Llamas for Sale

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(New rule: just as we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of Linda Ronstadt, it is now decreed that we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of llamas, either.)

On a slow afternoon recently, I wandered through the edition of The Billboard (as it was known) for the week of October 10, 1960.

Item: WLEU in Erie, Pennsylvania, described as “one of the most outspoken anti-rock stations,” recently presented a public funeral march to a dock on Lake Erie, where 7,000 “so-called rock and roll disks were dumped into the drink.” The station even rounded up a celebrity guest, “gospel thrush” Mahalia Jackson. The story says, “Miss Jackson, holding up some of the ‘drowned’ records retrieved by skin divers, commented that: ‘They’re all warped, just like rock and roll.'”

Comment: Mahalia Jackson, whose voice could bring down walls, was hardly a mere thrush. She died in 1972, and she would been surprised at her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence.

Item: The magazine has over a dozen pages of news and advertising about fairs, festivals, rodeos, and carnivals. The ads are fascinating: fairs seeking carnivals and carnivals seeking fairs, as well as ads for carnival jobs, rides, games, concession supplies, and anything else an operator might buy or sell. A classified ad offers two Bengal tigers ($3,000 for the pair), two male llamas, a kangaroo, and a dromedary camel (“7 years old, docile”). Another classified reads, “Attention Dolores Prest—phone your attorney, Rex Chatterton, Groton 54, reverse charges, very urgent.”

Comment: My guess is that Dolores was among the traveling carnival folk, and putting an ad in the carnival section of The Billboard seemed like a good way to find her.

Item: A small display ad for Tamla/Motown Records, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit 8, Mich., phone TRinity 1-3340, plugs Tamla releases by Barrett Strong and Mabel John (“Willie’s Little Sister”), with their catalog numbers. Also mentioned are Motown 1002 and Motown 1003, “Custer’s Last Man” by Popcorn and the Mohawks (“A Real Smash!”) and “Bye Bye Baby” by Marv Wells.

Comment: It’s weird that the ad doesn’t mention the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” newly out on Tamla, although Barrett Strong was just coming off the label’s first national hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” “Marv Wells” was a typo; “Bye Bye Baby” was the first single by Mary Wells. Richard “Popcorn” Wylie and the Mohawks included future Funk Brothers James Jamerson and Eddie Willis and future Motown writer/producers Lamont Dozier and Norman Whitfield. “Custer’s Last Man” was a parody of Larry Verne’s current hit “Mr. Custer,” about which there’s more below.

Also: kids, ask an elderly person to explain the “8” in Motown’s street address and the phone number that looks like a typo.

Item: An ad calls the Kingston Trio “America’s #1 album artists,” and they are. String Along tops the both the mono and stereo album charts, and Sold Out is in the Top 10 of each. On the mono chart, comedy albums are thick: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart is #2, The Edge of Shelley Berman is #8, and the Top 10 includes two albums by Brother Dave Gardner, Kick Thy Own Self and Rejoice Dear Hearts. Also charting: two albums each by Woody Woodbury and Jonathan Winters, plus one by Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez.

Comment: Brother Dave Gardner’s Allmusic.com biography, written by Cub Koda (which is fabulously entertaining and worth your time), calls Gardner “a Southern Lenny Bruce” and “Billy Graham with a sense of humor.” Gardner was a native of Tennessee, discovered by RCA Records mogul Chet Atkins cracking wise from the stage while working as a drummer. His most famous bit was “The Motorcycle Story,” which he recorded a couple of times, and which has lost something in translation since 1960.

Item: “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne has taken over the top of the Hot 100 from “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis, which is now #3. “Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke holds at #2. Lining up behind them are “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, and “Devil or Angel” by Bobby Vee. Slipping out of the Top 10 this week are “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis and “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures.

Comment: In a bracket of the worst Billboard #1 hits of all time, “Mr. Custer” would be a top seed, and I am no fan of Connie Francis either. But the top of the chart is more than redeemed by Sam Cooke, the Drifters, and even “The Twist,” and “Walk Don’t Run” might be the best of them all.

Sex and God

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(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.

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.

Head Shops and Jukeboxes

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(Pictured: Aretha at the Grammys, March 1971.)

There are moments—more scattered and less frequent than they used to be—when the summer of 1971 comes vividly back to me. I’ve written about it a lot over the years: about being a full-time child for the last time, about how radio school was in session, about the family vacation we took that year. Here’s more, from the edition of Billboard dated June 19, 1971.

—United Artists Records will showcase some of its artists on one night at the Hollywood Bowl later this month. Tickets will be 99 cents each with no reserved seats. Scheduled performers include Canned Heat, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sugarloaf, and War. UA estimates it will cost $25,000 to stage the show. All groups will work for union scale.

—UA has also taken a full-page ad to plug the band Cochise, their album Swallow Tales, and the single “Love’s Made a Fool of You.” UA calls the song “2:47 of screaming excitement. Already Cochise entered the Top Ten at WLS in Chicago and went to #1 in Peoria at WIRL. Rock and roll is NOT dead.”

—For the first time, head shops in Chicago are stocking classical recordings. Most head shops are mom-and-pop operations, and they want to stock music not found in the big national outlets. Young listeners are being exposed to classical music by free-form FM stations, some of whom are incorporating it into their programming.

—Some jukebox operators are not stocking certain big hits, either by customer request or at their own discretion, including “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer and Shipley (marijuana references), “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” (controversial Vietnam content) and “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin (“too frantic,” according to one bartender). “Timothy” by the Buoys (cannibalism) has been yanked from some jukeboxes also, but one supplier in New Orleans says, “I wish I had bought more of it.”

—In Madison, Wisconsin, “Timothy” was rejected by jukebox supplier Pat Schwartz of Modern Specialty Company, but she says she was guided by local radio station WISM, which elected not to play the record. She expresses concern about “Bitch,” which backs the current Rolling Stones hit, “Brown Sugar.” She noticed it while typing jukebox labels. “This is a word I won’t allow my children to use, and yet here it is the flipside of the #1 record on the Billboard Hot 100.”

—An ad in the Radio/TV programming section is headlined “We Believe in the Tooth Fairy.” An impressive list of stations is already running the two-minute comedy serial produced by Chickenman creator Dick Orkin, including WLS/Chicago, WQAM/Miami, WDGY/Minneapolis, WKBW/Buffalo, WRIT/Milwaukee, and WOLF/Syracuse.

—Since January, Canadian stations have been required to program at least 30 percent Canadian-made musical content. Certain stations have found a loophole, counting as Canadian several R&B records by American artists, produced by Americans in American studios, but with rhythm tracks laid down in Toronto. Detroit/Windsor station CKLW counted Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” as Canadian content because two session musicians on it were born in Canada. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission is expected to refine the rule.

—Aretha Franklin is #1 on the Best Selling Soul Singles charts with the double-A sided “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “A Brand New Me.” Aretha Live at Fillmore West is #1 on Best Selling Soul LPs, where Marvin Gaye’s new album, What’s Going On, makes a strong debut at #5.

—On Hot Country Singles, Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” is #1. Just one song is new in the Top 10: Stonewall Jackson’s cover of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” currently a big pop hit for Lobo. Reed’s album, also titled When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, is #2 on Hot Country LPs, behind Merle Haggard’s Hag.

—On the Easy Listening chart, “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters is in its fourth week at #1.

—“Rainy Days and Mondays” is one of several records leap-frogged this week by Carole King’s double A-sided “It’s Too Late”/”I Feel the Earth Move” which goes from #6 to #1 on the Hot 100. Also jumped: last week’s #1, “Want Ads” by Honey Cone; two other former #1 hits, “Brown Sugar” and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night; and Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” King’s album Tapestry is the new #1 on the Top LPs chart, knocking Sticky Fingers by the Stones to #2.

Perspective From the Present: “Love’s Made a Fool of You” kicked every ass in the neighborhood 49 years ago and still does. Episode 1 of The Tooth Fairy is here.

The Static of Decades

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(Pictured: Herb Alpert on stage in 1967.)

Because 2020 is a horror show, let’s seek refuge in the edition of Billboard dated June 3, 1967, the front page of which has a story about the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival, set for June 16-18. It says that artists have consented to play for free, with proceeds going to charity.


—Station owner and Top 40 pioneer Gordon McLendon has been arguing recently for a stricter “code of record standards” to keep questionable content off the air. A recent article about the McLendon campaign brought this comment from a radio executive in Louisville who says it’s necessary to protect young people during their “formative years”: “In reviewing our records at this station, we came across a new record by the Grass Roots, titled ‘Let’s Live for Today.’ This record has a lyric line in it that says: ‘Baby I Need To Feel You Inside of Me.’ Needless to say this record will not be heard on our station.” An executive in Denver is willing to compliment the McLendon stations only up to a point: “It is amazing to us that any operator could have been playing the records of which Mr. McLendon speaks all these years and not realize until now that he has been pandering to the youth of his communities.”

—WOR-FM in New York, in conjunction with several college radio stations, has learned that the most popular “olden goldie” among college kids is “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Tonite Tonite” by the Mello-Kings placed second and third.

—An executive at Los Angeles Trade Technical College is trying to persuade the administration to start “a jukebox class.” The article does not specify exactly what the class would entail, or what jobs one might be better equipped to get after taking it: selling jukeboxes or fixing them.

—From the “Situations Wanted” column: “Third endorsed, 20 yrs. old, English major, now in LA college, will relocate, summer or longer. 8 months’ experience in Top 40 and FM. Ohio: I’ll see you soon. All others bid fast.” Let’s break that down a little. “Third endorsed” refers to a third-class radiotelephone operator’s license with an endorsement that allows you to operate a transmitter. Back then, you needed a third to get on the air practically anywhere; the endorsement involved answering an extra set of technical questions on your FCC exam. So a “third endorsed” is a very basic credential, one step up from “have driver’s license.” The most precious part, however, is thinking that somebody with eight months’ experience is going to spark a bidding war for his services. Yeah, probably not. But ’twas ever thus: young broadcasters overselling their potential and/or raw talent in hopes of getting a job. I did it myself.

