Don’t Say No

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(Pictured: Billy Squier on stage in the summer of 1981.)

As I might have done with a hard copy back then, let’s digitally page through the edition of Radio and Records dated July 3, 1981, to see what we can see.

Item: Congress is considering the expansion of Daylight Saving Time, which currently runs from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. The Federal Communications Commission is concerned about the impact on daytime-only radio stations. Those not authorized for pre-sunrise operation would see up to two additional months in which they would lose an hour of profitable morning drive-time.

Comment: DST was expanded in 1986 so it started on the first Sunday in April instead of the last. In 2007, DST changed to its current schedule, from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Item: TV ratings for the week ending June 28 show M*A*S*H at #1, followed by the M*A*S*H spinoff Trapper John M.D. at #2. The sitcom featuring former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers, House Calls, finished at #3 for the week.

Comment: Few successful TV series have gone further down the memory hole than House Calls, which finished in the Top 25 during all three of its seasons but isn’t streaming or seen on vintage TV diginets. Co-star Lynn Redgrave was fired midway through the 1981-82 season for wanting to breast-feed her newborn daughter at work, which the studio would not abide. After Redgrave was suddenly replaced by Sharon Gless, ratings plummeted, the show was canceled, and lawsuits followed.

Item: WZZQ in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the first album-rock stations in the South, has switched to a country format after 13 years. The station’s general manager believes the AOR format attracts too young an audience, and that country will help the station capture more national advertising dollars aimed at 25-to-49 year-olds. As the only AOR station in Jackson, WZZQ ranked second overall in the most recent Birch Report ratings. It becomes the fourth country station in the market.

Comment: WZZQ would not have been the first or last station to trade a bird in the hand for two that it thought were in the bush. Nevertheless, it seems deeply weird for a heritage album-rock station with strong ratings and market exclusivity to enter a four-way battle and expect to do better. This feels like a change that’s officially about one thing but actually about something else. For example, stations have been known to change format because of the owner’s personal taste, profits notwithstanding. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but it could have.

Item: KWRM, a 5,000-watt adult-contemporary station in Corona, California, outside of Los Angeles, has gone all-in on contesting. The station runs five or six contests an hour, 17 hours a day. The jocks don’t back-announce songs; they give prizes to listeners who can name titles, artists and chart positions. The station carries Dodgers and Lakers play-by-play, and the scores are used for quiz questions. Prizes are mostly items already being advertised on the station. General manager Pat Michaels insists that the station isn’t trading advertising time for prizes, but advertisers who provide large prizes get promos and mentions equivalent to the value of the product.

Comment: If you weren’t interested in playing contests (and the vast majority of listeners are not), KWRM must have been positively exhausting to listen to. As a jock, I’d have been exhausted by it, too.

Item: The National Airplay 40 for album-rock radio shows the Joe Walsh album There Goes the Neighborhood as the week’s most played nationwide, nosing out the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager. Other hot albums of the moment include Tom Petty’s Hard Promises, Don’t Say No by Billy Squier, Fair Warning by Van Halen, Face Value by Phil Collins, and Santana’s Zebop! Jazz albums getting play on album-rock stations include As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, Unsung Heroes by the Dixie Dregs, Lee Ritenour’s Rit, and The Clarke/Duke Project by Stanley Clarke and George Duke.

Comment: The Top 40 in this summer wasn’t great, but album-rock radio was loaded with new releases by superstar acts. And if there has been a cooler album title than As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, I’m not sure what it is. Many album-rock stations were playing the track “Ozark,” which could easily have been made to fit alongside Tom Petty, the Moody Blues, and Joe Walsh.

Coming in the next installment: a single day from the summer of 1981.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Say No

  1. Wesley

    Weird how CBS went not once but twice in having a dramatic spin-off of a character from a sitcom. The first was time was in 1977 when Lou Grant left the comic confines of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to star in an hour newspaper drama covering issues of the day (e.g., PCP addiction) in a show under his own name. It’s an odd occurrence that I doubt would work today. Like, could you imagine Moira Rose of Schitt’s Creek getting her own show as a crusading lawyer in Moira?

