Tag Archives: WKAI

One Day in Your Life: June 8, 1984

June 8, 1984, is a Friday. Shortly before 1:00 this morning, an F5 tornado strikes Barneveld, Wisconsin, about 30 miles west of Madison. Ninety percent of the village is damaged or destroyed and nine people are killed. Other less-intense tornadoes strike five other locations in south central Wisconsin. The storms are part of a broader severe-weather outbreak that affects eight states. President Reagan is in London for an economic summit. In Boston, the Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-103 to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. With Boston suffering through a heat wave and no air-conditioning in Boston Garden, the courtside temperature at gametime is 98 degrees. The game on CBS is beaten in the TV ratings by a rerun of the ABC detective series Matt Houston. Earlier today, CBS Sports executive Neal Pilson told a group of journalists that of all the pro sports, the NBA is the only one whose ratings have not eroded in recent years.

On the game show Press Your Luck, an episode is broadcast in which contestant Michael Larson figures out a pattern that helps him beat the game; he wins over $110,000 before voluntarily stopping play. (The show had been taped in May.) Producers could find nothing in the rules that let them out of paying him what was then the biggest prize ever won on a TV game show. Jamie Farr and Vicki Lawrence wrap up the week as celebrity guests on the game show Body Language. Other game shows on the air today include Family Feud, The New $25,000 Pyramid (with guest stars Linda Kelsey and Harry Anderson), and The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour.

New in theaters this weekend are Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver, and Gremlins. They will compete with the previous weekend’s top attractions, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In Houston, a concert at the Astrodome billed as the Texxas Jam stars Rush, .38 Special, Ozzy Osbourne, Bryan Adams, and Gary Moore. Billy Joel plays Wembley Arena in London, Joe Jackson plays Kansas City, the Grateful Dead plays Sacramento and David Gilmour plays Chicago. San Francisco morning DJ Dr. Don Rose celebrates his 2,500th show at KFRC.

On the new Cash Box magazine chart due out tomorrow, “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper knocks “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” by Deniece Williams from the #1 spot. All but one of the top 10 singles was there last week—the exception is Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” which blasts to #10 from #19 in just its third week on the chart. It replaces “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel, last week’s #10, which falls to #15. Most of the rest of the Top 40 is pretty static, too, except for “Magic” by the Cars, which blasts in at #27 from #42, “Legs” by ZZ Top at #30 from #43, and “Doctor Doctor” by the Thompson Twins at #33 from #49. “When Doves Cry” by Prince is at #39 in just its second week on the chart.

At WKAI in Macomb, Illinois, two months after getting hired, the new guy is working a split shift. He’s on the AM side from 11AM to 1PM  and he comes back to tend the automated soft-rock FM from 7 to midnight. He suspects this isn’t going to be the case for long—once the station’s new owner takes over, he expects a better shift and plenty of responsibility to go with it, but the sale isn’t final yet. In years to come, “The Longest Time” will take him back to those night shifts, putting in his time alone in the building at a station in the middle of nowhere, because that’s what young radio guys do.

Here’s Billy Joel’s performance of “The Longest Time” (and some other stuff) at Wembley on that night in 1984.

Sunday at the Memories

At my first paying radio gig, in Dubuque over 30 years ago, I worked Sundays from noon to 6. There was a lengthy noon newscast to engineer and a public affairs program to play (“The KDTH Voice in Dubuque” with Gordon Kilgore), but my main job was to run a syndicated program called Sunday at the Memories. It was a nostalgia show featuring music, oldtime radio clips, and other broadcasting ephemera hosted by a veteran Denver jock named Ray Durkee. When I first started running the show, it focused mainly on music from maybe 1945 to 1965, although as time passed, the focus moved forward. One of my favorite moments in broadcasting happened after Sunday at the Memories had moved to a Sunday morning slot, when Ray opened the show with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Five thousand watts of biker rock on staid old KDTH, and at 9:00 on a Sunday morning, was a beautiful thing to me. By the time I stopped hearing the show regularly in the mid 80s, Ray was playing Tom Petty and even Madonna—an uneasy mix with the other nostalgia elements, to be sure.

I met Ray, who died last summer at age 70, when KDTH brought him to Dubuque to MC a listener party and do his show live from our studios the next day. He never knew it, but he was indirectly responsible for getting me fired for industrial espionage. The supposed “meeting in Dubuque,” which made the idiots who employed me in Illinois think I was conniving to steal their corporate secrets, was actually a second listener party, which I’d gone back to attend. (It was, against all odds, such a rager that it was worth getting fired over.)

Later in my career, when I became a program director, I didn’t have to work Sunday mornings anymore, not exactly, although the nature of the program director’s gig is that you’re on call for emergencies 24/7. At WKAI, we hired a new guy to work Sunday mornings, and he was a little shaky on the equipment. His first Sunday soloing, my telephone rang at 5:45, and the conversation went something like this:

Me (groggily): “Hello?”
Bob: “Jim?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Bob: “It’s Bob.”
Me: “Yeah.”
Bob: “At the station?”
Me: “What’s up?”
Bob: “I can’t get the transmitter on.”