—Aretha Franklin sweeps the charts this week: “Respect” is #1 on the Hot 100 and the R&B singles chart, and I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You is #1 on the R&B album chart. The blue-eyed soul of the Young Rascals has broad appeal this week: “Groovin'” is #2 on the Hot 100 and makes a strong move on the R&B singles chart from #22 to #12, while their album Collections sits at #5 on the R&B album chart, even though “Groovin'” isn’t on it.

—The I Never Loved a Man album is #2 on the pop album chart behind More of the Monkees and just ahead of Bill Cosby’s Revenge.

—At #4 on the Hot 100 is “Release Me,” the first big hit by English crooner Engelbert Humperdinck. Although Humperdinck will become one of the superstars of easy listening over the next decade, “Release Me” makes little impact on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart. It’s in its second straight week at #32, after two weeks at #33. (Read more about him in this space next week.) The #1 Easy Listening hit is “Casino Royale” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which has knocked the Sinatras’ “Somethin’ Stupid” to #2 after three weeks at #1. “Somethin’ Stupid,” which spent a month atop the Hot 100 in April and early May, is hanging on at #16 on the big chart in this week.

I couldn’t place “Casino Royale” by its title, but as so often happens with easy-listening hits from the mid 60s, I knew it as soon as I heard it. Mother and Dad’s radio came back through the static of decades, loud and clear.

Welcome Back

I was amusing myself the other day at American Radio History, as one does, poking through the edition of Radio and Records dated May 21, 1976.

Item: “Dean Hallem, PD of WRNW of Westchester, New York, has done some heavy investigative reporting and claims to have discovered that the cut ‘Memory Motel’ on the current Rolling Stones album is in fact a real place in Montauk, Long Island. He called the owner, invited her to the radio station, and conducted an in-depth interview in which she shared with the station’s listeners an extensive history of the motel. One of the fascinating points that she brought up is the fact that many years ago a young boy had died at the motel and that’s why it’s called Memory Motel. There’s even a plaque on the premises commemorating the situation. Dean doesn’t want to hog this valuable information so he taped the interview and is willing to share it with other [album-rock radio stations] around the country. Stations wishing to obtain a free [copy] should call him. . . .”

Comment: One hopes Hallam’s “in-depth interview” eventually got to the interesting parts of the story. The Stones spent some time at Andy Warhol’s estate in Montauk during 1975, and they caused quite a stir. They supposedly visited the Memory Motel bar one night to drink and play pool. The owners didn’t like them, but Mick and Keef found the place memorable enough to title a song after it.

Item: “As any good production man knows, editing is actually quite an art. Witness the new action on the Manhattans release ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye.’ Before the edited version, it was tough getting Pop/Adult airplay. Things now seem much brighter for continued airplay.”

Comment: The edit to which R&R refers involves snipping off the original’s long, spoken introduction and starting the record after the last of it: “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye,” which made the record a lot more palatable to adult-contemporary and Top 40 stations. It worked: “Kiss and Say Goodbye” would end up one of the biggest hits of the year.

Item: “KFXM/San Bernadino’s new CB request line is serving a dual purpose for the station. During peak traffic periods in the area, listeners can use their CBs to call the station with trafic conditions. Reports can’t be directly rebroadcast over the air, so the caller’s name and report are taken off the CB and mentioned on KFXM.”

Comment: I am not entirely sure how a CB radio request line would have worked; presumably the station was monitoring a single CB channel and telling listeners to use it to contact them. I suppose that once I got used to it, having to respond to CB radio calls in the studio would be no worse than answering the telephone, although maybe the newsroom was monitoring CB chatter just as they would have done with police scanner traffic. That would, however, require a busy reporter to take time out of the day to tell me that Becky from San Berdoo wants to hear “Boogie Fever.”

Item: Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the big chart on the back page of the magazine (seen at the top of this post; click to embiggen) was fairly static. Songs receive a bullet if they are gaining in popularity among reporting stations, but only 14 of 40 songs on the chart get one. “Silly Love Songs” by Wings holds at #1 for a second week but maintains its bullet; “Welcome Back,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” and “Shannon” continue to hang on right behind. “Disco Lady,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Show Me the Way,” three of the biggest hits of the spring, are still getting airplay, as is “December 1963,” which first charted in the winter.

Also on the back page is a list of active album cuts, which many Top 40 stations would have been mixing in, especially at night. It includes three cuts from Led Zeppelin’s Presence: “Hots on for Nowhere,” “Candy Store Rock,” and “Royal Orleans.” (Although it’s now considered a minor entry in the Zeppelin catalog, Presence was extremely popular on radio in 1976.) The list also includes Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” which would have been the live version from his then-current Here and There album.

Comment: If I ever think of anything new to say about the hit music of 1976, you’ll be the first to know.