Archive for August, 2009

WMMS in 1974 – Selling out or buying in?

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on August 27, 2009 by John Gorman


What happens when a formerly insignificant, long-haired underground hippie imaged radio station on that hard-t0-find FM band becomes the top rock station in Cleveland?

The old guard turns on it.

This is one of the first mainstream magazine articles written about WMMS – from Cleveland Magazine in late 1974.  Much had been written about the station over the past year – most of it in the Plain Dealer and Cleveland Press Friday entertainment supplements, and the alternative weeklies (Scene, Zeppelin, Exit).

Len “Boom” Goldberg had just quit the station (he rejoined a few weeks after this piece was written).

The big news was that WMMS had beaten all odds by topping its AM partner, WHK – just a little over a year after the stations’ chief engineer predicted that the FM band would never amount to much.

Even more remarkable was that radios featuring both AM and FM bands cost more than those with just AM.

Many of our listeners bought after-market FM tuners, which they mounted under their dashboards so WMMS could be heard while driving.  A car radio, which included FM was costly and had to be special-ordered.

We were also a full year from Congressional legislation that would force manufacturers to include the FM band in all radios retailing for $12 or more.

Rated H for hostility.





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BUZZARD BOOK COVER SMALLDid we sell out, buy in or peddle off our souls for rock & roll?

More details in The Buzzard

Buzzard Vehicles

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on August 25, 2009 by John Gorman
L to R: John Gorman, Kenny Miles (WMMS sales), Robert "Roach" Markowitz (A&R Custom), David Helton, Joel Frensdorf (WMMS sales), Jeff Kinzbach

L to R: John Gorman, Kenny Miles (WMMS sales), Robert "Roach" Markowitz (A&R Custom), David Helton, Joel Frensdorf (WMMS sales), Jeff Kinzbach

6175_1216946901488_1163317950_30654837_6451653_nFrom the mid 70s through the mid 80s, you’d see the WMMS Buzzard everywhere – and that was by design.

One of the designers during that era was Robert “Roach” Markowitz of A&R Custom in Cleveland, whose work adorned our customized WMMS Buzzard vans, speedboat, racecar, and motorcycle.   Robert also did the art for Daffy Dan’s van and a van Alex Bevan and WMMS donated to the Free Clinic in Cleveland.  David Helton did the initial artwork, whic6175_1216947021491_1163317950_30654840_2277497_nh Robert transformed to the vehicles.

We even joked about buying a tank – though, considering the brutal competition between radio stations during those years, we probably weren’t joking.Robert's Airbrush 059

By 1985, we took to the skies with our own Buzzard plane, piloted by our Morning Zoo traffic reporter Pat Brady.

In 1986, Denny Sanders and I were working on our ultimate Buzzard vehicle – a huge mobile sundeck studio, which we intended to use for live remote broadcasts throughout our listening area and beyond.  We had purchased the mobile studio and were in the process of outfitting it when a corporate 6175_1216946941489_1163317950_30654838_3375743_nmanagement change occurred, which led to the project being cancelled.

Still, during those years, WMMS vehicles were on land, on the lake, and in the air.  And that wasn’t counting the hundreds of thousands of WMMS bumper stickers and decals that decorated cars, vans, and trucks throughout Greater Cleveland.

WMMS Race Car 1

WMMS Buzzard Bus 2

WMMS Race Car 2WMMS Thunder Buzzard Race Boat 2

Daffy Dan's Van

Click photos to enlarge

Vintage WMMS photos 1973 & 1974

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos, Buzzard Video on August 17, 2009 by John Gorman


In 1973 and for much of 1974, WMMS was at a palpable disadvantage as a rising national music and radio influence.  Cleveland had a rich history of breaking new music and exposing new trends first – going back to the pre-war Big Band era.  And in the early fifties Rock & Roll as a musical genus was defined here.

1969-Fire-02We were in Cleveland – a city viewed by those who’d never been here as one where its river and its mayor’s hair both caught on fire but not at the same time, referring to the Cuyahoga River fire in June, 1969 and Mayor Ralph Perk’s hair catching fire when he used welder’s torch for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an industrial convention at Public Hall in October 1972.

The Cleveland Joke was an institution made nationally famous by many Johnny Carson one-liners (written, incidentally, by a former Clevelander) and Laugh-In, which awarded Cleveland its famed Fickle Finger of Fate award.  Even the comic lfbook Howard the Duck dealt with its character, who lived in Cleveland as being “trapped in a world he never made.”

Locally, the daily papers – the Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press carried stories of Cleveland-based Fortune 500 companies publicizing plans to move their corporate headquarters elsewhere.   One, Diamond Shamrock, said “we haven’t decided where we are moving to.  We just want out of Cleveland.”

(Diamond Shamrock’s farewell to the region was to leave it with 750,000 tons of chromate materials, three waste lakes, and other toxic contaminants at an 1,100 acre site on the border of Painesville Township and Fairport Harbor.)

When negotiating with national labels and managers on bringing an artist to Cleveland for a promotional concert or contest – we’d be forced into defending the city – that it wasn’t the hell hole national media had turned it into.  Plus, if troubled cities like Detroit and Memphis still had positive music industry images, why not Cleveland?

2694367352_87212253d5We wanted to increase our national presence – and reverse the negativity that was so strongly associated with Cleveland. Its rich history and current rock scene had to be exploited – and we were the only ones that could do it on that level.

We inundated the national radio and music industry trade papers with a steady bombardment of staged staff photos. We’d take advantage of any opportunity to promote WMMS to raise our profile and Cleveland’s importance to the radio and music industries.

The first photo is from Radio & Records, which was all of six months old, in December, 1973, but was growing rapidly in industry influence.  It was the first trade to give equal billing to both radio and the music business.  Prior to Radio & Records, most trade magazines were music industry dominant.

R&R 12-73 WMMS_0001

This was one of the earliest “group shots” taken at WMMS. Can you find the three prominent typos in the R&R caption? Doc Remer, who is pictured here was a Cleveland music industry veteran – and holds the record for attending the most WMMS Nights Out at the Cleveland Agora. He was at every show!

L to R - Standing: Betty Korvan, Denny Sanders, Kid Leo, John Gorman, Frank DiLeo (Bell Records)   Seated: Dave Prescott (PIKS Corp.), Debbie Ullman

L to R - Standing: Betty Korvan, Denny Sanders, Kid Leo, John Gorman, Frank DiLeo (Bell Records) Seated: Dave Prescott (PIKS Corp.), Debbie Ullman

This photo was taken in the summer of 1974. Suzi Quatro was an established superstar in Cleveland – but hadn’t really caught on in the rest of the country.  She was too rock for top 40 stations and too pop for most album rock FMs.  Our listeners found her to be a perfect fit.   In lieu of awarding us a gold or platinum album – since she hadn’t achieved that prominence nationally – Bell Records, her label, created a special award for breaking Suzi Quatro in the Cleveland, Akron, and Canton markets.   It was said that if Suzi Quatro’s sales were as strong in other markets, she would be a platinum million-selling artist.

(Delivering the award was Frank DiLeo, who worked for Quatro’s label Bell Records,  He later joined Columbia Records’ subsidiary label Epic as Vice President of National Promotion. During his time there, the label outperformed the parent company in sales. He later managed Michael Jackson between 1984 and 1989    DiLeo also worked with Prince on special projects and appeared in three movies: GoodfellasWayne’s World and Wayne’s World II and in a music video for Saga’s “Wind Him Up.” Earlier this year DiLeo returned to his managerial role with Michael Jackson, to oversee his sold out 50 concerts at the O2 Arena in London. Here’s the Saga music video, included only because you probably haven’t heard this song for at least 15 or 20 years…)

The constant barrage of WMMS photos and press releases to the national trades paid off – and by the end of 1974 Cleveland was being recognized nationally as a the hottest rock and roll breakout market in the country.

Click to enlarge photos

Betty Korvan interview from March, 1979

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on August 13, 2009 by John Gorman

B KORVAN RMR MAGIn the late ‘70s through the mid ‘80’s there were at least a dozen radio station-music business trade papers.

One, of them, the Atlanta-based Radio Music Report RMR, for short. Chuck Dunaway, the renowned program director of the original WIXY-1260/Cleveland, was its co-owner and executive editor.

Though RMR was predominantly a top 40 and disco format trade, it did substantial coverage of WMMS due to its distinguishing format.  Nearly everyone who worked at WMMS in the late ‘70s was interviewed by RMR.

I just came upon this interview Chuck Dunaway did with Betty Korvan, which appeared in RMR on March 19, 1979.

Click multiple times to enlarge size

Thirty One Years Ago in Cleveland, Ohio…..

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on August 8, 2009 by John Gorman

bruce-springsteen-agora-posterClick here for more

More from Addicted to Vinyl here

Choosing one favorite WMMS memory is a nearly impossible task – but way, way up there, where the air is rare, has to be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing our 10th Anniversary Concert at the Cleveland Agora. It was also carried on an ad hoc network of seven rock stations in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg called it the best show the band ever did.

One of the best complements I received about that show came a few years later from Bob Seger, backstage at an Eagles concert at the Coliseum. He said, “Man, I heard the concert you guys put on with Springsteen.  That was the greatest rock and roll show I ever heard.”  He told me he was one of the many listeners who ran to his tape machine to record his own copy.


Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos on August 6, 2009 by John Gorman
Murray Saul preparing to roll a joint in 1975 at the Mistake - the basement club at the Cleveland Agora on East 24th Street

Murray Saul preparing to roll a joint in 1975 at the Mistake - the basement club at the Cleveland Agora on East 24th Street

Murray Saul was never shied away from expressing his opinions on the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana on or off the air at WMMS.

Murray had many opportunities to speak his mind on not only the Friday night Get Down – but the two public affairs programs he hosted, Sunday morning’s Jabberwocky and the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon We, the People.

Louis_Armstrong_NYWTS2-1He smoked his first joint in 1949.  Today, at 81, he still tokes and quotes Louis Armstrong’s line about smoking weed: “I’ve been smoking marijuana for over fifty years so I know it’s not habit forming.”

“…and I smoke dope.”  Murray told then-sales manager Dave DeCapua in his interview for a WMMS sales position.  That assertion, Murray believed, convinced DeCapua he could sell the format in spite of being twenty-eight years older than the median age of the typical WMMS listener.

His Friday night Get Down made frequent references to the herb – and even featured an ever-so-slightly veiled market report on its availability, quality, and price.  He’d take a hit off an imaginary joint and say, “That’s good stuff and there’s a lot of it around – but the price ain’t as nice.”

Much of Murray’s Get Down marijuana slang came from friends he partied with in Kent, Ohio. “Twist those tunahs,” translated to “roll a joint.”

marijuanaThe Get Down had evolved into a Friday night after-work institution by November 1975 when the state of Ohiodecriminalized marijuana for personal use. Ohio’s law became the most liberal of any marijuana decriminalization legislation in the U.S. First time offenders were fined $100 for the possession and/or cultivation of 100 grams (3.5 oz.) or less of marijuana (roughly three joints’ worth) with no jail time and no criminal record.   The trade-off for the revised law was that possession of drug paraphernalia – a bowl or bong (but not rolling papers) – remained a misdemeanor with a maximum of 30 days in the crowbar motel.  Dealing pot was a felony.

Murray celebrated the law by proclaiming in a Get Down, “I’m gonna have a bag of dope in my pocket and a $100 bill pinned to my shirt.  Yayza!”

At midnight, when the new law went into effect, Murray read its specifics on-the-air and doing double-duty as a WMMS salesman sold the first adjacent radio commercial to a head shop on Lee Road in Cleveland.

We learned, years later, that some enterprising dealer in the Hiram area was doing a brisk business selling highly potent hydroponically-grown marijuana under the brand name Murray-juana with artwork of a Rastafarian-looking Murray smoking a gigantic spliff with the WMMS Buzzard on his shoulder taking his own hit from a bong.

Parting Red Sea.JPGAt personal appearances, Murray was showered with joints.  At the WMMS World Series of Rock concerts at Cleveland Stadium, we’d watch Murray from up above, in the press box as he walked through the crowd.  It reminded us of that scene in the Ten Commandments when Moses parted  the Red Sea as those on the field would stand to make a pathway for Murray to walk through.  He’d return to the press box from his stadium walk-around, like a kid returning home from Halloween “trick or treat” with dozens of joints and other goodies given to him by fans.

It does make one wonder what kind of booty would be enjoyed by someone dressed up as Murray Saul for Halloween.

Those that have observed Murray’s marijuana intake comment on how he savors a joint much like others enjoy a fine wine.

BUZZARD BOOK COVER SMALLMURRAY SAUL CDMuch more on Murray and marijuana in The Buzzard and all Murray all the time with the Get Downs Vol. 1 CD

Rasta-Buzzard Vibrations

Posted in Buzzard, Buzzard Audio, Buzzard Media, Buzzard Photos, Buzzard Video on August 3, 2009 by John Gorman

MWRF-Official-PosterFor eighteen years Packy Malley’s Midwest Reggaefest has been a summer concert staple in our region. It’s earned the status as one of the preeminent reggae music festivals in the U.S. This year’s event takes place this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (August 8, 9, and 10) at Nelson’s Ledges Quarry Park in Garretsville, Ohio, 45 miles east of Cleveland.

I was surprised to learn how few people are aware that Cleveland was one of the first cities in America to embrace Jamaican reggae.

Though there were a couple of reggae hits that made the top 10 charts in 1968 by Desmond Dekker and the Aces (“The Israelites”) and Johnny Nash (“Hold Me Tight”) – and again in 1972 with Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” they were deemed novelty hits and not front-runners for a new musical style.

They’d become U.S. hits largely because of their British chart-topping success. Back then, U.S. radio and labels paid close interest to U.K. music trends.

Hoping to benefit from Nash’s success, A&M Records rereleased Jimmy Cliff’s Wonderful World, Beautiful People in the U.S., in 1970, but it’s title track met with limited regional success on radio.

Reggae didn’t catch on in the states until a low budget, independent Jamaican film got notice in the art cinema circles – The Harder They Come.

Kenny and Jim Parry Cambridge Common 69_2It was 1973. I was moving to from Boston to Cleveland to join WMMS. I ran into Kenny Greenblatt, the always in-the-know sales manager for the original WBCN/Boston. He eagerly said, “You have to see The Harder they Come before you go to Cleveland. You’ll want to take this music with you.”

The Harder they Come, just opened at the Orson Wells Cinema in Cambridge. The Orson Wells was one of many theaters in Boston and Cambridge, committed to showing independent and foreign films. I took Kenny up on the offer.

I loved the film and loved the music so much I picked up a copy of the soundtrack the next morning – and called Denny Sanders at WMMS to tell him about it.

The Harder They Come was filmed in Jamaica in 1972. It was directed by Perry Henzell and starred Jimmy Cliff . He played Ivan Martin, a poor man who travels to Kingston and becomes a reggae singer. Though he records a hit record, he receives no royalties or credit – and is forced to parlay his part-time pot dealing into a life of crime and violence.

300px-Theharder1B-movie director and distributor Roger Corman bought the U.S. distribution rights and released it in February, 1973 as a “Blaxploitation” film. It bombed at the box office.

In April, The Harder they Come was picked up as a Saturday night “midnight movie,” – this time using the original advertising artwork. It quickly developed a cult following.

A couple of months later, the Orson Wells took a chance and booked it as a regular feature. It became a huge hit – and played the theater for several months.

(That wasn’t unsual for Cambridge, Mass., which had a few art house theaters. At one, the Central Square Cinema, the movie The King of Hearts played continually for five years).

cliff_jimmy_harderthe_101bWithin a few weeks of my arrival in Cleveland, Denny and I decided to play the soundtrack to The Harder They Come on WMMS and work on bringing the film to Cleveland. The songs immediately caught on – and four tracks from the album, the title cut, “You Can Get it If You Really Want It” – also by Cliff, “Johnny Too Bad” by the Slickers and “Pressure Drop” by Toots and the Maytals started picking up noticeable requests. Within a couple of months, nearly every track on the album was getting airplay.

When the Wailers’ first U.S. album, Catch A Fire, was released, it’s “Stir It Up” also became a top-requested track. That was followed by Toots & the Maytals’ Funky Kingston album, which produced three popular cuts – “Pressure Drop,” which was already getting play from its inclusion on The Harder they Come soundtrack; the title track – “Funky Kingston,” and their cover of “Louie Louie.”

Reggae music was now well represented on WMMS – and Cleveland became a top-selling market for the genre.

Toots Hibbert at WMMS, 1975. L to R- standing: Unknown, Dan Garfinkel, Steve Lushbaugh, John Gorman, Denny Sanders, Murray Saul. Seated: Toots Hibbert, Jane Scott

Toots Hibbert at WMMS, 1975. L to R- standing: Unknown, Dan Garfinkel, Steve Lushbaugh, John Gorman, Denny Sanders, Murray Saul. Seated: Toots Hibbert, Jane Scott

We also managed to secure a theater for a proper premiere of The Harder They Come. It had played Cleveland briefly, for one week, at the old Hippodrome Theater. Though we wanted to premiere it at the Heights Art Theater in Cleveland Heights, which we felt was the most appropriate venue for its showing, we had to deal with local theater politics and our premiere was regulated to a late October showing at Loew’s Stillwell Theater in Bedford – the worst performing theater in the chain.  Even worse than that, the theater used the old “Blaxploitation” poster instead of the revised one. Surprisingly, the film did better than expected in attendance though its challenging out-of-the-way location (I-480 was under construction and I-77 was incomplete) prevented the theater from becoming a destination location. The Stillwell was torn down not long after the film was shown.

A year later, Marley’s second U.S. album, Burnin’ broke nationally with “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” In 1975, both Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the Maytals did WMMS-sponsored club dates in Cleveland. Marley played a WMMS Night Out at the Agora – the same show where opening act, the Kent-based 50-60-75 (The Numbers Band), recorded their live Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town album – and Toots and the Maytals at the Smiling Dog Saloon.

Some were not appreciative of our reggae airplay. Dave Thomas was one. In his Scene Magazine column, written under the nom de plume Crocus Behemoth, he complained about our reggae airplay and suggested we’d be best to stick to rock and roll – and nothing else.

Cleveland remained a strong reggae record sales market for many years – and responsible for breaking many reggae hits, including, “Legalize It” by former Wailer Peter Tosh, Dillenger’s “Cocaine,” and Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown.”.

By the end of the decade, we launched our WMMS Jamaica trips hosted by Jeff and Flash. We also did a few contests to send listeners to Reggae Sunsplash, the all-star reggaefest in Jamaica.

Today, reggae music can be heard on college and public radio stations in Cleveland and Akron.

Click on images to enlarge