Sunday, April 16, 2017

No Trumpets before 9 AM


On a warm and sunny day in Southern California, a man is sitting at a table, across from him is an earnest young woman with a tape recorder. It begins

“I have no idea why anyone would be interested in any of this or what I think about what’s happened to the radio business.”

“You spent most of your life in it, your opinions and thoughts matter. They’re a part of the history of the business. You were there at the beginning, as a participant.” She said.

“I wasn’t there at the beginning, when I showed up and got involved it was a few years after it began, So I wasn't a pioneer, that’s for damn sure." The man lighted a cigarette, an American Spirit Yellow.
"The opportunity for change was there, the big guys, the smart money, just couldn’t see it. Think of it this way, the fire was ready to burn and a few of us showed up with the matches, all you had to do was strike one and light the kindling. The smart guys didn’t even think the stack of wood would burn, to the point of denying that it was even burning, after it started. Some couldn't even feel the heat.”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“It was obvious at the time FM would work, there were beautiful music stations on FM all over the country generating huge listening audiences, some of the money men and the smart guys, the big companies, owned the damn things, who knows what they were thinking? A company has a facility. Let’s say in San Francisco, the fucking thing is number one or two in the market. At that point in time, almost nobody owns an FM receiver, but somehow the station is generating a huge audience. I used to wonder what the hell went on in the board meetings. I had dinner one night with the father of beautiful music, the guy they were paying to create the programming. I asked him, you know what he said?”

“I haven’t a clue.” She said.

“He said nothing, he just shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know either."

“So what happened?”

“The music changed for one thing, that was the catalyst. The music needed an outlet. It sure as hell wasn’t going to get it on sixties era Top 40. Stations at the time tried to play an edited version of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. The listeners revolted and forced them to play the song unedited, all 5 minutes and 56 seconds of it. That happened in the mid 60’s and it was a big deal in an era of record companies editing songs down just for radio, shit they used to cut old Beach Boys songs to under 2 minutes. I can’t remember which of the Beach Boys songs it was, whatever it was, I think the original was 2 minutes 36 seconds long. They cut it to 1:56." The man took a long drag on his cigarette, blew the smoke up in the warm air. 

"Capitol actually put out radio only albums called “short cuts”. Really, really stupid and the listeners wouldn’t put up with it anymore. The people running the radio stations at that time couldn’t understand what was happening. Actually, the silly bastards didn’t want to understand, they couldn’t get their heads around the fact things were changing, that they could no longer dictate musical tastes or control it anymore. Neither did the record companies."

"Our generation certainly wasn’t having or taking it anymore. There had to be a medium where what the listener could hear what they wanted to hear, demanded to hear. The un-loved, underutilized step child FM signals were the solution. Somebody once called them, the funny little stations down the hall.”

“Only took about 5 years for them to stop laughing. A few of them never got it.”

“Want another cup of coffee?” The man asked.

The woman nodded, yes.


  1. We remember it well Bobby. As you know I started on FM in Winnipeg playing beautiful music but longed for the AM where they played the Beach Boys. When I made it to Toronto a brand new car came with the deal and the first time I checked out the stereo system the only FM in town that played some pop music was playing "Does Anybody Know What Time It Is." That's when I got it! FM is for music and AM is for talk so I headed for the States.

  2. I worked in Winnipeg at the same time George did. There were three FM's, basically all doing the same thing, all owned by people who also owned profitable AMs.....MOR and Top 40. The Government did not want any of The FMs to evolve into what they felt was 'The Wasteland of AM Radio'. For the most part, the AM Radio owners agreed with them. So...Regulation required that all FMs create 20% of their Programming under the heading of 'Arts, Letters and Science'. This Alternative Programming, while unlikely profitable, would serve an elite audience and have the advantage of discouraging anyone other than AM Radio owners to apply for FM. Then CJOB-FM did 'the outrageous thing'. They went Country.....using the argument that there were no Country stations in Winnipeg. So, as mandated on FM, we were creating 'Alternative Programming'. Arts, Letters & Science? We had some off hours discussion shows, a Religious Show and a Folk Music Show. Our Program Director flew to Nashville and came back wearing a cowboy hat. I quit College and became a 'Country Gentleman' doing 'Remotes' from everywhere that would agree to sell FM Mantle Radios. Even The Tuxedo Esso Service. It was a 'inspiring' decision. So inspiring that, the people who lost their jobs because of the format change applied for an FM Frequency 350 miles away in Regina Saskatchewan to the astonishment of the Regina Radio Community. I joined them. There were 9 of us.....setting up in a trailer from Square Deal Trailer Sales and settling in at The Northgate Mall Shopping Centre so that people would know we were in town. But Bob, what I think REALLY sparked the growth of FM was Alternative Rock. It was more than Entertainment. It was A Culture.

  3. In high school I worked for one of the first FM's on the air, with almost all of the gear build by Martin Williams, who owned the license. Background music, low key commercials only on the half hour or quarter hour. Wall to Wall Mantovani I used to call it. When I graduated college WNAP was kicking up a storm on the FM band and within a few months I was inside that beast for good long ride. You were there. It was historic, even the subject of books and a documentary. George came along later and turned on the money meter. What did we all have in common--Jimmy-the smiling genius up in the carpeted office. He saw over the horizon and let some of us change history.