Monday, October 14, 2013

53 Years Ago Today

We've saluted the very first WLS Silver Dollar Survey numerous times over the years ... but as our Salute to the '60's is winding down, I figured we'd take another look today on the 53rd anniversary of this once great, powerhouse AM Top 40 giant.

After years of being known as the Prairie Farmer Station, Sears and Roebuck (the World's Largest Store ... hence the call letters WLS) sold the station to ABC (incredibly back then The Agricultural Broadcasting Company) in 1928.  Most of their broadcasting day was still geared toward rural America, featuring daily farm reports and weekend specials like "The Barn Dance".

Things remained status quo until the late '50's when it became apparent that America was changing ... and radio had to adapt along with it.  In late 1957, WLS became a "wholly owned subsidiary" of ABC, The American Broadcasting Company, after being an affiliate station for the past several years.

And then on May 2nd, 1960, a MAJOR change occurred ... after months of teasing about "the new WLS", they officially pulled the switch by playing "Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles ... and a Top 40 Giant was born.

Five months later, on October 14th, 1960, they published their very first Silver Dollar Survey, a Top 40 Ranking of the most popular songs in Chicago.

Right off the bat, WLS made it clear that they were singing their own tune ... sitting in the #1 Spot that week was "Shortnin' Bread" by Paul Chaplain, a song that rose no higher than #82 on The Billboard Chart!

The rest of The Top 20 was pretty reflective of what the rest of America was listening to ... but this opening statement showed that WLS dared to be different.  

In a move that has never been properly explained, their SECOND survey was issued with a date of October 15th ... a DAY later rather than a week later as it should have been.

Sitting at #4 was "Ruby Duby Du" by local talent Tobin Matthews, a record that hadn't even made the chart a week (a day?) before.  It would top the WLS survey a week later.  The Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs classic "Stay" had jumped from #12 to #1, a position it wouldn't reach on the Billboard chart for another five weeks.  Not only was WLS playing rock and roll, but they were setting trends and helping to shape the course of this music across the country.

Their 50,000 watt signal could be picked up on a clear night all over the nation ... to this day, we continue to hear from radio fans that regularly listened to WLS from hundreds ... and even THOUSANDS of miles away!

Today we salute the 53rd Anniversary of the first WLS Silver Dollar Survey in Forgotten Hits ... all part of our 60 Day Salute to the '60's!!! (kk)  

You can get the COMPLETE History of WLS Radio on Scott Childers' amazing (and lovingly-put-together) site here: Click here: WLS The Bright Sound Of Chicago Radio

And enjoy some reminisces from John Rook, legendary programmer who kept the station at the top of the ratings during his tenure there: Click here: John Rook -
You'll find more on the WLS Surveys here:
Oldiesloon (the complete history of the WLS survey, but in re-typed editions) Click here: wlsyear   

And, of course, our FH buddy Ron Smith has literally written the book(s) on the history of the Chicagoland charts ... Click here: WLS and WCFL Chicago Top 40 Charts by Ron Smith  

The first WLS Survey came out in 1960 ... but their biggest, most memorable years were still to come ... throughout the '60's, '70's and early '80's, WLS was a KEY station nationwide, bringing us iconic radio personalities like Larry Lujack, Ron Riley, Art Roberts, Dick Biondi, Clark Weber, Bob Sirott, John "Records" Landecker, Fred Winston, Brant Miller, Chuck Buell, Kris Erik Stevens and so many others that often transcended the music itself.  We listened just as much to hear THESE guys as we did for the songs.

It truly was a different era ... and sadly there's nary a trace of it left in broadcasting today.  But in its day, WLS was one of the "bigs" ... an industry leader.  Today we salute you ... and your legacy.  (kk)