Wednesday, October 16, 2013

WLS Wednesday

Good response to our WLS Anniversary piece the other day ...   

And I was especially pleased to hear from some of the elite on-air personalities who did so much to help shape the station.

Here are just a few of the comments we received ...

You struck a nerve with your mention of WLS, Chuck Buell & Dick Biondi & the Silver Dollar Survey.  In the daytime we got local stations, i.e., boring.  But as soon as the sun went down in Virginia, far southeast of Chicago, the radio 'band' changed & the local stations would go off the air or give static, & we'd excitedly switch to WLS, WKBW, &  Boston & we could also get some country stations in West Virginia & Cinncinnati 1, Ohio.  Never satisfied with just one station, we dial twitched between them all so we could always hear our favorites ... & there were so many great songs playing all the time.  Our least favorites would be number 1s now, & we were so opinionated about what merited our devotion.  How spoiled were we?  Thanx!  

Hi kk; 
What fun to go back to the very beginning of WLS! A lot of pride went into that station. I even enjoyed Rook's slightly skewed recollections. There's no question that he moved WLS forward ... however he neglected to mention that in the end even his New York ABC mentor Hal Neal refused to take his calls. 
Clark Weber  
Maybe so ... but after he left WLS and moved down the street to WCFL, he made THAT station #1, too ... so this guy clearly left his mark here in Chicago.  (It's amazing to me sometimes in hindsight how many jocks moved from one station to the other ... and in many cases, back again.  We seemed to have a pool of "super jocks" here in Chicago ... in addition to Super Jock himself ... that kept us entertained all over the dial in the '60's.)

By the way, Clark Weber has written his OWN book on the glory days of WLS ... and the FUN days of radio ... which is a "must read" for all fans of Top 40.  You can pick up a copy here:  
Click here: Clark Weber's Rock and Roll Radio: The Fun Years, 1955-1975: Clark Weber, Neal Samors, Foreword by Neil Sedaka, Je   

Clark also sent us this blurb, which comes from The New York Times ...   

FYI: The old home of WLS Radio, the former Stone Container Building at Michigan and Wacker and now known as the London Guarantee Building, was recently purchased for 53 million dollars.  Sad to report that it is currently boarded up and is being converted into a 400 suite hotel. It's understood that the 5th floor contains the ghosts of Gene Taylor, Sam Holman , Ralph Baudin  and Art Roberts  who can be found in the conference room dining on Green Goddess salads sent up from the London House.

Hi to all those who remember the great years of WLS. 
My name is Dex Card … and I am very proud to have been host of the Silver Dollar Survey in the mid-60’s.  My time at WLS led to great success in concert promotion … and later radio station ownership in Wisconsin.   
I have been retired and living in Florida since 1993.  I’m approaching an 81st birthday, but still healthy and happy. We all know there will never be another WLS. 
Thanks for sharing the memory.   
Warm regards,  
Dex Card
The first thing I did every afternoon when I got home from school was flip on Dex Card's Silver Dollar Survey Countdown ... I loved it.  (Scroll back and review our 60 Day Tribute to the '60's and you'll see that I still have a thing for countdowns!!!)  Thanks so much for writing in, Dex!  (kk)   

Nice piece on WLS. The older I get, the more I have to rely on OTHER people to collect the history I was a small part of.   The effort is really appreciated!  I wonder if anyone else other than Dick Biondi could do it again ... do we have the energy?  Doubtful.  And it's a strange feeling that Biondi, Jim Dunbar and I are the only remaining three of the Seven!  The clock doth tick and tick!
Bob Hale 

Those initial "Magnificent Seven" included Bob Hale, Dick Biondi, Jim Dunbar, Sam Holman, Gene Taylor, Mort Crowley and Ed Grennan ... SO many great names followed.  Perhaps the first time they really marketed the line up as "The Swinging Seven" came shortly thereafter ... and we had a virtual "Who's Who" of radio personalities to choose from ... Art Roberts, Mort Crowley, Jim Dunbar, Dick Biondi, Gene Taylor, Bob Hale and Clark Weber, all picture in the ad below.  These jocks became known all over the country ... and for those of you who don't know, Bob Hale was the MC of The Winer Dance Party the night Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper played there in February, 1959 ... the night the music died.  (kk)

Today in "Forgotten Hits," you wrote about the first "WLS Silver Dollar Survey."  As a former On-Air Radio Guy of "The Big 89," seeing a copy of that first October 14, 1960 hit list was really interesting! 
Also interesting is your pointing out that "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."  
To date, that may be one of those great so far unanswered historical trivia questions much like the "misspelling" of Elvis' middle name on his tombstone used to be. (Aron in person; Aaron in passing).  As that mystery was successfully explained, then surely someday this one can be as well!
You also accurately pointed out that the "WLS 50,000 watt (clear channel) 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!"  
So true! When the "Chuck Buell Show" was on the air each week night in Chicago between 6 and 10 PM, I would often get calls and letters from those who picked up our evening atmospheric "skip" from far, far away. One night, for instance, I got a call from some high schoolers who were listening to me from the top of some mountain in or around Los Angeles over TWO thousand miles away from Chicago!  Another night, I received a phone call from some enlisted guys who would from time to time pick up our AM signal in their radio shack on a US NAVY destroyer stationed off the coast of Vietnam nearly EIGHT Thousand miles away!  That's right. A pure radio broadcast and an unboosted phone call! Remember too, this was well before the Internet. They told me they figured their phone call that began in their ship's radio quarters was then being routed to a land base near Saigon to a communications distribution center then either across a submerged oceanic phone cable or up to the Telstar Communications Satellite and back down to a ground base stateside then into the U.S. phone system's network across the country on to the Chicago phone system and finally to the phone I was holding in my hands into which I was yelling into because we could barely hear each other over the phone's consistently crackling static! Whew! 
During the years I was with WLS, the Engineering Department told me they would get DX cards on an on-going basis from all over the U.S. and some 40-plus foreign countries too! 
Good times!  
Chuck "Dah-Buell-Ell-Ess" Buell   

Enjoyed seeing a copy of the first weekly radio survey that WLS put out on this day back in 1960. Always like to notice what records were played there and played or sometimes the case, not played here in OKC.
To my knowledge and recollection and I believe I am correct, Paul Chaplain's recording of SHORTNIN' BREAD never made our survey, though I do have a copy of it, along with future versions by the Bellnotes and Blisters.
The #14 song by the Playmates WAIT FOR ME, was a big big record here in OKC.  I also noticed coming in at song position #27 was very early Aaron Neville with OVER YOU which did make our survey.
Somewhere back around 1957, give or take, radio station KOCY 1340AM here in OKC was playing the traditional rock and roll format. They decided to drop it. When they did, station WKY 930AM picked up the format a few months later. To my knowledge and recollection, and again I believe I am correct, WKY started printing their weekly top 40 radio surveys beginning with the week of August 14, 1958. At the top of the survey was the call letters WKY with 930 Spot underneath. The printing was surrounded on the left and right by the words 'authentic' and 'top 50'.
They did have a playlist of 50 songs with the #1 song being NEL BLU DI PINTO DI BLU by Dominico Modugno. The #50 song was DANCE ON by Anita Bryant. At the bottom of the playlist was a record picked as the  "PICK HIT" and that was Roger Williams instrumental NEAR YOU.
About three weeks later, they would add a third column indicating what song position the record had the week before. Several months later they would add another column indicating what label the record was on.
Again, always enjoy seeing surveys from other cities and towns. Always like to see what made and didn't make those surveys which were played here in OKC.
For your extra added information, WKY's last survey was for the week of August 1, 1979.  The number one song was MAIN EVENT by Barbra Streisand. It had a playlist of 29 songs with four songs listed at the bottom designated as "hit bound".
I am fortunate enough to have a copy of every survey for every week of the years included.  I like to think that I have a written history of sorts, of the music which was played here in OKC.
Larry Neal 

The Wax Museum
I was shocked to read the other day that in addition to topping the WLS Chart in 1960, Paul Chaplain's version of "Shortnin' Bread" was also a #3 Hit on CHUM in Canada!
The number of songs listed on the WLS Survey varied quite a bit, too ... everything from 45-50 to as few as 15 by the mid-'70's ... but the BIGGEST difference was the impact the station had on other stations and radio programming across the country.  Back in the early days, the station prided itself on being the first station to play a new hit record by a hot, new artist ... but by the mid-to-late '70's, we were often playing "catch-up" with records that had peaked nationally weeks and even months ago.  Instead of an industry leader, we became a follower ... and didn't accurately represent the tastes of our city the way we used to.  This was most indicative by the shrinking number of local acts represented on the charts.  Whereas the '60's surveys were chock full of artists like The New Colony Six, The Cryan' Shames, The Ides of March, The Buckinghams, The American Breed, The Flock and others, this policy all but evaporated by the mid-to-late '70's.  Although I DO remember "Loved By You" by The Kind being a sizeable hit here in the early '80's, despite never charting nationally.  (kk)    

With Forgotten Hits focusing on the early 60's this week, I thought I'd dig out some things worth while for the blog.  Here's a little something that ties in with your 1960 - 1963 tribute segment.  
Even back then WLS occasionally played "souvenirs" for a week, since these weeks were often great ratings boosters.  This particular clip features Ray Charles' #1 "I Can't Stop Loving You", which only ranked at #62 on my own tabulations of top songs of the 60's from the Silver $ Survey rankings.   
Often, WLS chose a week during the year, such as the above, BUT also often played oldies during the last week of the year or on January 1.  They started playing and listing the Top 20 song of the previous year in 1965 and by 1967 were playing a top 89 chart of the top hits off the survey throughout the year, somewhat replacing the year end "890 Million Dollars of Music" weeks that had covered ALL of the past years hits.  The oldies weeks did continue to be aired in various parts of the years into the 70's.  Of course, WLS started doing "The Original Souvenir Weekends" in the later 60's. 
Attached is some aircheck audio courtesy our FH friend Ed that I listened to just last week.  Like me, Ed recorded songs (he did not buy) from WLS.  I cut out some bits from Dec 31, 1963 / Jan 1, 1964 that showcase the "890 Million Dollars of Music" vault.  Hmm, at $1 a 45, that's 890 million 45s!  This was the days when they gave away Silver Dollars to news tip winners!  The days when the Riley / Weber feud was taking shape.  You will hear Ron pretending the Cookies were Weber's wife "Cobra" saying to Ron, "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My baby."  These were the days when Riley's on air foil (before Chickenman on CFL), "Bruce Lovely" was forced to sit outside the studio on the window sill during Riley's shows.  Someone has complained about Riley having a "Heart of Stone" for not letting Bruce inside.  There's our FH buddy Freddy Cannon being played as an oldie 50 years ago!  Sorry 'bout that, Freddy.  Your music still resonates around the country!  Just listened to "Jump Over" recently and it just rocks!  You'll hear the temp of 14 degrees as the New Year rings in 1964. 
A great time to be listening to WLS!
Clark Besch

Like thousands of others, I spent many hours listening to WLS at night -- their air-personalities were always Major-League!
Tim Kiley

Here are the first two WLS surveys ... clear reproductions if you want them to use For October 15th. I made them up to look like the first surveys. See attached.  
Bill Hengels

I've been a WLS Survey Collector for as far back as I can remember ... I used to pick up the chart every single week and had a near complete set of originals (from 1965 - 1972 anyway) until they stopped printing them for distribution and posted a "display version" for in-store use only for a chunk of '72 and '73.  Along the way, I met several other collectors and over the years (through trades and xeroxes) we were able to put together a 100% complete set.  (We even found a guy who used to go into the stores in the early '70's and write down the entire list.  Then our FH Buddy Bill Hengels ... see his email above ... transposed those into what look like the charts of the day, circa '72 / '73.)  
Early on I got ripped off by a couple of college kids who claimed they were doing a research paper on the history of Chicago radio ... and needed a few charts to use in their report, promising to return them as soon as they were done.  (My dad found their ad in the newspaper and suggested I help these guys out ... "after all, you've got all these scraps of paper lying around anyway".  [Actually, they were neatly kept ... in chronological order ... in a shoe box at the time.])
So, naive, trusting soul that I was (and under enormous pressure from dad to "do a good deed"), I turned over a good chunk of surveys for research purposes ... all never to be seen again.
Years later I thought that I would run my OWN ad ... see if there was anybody else out there as crazy as I was ... and not only replace the charts that were stolen from me but also try and collect all of the charts I was missing.
It was through this advertisement that I met Jack Levin, a lifelong friend ever since, who STILL makes a decent chunk of money selling WLS charts at record shows and through eBay.  (Who would have EVER thought there was this kind of market out there for this stuff ... these free hand-outs that radio and record geeks like us held on to for 50-some years!)
But there is ... and continues to be.  Our search soon expanded to include all of the WCFL charts (they, too, stopped publishing free surveys for a little while in 1968 and 1969 ... but again, there were enough of us out there compiling data to enable us to recreate those charts, too.)
Soon we were collecting earlier Top 40 charts from WJJD, WIND, WGN and others ... and ill-fated attempts at a Top 40 Chart by the likes of WBBM-FM who, in 1973, put out a pretty amazing chart of their own (albeit for a VERY short period of time.)  We even found Top Ten lists printed in the Friday edition of the old Chicago American Newspaper that allowed us to dip back to late 1955 / early 1956. 
We've got collectors on our list that have shared charts from all over the country and all over the world.  (FH Reader Clark Besch just sent us a batch of Canadian charts that we featured on the site a few weeks back showing how The British Invasion affected our Northerly Neighbors.)

Thanks to books like Joel Whitburn's more and more chart collectors are springing up all the time ... and, incredibly, we're still finding new sources of inventory.  (Some of these guys must have picked up 50 copies every week ... and never thrown a single copy away!)    

While searching for other collectors online, I happened across this article from The Chicago Reader promoting a library appearance by that same Jack Levin several years ago to talk about the art of WLS Survey Collecting.  I sent it to him and got this response ...
Click here: Cool and Collected: WLS playlists chart the history of pop | Calendar | Chicago Reader    

Wow - has it really been 11 years since Rick, Ron and myself hosted that discussion at the library? At he time I didn't know that I would be moving from Chicago within three months. We held two discussions and actually I was a bit shocked that two dozen or so folks came to hear the three of us ramble on about such a geeky thing as radio surveys. (Maybe not as geeky as I think. After all, that's how Kent & I met too many years ago to count). Rich did make copies of EVERY WJJD, WLS, WCFL and any other local chart I had then. I don't even want to think about how many more thousand, (well over 10,000) surveys I've picked up since then. One of these days, when I'm in town, I should check it out, to see if those binders are still there. Sadly Rich Potts passed away a couple years back. 

Over the years, I got profiled a couple of times in the local papers for having such an unusual hobby, too.  In fact, a columnist for The Chicago Sun Times (who actually did a regular feature spotlighting antiques) contacted me once and did a brief Q&A on the phone ... and then ran an entire article on the subject of radio station survey collecting, encouraging other collectors to contact me if they were interested in selling their collections.  (Whodathunkit?!?!?) 

Anyway, a few more charts from over the years to wrap this up.  Some very special memories indeed.

For years, Ron Smith has talked about putting together the ULTIMATE Chicagoland Chart Book, gathering up ALL of the relevant and pertinent charts of the '50's, '60's, '70's and '80's and collecting them all into one volume that would spell out the COMPLETE history of the Chicagoland Charts, ranking peaks for each station side-by-side.  One can only hope that someday he'll see this vision through ... man, would I LOVE to have a book like that! 
In the meantime, you can pick up copies of his OTHER books, spotlighting the WLS and WCFL charts in complete detail, available here: