I was so lucky to have been able to work with him.
Thanks for the honor and the fun.
Love You, Brian and I’ll miss you dearly.
May BC Rest In Peace…
– Joe Molnar
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Brian enriched the lives of everyone that knew him.
As an artist, his creations were always prominent, influential, and he always added that extra something that came from his soul. And he had a good one – and a kind heart to match. We’ll miss you, Brian.
Thomas Giulivo is a fellow artist who worked with Brian a few years ago. This is his tribute.
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The sudden and unexpected death of Michael Jackson brings to mind the alleged controversies surrounding our decision to play his music on WMMS. In fact, Michael Jackson played deep into the history of WMMS.
I defended it then to those believing we crossed a musical line and I defend it even more strongly now; we made the right decision to play Michael Jackson, Prince, and other African-American cross-0ver artists on WMMS. All the urban legends about that decision came from people who weren’t in that music meeting in March, 1983.
We’d often spend a week or two, even more, discussing the merit of certain songs and artists and whether we should add them or not.
There was “Smalltown Boy” by the gay British trio Bronski Beat, about a boy who was shunned by his family and friends when they learned of his sexual orientation; hardly another album rock station in America would play it, and even the label asked if were sure. Yet-without incident or complaint – we added it.
But Denny Sanders, Kid Leo, and I didn’t debate whether we should play Michael Jackson for weeks or months, just as we never pondered about playing the Isley Brothers, Gloria Gaynor, and George and Gwen McRae. We never anguished over playing Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Gil Scott-Heron, or B.B. King, or classic rhythm and blues tunes from the sixties and seventies by the Temptations to Aretha. They were the roots of rock and roll music. The hottest rock band in the world in the seventies, Led Zeppelin, freely borrowed music and even lyrics from rhythm and blues tunes.
We didn’t have meetings with the corporate or anyone else before we added Michael Jackson. And we didn’t do it to get a greater teen audience, as our rivals suggested. It came down to one thing. Michael Jackson was the hottest act in show business, his music was mass appeal, he was all over MTV when that meant something, and as a popular culture format radio station we’d be crazy not to play him. In fact, we knew we were late for that party. WGCL had been on Jackson’s Thriller album from the time it was released, and I supposed it through a few ratings points in their direction.
A couple of days after we started playing “Beat It,” which we considered a rock song – right down to the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, we added “Billie Jean,” a masterpiece that already was an MTV staple. Within days they were the two most requested songs on WMMS and sounded as pop and rock as anything else we were playing at the time.
I believed, as did Denny and Leo, that Michael Jackson would not alienate most of our audience. No one boycotted the station. We didn’t get petitioned to stop playing him. Maybe ten people – max – called or wrote to complain. And we weren’t the only album rock format station to play Michael Jackson, though others tried and even apologized for it. I heard one album rock station in another market play “Beat It” and identify it as Eddie Van Halen – not even mentioning Jackson’s name.
The same week we started playing Michael Jackson, we also added Eddy Grant’s infamous “Electric Avenue” (Grant was a member of the Equals who had a top 40 hit, “Baby Come Back” that we’d occasionally spin), Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” – including the 12” version, and Rockers Revenge’s updated version of “The Harder they Come,” which was a huge song for us in the seventies by Jimmy Cliff, and “All You Ever Think About is Sex” by the band Sparks. We were covering all the musical bases.
In retrospect, Denny, Leo and I realized we were actually a little late with adding Thriller, but we right on time with Victory, the 1984 album, which reunited Michael Jackson with his brothers for the first time since 1980’s Triumph. Actually, Victory was more like the Beatles’ White Album or Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, a collection of solo projects on which the brothers, as a group, did not appear on every track. Its first single, “State of Shock,” featured Michael in a duet with the lead singer of what many back then called the world’s greatest rock and roll band – Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
Coinciding with its release, the Victory World Tour was announced. It reunited all the Jackson brothers, including Jermaine, who had not performed with them since they quit Motown Records in 1975, but not Jackie, who was on the album but didn’t tour because of a knee injury. Like most events involving Michael Jackson, the tour was unconventionally supported and financed. Charles Sullivan, the son of New England Patriots owner William “Billy” Sullivan, would not risk any stadium shows without up-front guarantees. Sullivan had invested millions in the tour and was coming up short when a number of dates he fronted failed to sell out. The initial announcement had the group playing fifty concerts in the U.S. and Canada.
Cleveland was not among them. Malrite President Carl Hirsch threw out a suggestion to me about bringing the Jacksons to Cleveland Municipal Stadium ourselves – fully sponsored and supported by WMMS. Carl and I agreed that being a popular culture station made far more sense than being pigeon-holed as a specific format. Carl knew our goal was to have the best radio station in America and he was always there to back the attack. He asked a lot of questions before he’d back you and he asked all the right questions. It was Carl that provided WMMS autonomy when I and others needed it. Carl never threw away money. Every dollar he invested, he got back ten.
I agreed the tour was worth the gamble – but it was also the ground zero for problems started that would eventually lead to the beginning of the end of WMMS as we had known it for a eleven years.
To be continued.
More on WMMS and Michael Jackson in Chapters 23 and 26 in The Buzzard
We are shocked and saddened to learn of Brian Chalmers’ passing. He was a sensitive, creative, talented artist and designer. Brian was a fine friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
WMMS was owned by Malrite Communications. It was a company that encouraged creativity and originality. The success of WMMS in Cleveland influenced other stations in our chain to be innovative. As the company grew, it acquired more properties and our Buzzard artist David Helton took on additional responsibilities, which included redesigning or creating new logos for several Malrite properties – including Z-100/New York.
To do so, David had to find his day-to-day heir at WMMS. His first and only choice was Brian Chalmers, whose work we were familiar with from Scene magazine.
Brian graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1975 and joined Scene as an illustrator.
Brian worked with WMMS for well over a decade – through five ownership changes. When OmniAmerica purchased WMMS along with WMJI and WHK in 1994, Brian handled the creative for all three stations – as well as designing art for the Buzzardfest series at Blossom Music Center. He was also the chief photographer for the three stations. When Clear Channel purchased WMMS and WMJI, it was just as clear that his creative contributions would no longer be recognized and valued.
Providentially, Brian was permitted to do free-lance while at OmniAmerica and created art for Belkin Productions, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland Magazine, the Tri-C Jazz Fest, Case
Western, and the Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau, just to name a few.
Following his escape from Clear Channel, Brian joined WKYC-TV/Cleveland where he developed graphic design for ten years.
I’m leaving a lot out. Let me close my saying Brian lived a rich and full life and his contributions to the local music and media scene were beyond measure.
Brian Chalmers was one of the most creative individuals I have ever known and had the talent, insight and sensitivity of a true artist. His passion for doing great work will forever be an inspiration to me. He was my friend and I loved him like a brother, and I will miss him.
It’s fair to say that the one recording artist most closely associated with WMMS is Bruce Springsteen. It’s also fair to say his WMMS Tenth Anniversary concert at the Agora solidified that fact. Nearly thirty-one years later, that show remains one of the most traded concert bootlegs and Bit Torrents.
Surprisingly, the Boss only paid one visit to WMMS, which took place on April 6, 1976, the day before he and the E Street Band played the Allen Theater.
Customarily, when artists visited WMMS for interviews one of three photographers: Anastasia Pantsios, Janet Macoska, or Bob Ferrell would shoot the event for the trade papers and posterity. For reasons long forgotten, though I believe it had to do with the on-again, off-again interview plans, we did not have a photographer present when Bruce and Miami Steve Van Zandt arrived at our original habitat for inhumanity – a windowless bunker-style building attached to 5000 Euclid Avenue.
Luckily, there was Dan Keefe, who was interning at WMMS in programming and promotion. Dan loved photography, had a great eye for killer shots and had camera. Dan ended up taking one of the best-known WMMS photos from that era (it also appears in The Buzzard book). Today, he’s an innovative videographer with WKYC-TV/Cleveland.
On Monday, June 9, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played to 22,000 at the Bergenhus Festning – Koengen in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. Someone in the audience took this photo, which shows a giant blow-up of a portion of that WMMS photo from 1976. We never expected that photo to resurface as a backdrop for a Springsteen concert. Not having seen this tour, I can’t tell you whether this was a one-time use or if the photo collage backdrop is being used by Bruce and the band for their current tour. Whatever the case, someone just happened the capture this shot at the right moment.
The original photo left to right – Back row: Miami Steve Van Zandt, Charlie Kendall (mornings and music director), John Gorman, Jeff Kinzbach (then production director), Steve Lushbaugh (10 PM- 2 AM and assistant production director), Matt the Cat, Denny Sanders. Front row: Kid Leo, Bruce Springsteen, Shelly Stile, and Dan Garfinkel.
Click photos to enlarge (two sizes)
I recommend the From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum in Cleveland.
It was twenty-six years ago – June 16, 1983 – when we lost Peter Schliewen, the founding owner of Record Revolution on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
You seldom hear his name mentioned today – and that’s a shame. He was a prominent part of the star maker machinery behind Cleveland rock and roll scene in the seventies and early eighties – and a close friend to everyone at WMMS.
Peter looked like a rock star and lived like one, too. He drove a Porsche 911 SC, a Harley XLS 1000 and a top-of-the-line high performance Jeep. He was always the most rock and roll fashionable person in the room – even amongst veteran rock stars.
Peter’s Record Revolution, along with Lakewood’s Melody Lane and downtown’s Music Grotto, were the three “breakout” record stores in Greater Cleveland. When we added a new album or a new artist, mostly one on the cutting edge or somewhat left of center – the first indication of its popularity would come from sales in those stores.
Peter loved turning friends and customers on to new music. He stocked imports. If a new album arrived that hit Peter’s hot button, he’d call about it. If he were really hot about a new import, he’d drive down to the station and drop it off. Peter was no fool. He’d get a free mention or two on-the-air – and, more than likely, sell a few copies of an album he had that no one else did.
Peter also kept us supplied with the latest issues of U.K. music magazines like Melody Maker and New Musical Express, which enabled us to stay current with emerging European music trends. We discovered Detroit-to-London transplant Suzi Quatro from the British music magazines in the early ‘70s. Though she didn’t duplicate the equivalent musical success in the U.S., she was a superstar in Cleveland.
I best remember Peter for turning me on to Queen. At the time I lived within walking distance of Record Rev, as we called it, and every Saturday morning, I’d stop by Peter’s office in the back of the store, and listen to his latest finds. He was an animated guy as a rule – but he was exceptionally excited at the occasion to crank up “Keep Yourself Alive” on his Voice of the Theater speakers. It was a good month and a half before the album was released in the U.S. By the time it was, Cleveland was recognized as the group’s breakout city since the band was already established from the import’s airplay on WMMS. We owe that breakout to Peter.
He did in-stores with many of the breaking artists like Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Elvis Costello.
Peter’s Record Rev was a destination for many rock stars passing through Cleveland – and most of his famous customers autographed his store’s walls. Among them were members of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Bad Company, the Who, Mott the Hoople, and Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny.
Rock critic Gene Sculatti’s 1982 book, The Catalog of Cool called Record Revolution,”the coolest place to buy records” in Ohio.
He also had the best, most knowledgeable staff – that could ID tunes from a lyric or a hum. Two of his staffers formed the popular Pride of Cleveland reggae band I-Tal.
Though Peter expanded the store to include rock clothing, used albums, and paraphernalia, it was becoming increasingly difficult to compete with the larger discount chains.
