The WMMS Buzzard Beatles Blitz, 1980
I can never emphasize enough how versatile the WMMS staff was – and nothing illustrated that fact better than the biggest undertaking in station history, our round-the-clock, commercial-free Buzzard Beatles Blitz. No station had tried anything quite so ambitious before, and I don’t know of any others since then.
We wanted to do something unique and take it beyond just a marathon of Beatles music, although the music – with unreleased live racks, studio outtakes, solo work, and unreleased material – went far deeper than the standard retrospective. Weeks of intense work went into preparing it. We sifted through hundreds of hours of interviews with the Beatles – and people connected with them. For months, leading up to the BBB, as we called it, we asked every rock star and celebrity who came to the station to do interviews we could excerpt from, and they ranged from Gene Simmons of Kiss to Charlie Daniels. For a local edge, we solicited calls from listeners, who talked about seeing the Beatles at Public Hall or Municipal Stadium or camped out in front of their hotel.
What made it unique, and different from productions like Bill Drake’s enormous History of Rock & Roll, is that the highly detailed and specialized programming was done live by our incredibly ambidextrous air staff. Only the interviews and music were pre-recorded. The airstaff was live and their maneuvering through the tightly timed, scripted, formatted hours, and going from vinyl to cart to reel-to-reel tape for content was a major testament to their skills.
Interviews came from hundreds of sources. The Beatles interviews alone came from nearly hundred, and included never-broadcast material. We found an extensive interview with Tony Sheridan, whom the Beatles backed on an album in Germany, when Pete Best was their drummer. We found a John Lennon interview with London journalist David Wiggs, in which Lennon said he didn’t want to be compared to someone like Mahatma Gandhi as the voice of a “revolution” because Gandhi got shot by being one.
With the exception of Mick Jagger, who sent back audio after we submitted questions, we did all the other interviews live, in person, or on the phone, including Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Carl Perkins, Rick Derringer, and Doug Feiger of the Knack, among many others, One of the many highlights was singer Ronnie Spector admitting to a brief affair with John Lennon when the Ronettes opened for the Beatles on a European tour. She revealed that Lennon “documented” the affair on the Rubber Soul track, “Norwegian Wood.” She also admitted the previously unknown fact that Phil Spector refused to send her on the Beatles’ 1966 U.S. tour when the Ronettes were on the bill with the Cyrkle, Barry and the Remains, and Bobby Hebb, and had a substitute singer in her place.
From the Beatles camp we had road manager Nat Weiss, Joy Hall, who handled radio promotion for Apple Records and gave us an autographed copy of Abbey Road to give away, and Ken Mansfied, a former president of Apple Records, who revealed that the Beatles wanted to a farewell concert in a U.S. desert, and that one suggested site was Black Rock Desert, Nevada, later home to the annual Burning Man Festival. Logistics and the growing rift between Lennon and Paul McCartney put an end to that plan.
We did two Buzzard Beatle Blitz specials. The first one was programmed for 24 straight hours beginning Friday night-Saturday morning at midnight, a dumb move on my part since few could stay awake or conveniently tape what couldn’t be heard live. The second one, which we ran in the spring of 1980 – months before John Lennon was killed in December, was a new, improved version, which new material, and programmed over a three-days, Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.
Download Part one
Download Part two
On some computers you may have to click “download” more than once.
More on the Buzzard Beatles Blitz in Chapter 17 of The Buzzard
Special thanks to Chuck Matthews