After a brief pause, because I wasn’t awake quite enough to process a complete sentence, I ran him through the checklist for getting the transmitter on. “I did that,” he said. “I did that. I did that.” At this point, I dragged myself out of bed and turned on my own stereo, where I could hear the dead carrier wave and see the little stereo light ablaze. “It’s on, Bob.” “Really? OK, thanks,” he said. It was no big deal. I had told him to call if he had any problems, and I was half-expecting it.

The next Sunday morning, however, he called again with the same problem. And so we ran the checklist again. During the week, I got in touch with Bob to make sure he understood what he was doing on Sundays—and then I’ll be damned if he didn’t call me a third Sunday in a row. So the following week, I took precautions. I didn’t want to unplug the phone entirely, so we turned off the one in the bedroom and buried the main extension underneath the couch cushions so there was no way for us to hear it. I don’t know if he called or not, but when we got up at a more civilized hour, the station was on, and all was well that ended well.

I did a regular Sunday morning airshift as recently as 2008. Just as there’s something special about being alone in the station at night, Sunday mornings have a particular vibe as well, although it’s difficult for me to describe it. It’s an incipient sense of possibility, maybe—the promise of a whole day with which we can do whatever we like, even if it’s nothing at all. As busy as we are, we don’t get many of them.

Top 5: Glory Days

When we look back on the summers we remember best, most of them come from when we were in school. That shouldn’t be news to anybody—once we enter the working world for good, we lose the sense of summer as a discrete season unlike the rest of the year. With little to separate it from spring or fall, it blurs. Now, might remember a weekend or a week, but we can rarely call back the season whole, like we could when summer was 12 precious weeks sandwiched between getting out and going back. So when I look at the Cash Box chart dated July 20, 1985, it doesn’t summon up specific moments, or even a whole summer. It brings back a phase of my life that lasted nearly a year, and the group of people I spent it with.

I was working my first commercial program director’s gig in Illinois, presiding over an FM Top 40 station and an AM news-talk station. We had an owner who believed in operating his stations in the public interest, convenience, and necessity, and he encouraged us to make ’em sound good. Not good enough for where we were—a college town of 20,000 in the middle of nowhere—but just good, period. I hadn’t started as the morning show host on the FM yet—that would come during the winter of 1986—so I worked close to a “regular” day, in by 9:30, home around 6. Although I was officially program director and did some on-air work on the AM, the FM was my baby, and my passion. The record chart brings back memories of worrying about the minutest little things, which is what a good program director gets paid to do. I did a better job of managing people than I’d done as a college program director, although in a town of that size, even with a college population to draw from, the staff was going to be a somewhat motley crew.

During some of that time, The Mrs. worked at the station as a copywriter and traffic manager, although for part of 1985 she worked someplace else. We were extremely successful at keeping our working life and our personal life separate—a few of our co-workers didn’t know we were married, even though we shared a last name. Between the two of us, we made practically no money, but we didn’t need much, although we did buy our first-ever new car that year, an ’85 Plymouth Horizon, a boxy gray thing with a hatchback.

And blasting on the radio station’s air that summer, there was lots of big riffage, including. . . .

6. “Would I Lie to You?”/Eurythmics (up from 7). I never cared much for Eurythmics, but I loved the crashing guitars and horny horns on this record. Here‘s the video, featuring the little playlet that started every damn video on MTV at that time.

8. “Voices Carry”/’Til Tuesday (up from 9). You probably couldn’t have predicted Aimee Mann’s future career as cool-and-clever rock songstress based solely on this. Or maybe you could have. I couldn’t.

10. “Glory Days”/Bruce Springsteen (up from 11). Another video, another prefatory playlet. Confession: This record never did anything for me in 1985, and it still doesn’t. I’m not sure why it didn’t move me then, because I considered myself a big Springsteen fan. Now, maybe its putdown of reminiscing about the old days hits too close to home.

15. “Sentimental Street”/Night Ranger (up from 17). This is “Sister Christian” turned inside out, and it sounds really cool to me despite being complete gibberish. Conceptual video featuring several awesome clichés (girl picks up hitchhiking band member in antique pickup truck, band members’ hair as big as the female actresses’ hair, cutting back and forth from the concept to a live performance, guys making guitar-hero face, etc.) here.

20. “The Power of Love”/Huey Lewis and the News (up from 30). The song that signifies the summer, and the most completely satisfying record the band ever made. My station played it 10,000 times that summer, but I never got tired of it.

One night in early August 1985, we drove about 90 minutes to Peoria to see Huey Lewis and the News perform live with the Neville Brothers opening. After playing three encores to one of the most ecstatic audiences I’ve ever been part of, Lewis said, “We don’t know anything else!” As for The Mrs. and me, this wasn’t summer they way we’d lived it when we were in school, but if it was how summer was going to be from then on, it was fine with us.

%d bloggers like this: