But with WGCL, it was different. They were dirty, played dirty, and were gaining ground on us. WGCL was a pay-for-play station. What they reported they played to the trade papers and what they really played were two different lists. The practice was called “paper adds.” WGCL’s real playlist included much of the WMMS playlist – but they didn’t report those tracks because there was no payoff attach to them.
We had the ratings, but WGCL was what was called a Parallel One Contemporary Hits Radio (top 40) reporter for Radio & Records, the most important of the trade publications, which gave them clout we couldn’t match in the alternate universe of record labels. Since no technology existed then to monitor stations, trade reports were done on the honor system. Since WGCL falsely reported the music they were playing, they were getting promotions they didn’t deserve. Making it worse, we had problems locking up promotions when WGCL warned labels it wouldn’t add music from their company if it was doing a major promotion with WMMS. When that happened we took our behind-the-scenes war on-air.
We created an unofficial mascot for the station – a Baboon – which we used in print ads and T-shirts. The Baboon mascot was accidental. The German singer Nena had a hit song with “99 Red Balloons,” which we renamed and rerecorded as “98 Dead Baboons.” WGCL used the moniker “G-98.”
Taking advantage of the advance hype of the movie Ghostbusters, which was being released at the same time, our staff assumed the name – Baboonbusters.
Our campaign kicked into high gear almost before it started when we learned that the band Slade would be playing a WGCL-sponsored Party in the Park opening Memorial Day Weekend. We resented that for two reasons. First, the Party in the Park was sponsored by a different station every week in conjunction with the Greater Cleveland Growth Association. WGCL general manager Kim Colebrook sat on its board, and the station got prime dates for kicking off Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends two years in a row. WMMS, in turn, was “awarded” the worst weeks. Second, Slade was a British band we’d played as far back as 1974. We had just broken their first single in a decade, which we initially played as an import, “My Oh My” and their new album was selling well in Cleveland based solely on our airplay. But their label, Epic Records, were working a single, which WGCL added, so they station insisted and got Slade to play their event – over one sponsored by us.
About 48 hours before the show, we learned from a spy inside Epic Records that Slade would not be performing live. They were going to lip sync and pretend to play their instruments. Everything would be on tape. Battle stations!
(they lip sync on this video, too)
The day of the show Jeff and Flash started firing on the air: This is a live music city, how dare they lip sync? This is the rock and roll capital of the world, they’re insulting us. Can you imagine if the national press picked up on this? What does it make us look like?
Listeners called the station and they were angry – not just kids either – older adults called. It’s taken a long time for this city to turn around, we can finally say we’re proud to live in Cleveland again, and now somebody does this to make us a laughingstock?
The show became four hours of that. It culminated with a call to our studio from the Epic promotion guy, Joe Carroll screaming, “Flash? Fuck you, personally. Fuck Gorman! Fuck your whole fucking station! Put it on the air. I don’t give a fuck.” A few minutes before 9 o’clock, I got a call from Jeff Kinzbach saying, “You gotta hear this.” He played the call down the line. I asked if Tom O’Brien, our production director was there. He was. I asked Jeff to give him the tape, bleep out the radio license-threatening profanity, and play it. By the time O’Brien finished the considerable editing, they were only able to play it once, close to 10 AM, Kinzbach did his wrap-up, and said no-one called in favor of lip-synching, asked again how WGCL could do such a thing, and said he had one more call. He played the heavily bleeped tape, said “Okay, Joe,” and explained who it was – adding he was surprised Carroll was able to make the call, considering the number of people flooding the record label’s phone lines (we had given the number of Columbia-Epic’s local branch). And Jeff closed with, “Oh and by the way that number for Epic Records is….”
The campaign continued through out the day. David Helton drew a baboon under the circle-slash international “no” symbol – a takeoff on the logo for Ghostbusters. It wasn’t in the budget and it was expensive, but promotion director Jim Marchyshyn ordered and had printed that day 1,500 T-shirts with that design.
They were ready just in time for the show. We passed them out to people who were early arrivals on their way to the free Slade concert. Almost everyone receiving a T-shirt put it on. We didn’t know it, but WGCL had hired a crew to tape the show as a TV commercial for the station. That plan fell apart in a sea of Baboonbuster T-shirts.
The show was a poorly produced. The band’s lip synching was terrible, and the band was booed off the stage after six songs.
And that was the beginning of the summer-long radio war of 1984.
As WGCL unraveled an interesting maze of deception was exposed that outed some prominent individuals, organizations, and record labels.
Much more on the biggest radio war in Cleveland can be found in Chapter 25 of The Buzzard