The Buzzard exposed
In 1974, when the WMMS Buzzard logo was born, its existence was nearly invisible. We had no promotion or marketing budget. All of the promotional dollars were allocated for our AM sister station WHK, promoting its pathetic “cover hits” format. This was a format that played hit songs – but not by the artists that made them famous.
With exception to a trade deal we had with alternative weekly Zeppelin and the paper that replaced it, Exit, where we ran advertising in exchange for a full-page ad, we had no way to expose our new logo and mascot to the masses.
It was time for some serious guerilla marketing.
One of the biggest and best deals we did for exposure was with Shelly Tirk, owner of the Music Grotto record store on Euclid Avenue across from Cleveland State University, which put a larger-than-life Buzzard on the side of the building. Record labels took turns in leasing the Grotto’s west-facing side wall to paint building-size reproductions of current album covers. Because WMMS was the only station in town regularly programming their product, I proposed that they include and pay for the Buzzard art as well. The labels, having nothing to lose and everything to gain by having more people hear their product on WMMS, agreed. In those days decisions like that were made locally – and most labels had offices and branches in Cleveland.
The deal provided the character, perched on a mushroom, a permanent roosting place, and gave WMMS its first billboard – a prominent one in early September, 1974. The Buzzard shared space with David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs cover, Gary Wright’s Dreamweaver, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s The Impossible Dream, among many others. The Buzzard roosted on the Music Grotto wall until the building was torn down in the early 1980s.
Sad to report that Shelly Tirk passed away. He was one of the most creative and colorful people in Cleveland’s music retail business. In addition to the Music Grotto, Shelly also owned Melody Lane in Lakewood.
Shelly’s son Ryan shares his stories of those times.
My Dad, Shelly Tirk, owned Melody Lane in Lakewood and Music Grotto in Cleveland for almost 25 years. I grew up working in the Lakewood store from about the age of 9 until about 17, when it became “uncool” to work with one’s father. During the entire time, the soundtrack for that scene was WMMS. I remember the Buzzard Beatles Blitz as an early example of how ‘MMS drove the local music scene. We were one of the few stores in the area to feature an entire display bin devoted exclusively to the Beatles. By Sunday, Day 2, of the Blitz , the bin was nearly sold out, and my father was scrambling to find Beatles LP’s to restock it by Monday. It was a good week or two before sales of Beatles records went back down to “regular” levels.
Another great memory of Melody Lane and WMMS was when the new bumper stickers would come out. We’d get calls asking if we had the new ones almost as much as we fielded calls about particular records we might have in stock. You could also always tell when there was going to be some sort of cool live broadcast coming up, be it a Michael Stanley show at the Agora or a Warren Zevon Coffee Break Concert, because our stock of blank tape (Cassette, 8-Track, and even reel-to-reel) would be nearly sold out by airtime.
Owning a record store also meant a nearly uninterrupted collection of WMMS T-shirts, polos, sweatshirts, and baseball-style jerseys. You name it and I had it. And I still have most of them. I never tossed a Buzzard shirt. No matter what.
My favorite memory was when Dad hired David Helton, the original Buzzard artist, for a personal appearance at Melody Lane’s grand re-opening after a re-model. We set him up on a card table, with about 500 sheets of 11×17 paper and a stack of blue Sharpies. The line grew very long, but David was a good sport. He sketched out Buzzard after Buzzard for the fans. Most just wanted his face in a star, or standing with a guitar. Others asked some crazy stuff of a guy pressed for time and no real area to work. I remember one guy asking David to draw a picture of the band Cheap Trick, only with the Buzzard sitting in on drums for Bun E. Carlos. I believe in the end, he settled for the Buzzard wearing a Cheap Trick t-shirt. Before he left, he drew out 2 last Buzzards – one for me (age 12 at the time) and my sister, who was 11. We still have them, and they remain framed in my office to this day.
I miss the old local radio scene. Corporate radio has gotten too smart for itself. Paradigm shift seems to have gone from “Hey, check out this new track by XYZ, you heard it hear first” to “We heard you like this song, so here it is again.” Video may have killed the radio star, but iTunes and MySpace buried radio as a trendsetter, I think.
More on the Buzzard in Chapter 7 in The Buzzard