Bob Sherwood's Notes, Musings, Comments & Observations!
Bob Sherwood writes:
I have a personal and obviously biased hypothesis to share. In my view, the Magic that was KROY during its most dominant period came out of the ¾ of every hour that was the actual ‘product’—the music and how it was framed and presented.
Dwight [Dwight Case, General Manager] set an overall ‘tone’ and Johnny [Johnny Hyde, Program Director] hired and directed people who ultimately shared a common interest in the station, its audience and each other. We broke rules on a regular basis and still maintained an audience that cared because ‘KROY Cared.’ You could feel it in the way that jocks promo-ed other jocks.
I recall a particular instance that could likely never occur on another traditional Top 40 station. In 1969 we did a KROY/Tower Presents show featuring The Who. The opening act added by Bill Graham was a relatively unknown guitarist from the Steve Miller Band named Boz Scaggs. I believe I was the MC for the show -- for the munificent sum of $25, which my old friend Russ Solomon [Tower Records’ Founder] was still bitching about when I last spoke to him before he went to ‘the Great Record Store in the Sky.’
The point is, that normally a Who crowd chews up and spits out an opening act. This time however, they got “fooled again.” Boz did “Loan Me a Dime” from his first solo album. Besides his heart-rending vocal, he was supported by the otherwise lunatic Joachim Young on Hammond B-3 organ---think Stevie Winwood on steroids---and the 17-year-old Les Dudek magically recapturing the 10-minute solo by Duane Allman on Boz’s LP. The audience went nuts.
The next morning, I got Johnny to let me play the 10- or 11-minute track---after appropriately ‘bill-boarding’ it as something special that was worthy of my audience’s attention. We got great response and continued to play it as ‘something special’ for several weeks.
KROY’s special treatment of MUSIC made it stand out from all the other stations available on the dial at that time.
I’m just sayin’….
Dave Williams responds:
No doubt about it, Bob. You've defined the KROY magic in its unique facets. I know, I graduated high school in ‘69 and everyone I knew listened to KROY. Every one! Occasionally I'd check out KXOA because I was a radio nerd, but the undefinable magic wasn't there. The jocks there were good, and they played the hits, but the sense of belonging was missing. I didn't think of it in those terms, but I never strayed for long. No matter what time of day or night, no matter who was on each station at the time, I always needed to get "home" to KROY.
Your point about the music is also dead on. I could find "Get Back" or "Bad Moon Rising" anywhere but I discovered King Crimson, “Knights in White Satin" and "Ball and Chain" on KROY, all showcased as the very special treats they indeed were. Promotions were always focused on listeners as if we were part of the KROY family, not merely retail and demo targets.
And as you rightly point out, it all began at the top. Dwight Case was father to us all who taught by example (and the occasional thump on the head when it was instructive). When you brought me into that revered palace, you and Dwight and everyone else on the staff made me feel like I belonged there; I was a beginner but I was obviously special like the rest of you.
This is my 50th year in radio. That KROY magic has never faded in the least. My only regret is that I was never able to duplicate it elsewhere.
Your grateful weekend kid,
Good morning, David
You paint a well thought-out and well-presented picture of the legendary KROY your own self, my friend.
I vividly recall a conversation with Johnny early-on in my KROY time that, heretically, it wasn’t the music -- anyone who understood the demos of a market could find the right music to play; nor his sacrosanct ‘format’ that was the most important element(!)…it was the PEOPLE -- the on-air talent -- who personally connected with each other and their ability to make almost every listener feel that they were being spoken-to directly. It was a friend [emphasis added] who happened to know a lot about music and occasionally made you feel better as he or she was being informed or briefly entertained.
Glad you were part of it.
In a note to KROY Alumni T. Michael Jordan, Bob writes:
Thanks Tom and you’re certainly correct about radio.
I bailed in early 1973 when the non-broadcaster, money guys began to exert their influence.
I was given a pleasant career bump when the very respected and influential John Rook---who was I think, still the Power in Chicago as PD of WCFL—unbeknownst to me, recommended that I be hired by the General Cinema chain as PD of WGCL-FM in Cleveland in 1972---which was then a Top 10 market. The market was dominated by legendary WIXY/1260 (the longtime KROY of Cleveland) and Metromedia’s highly-rated Progressive Rock WMMS FM (“the Buzzard”). I did some quick research and learned that Cleveland was second only to Detroit in FM penetration. The Wave was heading to Land!
I was then Co-hosting a shift on Morning Drive (and Assistant PD) on the AM (WYSL—Top 40) and nights on the FM (WPHD---Progressive Rock) for McClendon in Buffalo. They wouldn’t let me out of my deal so I spent the better part of a month flying back-and–forth on US Air (Air Titanic) between Buffalo and Cleveland studying the market and working to create a format that might fit.
I positioned WGCL exactly between the two powerhouses, choosing potential mass market LP tracks on WMMS that WIXY wouldn’t touch, staying away from the extra-hard, free-form stuff that the broad market wouldn’t tolerate and eliminating, or sharply limiting, the soft rock hits that I thought bored the younger, hip WIXY audience. It was a constant thrice-weekly battle with George Burns, the General Cinema consultant, who was pure Top 40 and only wanted me to “play the hits.” Which I refused to do, particularly the Carpenters and Tony Orlando & Dawn! I surrounded the current and edgy rock LP tracks with the hotter of the current hits and a recognizable album cut or past hit single from a known rock band.
When I took over the station it had been automated AOR, was then doing a Dick Clark oldies format and was probably rated 76th in a 70 station market. I had no advertising nor promotion budget, so I got the Sales Manager to get us a trade-out for billboards. Couldn’t have been less creative and more straight-forward. Bright orange background, a guitar and “WGCL 98.5 -- YOUR Kind of Rock!” I had them lighted and up around schools, the area tracks and drag strips, concert venues like Blossom (capacity 12,500), the famed Agoura nightclub and areas with clubs and any kind of music environment. I then did a ‘KROY’ and forced the Jocks out at every event that had young people and music—with LPs, tickets and Tee shirts. We were everywhere.
In the first [ratings] Book we nearly vaulted into the Top 10 and actually beat legendary WIXY in 18-34 in the TSA. This, for a station that had never previously gotten more than asterisks!
And here’s where the story gets really weird!
The other General Cinema stations---in Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston---were trying similar formats that I had passed on to them at the direction of chain management, but without their local similar response. One book was hardly adequate to determine potential success---particularly when our timing with the growth of FM in Cleveland was clearly better. Nonetheless, the Genius in charge of programming for the chain decided all the stations needed to sound alike (!!!)---irrespective of market demographics and everything else---and we were ordered to change formats to Jack McCoy’s Million Dollar format, houses, boats, planes cars, cash (at KGB)…..but, of course we weren’t given the budget.
WGCL was completely sold out, the GM, the Sales Mgr. and the jocks (who had originally been resistant---I almost fired three of them) loved me and we were building a station that could’ve had a decade of success as FM exploded. And the non-programming putz in Boston wanted to change the format!?
I built that puppy from nothing and emotionally I wasn’t prepared to kill it and change the format. Obviously I didn’t own the station so that was a short-lived position on my part. When the word got out that I was leaving I received a number of PD offers and was flying around for interviews when----CBS Records called. Timing is everything.
Columbia’s head of Top 40 promotion had recently died of a heart-attack on the road (that should’ve been a warning sign!) and Steve Popovich wanted me to come to NYC and discuss a position. Clive Davis knowing of the power and influence of KROY certainly didn’t hurt. Hell, I was a disc jockey and a Program Director and I had no interest in ‘flogging’ records for a living. However, I was so bummed about WGCL, and where radio appeared to be going with non-radio people taking dominant positions in the field---and CBS was such a respected well-run company, I took the job.
I still love good radio and I miss it to this day---but I don’t for a moment regret the decision.
That’s my story etc.
Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac and Boz Scaggs
To give you yet another sense of the relationship that existed between some companies and their artists, I offer the following examples of Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac and Boz Scaggs :
Even with a roster the size of Columbia’s, Billy became an almost instant favorite with the entire staff at Black Rock in NYC when we acquired him in May 1973. He’s a terrific, personable guy and after Clive (Davis) had him come in to a giant label promotion meeting and play live---alone on the piano with original songs, bits of music from almost every era plus dead-on impersonations---the label fell totally in love with him, as did the massive Field organization when he went out to tour and support his initial release.
We busted chops to deliver his first single “Piano Man.” It is now iconic but at the time it barely broke the Top 30 and we couldn’t deliver a follow-up. The entire company gave equal support to his numerous follow-up singles without success. He eventually became millions in debt and it was likely that he’d never re-coup his negative balance. The accounting execs insisted that he be released and written-off. The label, sales and the field people fought vigorously in his support and eventuality “Just the Way You Are” arrived----along with a couple of hundred million record sales and a nearly 50- year career.
---Fleetwood Mac had three or four LPs on Warner Music without success and were down several million in advances when they acquired Buckingham/Nicks and then became one of the industries all-time greatest sellers.
---Boz Scaggs was absolutely loved by Columbia headquarters people and the field sales/promotion organization through four albums---but he became impossibly buried in debt. The ‘numbers people’ were committed to drop him. There was no reason to stay with him beyond the love of the company people and they persevered. Then “Silk Degrees” arrived----led by “Low Down”.
The point to all this is that CBS and Warner were both so successful that they could and would invest substantial dollars in artists who they believed in, and who might only be ‘good’ and worth further investment in belief and support. The first two eventually sold tens of millions of LPs and have become icons for untold millions of people and music buyers.
Such a business philosophy has been gone for 30 years or more. The sad thing is how many artists were lost when the industry was forced, because of its incompetence, to become a ‘one and done’ industry. Under the current business philosophy both Billy and the members of Fleetwood Mac would have been forced to flipping at McDonalds and the music fans would’ve lost the wonder of their music creativity.
Here’s a new thought/opinion I believe worthy of your opinion or comment:
The alleged contemporary programming geniuses at the time, led the sheep astray about 40 years ago when they mandated that jocks stop back-announcing artist names and song titles. To me that was the height of idiocy. The average listener certainly doesn’t know the sound of all artists nor the title of all records, if any…beyond their favorites.
To pique their interest and then not identify what they just heard is a disservice to the audience. When I questioned a couple of ‘leaders’ at the time, I was first advised that the theory was “Always forward---never back.” What the bloody Hell did that mean? You just spent three or so minutes presenting something to an audience who may be hearing it for the first time or after multiple listens they may actually want to hear it again---and you don’t want to tell them what it was!?
Then I was told that “if we don’t tell them what it is, they’ll have to continue listening in hopes that it’ll come around again. WHAT?! No. They can actually go to another station that might play it and identify it….and they may then want to stay with that station. It’s a basic service.
By way of pure ‘listener’ background, I will note that I was driving back to The City on a Sunday morning after a weekend visit with my parents at their home in the Sierra’s and was listening to Dave Sholin on The Big 610 [KFRC-AM] and he played a new record that was so good I almost drove into a ditch off Highway 80. At the time I think I was SVP Promotion at Columbia and by necessity was pretty aware of what was going on in the business---but I had no idea what I had just heard. And then The Duke told me---it was “Captain of Her Heart” by Double and he then wound me up even further.
My first stop when I got back to San Francisco was Tower Records at Columbus and Bay [streets] to buy the single. It made my day and that only happened because Dave identified what had excited me so. By the way, the record was distributed by A&M, so I assume that the irrepressible Don Graham is who informed The Duke about the record and the group.
One more and then I’ll stop----
As a teen I occasionally listened to Big Don Barksdale, a DJ on R&B KWBR in Oakland. One afternoon he insisted that me (and everyone tuned in stay with him---obviously through the commercials) for something new that would be very rewarding. After the break he set-up and played “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles and I completely lost my ever loving teen-aged mind! You can bet KWBR picked-up some more of the time I previously spent with KYA, KSFO, KOBY and KEWB. In both cases a talented professional announcer used music to cement a relationship with a listener. Isn’t that what the Hell we were supposed to be doing?
I would very much welcome a reasonable explanation for the policy of not identifying artists and songs---that continues to this day. There’s another side to it.
For several decades radio and the record industry had a valuable, ongoing working relationship at a local level. Programmers were given music by new or growing artists, along with information and that was what kept contemporary radio fresh and exciting. The back & forth exchange of information moved both businesses and created or expanded artist careers. That sadly has been gone since the ‘80s. Now it’s ’10-in-a-row’ and commercial-free power hours. Little if any connection with the music.
Purely as an aside, it was the 2-way communication and promotion by music radio that clearly benefited the music industry and recording artists and allowed stations in the US to avoid paying the performance royalties that the rest of the world had to pay.
There’s absolutely no more reason for US music radio to avoid those fees.
I welcome any and every response.
Just sittin’ here listenin’ while the snow comes down and upon reflection besides Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is there a song that was as powerful and reflective of a complete generation of America’s youth than Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack?” It was the late ‘60s and the 70s. And the original live recording began to get play LONG before he was signed by Columbia and the release of “Piano Man."
He was a relative unknown until WMMR Philadelphia’s wonderful and totally aware DJ Ed Schiaky began playing a live recorded version in 1972 and it spread to Houston (!) and then other Metromedia stations in NYC (WNEW’s Scott Muni), The Buzzard in Cleveland and K-SAN in San Francisco, but there was no record to buy.
It was finally released on Billy’s Columbia LP “Piano Man” and a more powerful live version came out with some previously recorded material in 1981. It was far too graphic and ‘heavy’ for a blooming mass-appeal artist, so it was never a single. For me it was like Bill Haley & the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis all rolled into one.
If you haven’t heard it in a few decades, I commend it to you.
The ‘70s will come roaring back!