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: