Thirty years ago this June, The Mrs. and I moved to a new place in Dubuque, Iowa. A big improvement over the old place, it was the bottom quarter of a house that had been subdivided into four apartments. Cozy living room, big dining room (where I kept the stereo, because there wasn’t space enough in the cozy living room), eat-in kitchen, tiny bedroom, tinier bathroom, great light, cool neighborhood full of old houses. We had quite a difficult time finding it, as I recall; we looked at lots of rentals and disagreed mightily over a few of them before deciding on it. Although we lived there only four months, it’s still my favorite of all the places we’ve ever lived.
I was the afternoon guy at KDTH, and while I had some shadowy idea of how I wanted my career to go, I didn’t have anything like a plan. I occasionally applied for jobs that interested me—like a gig at Magic 98, then assembling its original staff—but mostly I figured that I’d magically climb the market ladder simply because I was halfway good at what I did. (“Halfway good” was an optimistic assessment. I have only a couple of tapes from back then, and they’re quite the horror show.)
It’s not necessary to say that several of the songs on the radio that June take me back to that place and time. They’re on the survey from WXLK-FM in Roanoke, Virginia, dated June 5, 1983:
5. “Never Gonna Let You Go”/Sergio Mendes (up from 9). We were playing this amidst the country hits on KDTH, during quite literally the last few months in which such a thing could become a monster, multi-format hit.
11. “I’m Still Standing”/Elton John (up from 12). I bought myself a new turntable shortly after we moved into the new place, replacing the old Sansui I had inherited from my dormitory roommate when he quit school. It served me until sometime in the late 90s.
27. “Every Breath You Take”/Police (debut). I can see us in that kitchen making dinner one night, radio on, and this plays, when it was still very new.
30. “Jeopardy”/Greg Kihn Band (down from 17). More than any other record on the radio at that time, “Jeopardy” made me want to be playing rock ‘n’ roll again. But I was playing mostly country music on KDTH. Our FM sister station, D93, was continuing to rock, however, as it had since sometime in 1975. But it had some competition now—the beautiful-music station across town had switched to a Top 40 format with live jocks sometime in the last year, and it made automated D93 sound clunky and outdated. If I’m recalling correctly, the strategy at D93 was to ignore the competition and trust that the eye-popping audience shares it had enjoyed for years would by some alchemy continue, but they didn’t. And by the summer of 1983, there would be a change in format and call letters—and the addition of live jocks.
Add: “Snapshot”/Sylvia. Today, country music is evolving into a weird mono-genre, with big rock riffs, rapped lyrics, Tourette’s-like invocation of the same clichés about rural life, boats, and beer, and practically nothing to do with the ostensible roots of the music. But 30 years ago, country was nearly swallowed up by a different kind of pop, almost twang-free and perfectly calibrated for multiple radio formats. There’s nothing country about “Snapshot” except the section in which it was filed in the record store (and the writers of “What a Fool Believes,” Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, should have gotten a cut of the royalties). It made #5 on Billboard‘s country chart, but even though it’s a near-copy of Sylvia’s earlier crossover hit, “Nobody,” which had gone to #15 on the Hot 100, “Snapshot” missed the big chart altogether.
It’s an utterly charming pop song, however, with a video that is as 1983 a thing as you’ll see today.