Archive for April, 2009

The Buzzard Morning Zoo’s Kenny Clean & his beater soul meter video

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Video on April 30, 2009 by John Gorman

 

Interviews with members of the WMMS staff often irritated writers from radio and music trade papers. 

We’d often get asked for specifics on how we came up with and developed a certain programming feature or contest and our customary reply would be “It just happened.”    They were expecting to hear that our latest success was created by extensive research and development – but that was almost never the case.   We viewed over-research as paralysis by analysis. 

The environment inside WMMS was akin to dot-com start-ups.  Nearly all of our best-known features and events came from from two-minute hallway meetings or spur-of-the-moment decisions.  

Every April 1, we cut a dozen or so April Fool’s Day parody commercials that we’d run in regular commercial breaks throughout the day.  Some were convincing enough that they were taken seriously – but that’s another story.   

In 1983, Ohio Rep. Louis Stokes was arrested by Montgomery County police in Maryland for drunk driving.   Police reported that Rep. Stokes tried to talk his way out of the arrest by arguing that he was exempt from arrest because he was a Congressman.   Around the same time, American Express was running a heavy radio and TV ad campaign with the tag line: Don’t leave home without it.   We tied the two together and created the Congressional Express card with Rep. Lou Stokes as its spokesperson.   With it, a congressman could drive drunk, get in accidents and evade arrest. Our tag line was don’t leave Capitol Hill without it. 

One problem.  Who was going to play Rep. Stokes on the satirical commercial?  It was at the end of a long day and Kenny Clean, whose family business cleaned WMMS, WHK, and the corporate Malrite offices, was nearby.  Not knowing what to expect, we asked Kenny to read the script.  He nailed it in one take!   The Congressional Express card became one of the most-requested and commented-on parody spot that April Fool’s Day. 

Proving that things “just happened,” Kenny began making occasional appearances with Jeff Kinzbach, Ed “Flash” Ferenc, Ruby Cheeks,  Len “Boom” Goldberg, and Spaceman Scott on the Buzzard Morning Zoo – and the Beater Soul Meter feature was born.  His popularity soared along with his catchphrase, “Sho’ Yo’ Rite,” an affirmation that started much of what he had to say and became his trademark.   People picked up on it and our promotion and marketing director Jim Marchyshyn had David Helton-designed T-shirts and buttons made with it.    We’d play an oldie rhythm & blues song every morning with Kenny running the Soul Meter to measure its true soul content. 

This is a video shot by Art “Radio’s Best Friend” Vuolo of the Soul Meter feature on a day when Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “More Love” was being put to the test. 

This video, and others posted here, are on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum’s WMMS exhibit.

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Matt the Cat video aircheck from September, 1985

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Video on April 23, 2009 by John Gorman

 

Matt the Cat joined WMMS, initially as a part-time weekend and fill-in announcer 36 years ago this week – on April 21, to be exact.  It was a one-day belated birthday present. 

Born in Belgium, he’d immigrated with his family to the U.S. in the 1950’s, stopping first in Massachusetts and then settling in Greater Cleveland, when his father accepted a position at the Immaculate Heart of St. Mary Church in Cleveland as a church organist.  

Matt was destined to be in radio.  He and a friend ran a pirate radio station, which ran a top 40 format and became the unofficial voice of Chanel High School.   It had a fairly powerful signal and often changed frequencies to confuse the FCC.   Listeners were notified in advance when the frequency changed.  A Cleveland radio engineer heard the station and notified the FCC, which shut the station down but did not prosecute. 

Matt is also fluent in the Polish language and once conducted a brief portion of an on-air interview with Polish jazz musician and composer Michal Urbaniak in that language. 

Matt was truly Cleveland radio’s master of middays – “at-work listening” in radio jargon – an essential but difficult time period for any one radio station to dominate – but he owned it for well over a decade.   He was Arbitron-rated number one overall and number one in all demographics under 40 equally  with both men and women.   He also had the leading continuous daily time spent listening of all radio stations in Cleveland in middays – and was just as dominant in his long-time Saturday, 12 noon to 6 PM shift.

He also hosted the Coffee Break Concerts, which during its live remote broadcast years at the Agora would require him to leave the station – make a bee-line to the club host the program and return to the station for the final hour of his show. 

This is a brief video segment was shot by Art Vuolo, “Radio’s Best Friend,” for his “Video Air-chex” series in September, 1985. at the newly-remodeled WMMS studios at the Statler Office Tower in Cleveland.  

More on Matt the Cat – including how he got that name in Chapter 1 and other chapters of The Buzzard.

New book review from Small Press Reviews here

35 years ago – The Buzzard is born!

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media on April 15, 2009 by John Gorman

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35 years ago on April 18 the WMMS Buzzard made its debut.    How the Buzzard came to be our logo was a long journey that started with a drive on the then bleak and isolated section of Euclid Avenue between East 55th and 105th on a damp, cold Cleveland December evening and, surprisingly, an incident regarding a syndicated radio show. 

