(Pictured: Whitney Houston at her mother’s house in the summer of 1985.)
Let’s go inside the edition of Radio and Records dated August 23, 1985. This one would certainly have ended up on my famously messy desk at the Top 40 station in Illinois 35 years ago this week.
Item: Citing the First Amendment, the FCC has reaffirmed that a radio station in Dodge City, Kansas, should not be punished for broadcasts encouraging violence agains Jews, blacks, and other minority groups. The commission will hold a hearing on whether the station’s license should be renewed, however, but that hearing will not consider the racist broadcasts, only the legal difficulties of the license holders, Charles and Nellie Babbs, including suits against them for copyright infringement and defamation, and garnishments for failure to pay state taxes. Civil rights groups are outraged. One attorney says that the facts of the hearing order alone are enough to revoke the station’s license.
Comment: A competing company persuaded Charles Babbs to drop the station’s renewal bid in exchange for $10,000, and the station went dark.
Item: WZKS in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has been fined $10,000 by the FCC for failure to maintain a main studio in Murfreesboro. The “main studio rule” is, according to the Commission, “one means of assurance that the needs and interests of the community are met and that the station serves as an outlet for local self-expression.” WZKS had a waiver that allowed it to program mostly from Nashville, 30 miles away, but it was required to maintain a full-time management-level employee in Murfreesboro and originate news and public affairs programming from there. The FCC charged that the station had been violating the main studio rule for a year before the waiver was issued, and that afterward, it stuck to the conditions of the waiver for only about a month.
Comment: The FCC eliminated the main studio rule in 2017 because of course it did.
Item: A column titled “Employee Turnover—Who’s at Fault?” discusses some of the problems radio stations face in hiring and retaining good talent, on the air and off. Columnist Charles Warner suggests “strong leadership, clear lines of authority, and exact directions” are better than “do as I say, not as I do” management. He says says managers should be more realistic with potential employees about what each job entails: “Too often managers sell their dream, not the job’s reality.” Stressing experience over raw talent in hiring can “perpetuate other people’s mistakes.” He lists a number of areas in which managers could be more sensitive to the needs of their employees: work environment, social dynamics, recognition, job expectations, and even self-actualization.
Comment: At no point in Warner’s 1200-word piece does he say “Pay them more damn money.”
Item: Owners of KFRZ-FM in Brigham City, Utah, have decided not to change call letters to KSEX-FM. Meanwhile, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, WIBS has tweaked its format to play 75 percent Christian music, and has changed its call letters to WGOD.
Comment: There is no KSEX, although a station in suburban Chicago used WSEX through much of the 80s, and there was a WSEX in Puerto Rico as recently as 2016. WGOD is still on the air in the Virgin Islands.
Item: The #1 adult-contemporary song this week is “Cherish” by Kool and the Gang; #1 urban is “I Want My Girl” by Jesse Johnson’s Revue, nosing out “Saving All My Love for You” by Whitney Houston, which has been #2 for four weeks. “Lonely Ol’ Night” by John Cougar Mellencamp is the #1 AOR track. On the AOR albums chart, Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting, and the Back to the Future soundtrack have been 1-2-3 on the chart for the last four weeks, the latter on the strength of two Huey Lewis cuts, “Back in Time” and “The Power of Love.” “The Power of Love” is #1 on the Contemporary Hit Radio chart for a second week; the rest of the Top Five are also holding: “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” by John Parr, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” by Tina Turner, “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams, and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”
Comment: A number of records from 35 years ago this week have never been off the air since then, and not just “The Power of Love,” “Summer of ’69,” and “Freeway of Love,” but “Money for Nothing,” “Cherish,” “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” “Take on Me,” and others. They’re heard so much today that they’ve lost their ability to evoke that bygone summer, but that’s OK. Other songs still do.