    As for House Calls, its popularity was the old “hammock” effect of being between two hits (in this case M*A*S*H, and oh my gosh, the other show was Lou Grant!) and not being offensive to stink up the joint so you could keep a decent share of the viewers. A lot of these shows disappeared after time changes or even after their run like House Calls. For other examples, see Gentle Ben (two years between Lassie and Ed Sullivan, gone the second year in 1969 when ratings dropped), A Different Word between The Cosby Show and Cheers 1987-1992, and just about every sitcom NBC stuck between Friends and Seinfeld from 1995-1999 (The Single Guy, Boston Common, The Single Guy, Suddenly Susan, etc.)

  2. Alvaro Leos

    Pretty crazy to think AOR played jazz in the early 80s. When and why did they stop?
    And if you want a show that totally disappeared how about “Mayberry RFD”? Top 4 its first two years, top 20 the last year. Outside of occasional MeTV showings, it’s gone totally out of memory. After all how many people are jonesing for a Mayberry show that doesn’t have Andy, Opie, or Barney but does find room for Howard Sprague?

    1. mikehagerty

      Alvaro: Gotta remember that AOR was morphing out of freeform, which played (in addition to rock) jazz, bluegrass, R&B, country, blues, folk and even a bit of classical in the early days). A lot of people think that was purely a late 60’s thing, but KSAN in San Francisco didn’t abandon it until 1978, when they went more purely rock (they ended up flipping to Country in 1980).

      Jazz and jazz-rock fusion was having a moment in the 70s, so it was among the last of the non-rock elements to die off. Ultimately, consultants like Lee Abrams focused on a core of top-selling rock album artists to the exclusion of everything else. I would say anything outside what you’d consider mainstream rock was gone by ’82/’83.

  3. Chris Herman

    “WZZQ [Jackson, Mississippi] would not have been the first or last station to trade a bird in the hand for two that it thought were in the bush. Nevertheless, it seems deeply weird for a heritage album-rock station with strong ratings and market exclusivity to enter a four-way battle and expect to do better. This feels like a change that’s officially about one thing but actually about something else. For example, stations have been known to change format because of the owner’s personal taste, profits notwithstanding. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but it could have.”

    Just out of curiosity, I did some internet research on how well the change went. Apparently, it did well enough to last 39 years since they’re still a country station. They changed the call letters when they changed formats to WMSI. Here’s the station’s web site below.
    https://miss103.iheart.com/

    Here’s the Wikipedia page:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WMSI-FM

  4. Thank you, gents. I don’t want to write posts that run 2,000 words because most people don’t want to read them, so I appreciate your various amplifications. I would add the following:

    “Mayberry RFD” was the Decades Binge a couple of years ago and it was utterly unwatchable. Even in the worst pop-culture product, it’s usually possible to see what the attraction might be for someone. With that show I honesty couldn’t telll what it might be now. In its day, In its time I am betting it was post-Andy Griffith goodwill and the desire to escape the roiling 60s, but on the Binge it came off sugary, sentimental, and sometimes downright insulting to the intelligence of the more sophisticated 2017 audience. It has nothing to say to anybody under the age of 80.

    Mike’s comment on the narrowing of AOR music libraries gets to something I’ve believed for a long time. In a slivered marketplace where you can make money with a 4% share of the audience, it’s probably more important for stations to preserve that share and not drive away any of it than it is to increase it, because whatever you do to increase could be risky. Before the slivering of the audience, formats could be inclusive. Now they’re exclusive. They’re more about not driving people away than they are about bringing people in.

    Good on WZZQ for making a go of country music lo these many years, but it was still a weird move to make at the time.

    1. Wesley

      Speaking as someone who lives near the supposed location where Mayberry RFD was located, I can attest to the fact that it didn’t last long in reruns in this area after it went off in 1971. While The Andy Griffith Show repeats easily drew 75% of the viewing audience and became late afternoon staples in most of North Carolina, Mayberry RFD petered out quickly. I think it was telling when they had the Mayberry reunion in 1986, there was absolutely no reference whatsoever to Ken Berry’s character and his storyline. The show that replaced it at 9 p.m. Eastern Mondays on the CBS lineup was another one that hasn’t held up well either even though it got huge ratings at the time, Here’s Lucy starring Lucille Ball.

      1. Wesley

        Sorry if this seems a little obsessive, but you had me intrigued enough to look at an episode of Mayberry R.F.D., and oh my gosh, Ken Berry is calling Frances Bavier’s character Aunt Bea even though she’s not related to him! They really did want this to be The Andy Griffith Show Without Andy!

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