On April 16, 1974 the Buzzard made its first appearance in a full-page print ad in a short-lived alternative bi-weekly named Zeppelin.  Though the paper was housed in Cuyahoga Falls, it had Cleveland-based investors and good distribution throughout Greater Cleveland shops, stores, and bars most likely to be frequented by potential WMMS listeners and, at that time, we couldn’t afford to trade or buy ads in the Scene.  Concomitantly, we premiered a Len “Boom” Goldberg-voiced ID, which ran every hour at the top-of-the-hour proclaiming WMMS as “the Wrath of the Buzzard!”

We’d had it with the old hippie FM underground image.  Our goal was to be Cleveland’s #1 radio station – and also become one of the most influential FM stations in America.

It was a tall order and many believed we couldn’t succeed.  FM meant find me.  FM penetration didn’t match AM’s dominance – and FM radios were optional – not standard in automobiles.  A radio with both AM and FM bands cost more than a stand-alone AM.

Initially, David Helton was given two Buzzard ads, both hand-sketched by me on a yellow legal pad.  They broke the then-unwritten rule of acknowledging rival stations in advertising.   We believed, written or unwritten, “rules were made to be broken” and we’d have to break a few of them in order to achieve our objective.

There were two versions of the first Buzzard ad.  A slightly restrained one, which featured two slips of paper (to represent Arbitron ratings diaries) – one reading GCL,” the other IXY – the two prominent top 40 stations in Cleveland at the time.  We didn’t know if Zeppelin would reject the ads mentioning rival stations so David completed the subtle version first.  

The second version, which was our second ad, two weeks later in Zeppelin, was not subtle.  The Buzzard was perched in a radio station graveyard, surrounded by tombstones for WIXY, WGCL, and WNCR, the latter also a top 40 station, which at one time was direct competition to WMMS.

While David was working on the second ad, WNCR dropped its top 40 format for country and changed call letters to WKSW (for KISS Country).  That’s why the WNCR tombstone is on a hill, covered with a cowboy hat and a cowboy boot in front of it.  This was our rendering of that station’s Boot Hill.

David’s art brought the Buzzard to life.  

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david-helton2David Helton remembers:

It was 35 years ago this week that we created and drew the first Buzzard.     I met Denny Sanders, who was doing his show at WMMS, on Tuesday night, after I got off work from American GreetingsDenny explained what he and John wanted.   I remember Denny asked me to pick a song off Madman Across the Water – and he played it!   That was the best part of the first meeting.   They needed the art the next day for Zeppelin magazine’s print deadline and, of course, that was the story of meeting Denny on the west side around East 50th and Detroit so he could pick up the finished artwork – except that there was no East 50th street – but, obviously, we found each other.

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Dan Garfinkel remembers:

A little over a year after the Buzzard logo was introduced a group of Case Western Reserve University MBA students did a study and determined that the Buzzard was the most recognizable logo in Greater Cleveland, beating out both the Cleveland Indians (Chief Wahoo) and Coca-Cola. (In Greater Cleveland and Greater Buffalo Pepsi-Cola outsells Coca-Cola.)


When I arrived at WMMS, we were doing 3,000 T-shirts per year.  I felt we could use the T-shirts as a way to build the brand, perform a public service by generating more money for worthy causes, and give our smaller advertisers, many of who had supported us in the early days, but were being priced off the station due to our growing ratings.  To show our appreciation for their support, I built a distribution network that included both large, multi-location chains and small mom and pop stores.  Innovations included drop shipping merchandise directly from the manufacturer, thus eliminating using the station as a warehouse; growing the business sufficiently so we that we had enough “weight” to order custom-made shirts, with color inserts, etc., standardizing our sizing mix, creating a regular “release” calendar with a spring and fall shirt; analyzing how many promos to use to successfully launch new product and developing relationships with multiple charities to receive proceeds (including, of course, the Free Clinic, but adding the Cleveland Ballet, the Cleveland Orchestra, and a music scholarship at Cleveland State University, to name a few).

We also introduced additional productions, including drinking glasses (which benefitted the Cleveland Museum of Natural History), calendars, thermoses, and camp shirts.  And that was just in the area of paid merchandising.  We also distributed a massive number of bumper stickers and promoted where they could be picked up, creating store traffic for dozens of retailers.buzzard-book-cover-small1

Please turn to Chapter 7 in The Buzzard for the complete story on how our fine-feathered friend came to be.   


 

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Buzzard Morning Zoo videos

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Video on April 14, 2009 by John Gorman

 

Here are two recently found videos of the Buzzard Morning Zoo from twenty-four years ago.

The first features Ed “Flash” Ferenc recapping the morning news headlines and the second has a brief excerpt from one of the most popular features on the Buzzard Morning Zoo – the Token Jokes of the Morning.   

By the fall of 1985, one of five people listening to morning drive radio in Cleveland listened to WMMS!   

The video was done by Art “Radio’s Best Friend” Vuolo, who has been shooting “video airchecks” at radio stations across the U.S. since 1977.

The WMMS Solid Gold Sunday

Posted in Buzzard on April 6, 2009 by John Gorman

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One of our pet weekend programming specials was the WMMS Solid Gold Sunday. We’d break format to play eleven straight hours of the sixties and early seventies hits first heard on AM top 40 radio.  It was a risky endeavor since radio programming rulebooks cautioned stations against altering format.  But we were never good at rules – unless we could break them, which we did quite often.

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We knew a large percentage of our audience grew up with top 40 radio and the music played on that format influenced nearly all of the artists we played in our regular album rock format. Though we did play a large number of compatible top 40 hits from the sixties and early seventies in regular rotation, it was unusual to hear them back-to-back, hour-after-hour on WMMS.  From the British Invasion to garage bands from surf to soul – we played it all – except for the wimpy stuff like the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, and Bobby Sherman.

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We also kept it authentic.  We searched for the original 45 RPM versions – not the re-recorded album track versions (compare the original single version of “Time is on my Side” by the Rolling Stones to the album version featured on various Stones greatest hits albums).  In some cases, especially with Jan and Dean and Mamas and Papas, the mono version was a better choice than the stereo version, which had vocals in the left channel and all the instruments in the right.

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Years earlier, while rummaging through an old storage closet when we were at at our original E.50th and Euclid, we found this terrible WMMS jingles package, which was produced for the station during a brief moment in the late sixties when spent a few weeks in a quasi-top 40 format. The jingles were hideous – but we pulled them out of the archives and they served the purpose and added a touch of camp for the Solid Gold Sunday.

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The success of our Solid Gold Sundays spawned our weekly Solid Gold Sunday Morning oldies show, hosted by Len “Boom ” Goldberg (he called his oldies “Solid Goldbergers”), which was followed a few years later by our sister station, WHK, switching to a full-time oldies format in April, 1984.

More on Cleveland oldies radio in Chapter 26 of The Buzzard

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Induction week

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on April 1, 2009 by John Gorman


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This is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Induction Week in Cleveland.

For the first time in twelve years, the annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will take place here.  This is the 24th induction ceremony. The on-going festivities began last Saturday and will continue right up to this Saturday’s Induction ceremony.

This year’s inductees are Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Metallica, Run-D.M.C., Bobby Womack, Wanda Jackson, Bill Black, DJ Fontana, and Spooner Oldham

It’s the largest coordination effort the Rock Hall has embarked on since its opening.

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The next induction ceremony in Cleveland will take place in 2012.

Getting the Rock Hall built in Cleveland was a victory that wouldn’t have happened without two unsung heroes.

Long before the campaigns, polls, and petition drives, he made the city’s shot possible.   His name appears in no histories and most Clevelander’s wouldn’t recognize it: Edgar S. Spizel.

We knew him as Eddie Spizel, an advertising guy whose agency represented Cook-United, the company that owned Uncle Bill’s and J.P. Snodgrass.   When Cook-United folded, he left town, moved to San Francisco, and built a successful agency there.

I hadn’t seen him for years and was surprised when he called in 1984.  Bill Graham, the famed rock promoter, was planning to build a rock & roll hall of fame in San Francisco, near Ghiradelli Square, which would honor mostly Bay Area performers. 

He said he was coming to town and I set up a meeting of the minds, which included Denny Sanders, Kid Leo, and Bill Smith.   To counter Graham’s plans, we’d need the support of the music industry, specifically the labels.

Enter the second unsung hero of the Rock Hall – Tunc Erim.  He was head of promotion and marketing at Atlantic Records and right hand to Ahmet Ertegun, the label’s founder.  Tunc, a good friend and a wonderful guy with a thick Turkish accent knew Cleveland well.  He knew it as a rock and roll city and was an ardent supporter of WMMS and loved going to Cleveland concerts and rock clubs 

 

Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, Atlantic Records GM Jerry Greenberg and Atlantic Senior VP Tunc Erim

Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, Atlantic Records GM Jerry Greenberg and Atlantic Senior VP Tunc Erim

I called him and explained the situation Spizel described – and asked him if he could get Ahmet’s opinion.

“It’s funny you bring this up, Erim said, “because Ahmet is starting a rock and roll hall of fame.” He and Ertegun had picked out a site in Manhattan, and the mayor, Ed Koch, was arranging a tax abatement.  Ertegun planned to house exhibits, a library, and historical artifacts in the building, and to hold induction ceremonies.   He had set up a foundation for it back in 1983.

And it would be in New York unless – what?  “Tunc,” I said, “if it’s in New York, it’s just another building.  If you put it in Cleveland, it’s going to be a centerpiece.  It’s going to be the focal point.”

He said he’d talk to Ertegun.   He called back the following day and said. “Ahmet has one question: What will Cleveland do for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” 

Our listeners provided the answer.

The complete story is in The Buzzard, Chapter 21 – The Rock Stops Here.

...and you can buy The Buzzard at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame store

...and you can buy The Buzzard at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame store