My Appointment (Listening) Book Through The Years
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
This essay, My Appointment (Listening) Book Through The Years, was written by Sean Ross for Radio-Info.com's Programming & Music column.
An Instant Request from Ron Gerber, host of KFAI Minneapolis’ Friday night “Crap From The Past.” He asks about “favorite music specialty shows of all time. I’d like to hear your thoughts on ‘American Top 40’ and its mid-’80s imitators (Rick Dees, Scott Shannon, ‘Countdown America’), Barry Scott’s ‘Lost 45s,’ Dick Bartley and Cindy Barton’s shows, ‘Open House Party,’ Westwood One’s ‘Future Hits’ from the late ’80s, Dr. Demento, ‘King Biscuit,’ the glorious weirdness of WFMU [New York], and whatever else you currently enjoy.”
It was interesting that most of the shows on Ron’s list had indeed been appointment listening for me at some point in my radio geekdom. For the most point, I always hoped my travels would take me to a market when a station wasn’t in special programming. But even for me, there were appointment shows.
Usually, they met one specific need—songs that weren’t otherwise on the radio, preferably unknown to me, and available with less hunting than during the week’s regular listening. It wasn’t just syndicated shows. It was the Top 30 countdowns on CKLW Detroit or WKBW Buffalo, N.Y., or various “Make It Or Break It” features. And even then there was a penchant toward exotica; Dick Bartley’s Saturday night oldies show was playing too many hits. Jim Heddle’s short-lived Saturday night show on WAAM Ann Arbor, Mich., in the early ’80s taught me more records. And while that exact reference will likely elude most readers, many have their own likely equivalent.
A lot of my specialty show/appointment listening was heavily influenced by location. I listened to Herb Kent and the late Richard Pegue for R&B Oldies when I was in Chicago. I listen to Felix Hernandez (WBGO/WRKS) and Hal Jackson (WBLS) now that I’m back in New York. “Open House Party” is still a show I associate with being out of town on the weekends, although I only have to be about 15 miles east of home to hear it now.
Most of my appointment listening fell aside at various points once a category of music became accessible—I started working in the industry and didn’t have to wait until Sunday to hear brand new songs, for instance. Or adult life intruded and there wasn’t three hours to sit around on Sunday and wait for the British charts, especially when the British hits were available 24/7 (and not much different from their U.S. counterparts). That said, radio boosters will be happy to know that there are still a half dozen shows I might check out over the course of the weekend, including “Crap From The Past,” even though I could just go hunting for, say, new or old British hits on You Tube. Having somebody else do the legwork still helps.
That full list of my current specialty show listening, by the way, is going to have to wait for part two of this column—it’s too prone to possible sins of omission, and the list has been growing because so many of our readers host their own shows. (Even on this list, I’m sure I’m leaving some out.) But here are some thoughts on Ron’s list and a few other key shows over the years. And I’m eager to hear about your appointment listening.
And now, Ron, here’s your Instant Request:
“American Top 40” – The Casey Kasem version wasn’t my first exposure to national charts, or to records that weren’t being played in the market, but it was an easy way to follow both. Even for those readers who didn’t go as far as creating their own charts as teenagers, “AT40” is probably responsible in some way for many being in the business. It stopped being a regular listen once I was in the business and had long heard any song that might chart. (That was probably also the reason I never became a huge follower of other Top 40 countdowns in the ’80s; I liked hearing Scott Shannon and John Lander, but I was more interested in hearing them on their regular jobs.)
“American Country Countdown” – A big part of my Country discovery phase in the late ’70s. Made a comeback for a while in the early ’90s when I was programming R&B Oldies and didn’t have the same access to new Country music.
“The Robert W. Morgan Special of the Week” – As more of a Top 40 than Rock radio person during the late ’70s/early ’80s, I gravitated toward this short-lived artist spotlight special. One of the first long-form shows with more trivia on a given artist than “AT40.” And with my education in the business only beginning at that time, I had only a vague sense that Morgan was famous for anything else.
“Dr. Demento” – Discovered during a still-fertile time for novelty songs and recorded comedy, when it was pretty much the only place to hear comedy on the radio. Every now and then I would meet somebody who I didn’t think shared my sense of humor and they’d drop a reference to “roly poly fish heads” and I’d have to reconsider them. I’d long lost access to “Demento” by the time it left broadcast radio, but I was sorry to see it go.
“Rodney on the ROQ” – On my own volition, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Rodney Bingenheimer on KROQ Los Angeles in the early ’80s. But friends with better taste did, and I spent many years trying to hunt down some of the songs heard there that were too goofy for even the usual KROQ format.
“The Countdown With Walt Love” – Walt “Baby” Love was my boss/mentor at R&R and an on-air hero because of WXLO (99X) New York. For a while, “The Countdown” shared a writer/producer with Dr. Demento, but there was a lot of riffage in this R&B countdown and a lot of the appeal was that it didn’t have the scripted-within-an-inch-of-its-life feel of other syndication.
The BBC World Service Countdown – A truncated version of the top 40 survey that ran on BBC1—it ran a half-hour and played no more than 6-7 songs out of the top 20. But in the early ’80s, an exceptional time for the U.K. charts, it was the only place to regularly hear British-only hits.
“Future Hits” – Its attraction for me was also the brief feature where Joel Denver counted down the British top five, even though all you got was snippets of the hits (and even those could be songs that were American hits, too).
“Lost 45s” – Barry Scott’s still-running show would have been a regular Sunday night listen for me if I had been in Boston at the time. When it came along in the mid-’80s, the pop ’70s were still in exile and the idea that anybody would want to play them again was unthinkable. And I do stream the much-deeper-than-what’s-on-the-broadcast-radio version when I have the time.
The real BBC Top 40 countdown. Taped by a really good friend in the early ’90s. Then I listened again in the late ’90s/early ’00s when I could stream it. Has fallen by the way partially because they’ve adjusted the format and play fewer of the 40 songs, also because there seems to be more overlap with our charts now. Recently, though, it’s been supplanted by Richard Todd’s “Classic Retro Countdown”—same chart from this day in say, 1971—on Atlantic Oldies 2NG.
“Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” – Proof that everybody makes the move from music to news at some point. It did become a regular Sunday morning listen. Since then, it’s moved to Saturday morning in my area, up against two other appointment shows. And while I could download it as a podcast, I’m still not caught up on the podcast of the CBC’s advertising history show, “The Age Of Persuasion.”