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of this series that you may have missed)
Today we're doing a brief interview with Ron Smith, one of the original voices and braintrusts behind Chicago's Real Oldies Radio Station.
One of the more innovative attempts at oldies radio occurred here in Chicago a few years ago when Real Oldies 1690 was launched. (Unfortunately, MOST of us didn't even know our AM radio dials went UP to 1690!!! And, when they did, the signal wasn't very strong ... and it was often difficult to listen through all the static ... but, if you persevered, what you DID hear was a whole bunch of music that hadn't been played on the radio in DECADES!!!)
I asked our FH Buddy Ron Smith a little bit about the early days of the station ...
What was the opening day on-air line-up for Real Oldies 1690?
5 AM - 10 AM: Tommy Edwards and Larry Lujack
10 AM - 3 PM: Scotty Brink
3 PM - 8 PM: Ron Britain
8 PM - Midnight: Ron Smith
Midnight - 5 AM: Len O'Kelly
Weekends: Herb Kent and Jerry J. Bishop
That's some pretty heavy duty on-air talent, all with significant ties to Chicago's radio past. It was SO good to hear some of these voices on the air again ... although I will admit that it was unusual to hear Larry Lujack and Ron Britain ... deejays I grew up listening to here in Chi-Town ... playing music that predated their OWN glory days of radio! Early on, Real Oldies 1690 concentrated on oldies music that predated 1965 ... covering instead the earliest days of rock, mixed in alongside all of the "pop" hits that were still so popular during this era. (kk)
FH: What was the original vision regarding the radio station's playlist? (It seemed to be only music before 1965 when the station first signed on ... and, even then, The British Invasion was completely ignored ... then, later on, the "blueprint" seems to have expanded to about 1969 and featured lots more "local rock" hits as well.)
FH: The most frustrating thing for me was WANTING to listen and then losing the station signal to a simply unlistenable pool of static. (In fact, I couldn't even pick it up INDOORS!) The patter of Tommy Edwards and Larry Lujack was SO entertaining in the morning on the way to work that I'd find myself suffering through the static trying to catch a glimpse of ANYTHING they were saying, rather than tuning into a different radio station with a clearer signal ... now THAT's "appointment radio"!!! (lol) Quite honestly, it was the first time I'd listened to anything on the AM dial in DECADES!!
FH: I, for one, was extremely disappointed when the station decided to throw in the towel. (Incredibly, they're still streaming on the web ... without any live deejays ... playing all the music that Ron Smith programmed into the computer way back when!) Rumors ran rampant for weeks about what the station was going to do next ... and then the fateful announcement was made ...
RS: Clear Channel was finally able to lease the frequency to WVON for about as much money as we were bringing in but without our overhead. But I'm proud to note that WVON's ratings have never come anywhere near what ours were. Clearly we outperformed the signal. And if we had stuck around long enough for the Portable People Meters (which measure actual listening instead of recalled listening usually a week later) to be used for ratings as they now are, I think we'd have had some decent, if not outstanding, numbers.
Magic 104 FM (where Ron Smith ALSO worked with Dick Biondi) signed off unexpectedly when JACK-FM took over their signal. (Believe it or not, WJMK 104.3 FM is still streaming oldies on the web, too ... without any deejays!!!) There have been rumors for years now that (with Jack-FM's rating tapering off), somebody may be primed to pick up the signal and start programing REAL oldies (if not "Real Oldies") again, especially since WLS-FM's True Oldies Channel has also fallen into the pattern of playing more and more '80's and even some '90's music. (The local spin of Chicago's True Oldies Channel deprives of us hearing The Scott Shannon 24 / 7 Show heard in many other cities across the country and on the web. This is ESPECIALLY frustrating when Scott is doing his specialties weekends ... oft-times projects that we've helped out with in some fashion ... and better than 12 hours are missing due to "local programming"!!!) Meanwhile, Y103.9 (also the victim of an incredibly weak signal ... but broadcasting loud and clear on the web) offers a viable alternate to oldies programming, playing more and more of the songs that traditional oldies stations ignore. They're also real big on listener input and requests ... and indications are strong that Chicago listeners WANT to hear more and more of the stuff that's a little off the beaten path of the beaten-to-death oldies regularly being shoved down our throats. (kk)
Meanwhile, we also came across this recent interview that WLS-FM General Manager Michael Damsky did with Rick Kaempfer's Chicagoland Radio blog. In what falls into the "perfect timing" category, Damsky (responsible for both WLS-AM and WLS-FM, which is the Chicagoland version of The True Oldies Channel), sat down with Rick Kaempfer last week and discussed his philosophy on how HE feels oldies should be presented today. I think you might find this kind of interesting:
"I think that the old model for oldies radio was to recreate the type of
radio that people went to high school with — you not only played the music, you presented it with the talent they remembered, like the guys you mentioned — who are all great talents.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, the deejays mentioned by Kaempfer included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston and John "Records" Landecker, all of whom ... incredibly ... thanks to the huge number of radio positions eliminated recently due to syndication and automation ... are available for a prime spot on the radio again ... and all of whom were HUGE names on Chicagoland Radio in the past.) kk
What we’re trying to do is frame the music a little differently. We’re not just trying to present the music to the people that listened to it originally. This music has an appeal beyond that audience -- people of a slightly younger generation who love the music from shows like Jersey Boys or American Idol. For them, the presentation needs to be slightly different. We’re taking the opportunity to broaden the appeal to a younger generation, still playing the music those older listeners like, but presenting it in a way that the 35 year olds can relate to."
I agree 100% that there is an untapped audience of younger listeners out there who are PRIME oldies radio candidates ... the catchiness of this music blows away ANYTHING being recorded today ... and there seems to be a never-ending opportunity here to convert these youngsters to oldies music fans. The way this music is being featured in movie and television soundtracks ... Broadway Shows and TV Shows like "Glee" and "American Idol" ... along with all kinds of advertising commercial campaigns ... being played non-stop at amusement parks, shopping malls, pizza parlors and birthday parties ... it's a NATURAL for building your next generation of oldies music fans. And honestly, why WOULDN'T they like it? It grabbed OUR hearts at a tender young age, too ... but I disagree that this music needs to be presented in a modern-day "more music hour" format. I think that as these kids discover this great music, they (like us) will want to learn more about it and explore it deeper than the only 200 or 300 tracks we're allowing them to hear. That "education" is how you build an audience ... and, once you do, chances are you've got 'em for life ... and they will expose THEIR children to this music and, pretty soon, for generations to come, kids will still be singing along with Buddy Holly, Peter Noone and Frankie Valli ... because it's FEEL GOOD MUSIC ... plain and simple. (kk)
TOMORROW IN FORGOTTEN HITS:
We step away from the "What Is An 'Oldie'"? theme for a few days and interview Eric Lefcowitz, author of a brand new book on The Monkees called "Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band" ... followed up with some weekend comments. And, speaking of comments, please keep yours coming in on this hot new topic ... we've still got HUNDREDS to read through and edit ... so we'll pick up more of this discussion again next week in Forgotten Hits! (kk)