I Like to Rock

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(Pictured: Bo Derek in the movie 10.)

Here we go with the customary dive into the Bottom 60 of the Top 40 featured in a post last week, from February 9, 1980.

41. “Looks Like Love Again”/Dann Rogers
56. “Better Love Next Time”/Dr. Hook
62. “Three Times in Love”/Tommy James
65. “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again”/George Burns
85. “Where Does the Lovin’ Go”/David Gates
87. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”/Willie Nelson
91. “Holdin’ on for Dear Love”/Lobo
Many of the songs popular during the winter of 1980 put me back into the studio at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa, where I worked my first paying radio job. It was a fabulous place for a young broadcaster to start, with a lot of talented veterans to learn from. At the time, however, I am pretty sure I neither appreciated it enough nor learned all that I could have. (The latter is kind of disturbing, because as it was, the young idiot I was learned a lot.) The station’s music format was mostly country most of the time, although it played a lot of pop records too (Dann Rogers, Dr. Hook, Tommy James, David Gates, and Lobo among them, as well as Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, Dan Fogelberg, and Neil Diamond from the week’s Top 40). “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again,” which made the KDTH phones blow up, went to #15 on Billboard‘s country chart, and “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” would hit #1.

48. “Flirtin’ With Disaster”/Molly Hatchet
50. “When a Man Loves a Woman”/Bette Midler
51. “I Thank You”/ZZ Top
54. “Back on My Feet Again”/Babys
57. “Cool Change”/Little River Band
58. “Voices”/Cheap Trick
59. “You Know That I Love You”/Santana
61. “Can We Still Be Friends”/Robert Palmer
67. “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”/Aerosmith
70. “Rockin’ Into the Night”/.38 Special
71. “Come Back”/J. Geils Band
73. “Baby Talks Dirty”/The Knack
78. “Jane”/Jefferson Starship
80. “I Don’t Like Mondays”/Boomtown Rats
82. “Even It Up”/Heart
90. “I Like to Rock”/April Wine
96. “Babe”/Styx
97. “Dirty Water”/Inmates
99. “Head Games”/Foreigner
107. “You Won’t Be There”/Alan Parsons Project
But my weekend job was a sideshow to the one I cared about the most: being program director of the campus radio station. It had been a Top-40 station when I started on it a year earlier before an uncomfortable semester as an album rock/R&B/funk/jazz hybrid. It had gone to a full-blown album-rock format in the fall of 1979. When I took over, we expanded the library to something like 2,000 songs, going deep and wide on what we considered to be the best AOR artists, but at the same time making sure we frequently played the strongest AOR cuts: your Free Birds, Laylas, and Stairways to Heaven.

I was not especially interested in new music discovery, and I wasn’t alone. Most of us wanted to play the hits. I left the programming of current music to the station’s music director, at least at the beginning. We would eventually have our disagreements, as his taste was vastly different from mine. What I perceived as input he perceived as meddling—and vice versa. It occurs to me now that, like the KDTHers, he was somebody from whom I could have learned a great deal. But while I recognized that people at KDTH had a lot to teach me, I walked around the campus station as if I already knew it all.

As I have said before, it’s a wonder I have any friends left from that time.

(“I Like to Rock” borrows riffs from the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and the Stones’ “Satisfaction” just before the fade. I’m not sure I noticed that 41 years ago, but I did while writing this post.)

49. “Give It All You Got”/Chuck Mangione. When “Give It All You Got” hit the chart in January, we already knew that it would be ABC’s theme music for coverage of the 1980 Winter Olympics, which opened during the week of this chart.

81. “Lost in Love”/Air Supply. Someday I will assemble the entire list of songs I have claimed to be completely irrational about.

86. “Peanut Butter”/Twennynine Featuring Lenny White. After leaving the fusion band Return to Forever, White formed Twennynine to play R&B and funk music. “Peanut Butter” was a big R&B hit but would stall at #83 on the Hot 100.

101. “Ravel’s Bolero”/Henry Mancini. “Ravel’s Bolero” was famously used in the movie 10, which had been released the previous fall. I didn’t see it until I moved off campus and my TV-engineer roommates pirated an HBO subscription. I don’t recall that it left much of an impression on me. It would have taken more than Bo Derek to get me to stop thinking about radio.

