Archive for July, 2008

WMMS – Your Concert Connection

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on July 30, 2008 by John Gorman

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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.

No city was worthy of the “rock and roll capital” moniker more than Cleveland. 

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.

Jules Belkin of Belkin Productions, Blossom Music Center, Hank LoConti of the Agora, and Rodger Bohn of the Smiling Dog booked the artists to play Cleveland.

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 CompanyBoston, 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.

WMMS and Thompson Drag Raceway in the 70s

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media on July 25, 2008 by John Gorman

This WMMS print ad by David Helton is from 1978 when Thompson Drag Raceway turned twenty years old.


The careers of a number of drag racing legends were launched from Thompson, including T.V. Tommy Ivo and Big Daddy Don Garlits.

The Thompson Drag Raceway spots were part of the weekend WMMS summer soundtrack.  You couldn’t miss hearing them.

The relationship between WMMS and Thompson occurred during a rough time for the track.  The seventies gas crisis led to a decline of performance cars and the track struggled to stay in business.

But survive it did and this year Thompson Drag Raceway is celebrating it’s fiftieth.

Only in Cleveland: Buzzard Jeans at J.P. Snodgrass, 1975

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on July 21, 2008 by John Gorman

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Three years before jeans went designer with Jordache and five years before Brooke Shields said, “Want to know what gets between me and my Calvin’s?” we debuted our Buzzard Jeans.

Actually, they were Levi’s jeans with a WMMS Buzzard logo patch sewn on the right back pocket. 

We did it as a special promotion with Cook-United’s J.P. Snodgrass boutique chain (they also owned Uncle Bill’s). 

The Buzzard mascot was a little over a year old and we were on a quest to make it the most recognizable logo in Greater Cleveland.

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The agency we put the promotion together with was run by a Cleveland native, Eddie Spizel

A year later and in no way related to the Buzzard Jeans, which actually sold quite well, Cook-United filed for Chapter 11 and the company closed the J.P. Snodgrass and Uncle Bills stores. 

After losing his bread-and-butter client, Spizel relocated to San Francisco and set up a flourishing agency there.

That would’ve been the end of the story except that in 1984, I got a call from Spizel, who I hadn’t talked to since he left town.  He called to say that Bill Graham, the famed rock promoter, was planning to build a rock and roll hall of fame in San Francisco, off Ghirardelli Square

“He’s going to make it like rock and roll started with Haight-Ashbury,” Spizel said, outraged at the thought that the earlier history might be ignored.  His Cleveland pride was wounded.  He said he was coming to down and wanted me to set up a meeting. “They can’t be allowed to build it there,” Spizel said. “You’re the biggest station, you can rally Cleveland.”

More on Eddie Spizel and the birth of the campaign to bring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland can be found in Chapter 29 of The Buzzard.

Good Ol’ B.L.F. Bash – July, 2008

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on July 15, 2008 by John Gorman

Every lunch or dinner I’ve had with Bill “B.L.F. Bash” Freeman over the past thirty-plus years has been at a Mexican restaurant – and this was no exception.   

A new restaurant, Grande Rodeo, opened near me – and it was a momentous occasion.  Bay Village, Ohio is a small city with only a couple of restaurants within the city limits.   Until two years ago, the only spot holding a liquor license in town was the local bowling alley. 

Bash and I live only a few miles apart. The reason we don’t see each other more often is that Bash’s daytime is all-night and mine is the other way around.  I was having an early lunch while he had a late dinner.

Bash sends his “hellos” to one and all.  He’s still listening to the Stooges reunion album and just picked up a copy of the new album by My Morning Jacket.   He also finished Right of the Dial, a book by Alec Foege, which we highly recommend.  It tells the story of why you don’t like radio as much as you used to.

Early summer, 1972:  I was living in an apartment just off Harvard Square on the corner of Mt. Auburn Street and University Road in Cambridge, Mass.  It was the coolest apartment building in the city.  Most of the J. Geils Band lived there as well as an assortment of writers, poets, anarchists, and trustafarians.   It was a rent controlled – as long as you were sub-leasing from the original tenant.  

It was a Friday night and I was driving from Cambridge toward downtown Boston on Storrow Drive, which paralleled the Charles River.   The car had one of those mounted-under-the-dash FM converters.  I happened on a new station, WVBF.  An energetic jock with a grizzled voice who called himself “Benevolent Bill” and “B.L.F.” was playing current and recent album tracks in a format similar to the up-tempo, high-gloss version of album radio that Denny Sanders and I had pitched to every station in town but this one.

A few years later, that same high energy, grizzle-voiced air personality joined WMMS and overnights took on a new meaning in Cleveland.

More on B.L.F. Bash in Chapter 2 and 13 in The Buzzard

The WMMS Rolling Stones Orgy and their concert at the Coliseum, 1981

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos, Buzzard Video on July 10, 2008 by John Gorman

Here’s a recently-discovered video from WKYC-TV, which takes us back to November 16, 1981 when the Rolling Stones opened their first night of a two-night engagement at the Coliseum in Richfield.

Popular fifties and early sixties rhythm and blues singer and songwriter Etta James was the opening act. 

Their 1981 tour was the first to sell advertising rights.  Jovan Musk paid the band $500,000 for co-sponsorship rights.

The Stones were touring in support of their Tattoo You album, which not a new album but an anomalous compilation of outtakes from previous album recording sessions, dating back to the Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue, Some Girls, and Emotional Rescue albums.  Only two new tracks were recorded for the album, “Heaven” and “Neighbors,” and even the latter song was a re-recording of a track originally planned for Emotional Rescue.  The track “Heaven” featured only three Stones – Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts.

Whenever the Rolling Stones came to Cleveland, we broke format and did non-stop hours of their music – including rare and unreleased tracks.   We called it the WMMS Rolling Stones Orgy

When the Stones played their two WMMS World Series of Rock dates at Cleveland Stadium in summers of 1975 and 1978, we went non-stop Stones from Friday night through early Sunday morning. 

For their two Coliseum shows, we went all-Stones at 4 PM and at the conclusion of each concert as the Coliseum crowd returned to their cars for the long drive out of Richfield, we played back the 26-song set in the same order they were performed in concert.

And, of course, the number one Buzzard Radio Stones fan Betty Korvan got one of the nights off to see Keith and the boys do their damage.

On the newscast, WKYC anchor Dave Patterson introduced the story, which was reported by Kevin Coakley.   Their news writing was the stuff the generation gap was made of.

Three of the venues the Rolling Stones played in from the sixties through the nineties were demolished: The Cleveland Arena, the Coliseum in Richfield, and Cleveland Stadium.  Only the Akron Rubber Bowl, where the Stones performed in 1972, remains intact, for now.

Don’t trust anyone under forty?

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on July 2, 2008 by John Gorman

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Starting in the mid-sixties,  the saying that separated the generations was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

By the mid-seventies, when the earliest baby boomers reached thirty, the “don’t trust” age moved to forty.

Today, if one is to believe that Touch of Gray spot, ninety is the new forty.

In the fall of 1976, the Plain Dealer’s weekend entertainment magazine, Friday, did a cover story, titled “The over-40’s make it in rock,” written by the paper’s music editor Jane Scott, who  was also a member of that club.

The cover featured our own Murray Saul – then forty-eight years old – in a photo shot at a WMMS World Series of Rock at the Cleveland Stadium earlier that year, doing his trademarked “Get Down” to a crowd of over 88,000.  

The article featured the prominent “over 40s” in the Cleveland music business, including Leo Mintz, the owner of Record Rendezvous – the world’s most famous record store – who connected the words “rock and roll” to define the new rhythm and blues music Alan Freed was playing on WJW radio; Marge Bush, the music director of WIXY; John Cohen, who managed the Disc Records chain, Bill Glaseman of MCA Records, and Willie Smith and Blanche Young of the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic labels’ Cleveland branch.

Leo Mintz, who was 65, passed away less than a month after this article was published.

In 1976, when most of our listeners were in their teens to late twenties, we had two on-air staffers who were over forty; Murray Saul and Len “Boom” Goldberg, who was in his early forties.

Though some of the artists we played were in their early thirties – including Bob Dylan, and members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the majority of artists played on WMMS were still in their twenties.

Alex Harvey, the leader of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and John Mayall of Bluesbreakers fame, were among the few current music “over forty” artists we were playing at the time.   Other “over forty” artists we played were from the occasional fifties and sixties oldies and folk singers we’d work into our musical repertoire.