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This print ad features our “Your Concert Connection” slogan is from the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. It’s promoting the 24-hour WMMS concert line, which provided complete information on upcoming concerts in our wide listening area.
In the seventies, as the album rock format and FM radio penetration grew, many stations preferred to play it safe and limit the airplay of new, upcoming artists. We went in a different direction. From Alan Freed in the early fifties to Billy Bass in the late sixties and early seventies, Cleveland had a rich radio history as a breakout market for new music and we planned to continue that tradition.
Being a breakout market put Cleveland in the national music spotlight. Many artists that went on to international prominence received their first commercial radio exposure on WMMS. Artists as diverse as Al Stewart, Todd Rundgren, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Duran Duran, and U2 got significant airplay on WMMS before – and in some cases – long before they became nationally known and accepted.
It established Cleveland as an important region for new music. The record labels and artists’ managers followed up WMMS airplay by putting those new acts in front of a live audience at station-sponsored venues. Sometimes we went after them (as Denny Sanders would do in booking the Coffee Break Concerts), other times they came after us. The enthusiasm for new music ran in both directions.
New artists were often given their first exposure at the Agora on East 24th and the Smiling Dog, until its closing, on West 25th or as an opening act at the Allen Theater in Playhouse Square – one of the few signs of life in that part of town in the seventies or the Music Hall on St. Clair.
We recorded our WMMS Nights Out at the Agora and the Smiling Dog and would playback the former on Wednesdays at 10 and the latter, Saturday night/Sunday morning at midnight. Later, we changed our Agora shows to live remote broadcasts, which started at 10 PM.
Sometimes we’d have two – or even more WMMS Nights Out at the Agora in a single week.
In the early eighties, when the Coffee Break Concerts went live from the Agora, it presented still another opportunity to showcase new and upcoming artists (and occasionally a surprise superstar) before a live audience – both at the club – and as a live concert simulcast on WMMS – every Wednesday afternoon at 1.
Artists like U2, Bad Company, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and Bryan Adams received their first exposure – and live concert broadcast – on WMMS from the Agora. The first live concert broadcasts – anywhere – from Boston, Meatloaf, and Bryan Adams – were from the Agora.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first live appearance north of the Mason-Dixon line was at the Smiling Dog and thirty-three years later people still talk about the one and only Freaker’s Ball with Dr. Hook that took place at that venue on a hot summer Friday night.
Few cities – including New York – offered the opportunity to follow an artist’s career from new act to major performer. Most acts would start at the Agora and graduate to the Allen Theater, Music Hall, and later, the partially (at the time) remodeled Palace Theater. That would follow with a Public Hall appearance, then the Coliseum or Blossom Music Center in the summer – and finally, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
The World Series of Rock concerts offered a full-day rock and roll – from superstars to future stars. The first dates Def Leppard and the Scorpions played in the U.S. took place in front of a small crowd of 80,000-plus at Cleveland Stadium.
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More on why Cleveland is the Rock & Roll Capital of the World and why WMMS was “Your Concert Connection” is covered throughout The Buzzard.