(Pictured: the Bangles, 1986.)
December 31, 1986, was a Wednesday. Newspapers today report new developments in the Reagan Administration’s arms-for-hostages scandal, and concerning its plan to develop a space-based missile defense system. The maker of AZT, the only drug shown effective against AIDS, says that shortages of the drug are likely once it becomes commercially available in 1987. Tonight, all three networks lead their evening newscasts with a fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that kills 96 people. A scholar who has been tracking war deaths year-by-year since 1950 says 221,000 people died in the 19 wars fought in the world during 1986.
Three college football bowl games are played today. At the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, #14 Baylor beats #16 Colorado 21-9; in Birmingham, Alabama, Florida State beats Indiana in the All-American Bowl 27-13; and at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Virginia Tech beats North Carolina State 25-24 on a field goal as time expires. Five traditional New Year’s Day games will be played tomorrow, although all eyes are on the Fiesta Bowl Friday, with unbeaten Miami and Penn State, ranked #1 and #2, playing for the national championship.
On TV tonight, CBS presents The New Mike Hammer, Magnum P.I., and The Equalizer; NBC airs the King Orange Jamboree Parade from Miami, sitcoms Gimme a Break and You Again (starring Jack Klugman and John Stamos as father and son), and St. Elsewhere. ABC has Perfect Strangers, Head of the Class, Hotel, and Dynasty. After the late local news, all three networks present their annual New Year’s Eve programming: Happy New Year America on CBS, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC (starring the Bangles, the Commodores, and the Miami Sound Machine among others), and Johnny Carson on NBC.
“That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends is #1 on Billboard‘s Top 100 of 1986. At WBBM-FM in Chicago, the #1 song is “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer. Across town at WLS, it’s “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald. McD is also #1 for the year at WPLJ in New York, with the Patti Labelle duet “On My Own.” At WCAU in Philadelphia, #1 is “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. At album-rock station KSHE in St. Louis, the top song of the year is “Dreams” by Van Halen. At WXRT in Chicago, a listener poll names Peter Gabriel’s So as the top album of the year. Billboard‘s top album of 1986 is the self-titled debut by Whitney Houston.
Perspective From the Present: On December 23, I had spent my last day on the payroll at WKAI in Macomb, Illinois, after which we drove to Michigan to spend Christmas with Ann’s family. When we returned to Illinois on Sunday the 27th, I discovered that all evidence of my presence on the radio station had been erased. Although there was no open animosity between my bosses and me, neither was there any kind of going-away lunch, beers after work, nothing. I simply handed over my key and walked out the door. I was glad to be going because I had a new job in a bigger market; they were glad I was going because they wanted to be rid of me, I guess. We spent the next couple of days getting ready to move, but on Wednesday the 31st we drove to Wisconsin, where we spent New Year’s Eve with the group of my high-school friends known as the Crew. As I wrote in 2007, “What had begun in 1977 with half-a-dozen guys, two cases of beer, and two bags of chips ended with six or eight couples and enough food and booze to service a cruise ship for three days.” We were soon back in Illinois to pack the U-Haul truck, and on the first weekend in January 1987, we left for the big city: Davenport, Iowa, where I had a new radio job at the elevator-music station. My first day was Monday, January 5. I would work there for three years, and we would live in the Quad Cities area until 1997.
Ann and I could have been perfectly happy staying in the Quad Cities for the rest of our lives. We did not, of course, later ending up in Iowa City and eventually in Madison, both life transitions far more significant than the one we made 35 years ago this week. But of all the transitions, “small-town disc jockey packs up his wife and his life and moves to a bigger market and a better opportunity” is the most romantic of them.