The Buzzard News – our “in-house” comic
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The Buzzard News was an in-house comic book that was seen only by the WMMS staff and a few close friends. It was never intended for public consumption.
The radio ratings wars in Cleveland during the seventies and eighties were legendary.
Though WWWM/ M-105 (now WMJI), which played album rock, was our main format rivalry, we deemed any station aiming for listeners between the ages of 12 and 34 competition. That included WGAR, then an up-tempo adult hit music AM station at 1220 (now WHKW), and two FM top 40 stations WGCL at 98.5 (now WNCX) and WZZP 106.5 (now WMVX).
The Buzzard News comics customarily centered on the war between WMMS and M-105.
WMMS had been the only full-time album rock station in Cleveland since Nationwide Communications dropped WNCR’s album rock format for top 40 in 1972. But on March 4, 1975, a former “elevator music” station, WWWM made its debut as M-105. War had begun.
My counterpart at M-105 was Eric Stevens, a formidable opponent. He was music director of WIXY before he was twenty, and had good connections in the music industry. He also produced music, including Brownsville Station’s hit “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” and a Cleveland band, Damnation of Adam’s Blessing, whose 1970 song “Take Me Back to the River” still received occasional airplay on WMMS. Whenever we broke a new act, M105 wisely would jump on it like it was their own.
Stevens, operating from his own top 40 background, understood WMMS. He took our wide playlist, trimmed it dramatically, and kept the music flowing. The formula had worked elsewhere. Incumbent album rock stations were failing as new, tight-listed stations entered their markets. The older stations became too hip for the room.
We gave our competition nicknames. Eric was the Chimp, partly because of a “WIXY’s Gone Bananas” promotion he had while at that station, but mostly because we liked it.
Air personalities were secondary on M105. The jocks, at least for the first couple of years, were not allowed to talk beyond sticking to pre-written liner card intros and outros or do interviews like the WMMS staff, read from liner cards and stressed that M105 was “the home of continuous music.” We carried eight to nine minutes of commercial spots per hour. M105, with fewer spots ran all-music, commercial-free weekends and frequent three-hour “continuous music” sweeps.
It provided M105 opportunities to lure listeners, and they did a good job parroting WMMS (minus playing the more adventurous artists and tracks like Kevin Ayers’ “Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes” or Roxy Music’s “Editions of You.”). They’d have to play something god-awful for us to get those listeners back. M-105 was the station that gave us the kick in the ass to make it and make it on our terms.
Their operating costs were much lower, because they were not a union shop (WMMS was) and their jocks was paid barely over minimum wage.
M105 never achieved our ratings numbers, but they had respectable enough ratings to turn a profit and live off our spillage in advertising. WMMS was always sold out; if a client needed a spot on the air, M105 always had the avails.
I had nothing to go on but my own gut. I believed were in the process of attracting and assembling one of the greatest teams in radio – and chose the side of having a strong personality-oriented station that would break new music and take no prisoners. I likened our ratings wars with other stations to The Enemy Below, a 1957 movie about the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II and the cat-and-mouse maneuvers of a U.S. destroyer and a German U-boat. Both were experienced, determined to win, and had much in common. Each had to anticipate the other’s moves, knowing that only one would survive.
The Buzzard News comics – and there were several – took our ratings war and put it into cartoon form – featuring our staff and theirs – long before illustrated novels became the norm.
This particular issue was not dated. David Helton and I believe it was probably from mid-to-late 70s.
There are many stories about the radio wars in Cleveland throughout The Buzzard