WMMS – Your Concert Connection

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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.

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13 Responses to “WMMS – Your Concert Connection”

  1. My Uncle Rodger owned the Smiling Dog and my Mom (his sister) often helped him out on some of the busy weekend nights. My younger brother and I would frequently go with her but would have to, due to our age, spend the evening upstairs in the apartment above the bar. The only shows that my Mom would let us stay downstairs and watch were “Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show” and another incredible group “The Hello People.” (I believe that much of their music was produced by Todd Rundgren.) Both of the bands were very cool and would spend time talking to us in between their sets.

    I’ll never forget the night that my brother and I came downstairs after the bar closed for the evening and a guy sitting at the bar commented on our Monopoly game. He told us that he and his sister used to play Monopoly for real money and joked that he probably still owed her money from some of those games. That guy was none other than Herbie Hancock.

    As I sit here in Nebraska (about to retire with 26 years in the Air Force) I just wanted to say that It’s been great reading about WMMS on your site here and I appreciate the

    • Rich Huffman Says:

      Hi Lou, I spent many a night at The Smiling Dog, your uncle was a great guy, it’s so strange but years after moving away from Cleveland, we were home visiting family and I picked up the newspaper and for some strange reason I looked at the obituaries and there was the sad news of his murder.
      Your mother must be Candie, I met a girl named Liz Radwin who worked there and fell in love so I was there almost everynight and got know your sweet mother, ask her if she remembers me. Rich

      • Rich, I’m sorry I didn’t see your post before today. I check back every so often but I always look at the bottom of the thread and just now saw your response. Actually, my Mom’s name is Johnnie; but my Aunt Candy also worked there–she’s the one you mentioned. I just got off the phone with her and, after a moment or two of hesitation, she said she does remember you. I told her I’d give you my email address (itsthebigoneelizabeth@hotmail.com) if you want to send me an email I’ll forward it on to her. (She also asked if you would mind including a photo?)
        My Mom usually worked the door and only on the weekends; not sure if you remember her or not. I’m going to keep this short but please forgive my slow response–for reason listed above–and if you want to shoot me an email I’d be happy to forward it. Thanks, Lou

    • Lou, my husband played in a jazz fusion band called Omnibus that was the house band during the jazz concerts at The Smiling Dog. That was the most tremendous place! We became friends with Roger and his wife, and used to visit them at the grand old house in ohio City. We were horrified when he was murdered,as were so many that new him, So sorry, so sad, how are the children?

  2. …chance to do a little reminiscing about the Smiling Dog Saloon.

    Thanks,

    Lou

    • Lou:

      My name is Bob Palinkas and I was just doing some surfing and came across your post about the Smiling Dog Saloon. I used to work with your Aunt Candy at Meldrum and Fewsmith Advertising @ 1220 Huron Rd in downtown Cleveland. I was one of the mailroom guys and your Aunt used to hook me up with tickets for shows at the Smiling Dog. I only remember going to about 4 show there: Roger McGuinn, Louden Wainwright III, Wendy Waldman and the Roches, but they were all memorable- nothing like live music in an intimate setting.

      Please tell your Aunt Candy I said hello and tell her I hope all is well with her. Tell her I still keep in touch with Debbie Pfleger, who was a secretary at M & F.

      Thanks!

      Bob

  3. Scott Enochs Says:

    I came of age listening to WMMS. Most of my favorite groups over the years I first heard in the early 70’s on this station : Al Stewart, Steeleye Span, Wishbone Ash, Glass Harp, Curved Air, Rush. Don’t forget about Rush and the special thanks printed on their first album cover to Donna Halpern at WMMS in Cleveland for giving early airplay!

  4. Hello! My name is Gary Hoopengardner and i had the honer of recording the concerts when Dick Whittington went back on the road in 1974.
    It was a great and sometimes weird experince. I recoreded Kenny Burrel,
    Tom Rush, Stanley Turrentine, PaPa John Creach, Jan Hamer, Sun Ra and many many more. My son a bassist Gary Jr. was asked by Ernie Krivda to perform with him at Roger Bohns funeral. Oh stories I could tell…

  5. It’s great to see that the memory of my father still lives on. He was murdered when I was 12, so I didn’t have the opportunity to hear all of the wild stories that the Smiling Dog had to offer. Ironically enough, I worked at the Agora for 4 years while I was in college and am personal friends with Hank LoConti’s daughter. It really is a small world.

  6. Laura Hively Says:

    I remember all the great bands coming to Cleveland and the Agora was the place to go! Reminiscing all the excellent times in the 70’s and 80’s is due to Cleveland’s Rock N Roll performances. One most unforgettable concert, Pink Floyd, at the stadium and all the other kick butt bands that came there really make me wish I had a time traveling machine to go back. What a great time the 70’s and 80’s were in Cleveland. That kind of life is long gone and it’s a real bummer.

  7. My name is John Tucky. I, and my friend Terry, would record bands at The Smiling Dog Saloon on Tuesday evenings with a mobile recording setup I had called Mobile Music Recording. On Wednesday mornings, Terry would take the tapes to WMMS where they would be played on the air at noon.

  8. When I was 17, Michael Kamen played there. I called and asked if there was any way I could please be let in. They put Rodger on the phone and I convinced him that I only wanted to hear the music.I had no interest in drinking. He agreed, but told me he had a bouncer named Bear who would watch me like a hawk. Drank only coke. After I turned 18, I came back many times. In 1992, as a mail carrier, I often delivered the mail to his jewelry store, but had no idea who he was. I cried when I learned of his murder. I’m certain he offered no resistance. Why did they have to kill him?

    • Thanks for your memory of my Father. I was merely a kid then and while Rodger Sr. was a street smart guy, he was 52 when this happened and knew his boundaries. Unfortunately, the killer is still on the loose.

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