Classic Rock Bottom

WOR-FM, THE FIRST COMMERCIAL FM ROCK STATION PT.8 CONCLUSION

This is it, the final chapter.
I'll finish with that First (and last!) Anniversary Concert at the Village Theater on June 11, 1967.
And that venue is interesting for two reasons- first of all, I lived in that neighborhood at that time, and the Village Theater was nowhere near Greenwich Village.
Greenwich Village was on the West Side of Manhattan, the theater was on 6th St. & 2nd Avenue, what was then called the Lower East Side.
Now known as the East Village, but not then!
Secondly, it was the building Bill Graham later bought and turned into the Fillmore East.
The acts perfectly reflected what WOR-FM was playing by that time, and the station was a huge success with over a million listeners- and the best part was these were primarily college students and young adults who didn't listen to AM or FM...they didn't listen to the RADIO!
WOR-FM had created a new audience!
But the greedhead suits and consultants always want more.
Here's what Alan Sniffen and I have to say:

WOR-FM became extremely popular on college campuses.  It began to carve out an audience that had not been served by radio up until then.  It was achieving decent ratings (for an FM station) without taking audience away from the AM stations by appealing to new listeners.  This was significant. 
Even so, owner RKO wasn’t satisfied.  Bill Drake had been consulting RKO’s two West Coast stations; KHJ in Los Angeles and KFRC in San Francisco.  These were both extremely successful AM Top 40 stations built around the “Drake-Chenault” philosophy of playing just the hits while minimizing almost everything else.  In July of 1967 RKO hired Drake to consult its remaining radio properties which consisted of CKLW, Detroit; WRKO, Boston; WGMS, Washington DC; WHBQ, Memphis and, of course, WOR-FM.
 
The first sense of change came when memos appeared from management dictating to the air staff not to play certain cuts. Next the disc jockeys were removed from the new record listening sessions and not allowed to have input on the playlist. Next the playlist became all singles with only an occasional new record and it had to be from an established artist.
 
Murray the K had the highest rated FM show in New York.  He would have no part of these changes and his protests cost him his job.  He was fired by the station in September 1967.  His parting comment about the changes at WOR-FM was “Who can live with that?  Music has reached a maturity... people in radio are still treating it as if it is for teenie boppers."
 
Murray had a point. WOR-FM was different from the other RKO properties in that it was FM stereo as opposed to AM.  It had built a solid audience by attracting a different group of people.  Giving up on it after only a year seemed premature. Record companies had found the station highly valuable at influencing sales of rock albums especially of new artists and groups like Cream, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  The format was noted for playing new records first, often playing new artists that the local AM stations wouldn't play.
 
But by October of 1967 WOR-FM was changing and targeting the more traditional Top 40 radio audience. The playlist was down to about 30 records.  Other WOR-FM disc jockeys resigned including Bill “Rosko” Mercer who actually quit on the air while commenting that his action had nothing to do with the old management but with the programming consultants who had taken over. He spoke of honoring the respect listeners had for the station and described the new programming consultants (i.e.. Bill Drake) saying "what they're doing is dishonest to us and to you." If there had been any way to continue, he said, "we would have. I did a lot of soul-searching. This has nothing to do with the old management we started out with. We presented a lot of beautiful new things. This has been curbed." He said he couldn't go on with the new policy because people would say: "Hey, Rosko, you're not the same any more."
What is interesting is that it's clear RKO had no idea just what WOR-FM's strengths were.  It would turn out that its progressive rock format was a huge hit to younger rock radio listeners.  On college campuses, it was the single most popular station and its ability to sell new recordings was unmatched. 
It was, indeed, the first niched radio station. 
As Metromedia's WNEW-FM went on to prove in the years that followed, the concept of an FM rock station that plays music beyond the hit list could attract a loyal and significant audience.

Thank goodness WNEW-FM was listening!
They picked up the ball WOR-FM dropped and ran with it.
WNEW-FM became the best Rock & Roll station in the country, probably the world, with the kind of musical freedom I dreamed of.
You will hear Rosko quit on the air in this episode.
But the sad story of WOR-FM will have a happy ending for most who were involved!
And it only took a few weeks for me to get over my depression and be thrilled I had gotten that AM/FM clock radio again, lol!
Hope you enjoyed this journey, and I thank you for getting on the bus with me!

And as always here's the needed link to hear where it began and how it ended, at WLSO.FM:


 
Mike

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Comment by Mike Pell on August 22, 2011 at 5:54pm
RJ,
Surprised me again- you didn't know Janis Ian's Society's Child, and I thought sure you would know the Chambers Brothers' tune, that got a lot of play, more than Otis Redding and it was his song, lol!
Monterrey may not be so well known but Burdon & The Animals do some credible imitations of the artists who appeared there.
The Joan Baez song...well, you had to be there, lol!
Thank God WNEW-FM came along to take its place- I only had a damn FM radio for a few months!
Rosko's commentary said it all on a personal level about honesty, and who decides what we get to hear.
But more than ever that is what the situation is nowadays, with just a handful of corporations owning all the radio stations.
I'll try to check out that article in Rolling Stone magazine about rock radio and it's impending death, see if I can get it online.
Although it died 20 or 30 years ago!
I have a strange but very open theory about NEW music- a song could be from the 1930's or any decade, but if I have never heard it, it is NEW to me!
Works every time!
There are maybe a half dozen radio people I listen to on a semi-regular basis, terrestrial and internet- mostly I listen to myself, lol!
Naturally they all pick their own music to play!
Through them, and people sending me songs or tipping me off about new music are two ways I discover that new music.
And of course the old-fashioned way, I discover it on my own.
I don't have XM/Sirius.
It really does stink, it's a shame there is nothing on regular radio that approaches the excitement of the 60's & 70's with the arrival of new music that was experimental, a lot smarter and more ambitious, far less formulaic, and I hate to say it, but simply much better than today!
For me, the saddest thing about today's radio is that nothing SURPRISES you anymore, it is all so predictable.
So I'll keep carrying the torch forward with my anything-goes presentation where I intend to surprise!
Thanks for listening and writing my man,
Mike
Comment by RJhog (Admin) on August 22, 2011 at 10:52am

Mike,

Nice closing show.  Nothing wrong with the music selection, although I didn't really know any of the songs.  They fit the show perfectly.

 

I love that you played the DJ's commentary at the end.  It's a shame great radio stations had to end, even if another one came along to take it's place. 

 

There is an article in the current Rolling Stone magazine about rock radio and it's impending death.  It's such a shame.  The article is mainly about the death of rock stations that play new music.  It would seem the only two formats available anymore are pop and country.  Well, that's not entirely true.  We still have hip hop.  But seriously, the only rock station in Augusta is a classic rock station.  Maybe part of it is my fault, because I subscribe to XM.  But that's the only way I can hear new rock music in Augusta, Georgia.

 

It really all just stinks!   But luckily we have great shows like yours and also what the members here at Classic Rock Bottom do to keep us loving current rock music as well as the jewels of the past.

Comment by Mike Pell on August 22, 2011 at 8:58am
Jon,
I was still listening in 1982, but not as much- thing were beginning to get stale.
Guess I missed WAPP, although it does sound familiar.
I was pretty much exclusively listening to FM in the 70's, but you AM eh.
I am sure the country station you were listening to was WHN, I tuned in later occassionally.
The Mets have been on a number of stations, I would have listened, but not to Radio Mystery Theater, lol!
WINS & WCBS became All-News, WNBC played Rock & Roll and even had Murray The K and Wolfman Jack at one time.
I listen to everything, and I have a friend who loves the jazz of the 30's & 40's so he has been getting me into it.
He wrote a book on Russ Calumbo and it is now separate writing ones on Louis Prima and Jean Sheperd (now THERE'S a radio guy!).
Glad your mind snapped, lol,
Mike
Comment by Jon on August 21, 2011 at 7:48am

I believe WAPP debuted in the summer of '82 and it was something along the lines of a commercial free summer. I left the east coast at the beginning of September and that's the last I ever heard of them. I think that folks lost interest after the commercial free run was over and then the station was no more.

 

Thinking back on this whole radio thingy, I did not listen to FM radio in the 70's when I was just a stupid young lad. No, I listened to AM radio. THere was a country station I listened to a lot (somewhere on the right of the dial) plus an AM station to the left of the dial that had Mets games plus Radio Mystery Theater which they ran every Sunday I believe.

 

Then I started to move away from country and I think it was WNBC and WCBS I listened to. Between them was maybe WINS? Don't remember exactly, but there were three station in the middle of the dial, my dad listened to the middle one because it always had news and traffic which was good since he had to drive to NY City every morning.

 

I don't recall how I "discovered" FM radio (maybe I got a radio that had FM?) but every Saturday night I would listen to WDHA when they had an oldies hour and were playing mussic from the 30's & 40's. Loved the old jazz and still do to this day.

 

Then my mind snapped and I discovered rock and the rest, as they say, is history..... 

 

 

Comment by Mike Pell on August 20, 2011 at 1:51pm
Jon,
WNEW-FM was the one that did it for me, I listened from Day One!
And they turned me on to more than Rock- as I told RJ, "I was given an education at that station on Folk music that had been going on without my knowledge for years, old Blues, Country especially with Scott Muni playing Johnny Cash all the time, Oldies, Jazz, even Classical now & then.
And each DJ was distinctly different in personality and the music they played- NO playlist.
Unlike today, you didn’t NEED another station if you listened to WNEW-FM, you heard all kinds of music in that one place, and it was a Rock station!
They took more of an intellectual approach."
But WPLJ, (really it was WABC-FM before the name change for their 3 to 4 years of free-form radio), contributed also.
A Black Sabbath song followed by Christopher Cross...well anything can be done if it's in context, lol!
WPLJ was to the left of WNEW-FM.
Odd, but I don't remember WAPP and that commercial free summer.
But do you remember to the right of WNEW-FM, another GREAT free-form rock station that lasted only a year and was in quadrophonic, called WQIV?
Even the name suggested quad- the Q and the Roman numeral for 4!
They bought out a classical station, first song they played was Roll Over Beethoven by ELO, but within a year the FCC after all kinds of legal wrangling allowed the classical people to buy it back!
Ah...radio memories.
Thanks for the "great listen" my friend, I tried to do it right,
Mike
Comment by Jon on August 19, 2011 at 10:23am

WNEW...that brings back memories but from the late 70's/early 80's.  That station basically turned me onto rock as well as WDHA and WPLJ, if I remembering the call letter correctly.

 

In the early 80's, I was listening to a NY FM station, and they played a Black Sabbath song followed by Christopher Cross which I always thought was wild. Such a difference between the two, but to hear them back-to-back was amazing, at least to me. I don't think it was WNEW and, if I remember correctly, it was a little to the left of WNEW on the dial.

 

And then there was WAPP and that commercial free summer....

 

Great listen Mike!

Comment by Mike Pell on August 19, 2011 at 1:17am
Scott,
Yeah, Murray didn't go quietly, he fought them all the way, and even wrote a lengthy newspaper article about what happened at WOR-FM.

Now theres my dream job, New Record listening sessions.  Man! ... to get paid for that would be my personal American Dream.

Honestly, that sounds like a lot of fun, but you have to sometimes weed through a lot of dreck to find a gem.
Although at that time there was so much good and experimental stuff, I am sure it was enjoyable.
But how about if you are the overnight DJ who has to come in to listen in the morning or afternoon, and then catch some zzzz's and do a show later that night?
And I doubt you got paid any extra for it.
Maybe it is a generational thing, but Joan Baez has been around an awful long time, and well before WOR-FM!
I like her, and may do a show on her, but I haven't always agreed with her politics.
As for radio stations playing the top 40, never mind 30, Scott Muni quit the U.S. biggest station WABC AM because they were really only playing about 23 songs and it was driving him crazy.
As it would me, lol!
Thanks for writing and especially giving me the "Great Series!" high-five!
That's always greatly appreciated,
Mike
Comment by Scott on August 18, 2011 at 9:23am

Love Murry the K if no other reason than that parting shot!

 

Now theres my dream job, New Record listening sessions.  Man! ... to get paid for that would be my personal American Dream.

 

I dont think I get the Joan Baez vocal style.  Its maybe a generational thing, but I didnt really feel that tune.

 

If the radio station was playing the top 40 but only had 30 records then ... well, lets just chalk it up to execs decisioning logic, if such a thing exists!

 

Great Series!

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