The WMMS Fleetwood Mac Attack!
It was September 1973. We had just added the Buckingham-Nicks album and the track “Long Distance Winner” was picking up a few curiosity calls and requests. At that time we did not have a relationship with the Agora, so we called Rodger Bohn at the Smiling Dog Saloon, where we sponsored “nights out” at and mentioned the act as a possible WMMS-sponsored show. Rodger put in a few calls to see if they were touring. They were – but their label Polygram, wasn’t really supporting the act because the album was getting only spotty airplay in a couple of cities. Logistics for a “night out” didn’t work out. We played a couple of other tracks from the album (“Crying in the Night” and “Don’t Let Me Down Again”) before it faded into that limbo land of forgotten albums.
Mac formed as British blues-based group that eventually evolved into the mainstream, but suffered from a steady stream of personnel and musical style changes. Though it got extensive play, the track was largely a turntable hit and never translated into sales.
Fast forward to July 1975. The Fleetwood Mac album is released – and we noted that Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, whom we remembered from that Buckingham-Nicks album, were now band members.
The band went on tour in support of the album and played Kent State on a Sunday night. As was customary at the station, our airstaff took turns on m.c’ing WMMS-sponsored concerts – and Kid Leo did Fleetwood Mac. Though I planned to go I had to bow out because of an early Monday morning department head meeting. Later that day, Leo told me Fleetwood Mac live
were nothing like the softer version on the album – and that the Buckingham-Nicks material rocked, citing a balls-out version of “Rhiannon” and a reworked “I’m So Afraid” that showed Lindsay as a guitarist to be reckoned with.
Around the same time, The King Biscuit Flower Hour, a syndicated concert show we carried on Sunday nights featured a live Fleetwood Mac performance – and like Leo said – it rocked. We swapped the softer studio versions for the live rock versions – and within days the live “Rhiannon” became our most-requested song on nights and weekends – and the other live Macs from that
concert were also in our requested top 15.
That set the stage for Rumours. Shelley Stile was music director and pulled off a daylong exclusive of the album in February 1977. The immediate reaction gave little clue of how huge the album would be. But we new it was something unique and special – product that would draw more audience from AM to FM, and from other stations to WMMS. We cemented our relationship with the band, getting to know everyone in it and connected to it. What gave us a solid edge with the band was our airplay of their pet side projects, which
were all gems – but usually neglected in other markets.
Walter Egan, formerly of the cult surf band the Malibooz, had one hit song nationally, “Magnet and Steel,” a duet with Stevie Nicks, off the Not Shy album coproduced by Buckingham and Nicks, who also played on it; in Cleveland he was a superstar, with a half-dozen tracks receiving airplay. Buckingham and Nicks also played on John Stewart’s Bombs Away, Dream Babies, with the song “Gold,” which was a major hit in Cleveland months before it broke nationally. Rob Grill, the former lead singer of the Grassroots,
was a fishing buddy of John McVie, who produced his one solo album, Uprooted – with guest appearances by Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood. Most successful of all was Bob Welch, a former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, who scored three hit singles off his 1977 album, French Kiss. Cleveland was also one of the few markets that supported Welch’s earlier project, Paris, which had a popular track, “Big Town 2061,” in 1975.
By the time Fleetwood Mac played the Coliseum in September 1977, the band supposedly sold a million copies of Rumours from the Cleveland distribution branch alone. We launched what we called our “WMMS Fleetwood Mac Attack,” and took full ownership of what had become the biggest act in the world. We landed exclusive interviews, and we had them cut station IDs. The day after Stevie Nicks flubbed on stage and accidentally thanked Cincinnati instead of Cleveland, she cut a humorous ID, which said, “When I’m not in Cincinnati, I’m in Cleveland, and listening to WMMS.”
We also landed an exclusive with advance tracks from the Tusk album, early fall 1979. That one came on cassette, from a New York record executive, whose identity I promised I would never reveal – and never will. I had to buy a seat for it on a commercial
flight. When it arrived at Hopkins, I drove it to the station where it was transferred for broadcast and Denny Sanders immediately put it on the air. We played one cut every half-hour, inserting “WMMS exclusive” in case a rival station tried to tape it. Warner Bros. was furious because Fleetwood Mac was the label’s most important act, and they worried about Tusk being a somewhat experimental double-album, which sounded nothing like its predecessor.
Fleetwood Mac and WMMS donated penguins (the Fleetwood Mac mascot) to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. We
outfitted the band with WMMS merchandise and paraphernalia. For months to come, it wasn’t usual to see a band member or associate of Fleetwood Mac sporting a WMMS item on national TV.
When a WMMS World Series of Rock concert at Cleveland Stadium was postponed due to a spinal problem suffered by Lindsay Buckingham, the other members of the band, plus Bob Welch, flew to Cleveland to do a press conference at the Bond Court Hotel, we strung up lines and carried it live.
A few weeks later, backstage at the rescheduled WMMS World Series of Rock concert, we presented the band with personalized, hand-painted mirrors individually created by David Helton. By that time they were consuming massive quantities of cocaine. Christine McVie, who got the first one, commented, “I’m afraid we’ll scrape the mirror down to the paint.”
More on Buzzards and penguins in The Buzzard
Photos by Bob Ferrell except mirror photo by David Helton
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