Archive for March, 2009

Buzzard April Fool’s Day commercials

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on March 31, 2009 by John Gorman

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Every April 1st we’d pull out a few April Fools Jokes.  In morning drive, the Buzzard Morning Zoo began ten-minutes early – and all time checks and fixed features (like Token Jokes and Blow Something Up) were also scheduled ten minutes ahead of their usual time slot.  It got a lot of people to work ten minutes earlier than usual. 

Jeff and Flash also delivered a weather forecast that called for extreme changes in temperature and weather conditions during the day – relatively convincing in a city known for abrupt weather changes.   

One year, Flash recalls, “We promoted cheap (and it may have been free) gasoline at “Gas World” and gave an intersection that did not exist….like the corner of Ridge and Broadview Rd.  I was at one location, Spaceman was calling from another.  There were sound effects of cars in the background, so it sounded very real.  Later in the morning, one person called saying she ran out of gas looking for the place!” 

By 9 AM, we’d fess up to our April Fool’s jokes. 

Throughout the day we’d feature satirical commercials, most based on regular WMMS clients. Though we haven’t been able to locate the infamous automobile dealer Rick Case spoof where Kid Leo played Dick Face, but we found a good seven-minutes’ worth of Buzzard blasts from the past, including the renowned B.L.F. Bash School of Broadcasting, which, in retrospect, was a place you’d probably learn more from than a real broadcasting school.

Download WMMS April Fools Day commercials here.

This is not Baboonland!

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on March 27, 2009 by John Gorman

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The popularity of novelty and parody songs had fallen off from the golden days of top 40 radio in the fifties and sixties when you could always count on at least one  or two on the charts at any given time.  Programmers at top 40 stations, which had become devolved to top 20 – and renamed the format Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) – just didn’t see the need for those songs on a tight hitbound playlist.     The only exception was Weird Al, who was a one-man novelty song industry in the eighties and nineties.

Their loss, our gain is the way we viewed an opportunity to fill the void- and we were always in search of an off-the-wall novelty or parody song, most of which would get initial airplay on the Buzzard Morning Zoo. “The Scotsman,” “Eugene,” and “We Like Ugly Women” are three examples.

On Memorial Day Weekend 1985, when we declared open war against WGCL following the Slade lip sync concert debacle, our goal to rid Cleveland of that Baboon-infested radio program department by Labor Day Weekend (which we did).    And we openly slammed them on-the-air whenever there was occasion to.

Since our parent company, Malrite, also owned Z100 in New York, it permitted us to collaborate on certain projects.   Among them was creating custom-made novelty and parody songs to attack WGCL with.

Though “Baboonbusters,” performed to the tune of Ghostbusters movie theme song remains missing, a slightly damaged – but cleaned-up – version of one of the Buzzard vs. Baboons novelty songs has turned up. 

One of the popular songs of the summer was “This is Not America” by David Bowie backed by the Pat Metheny Group from the movie soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman

We did our own WGCL parody version, “This is not Baboonland,” which was recorded and produced by Northern Ohio native J.R. Nelson, who had moved to New York to help sign-on and handle creative production and a member of the morning show team for Z100.   J.R. had one of the most identifiable voices on Cleveland radio having worked at a WGAR, WGCL and WHK (and did a few fill-in shifts on WMMS) before transferring to Z100.   J.R. was assisted by David Kolin, who also provided the voice of Michael Jackson on some Buzzard Morning Zoo bits.   Like “Baboonbusters” before it, “This is not Baboonland” got more requets than the original Bowie version after it was first premiered on the Buzzard Morning Zoo.

You can download “This is Not Baboonland” here.

Special thanks to Jim Davison and Chuck Matthews.

Honk if you love Rock & Roll

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on March 24, 2009 by John Gorman

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Though former WMMS programming assistant Rhonda Kiefer saved the files that benchmark of much of the station’s history between the early 70s through August 1986, a few unsolved mysteries remain.  

Perhaps 90 percent of the programming and promotional decisions made at WMMS were done in two-minute hallway meetings, which were never logged or recorded. 

One such incident was when we came up with the limited edition WMMS “Honk if you love Rock & Roll” bumper sticker.  

Cleveland media had to work twice as hard for half as much.   Greater Cleveland was struggling financially through most of the seventies and the eighties and its radio and TV advertising rates were far less than what she should have been for a market our size.    With only so much money to go around, it made Cleveland a highly competitive media market.

I know saying we were a competitive bunch at WMMS is an understatement – but we had major goals to achieve.  One was to be the number one radio station in Cleveland.  The second was to be the top rock & roll station in America.

It would burn us to see a car a WMMS and M105 bumper sticker.   We knew more people listened to us than them – but two bumper stickers for two different radio stations offered them equal billing.  At least that’s the way we viewed it.

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Every year, as spring approached, we would order our new WMMS bumper stickers. We also appreciated seeing listeners take our bumper stickers and customize them.  But those WMMS on one side, M105 on the other car bumpers really pissed us off.

I can’t tell you what year it was because the decision to do a second bumper sticker that spring was never recorded in a note or a memo.   It was one of those decisions that went from a quick hallway meeting idea to David Helton to design to a requisition to get them printed.    We only did one run of them.  I don’t even remember how many we printed.

The “Honk if you love Rock & Roll” was a satire on the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers that were popular around the same time.

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We promoted them on the air with a very, very subtle dig at those who had M105 bumper stickers.  We implied that the “Honk” stickers provided an opportunity to cover up a mistake.

The only paperwork I found related to the “Honk” bumper sticker was a script for a promotional spot that I recall was cut – but never ran.  

It had controversial shock-jock Gary Dee from our sister station WHK playing the role of Jesus Christ.

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Here’s the script:

Sound effect: Donkey bray.   Light crowd noise.

First person: JESUS!   Hey, that’s a new bumper sticker on your ass!

Dee as Jesus (in Gary Dee character): Blessed are the pure in Buzzard, for they shall hear WMMS. It’s the brand new WMMS “Honk if you love rock & roll” bumper sticker.  

First person: Praise be thy Buzzard!  That new sticker fills my soul with rock & roll.

Dee as Jesus:  Verily say unto you, none will be saved unless they believe in my Buzzard.  But those who believe in my Buzzard and display their WMMS bumper sticker, theirs will be the kingdom of Rock & Roll.”

First person: Ayyyyyyyy-men!  

Dee as Jesus:  That’s Amen and Hallelujah, boy.

Sound effect: Donkey bray

Dee as JesusDid you know that eleven out of twelve disciples display both WMMS stickers on their asses?

First person:  Which one didn’t?

Dee as Jesus:  Judas Iscariot.  You can’t trust him. Woe to that man who betrays the Buzzard.  It would be better for him if he had not been born.

First person: Hey, Jesus….while you’re at it.  You mind turning some more water into wine?

Bash: And, hey, Chrrrrrist.  I’ll do a brew.

Dee as Jesus:  Hearken to the Buzzard.  Display your WMMS Honk if you love Rock & Roll sticker and no one will persecute you, nor will anyone oppress you.

First person: JESUS!  I pray I can get one.  Where are they at?

TAG: Locations, self-addressed stamped envelope to: “HONK IF YOU LOVE ROCK & ROLL STICKER,” WMMS…..

Needless to say, the promo never ran.

Special thanks to John B. Nicholas for saving the sticker

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Ed “Flash” Ferenc will be on WTAM/1100, Cleveland this Friday, March 27 from 3 to 7 PM EST.   You can also listen on line, here.

St. Patrick’s Day, Buzzard-style, 1983

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos, Buzzard Video on March 16, 2009 by John Gorman

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At WMMS we worked hard, played hard, and we also knew how to throw a party.  And when it came to St. Patrick’s Day, we went all out to be the most visible and most partying radio station in Cleveland.

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It was 1983. I had just gotten back after a week in Jamaica with Jeff and Flash (“We’re going to Ja-mai-ca!”)   and a plane full of listeners-gone-wild. We were planning our 15th Anniversary with a series of free concerts and events. With digital frequency radios becoming commonplace we were officially re-identifying ourselves by our true frequency-100.7 frequency.  We got a tip that David Bowie’s management hired a p.i. to learn how we got an exclusive of Let’s Dance, his first album for EMI Records, over a month before its scheduled release  (they never found out).     We also procured a copy of Pink Floyd’s controversal The Final Cut, which we planned to premiere that weekend, which would put still another label, this time Columbia, in a lather.

WLYT, which changed call letters to WRQC for 92 ROCK and its format to rock had changed again – this time to a cutting-edge modern music format, which shared about 40 percent of our playlist.  To head them off at the pass, programming assistant Rhonda Kiefer suggested using our call letters as an acronym for “We’re your Modern Music Station” on some IDs, which we did. (Other acronyms included “Where Music Means Something” and “Weed Makes Me Smile.”)

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On St. Patrick’s Day, the Buzzard was 100.7-proof Irish.   We opened the top of every hour with an Irish-oriented song.  Among them, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” by Wings; “Come on Eileen and “Celtic Soul Brothers” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Luck of the Irish” by John Lennon, Van Morrison’s “Tura Lura Lura” from the Last Waltz, “Wasn’t that a Party” by the (Irish) Rovers, and, of course, lots of U2.  Their breakthrough album, War, had become one of the top-selling albums in Cleveland – and there was a lot of anticipation for their upcoming sold-out concert at Music Hall a few days after St. Patty’s Day.  

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Even our Len “Boom” Goldberg-voiced top of the hour IDs and sweeps were re-recorded by local Epic Records promoter Joe Carroll, an Irish native, who delivered them with a thick brogue.

(Joe would later become famous in Buzzard history for his “F-you personally” call regarding the lip-synching WGCL Slade concert two years later.)

St. Patty’s Day was on a Thursday that year – and considering the way Cleveland partied on March 17 – we considered it an early kick-off to the weekend.

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It probably started when I pulled out a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey from the bottom draw of my desk that morning and passed it around to others to get into spirit, so to speak.   We had our Buzzard Van in the St. Patty’s Day parade and a number of us would be either be riding or walking along side of it.    For some of us, Boom included, it was their first time in the St. Patty’s Day parade.

From there is gets a bit hazy.  I recall that we almost got thrown out of the parade – en route – when Boom, who had a few shots of Jameson’s before the parade began, started inviting listeners to join us in the van.  Though we weren’t supposed to, a couple hundred Buzzard bumper stickers were passed out along the way.  Some of them ended up on traffic light poles and the sides of buildings.

When we got back to the station at the Statler Office Tower on Euclid and East 12th, the partying continued.  By 4 PM, we had two casualties from the Irish holy water: Boom, following an impromptu strip tease, passed out in the sales department and our production director, a hardy Irishman, Tom O’Brien, was sound asleep on the floor of the production studio with a bottle of Jameson cradled in his arm.  There was more, much more, actually – but I promised never to tell.

Let me put it this way. Not only did we play “Wasn’t that a Party” - we lived its lyrics that St. Patty’s Day, 1983.

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Buzzard Day in Hinckley – 1976

Posted in Buzzard on March 12, 2009 by John Gorman

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Our intent with the Buzzard as our mascot was to maintain its mystique.  The character was depicted in all sorts of ways through print ads, animated TV spots, and merchandising.  We eventually added our Buzzard van and giant inflatable – and sponsored a Buzzard racecar and speedboat.  By the early eighties, we even had our Buzzard prominently displayed on Pat Brady’s traffic-reporting airplane.  Artist David Helton occasionally made personal appearances to draw and sign Buzzards. 

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One real problem with the Buzzard came up, unintentionally – and ironically, when we tried a partnership with Hinckley – the Medina County township, 20-miles south of Cleveland, that officially observed the annual return of its buzzards, which are actually turkey vultures, with Buzzard Day.  Since the late 1950s, it’s been a folksy event featuring a pancake breakfast sponsored by the chamber of commerce at the local elementary school. Celebrated on the first Sunday closest to March 15th, the “official” date, some see the buzzards return as a first sign of spring.  It ‘s Hinckley’s version of the swallows returning to Capistrano, California.  It seemed like a natural for us. 

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The choice of the Buzzard as the WMMS mascot had nothing to do with Hinckley.  In fact, we did not learn of Hinckley’s Buzzard Day until a listener from the area tipped us off to it. 

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We pitched to become an official sponsor in 1976, which amounted to contributing on-air mentions of it.  For doing so, we’d get a couple of well-placed WMMS banners at the event. We didn’t make a big deal of it, but we tried to find a place in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Hinckley Reservation for an appropriate acoustic musical performance.   We didn’t succeed in that, but Hinckley was excited about our participation.   Neither they nor we had any idea what it would bring to a typically gray March day. 

It literally became a victim of its own success.  An unprecedented crowd – tens of thousands – arrived, and the two-lane road Hinckley came to a gridlocked standstill.  The park was jammed.  To the regulars, it was an invasion. So many gave up trying to get into the all-day pancake breakfast that it did less business than usual.   It was like Woodstock had come to town, complete with long-haired pot smokers.  Rumors spread that John Bassette would be performing with Alex Bevan, or that a rock festival was taking place somewhere in the park.   Hinckley was furious! 

Dan Garfinkel, who was our promotion and marketing director at the time, adds this:  I was in Tempe, Arizona that weekend, in my role as Buzzard Film Critic, for a junket during the making of A Star is Born, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.  It was only when I came in on Monday morning that I learned of the Vandals and Goths descending on Hinckley to sack and pillage. If memory serves, on Thursday of that week, I showed up at the Hinckley Town Council meeting with a check for $5,000.  The check was still warm from my hands when I was in my car and headed out of town in a cloud of dust.  That was March, 1976.

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The following year, the Buzzard had no part of Buzzard Day.  We were asked not to even mention it.  At Hinckley Elementary School, where drawing a buzzard was an annual assignment, a parent told me kids were warned that anyone drawing the WMMS Buzzard would get an automatic D.

Here’s a video from a former WMMS listener who was living in Hinckley on that Buzzard Day in March, 1976.  You’ll enjoy it.

Here’s some local news footage of a recent Buzzard Day.

The Buzzard Band

Posted in Buzzard on March 9, 2009 by John Gorman

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Denny Sanders, Betty Korvan, Matt the Cat

A few weeks back Denny Sanders was a guest on Jim Chenot’s Friday Night Sandbox show on Akron’s public radio station WAPS/The Summit

On Jim’s show he played a track I never expected to hear again.  It was one of the few rarities spared from the WMMS archival purge.  

It’s safe to say that there were a few frustrated musicians on our staff. On the rare occasion that something wasn’t going on inside the station,  Denny, Matt the Cat, and Betty Korvan would go into the auxiliary production studio at WMMS to jam.

One session got recorded.  It features Betty Korvan on lead vocals; Matt the Cat on guitar, and Denny Sanders on percussion (improvised drums). 

After hearing it, I asked if we could make it available as a download on the Buzzard Book blog.   

I played it for a few people over the past week without revealing identities. Most believed it was an early Stevie Nicks recording. 

So here it is – a free download of the power trio consisting of Betty Korvan, Denny Sanders, and Matt the Cat – collectively known as the Buzzard Band performing a song made famous by Buddy Holly,  “Rave On.”

Download the Buzzard Band here.

Thank you, Brook Park!

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on March 4, 2009 by John Gorman

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I want to thank everyone who came to Monday night’s Buzzard special presentation at the Brook Park Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.  It was another memorable and rewarding evening. 

I also want to thank my former programming assistant at WMMS and the early days of WNCX – and keeper of all records (the book wouldn’t have happened without her) Rhonda Kiefer along with Rosa Minniti, Ben Cox, and Brook Park branch manager Kevin Payne along with Chris Andrikanich from Gray & Co. Publishers for all their help and support.

Also, thank you to former Buzzard Morning Zoo team member and long-time host of WMMS’s Classic Rock Saturday Night Spaceman Scott and Rich Spina, whose name WMMS listeners automatically associate with one of the great Pride of Cleveland bands of the eighties, Love Affair.

Rush to Judgement

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on March 2, 2009 by John Gorman

 

L to R: Matt the Cat, Neil Purt, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Donna Halper, John Gorman, Don George (Mercury Records)

L to R: Matt the Cat, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Donna Halper, John Gorman, Don George (Mercury Records)

When Denny Sanders turned the WMMS program director reigns over to me, my first order of business was to hire my replacement as music director.   It was September, 1973.  We were going into a four-week ARB ratings survey period from mid-October to mid-November and we needed someone in that position fast. 

It went to Donna Halper.   I hired her over the phone, without a face-to-face meeting. Though Donna worked in Boston at the same time Denny and I did at various stations, we had never met.

Donna had been music director of a daytime folk-rock oriented format (a precursor to the Adult Album Alternative format) on WCAS-AM, a station licensed to Cambridge, Mass.  We heard that she had good and somewhat eclectic – outside the norm – connections in the music industry.

Among her assets were the Canadian contacts she made while at WCAS, which was the first station in the U.S. to play singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.  Other Canadian labels also started sending Donna material, hoping the exposure might to lead to deals with U.S. labels when she moved to WMMS, and to broaden it to rock and pop. 

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One of those contacts, Bob Roper of A&M Records Canada, which was run independent of the U.S. label, sent her the debut album of a young band named Rush, recorded for a small independent Canadian label, Moon Records.   Donna brought it up in one of our music meetings, where she’d weed through the week’s new releases and resubmit previously released material that, for one reason or another, we had held off on adding. 

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The Rush album proved to be fresh power-rock our nighttime audience couldn’t get enough of. And since we were building WMMS from the evenings up (whereas most stations secure their morning drive show first).   Donna wanted to do Bob Roper a favor.  A&M Canada had passed on signing Rush, but Roper was hoping to establish a stronger relationship with the band’s Canadian managers, knowing they would eventually deliver an artist his superiors admired. 

We added the album and decided to concentrate on a track called “Working Man,”  instead of the preferred priority track, “In the Mood.”  “Working Man” was fist-punching blue-collar rock and roll.  It went into our new release bin that night.  When Denny played it on his show, the phones went wild with immediate and unexpected reaction.  Surprisingly, some listeners were convinced that it was a new Led Zeppelin track though I never heard the similitude.

Denny called me at home, amazed at the size of the reaction and that most callers were convinced Rush was Zeppelin.   I had a flashback to spring, 1967 when Mel Phillips, program director of Boston’s WRKO convinced listeners that the Bee Gees “New York Mining Disaster” could be the Beatles under a pseudonym. WRKO never said they were the Beatles, they just didn’t say they weren’t.

Now, we had to ride Rush out.  I briefed Donna the next morning on her success in unearthing the kind of album and artist we were looking for, one the top 40 stations like WIXYWGCL, WNCR and WLYT couldn’t deal with.   We were beginning to build our “exclusive to WMMS” arsenal.

“Well, of course,” Donna said. “Why should you be surprised?  Isn’t that why you hired me? I would have done the same exact thing you did anyway.” 

Despite her nonchalance, Donna was thrilled.  She immediately phoned Roper, who insisted she call Rush’s management.  They needed to hear the report from the source, and to know they needed to ship Canadian stock to the Cleveland record stores immediately.  Within two weeks, the Rush album became the city’s fastest selling import – and even outsold many current hit rock U.S. albums that were out at the time.  Soon afterward, the band played a date at the Allen. In the liner notes on the American version,  which was released on Mercury Records, they thanked Donna and WMMS.

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A few months later Donna resigned as WMMS music director to join Mercury Records.

For more on Rush and WMMS see Chapter 4 in The Buzzard

Bootleg of WMMS broadcast of Rush from the Agora, 5/15/75

Bootleg album of WMMS broadcast of Rush from the Agora, 5/15/75

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