A few days after Thanksgiving 1984, I was at a Christmas party at Akron auto dealer Dale Haggarty’s home. I overheard WAKR-AM and WAEZ-FM/Akron General Manager Fred Anthony mention that he was dropping the beautiful music format on WAEZ on New Year’s Day, 1985, for a classic-leaning album rock format, with new call letters, WONE-FM.
I learned that their parent company had station with the same format in Denver. Malrite also owned a station in that market. I called the program director there and asked him to run a few hours of tape on it and alerted Denny Sanders and Kid Leo that we were about to get some new competition from the south. Their signal reached much of our turf but had a huge hole in Parma because of a ridge to the south and interference from nearby FM antennas there. I spent a couple of days with the cassettes from Denver, studying their music rotations. I believed WONE would adopt the same format in Akron. I was impressed and also annoyed. It went deep on tracks by familiar artists and played some forgotten songs: “Callin’ Me Home” by the Steve Miller Band, “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic, “Sea of Joy” by Blind Faith, and “In the Memory of Elizabeth Reed” by the Allman Brothers Band.
It could be a difficult challenger. We were headed in a different music direction, with a strong emphasis on current rock. WONE would be playing our past. A certain percentage of listeners would try a new brand just because it was there. The station wouldn’t make a dent in Cleveland, but it could hurt us in Akron and Canton, and its classic rock lean could hurt us with older males. Unlike our powerful, in-your-face, forward motion format, theirs recalled the earlier low tech days of album radio. We had strong, dominant ratings in Akron and businesses from the region advertised on WMMS.
I proposed a Classic Rock Weekend on WMMS before WONE-FM signed on the air. We’d have to make it work in tandem with our current format – and we had to act fast – the coming weekend – to be far enough ahead of WONE-FM’s format change so it wouldn’t appear we were heading them off at the past though we clearly were. Denny and I assembled a special card file system to daypart key tracks and avoid any repetition. And we needed to secure greatest hits albums from classic rock artists for giveaways. We billed it as a unique venture into the past “as only the Buzzard could do it.”
It was a smash. Everyone on the air stressed that “once in a great while it’s OK to visit the past, as long as you don’t live there” and that we were playing music reserved for “this special occasion.” I also felt we’d be able to do something WONE couldn’t -put heavy emphasis on Cleveland-style classic rock, featuring artists that were uniquely popular in this region like Roxy Music, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Todd Rundgren, Southside Johnny, and selections from our live concert archives. Response was so strong that we went on with a new promo saying we were breaking all the rules and announced a second Classic Rock Weekend the following week. We also made subtle mentions that anything this good was bound to be copied, but imitation is never close to the original.
When WONE-FM signed on, its format was something WMMS had already done – twice. The debut was anti-climactic, and we lost no ratings ground in Akron and Canton.
The success of our Classic Rock Weekends led to the birth of a weekly WMMS Classic Rock Saturday Night, hosted by Betty Korvan and later Spaceman Scott, 7 PM to midnight, where we dug deep to find forgotten and unique tracks to make the show special – with BLF Bash and his own unique style right afterward, to keep the party going with a mix of old and new and, of course, the obligatory “Maggot Brain.”
This is a just-found recording of the first hour of our second Classic Rock Weekend, hosted by Denny Sanders (and Kid Leo’s Friday night close-out). We kept the original commercials intact – including one from Larry Robinson, the Diamond Man – and you’ll also hear something you’d never hear on nighttime rock radio today – a news bulletin. This one dealing with a hostage crisis at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
This aircheck is courtesy of former WMMS listener Tim Cassidy who we thank for sharing it with us.
See Chapter 27 – WMMS Can Call Itself Anything It Wants – in The Buzzard.