Radio Stories….a Sad Time

Recently on line I found a PDF copy of Radio & Records from December 23, 1977. On the front page of that edition there was a story about New York radio ratings with the sub headline, “WABC Still Solid Number One”. As you read through the small article, you see that WABC had an overall rating of 8.4. As you continue reading, they list WABC’s numbers in the18-34 demo at 9.2 Adults 18-48 came in with a 9.0, and incredibly, with teens, WABC had a 23.8! Those were the days of Harry Harrison in mornings, Ron Lundy and Johnny Donovan mid days, Dan Ingram afternoons, George Michael at night, followed by Chuck Leonard, and Bob Cruz on the overnight. I was 27 years old at the time, and thrilled to be working at WABC at what I thought was the best time in the station’s life….but not everyone felt that way!

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When I worked at WOR, there was a long time member of the Engineering Department who always referred to the station as, “WOR, formerly one of America’s great radio stations”. Here at WABC, we had our own version of that, in the form of Evening Group Seven, Harry Lang. Harry had worked at ABC so long, that on the 30 page NABET Seniority List, Harry was on page one! In fact, Harry had worked at ABC so long, that he hadn’t been originally hired by ABC, but rather had started working at NBC. In 1943 when NBC sold off the Blue Network at the insistence of the FCC, and it eventually became the American Broadcasting Company, Harry came along with the deal. To say that these two gentlemen had long histories at their respective radio stations would be right on the money.

They would both tell tales of huge radio studios with full studio orchestras, big stars performing live, with hundreds of people in the audience. There would be crews of technicians, stage hands, ushers, and lots of other folks that were needed to put on these huge productions. So, to them what we thought of as the best it could ever be, paled in comparison to what they remembered when they were both young men in the business. We kind of laughed and winked at each other and I guess as cocky kids, kind of thought people of that generation in the business were dinosaurs. The stories they told were fun, but we could no more relate to them than we could to green people from Mars!

Well, flip the pages ahead of the calendar at supersonic speed and suddenly you get to 2014, and now it’s me and the few others still left who are the dinosaurs! It’s been almost 37 years since that Radio & Records article was published, and while sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s been that many years, as someone commented to me today, it was in “a galaxy far, far away”! As one of the few remaining current crop of dinosaurs, I try not to talk or think too much about the “good old days”, but some days that’s hard to do.

I know I’ve changed since 1977. the world has changed in huge and dramatic ways, and boy has the world of radio changed in those 37 years! The way we interact with media is vastly different, and now everyone has the option of personalizing their own listening to a point that we couldn’t even imagine in 1977. I remember that back then it wasn’t all that unusual to pull up to a light and hear the radio in the car next to you was tuned to the same station, or to walk along Jones Beach, and hear every radio playing the same song or jingle. The fact is also that more times than not, the station that was playing on multiple radios was WABC!

Today with iPods and smart phones, internet music services, pod casts, YouTube, and all the rest, the potential audience for radio is minuscule compared to what it was 30 or 40 years ago. People no longer turn to the radio for news, weather, sports scores or even entertainment. Broadcasting has changed too with companies owning multiple hundreds of radio stations, rather than the 7 AMs, 7 FMs, and 7 TV stations that a company like ABC could own in the 70’s. Another pressure on the business is the aging of the listener population. Young people are turning to more personal media and are no longer interested in radio. In many ways, radio has become “your father’s medium”, and AM radio is looked at by many as a real dinosaur in its last stages of death. Nothing that’s happened in recent history has been good for radio as we knew it at a younger age, and all of these things have contributed to why this is a sad day for me.

Recent ratings for some of the notable AM radio stations of our childhood have been anything but good. In fact, in the last couple of rating’s books, WABC’s numbers have been the lowest they’ve been in its history. For a station that was touted in 1977 as “The Most Listened to Radio Station in America”, and that is still referred to by some as a “legendary” New York radio station, it’s sad that it has come to this. Personally, it’s an incredibly sad result for a radio station that has been in my life since the 60’s and has been a real part of my life since I started working here on August 8th, 1976. This radio station has been a major part of my life for the past 38 years, and has given my family and me a great life. It has been my home, the beginning of so many friendships, and in no small way, I’ve considered it to be my radio station! I’m glad I’m not that 27 year old kid who worked here way back when, and I fear for so many of the great young people I work with every day.

So no, unlike many who seem to take great glee in the fact that WABC and so many other “legendary” AM radio stations have ratings down in the dumper, I’m not happy. I’m sad. I’m very sad for the folks who I’ve worked with in this business, sad for the young folks I work with today and what their future may be, and sad for myself and what’s happened to my radio station.

Check out this TV spot for WABC from 1977.      http://youtu.be/6Q83t-z8r1s

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