Hot Stuff

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Local radio charts were usually ahead of Billboard‘s. It makes sense; Billboard was tabulating data from across the country, gathering it via the telephone and having to adhere to a print deadline. Even in a city the size of Chicago, a music survey was closer to the street, and it included more than just sales information. The fine print on the 10/25/71 WLS survey I posted last week says, “Records listed on the WLS Hit Parade are selected by WLS after evaluating and considering record sales, listener requests, and the station’s own opinion of their audience appeal.”

Billboard‘s data had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was local demand for records created by local airplay. The two hottest records in the country at this moment 50 years ago were John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. “Imagine” is new on the Hot 100 at #20 for the week of 10/23/71, but it’s in its second week on the WLS chart and likely got airplay before it charted. At WLS, “Shaft” was in its third charting week, having gone from #26 to #16 to #9. It had debuted on the Hot 100 at #50 during the week of October 16, and then took a mighty leap to #9 on 10/23.

Elsewhere, “Baby I’m a Want You” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself” debut on the Hot 100 in the same week they first appear on the WLS Top 30. Several other records WLS was charting were still making their way into the Billboard Top 40 in the same week. “What Are You Doing Sunday” and “Charity Ball” are at #43 and #44 respectively; “Everybody’s Everything,” “Two Divided by Love,” “Absolutely Right,” and “You Think You’re Hot Stuff” are farther down.

Similarly, several songs that are still in the Billboard Top 40 have left the WLS survey of the same week: “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Smiling Faces Sometimes” (which had been #1 on WLS in late August), “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” and “The Wedding Song” are among those gone. And the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” at #17 in Billboard during the same week, never charted on WLS at all.

I have the American Top 40 show from the week of November 13, 1971, in my collection, which has most of this music on it. I don’t know if I’m going to write about it, but I’m damn sure going to listen to it.

OK, new topic.

November 8 will be the 50th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album. One of the only music pieces I ever got paid for was a 25th anniversary retrospective on “Stairway to Heaven,” for which I corresponded with Zeppelin fans and interviewed radio people and a history professor about the song’s impact. The story used to be online; some rando transcribed it for his Zeppelin fansite, but the site doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I should have a hard copy in my pile of clips, and if I find the time to dig through the pile in the next couple of weeks, I’ll post it.

The piece ran in the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch, the newspapers that served the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, where we lived at the time. I forget how I developed a relationship with the entertainment editor; I was working at the classic-rock station, and that may have gotten him to take a look at my stuff. It is also entirely possible that he simply bought a story I pitched cold. He also bought the Elvis piece I posted here a few years ago. (First part here, second part here, third part here.)

Somewhere in my clips, there is also a positively fawning piece about me, written at about the same time by a columnist for the Dispatch/Argus, a guy who doubled as a weekend weatherman at one of the local TV stations. Again, I no longer remember how it came about. I remember it played up the fact that I have a stutter, and that it didn’t adversely affect my radio career. (Sure didn’t; I got a part-time job that paid a whole $6 an hour in spite of it.) It was illustrated by the photo you see here. The columnist was so complimentary of my work that people around the office started asking if he and I were dating.

Amusing anecdotes, yes. But also evidence of roads not taken, either by choice or by chance.

6 thoughts on “Hot Stuff

  1. Wesley

    Write about the AT40, even if it’s just a few lines. Your commentary on it always is enlightening to the masses, even if you may not think so.

    And good luck on finding that Led Zeppelin piece you wrote. That should be a dandy entry as well.

    Oh man, with 2021 soon becoming 2022, that’ll mean that 1972 will have 50th anniversaries as well. That will really make me feel old. But I’ll deal with it.

    1. mackdaddyg

      I’ll second all of this. I could go for years without hearing anything off of LZ IV, but the article you wrote sounds very interesting. Also, the AT40 pieces make for interesting reading for a guy who was a mere infant when this stuff was current.

      Interesting perspectives on local stations determining their own top 40 list, but it got me thinking…I like hearing airchecks that feature local artists, but man, as time went on, that really fell to the wayside. It’s a pity that stations became so homogenized.

  2. Yah Shure

    JB, do (or did) you normally speak into the microphone 90 degrees off-axis, or was the photo angle done more for the benefit of the camera?

    1. I always speak across the mike at that angle, and I’ve done so for decades. It reduces the risk of popping explosive letters, which isn’t a problem for me anymore, but I keep doing it because I’m old and set in my ways.

  3. I used the same mic technique until I got to the NPR station in Sacramento, where the mics have a foam cover and a windscreen a few inches in front of it. Now I go straight into the mic.

    1. Tim M.

      Same here. Mike. Used to do it off-axis until a friendly Chief Engineer had a nice chat with me. Foam cover, windscreen = no plosive pops.

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