vice versa.

    Actually Yah Shure that great Cowsills tune is on the garage comp “Hipsville 29 B.C.” on Kramden records (after a lawsuit threat from someone affiliated with the Honeymooners, they changed their name to Norton and continue to put out mind-blowing rock and roll records). This comp also features the incredible “Happiness is Havin'” by Beaver and the Trappers, led by Jerry Mathers.

    1. Yah Shure

      Porky, the ‘Nuggets’ mention was more of a stylistic reference than a lament that it wasn’t actually included on the boxed set. I have the original 45 on Johnny Nash’s JoDa label.

      That’s a great observation on the NC6/Shames’ flip-flops. jb’s “whatever the New Colony Six did was big in the Midwest” assertion wasn’t the case in this corner of it, where the only three NC6ers to earn Twin Cities airtime were “I Will Always Think About You,” “Things I’d Like To Say” and “Roll On.” That last one had one of those customized “Up Your Ratings” jingle intros on KRSI, the only local station to play it.

      The Cryan’ Shames fared even worse here; other than the quickly-extinct “Young Birds Fly,” only “I Wanna Meet You” (one of my all-time faves) snagged any spins. The local rockers passed on the Shames’ “Sugar And Spice,” opting instead for an energetic early ’67 cover by Minneapolis band The Grasshoppers.

  6. In my very first PD gig, I attempted to categorize/organize the station’s jingles….ALL of which were on a single, 10.5 minute cart. The former PD just dubbed a bunch of them from the master tape, had no rules or guidelines for their use, and stuck the cart in the rack. The station’s GM had ordered the jingles, because he thought jingles were cool. It was a nice TM package, with legal ID jingles, fast-to-slow jingles, slow-to-fast, etc. etc. It was 1971, and it was the #4 station in a 4-station market. The most fun part of the jingle organization project was the GM asking me to explain to him, in detail, what I was doing. “Aren’t jingles just jingles?”, he asked. Sometimes, the gulf between sales and programming was unbridgeable. The PD was “the best jock”, and the GM was “the best salesman”.

    Sometimes I think the more things change, the more…..well, you know.

  7. Shark

    I worked part-time at WDBQ/Dubuque in 1981-82. When I began, the studio had the turntables ABOVE the control board which was angled sharply to allow the room for the turntables above it. That all changed in the summer of 1981 when they remodeled the studio and placed both turntables to the right and slightly behind you (although the turntables did have remote starts off a new Wheatstone board). The studio had track lighting and a weather radar screen. It looked like the inside of the space shuttle. Helping to Chromakey the jingles at that time were morning man Paul Hemmer and part-timer Bill Hutchinson, who were both musicians. What a great place to be back in 1981!

    1. GaryOmaha

      The station owner, as I recall, said before the election of 1980 that if Reagan won, he would remodel the place. Reagan did win that election, and soon enough the new equipment, including the new board you mentioned, started showing up. I often wonder if we would have gotten new toys no matter who won.

  8. Steve

    I grew up with WDBQ in the 60s. I remember Paul Hemmer, Tom Mack, Dick Brundage, Denny Schreafer, Dan Kane. I rembmber all of them. It is sooo very sad what happened to WDBQ, and most other small market Midwest AM stations. Being gobbled up by companies like Cumulus and Iheart, who don’t give a damn about the local market. Every station is playing the same syndicated crap: Rush Limaugh, Shawn Hannity, or ESPN. Their FCC license says they are supposed to serve the “public interest”. I’m not aware of a single AM station in any market under 100,000 people that offers original, local programming. That is definitely not in the public interest. If I were allowed to put a local, issue oriented talk show on WDBQ and mix in a little humor, I know it would work.

    I’m convinced that AM radio is not dead. Especially with the ability to listen anywhere on the web, or with an app on your phone. It doesn’t matter anymore that your night time signal is only 250 watts. I know I could make local talk work in Dubuque. I know I could sell enough commercials to make it work. Cities like Dubuque, La Crosse, and Eau Claire desparately need a talk host who will keep the public informed on the important local issues of the day. Someone who will hold politicians feet to the fire, like Mark Belling and Jay Weber on WISN in Milwaukee. Call me crazy, but I still think there’s a buck to be made in live, local AM.

  9. GaryOmaha

    It seems I too was at WDBQ during a remarkable time. In 1978, Tom Mack had just left and I was lucky enough to become continuity/production director. It was a small market station that thought — and often sounded — like it was in a much bigger market. I learned a lot from Paul Hemmer and we’re still in touch. The people kept that station going. And Dubuque was such an interesting place to be for this non-native-Dubuquer. They made me feel welcome. Aside from the “fish flies” it was one of the high points of my career.

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