As record retailing technology improved, the lag time between an artist’s initial exposure to established success went from months to weeks and the fickle labels lessened Record Rev’s importance as a “cutting edge” breakout store and spent fewer dollars to support him with advertising and promotions. For Peter to stay competitive and profitable, he was forced to broaden his customer base by adding more drug paraphernalia items – and opened a store a new store in mainstream Parma. And that’s when his problems really started.
Though there was nothing illegal in what Peter was selling – the far-more-conservative-than-Cleveland Heights Parma city government fervidly attacked Peter’s store for selling paraphernalia. In the early eighties, he was getting more press on that fight than he was for his true love – music. His legal costs approached a quarter of a million dollars.
Despite these problems, Peter continued to be upbeat on the future of his business. On Thursday, June 16, 1983, Peter was with friends at Nighttown on Cedar Rd. in Cleveland Heights. It was their annual Bloomsday party, in honor of Irish writer James Joyce. Looking for a break on this warm summer evening, Peter asked a young woman if she’d like to take a ride in his Porsche. She did – and off they went up Cedar Rd. to Fairmount and from Fairmount to Shaker Boulevard.
He was a safe driver – but as anyone whoever rode with Peter would tell you – he had a need for speed. In the 21200 block of Shaker Boulevard he lost control of the Porsche. It jumped the curb and slammed head on into a tree at a high rate of speed. Peter and his passenger were thrown from the vehicle. His passenger, though critically injured, survived the crash. 41-year old Peter didn’t.
He may be gone but those of us at WMMS who knew him will always remember his determination, drive, and genuine love of rock and roll.
Having a cool logo and the Buzzard mascot allowed us the opportunity to promote and market WMMS like a sports team instead of a radio station. The parallels were there. We had a team – not athletes – but on-air talent who were highly visible; each with their own distinctive personality.
Radio stations were not known for innovative merchandising. In the sixties and seventies, some stations would tie-in with labels for special “greatest hits” album packages and occasional promotional giveaway items.
We started with T-shirts, but swiftly evolved into roach clips, long-sleeve jerseys, sweatshirts, hats, belt buckles, drinking glasses, thermoses, coolers, jackets, Malley’s chocolate bars, and even blue jeans.
In 1976, a group of MBA students at Case Western Reserve University did a market study, which verified that the Buzzard was the most recognizable logo in Greater Cleveland. The Buzzard beat out both the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo and Coca-Cola.
We rarely did an exclusive marketing deal, limiting the sale of a Buzzard merchandise item to one store. Our promotion director in the 70s, Dan Garfinkel, set up a distribution network that covered both large, multi-location chains and department stores as well as independent stand-alone shops and mom and pop-style stores. We had a set price for all merchandise, regardless of the location they were being sold at.
Profits from sales went to charities. The Free Clinic was our initial recipient, and as our merhandising grew we added the Cleveland Ballet, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and a music scholarship at Cleveland State University. A Buzzard wool-style hat and scarf were chosen by the XIII Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid, NY committee.
In 1977, three years before ZZ Top recorded “Cheap Sunglasses,” we introduced our own Buzzard sunglasses. Revo’s they weren’t – but at $4.99 – and available in all shapes and sizes – they served the basic purpose of sunglasses.
Then we had the now legendary WMMS Buzzard halter tops. It was no accident that we chose the smallest, skimpiest style we could find. They came in three sizes – though medium fit like a small and large was closer to medium. That’s what happens when guys choose the style for women to wear.
Despite the size concerns, they sold very well – and we kept had an extra stash on hand for promotional giveaways at Buzzard events. This self-explanatory photo on the left is from a promotional event at the Cleveland Metropark Zoo where we gave away some Buzzard halter tops.
Some of us also recall a rock festival near Youngstown where Murray Saul, dirty old man that he was is, took the giveaways one step further. He went on stage with a handful of halters and proclaimed, “You can have one if you need one.” Close to a dozen women obliged. The 70s…what more can one say?
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Ed “Flash” Ferenc will be doing afternoon drive this afternoon (12) from 3-7 PM on WTAM 1100/Cleveland. Listen on line here.