11 thoughts on “I Like to Rock

  1. mikehagerty

    Yeah. Of every song listed here, if I were to play one just to listen to it, it would be “Lost In Love”. I hate everything else Air Supply ever did. But there’s something in the way they sell that last chorus that I just cannot resist.

    I was 24 when “10” came out. Even then, I was thinking to myself “as soon as she opens her mouth to speak, she’s gonna be a letdown” and realizing that Julie Andrews (!) would have been the much smarter choice.

  2. Alvaro Leos

    So a question to both JB and posters in general: what is the best way to run a college/high school radio station? Should they aim to present music, whether that be “college rock” or classical, that the audience likely wouldn’t hear otherwise? Should they try to be more mainstream, so they can train people better for future jobs in the industry? Or these days, is is better to focus on NPR-style news and leave the music to someone else?

    1. What’s best for a high school or college station depends entirely on the station and its goals. When I went to college, my school had a broadcasting program, so the goal was to give people the skills and education to get jobs in the media. The way for us to do that was, in my view, to try and duplicate the sort of experiences people would have once they got out into the paying-job world, so they’d know what they were doing when they got there. We programmed AOR since it was what our audience of peers was most likely to be into. But we also had full news, sports, and public affairs departments to provide opportunities for people whose interests lay in that direction. With the acquisition of marketable skills as the goal, the music was to a certain degree immaterial. We could have done it with country, disco, or even classical. If we had felt that music discovery was important, we’d have done that, but we did not. I know of only one person whose experience at my school was music-programming-intensive who made a successful career of it (and few of us would have bet on that person 40 years ago).

      (Sometime in the late 80s Rolling Stone published a positively infuriating piece about college radio, in which students who wanted to be artist managers and record-label executives were lionized. Several were quoted denigrating the students who “just want to be on the radio,” as if those seeking media education were the dilettantes, and as if massaging the egos of David Geffen wannabes was the reason college media existed.)

      I am hoping Professor O’Kelly will have time to weigh in with his current experiences teaching and advising radio and TV at the college level. But it occurs to me that training people to spin tunes and crack wise on the radio, a big part of what we did back in the day, is not especially useful in the current media environment. Today it’s probably better to help kids develop broadly transferrable skills that they can use in not just in broadcast radio/TV, but in podcasting, video production, and even corporate communications. We did that to a certain extent back then, but there are more avenues available now.

      1. First – fantastic post, and I appreciate the discussion. (And I resemble that guy when I became PD of my college station. What is it about young men in college radio carrying on like the guy who gets handed a walkie-talkie at Taste of Your Suburb and put “in charge” of an area?)

        There’s no one good “right way” to run a station. A book I might recommend for those interested is College Media: Learning in Action, which in part discusses the “teaching hospital” model of student media. My chapter in the book is a pre- and post-college discussion with my students about how well they were prepared for work in media after college. (Spoiler alert: they wanted more structure than they got.) Perhaps a library near you has this one, as it’s not at the top of the Amazon best-seller list.

        I have long argued – since my days as a student – that the college radio station should serve multiple audiences. Block programming is probably the best way to achieve this and provide something for all interested parties. Break new music? Sure, if that’s what students/the listening public want. Stick to safe records so that jocks can prepare a demo? Absolutely. Our comparatively low-priced degree is now north of $50k, and students want to know that they have something tangible in hand. Prepare future journalists? Of course, for those pursuing that end of the business.

        What I tell my students: I don’t care what you play; I care THAT you play. Take a chance. Experiment. Be creative. A few years ago an old hippie wrote a fun piece on our station for an indie paper, and was disappointed that the students were playing mainstream hits. “Aw, you’re SUPPOSED to play new music!” he intoned. After asking who said we were supposed to do anything, I pointed out that even if we matched, song-for-song, the local iHeart canned Top 40, our station would be providing a valuable service to the student community. It would be students talking about things that matter to their fellow classmates. Being hyperlocal, I argued, was more valuable than any specific playlist decision. The writer came around (a bit).

        To JB’s point – yes, the more skills the better. This is where a well-defined curriculum, in which a radio station plays one part, can come into play. There’s other variables even to that: who controls/pays for the student media outlet? It’s easier to “require” things if an academic program is in charge than if student affairs runs it. (My current station is the latter, where I serve at the pleasure of the students. I can suggest they do certain things, but at the end of the day it’s a club paid for with student fees and they make all content decisions. That’s why there’s so damned many sports talk shows these days.)

        Perhaps the most important function student media provides isn’t specific job training. In a fantastic book called “College Radio Days,” in which Tim Brooks chronicles 60+ years of student broadcasting at Dartmouth, he shares a fantastic story. Brooks learned that only about 5% of those who did radio went on to media careers, but 95% of those surveyed (and it was a big pool) said that their experience was crucial to their success in the field they did eventually choose. Enhanced ability to communicate, sure – but the top reason given was “I learned how to work with people I didn’t like.” We don’t teach that enough at any level, and yes, you’ll have to do it. (And I thought academia would be different than radio.) But it’s important to remember that the radio careers of an overwhelming majority of college DJs ends at commencement. It’s how they apply the skills they gathered that matters.

        OK – we should get back to the music. My internal clock still knows when the stopset is ending, and this one looks like CBS Radio in the 90s.

  3. Yah Shure

    I didn’t join my university’s radio station until I was a junior, and then ended up hanging around for six years. It was tons of fun, but the main reason I stayed so long was to get a shot at the music director’s chair. The station’s MD was my age and had already been in the position for nearly two years. He’d inherited a station receiving scant record service, heavily into the Vogues and the Lettermen and turned it completely around. Disagreements over music policy weren’t overly frequent, but that was partially due to others’ fears of losing record service if he split. His style of running the department was autocratic, and as much as I volunteered to help, whatever crumbs I could get were largely clerical in nature.

    I took a year off school to work full-time, in the hope of eventually getting in the door. After over four years in the MD position, the newly-elected GM made it clear to the incumbent that he wanted me to take over the department. When the MD proposed to train me in over the course of the next quarter, I finally ran out of patience, because that would have left me a grand total of two quarters in the position. We parted company when the quarter ended, and for the following year, I ran the ship in the opposite direction, delegating albums to staff members to review and, after the year ended, limiting my role to singles director.

    I ran into my predecessor twice over the next 30-plus years; once at two former co-staffers’ wedding and a couple decades later at a station reunion, where we had a nice, but too-short chance to talk. Fifteen years ago, I decided to anthologize as best I could, all the music we’d played at the station during my tour of duty, and reached out to him to see if he was interested in joining the project. “Most of these were your babies!” was what I told him about the bulk of the songs he’d discovered that had become staff favorites. He eagerly accepted.

    We’ve been very close since then, even though we live hundreds of miles from each other. The most rewarding part of reconnecting after years apart was that finally being free from the authority role tension that had never allowed us to really mesh together back in the day, we became actual friends. I stayed in the business much longer than he had, and it’s fun to share that experience with him.

    We were also finally able to verbalize our different philosophies in running the music department: his was that he handled all of the record reviewing, because he didn’t want to miss out on anything. Mine was that the station’s purpose was to provide a hands-on learning experience to all who were interested in the music, beyond just being on the air.

  4. Wesley

    I did the PSAs at my college station, which focused on alternative rock during the 1980s. Being as ignorant as I was of the genre at the time, my backing music consisted of some generic synthesizer activity as I read the copy. Took me an hour to get it correct and convinced me that I didn’t have the talent, personality or voice needed to be on the radio. A good lesson learned. I just hope there’s no copy of that production around anymore.

  5. TimMoore

    When I saw the title,I thought of April Wine.. and there they were..great rock song and video.. and filmed in the same studio as Rush used for a couple of their videos…And the same German Shepherd I believe…rock on

  6. John Gallagher

    A local college station, WERG-FM, has won numerous awards over the year. I had worked with their GM at a couple of local stations. He lets the staff do their thing, programming and music, and they do a damn good job at that.

  7. John Gallagher

    I have absolutely no recollection of the Lobo track. Even though it got to #13 on the A/C chart, I don’t think the A/C I worked at in 1980 played it.

    1. mikehagerty

      Me either, John. I was programming KOLO in Reno at the time, we did give some of Lobo’s singles during that time some play—but that one rings no bells at all.

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