Now in Paperback! This rock and roll radio memoir takes you behind the scenes at the nation's hottest station during FM's heyday, from 1973 to 1986. Sex and drugs, music and merchandising--it was a wild time when the FM airwaves were wide open for innovation. John Gorman led a small band of true believers who built Cleveland's WMMS from a neglected stepchild into an influential powerhouse. The station earned high praise from musicians and even higher ratings from listeners. Gorman tells how WMMS remade rock radio while Cleveland staked its claim as the "Rock and Roll Capital" by breaking many major international music acts. Filled with juicy insider details, this fast-paced story will entertain anyone who listened in during those glory days when FM delivered excitement and the Buzzard ruled the airwaves.
This rock and roll radio memoir takes you behind the scenes at the nation's hottest station during FM's heyday, from 1973 to 1986. Sex and drugs, music and merchandising it was a wild time when the FM airwaves were wide open for creativity and innovation.
John Gorman led a small band of true believers who built Cleveland's WMMS from a neglected stepchild into an influential powerhouse. The station earned high praise from musicians and even higher ratings from listeners.
Gorman tells how WMMS remade rock radio while Cleveland staked its claim as the "Rock and Roll Capital" by breaking major international music acts.
Filled with juicy insider details, this fast-paced story will entertain anyone who listened in during those glory days when FM delivered excitement and the Buzzard ruled the airwaves.
John Gorman began his broadcasting career in Boston and in 1973 moved to Cleveland to join WMMS, a small, free-form FM station then under new ownership. Over the next thirteen years he would help turn WMMS into one of the most popular and influential rock stations in the country. He served as music director and program director, and eventually became operations manager of WMMS and WHK. In 1986 Gorman and twelve other staff members left WMMS to start 98.5 WNCX in Cleveland. He also founded a radio consulting firm, Gorman Media, and has worked with stations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Clev
Foreword Find Me Welcome to Cleveland Radio Architect A New Identity "That's MY Station!" Number One It's Still a Business Hatching the Buzzard The World Series of Rock Got-ta Got-ta Get Down! "We Don't Go to Work; We Go to War" Continuous Party The Switch The Voice of Rock and Roll Moving On Up The Buzzard and The Boss Coffee Break Concerts Beatles Blitz Chimps, Rats, and Buzzard Killers Into the '80s Pride of Cleveland Video Stars, Radio Stars "Bring the Next One On" Your Modern Music Station Buzzardland Taking the Fight To the Airwaves Choosing Sides "WMMS Can Call Itself Anything It Wants" Departures and Divisions The Rock Stops Here Know Your Close End of an Era 275 Acknowledgments Cast of Characters Index
John Gorman's memories and behind-the-scenes accounts are the next best thing to having the WMMS of the late-1970s to mid-1980s still on the air. This entertaining and amusing read will be appreciated by avid listeners of "The Buzzard" during its heyday and anyone interested in Cleveland's music history.
Chapter 1 Welcome to Cleveland Fourth of July 1973. Welcome to Cleveland. There was a dead pigeon on the windowsill of my room overlooking Public Square in the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel. Despite several calls to the front desk, the pigeon remained part of the decor for three long, hot, muggy days. It matched the desolate street scene below. Sure, this was a holiday, but still--at 10 a.m. there was not a single car or person on the street. I''d come from Boston, the city I loved, to take the new job of music director at WMMS--a promising, "free-form" radio station whose program director and morning host, Denny Sanders, was an old friend in need of help. Metromedia, WMMS''s former owner, had recently sold its Cleveland properties to Malrite Broadcasting, a small company relocating from suburban Detroit. Most of the staff, fearing an inevitable format change, had resigned. Denny was now program director, trying to keep the station on the air with a limited staff hired largely from the Cleveland State University station. The clock was ticking. Malrite''s purchase of WMMS had been held up when a community group, led by activist Henry Speeth and a young councilman named Dennis Kucinich, convinced the Federal Communications Commission that the station''s progressive format provided a unique public service. Malrite, which planned to change it to country, agreed to retain progressive rock for one year, starting in January 1973. If the station failed to generate revenue and ratings, Malrite would be free to change. Denny asked if I was interested in coming to Cleveland. I was. It sounded like a challenge and, maybe, fun. Malrite was putting me up at the Sheraton-Cleveland for my first two weeks of employment. I was expected to find a place to live in that time. What furniture I had wasn''t worth the trouble of moving, and I hadn''t owned a car for months because Boston''s extensive transit system made one unnecessary. I had rented a small truck to move my records, books, files, and clothes, and I''d be searching for a furnished apartment on a bus or train route. The Sheraton-Cleveland was frayed and musty. The hallway connecting to the Terminal Tower reeked of urine. The gutters on Public Square were littered with trash. Twelve blocks up Euclid Avenue, I was amazed to see a department store, Halle''s. It was the only sign of life in an area whose name, Playhouse Square, appeared suited only to history. Its theaters were boarded up, seemingly abandoned. I drove my rented truck to the WHK-WMMS studios on Euclid Avenue near East 55th Street to meet Denny, who was waiting in the parking lot off Prospect Avenue. The building''s once-imposing facade at 5000 Euclid Avenue recalled the time, a generation earlier, when it was a glittering broadcast center, complete with auditorium and theater marquee. Now it could have been a struggling old factory. The WHK call letters, on a vertical marquee, were grimy, and there wasn''t even a sign for WMMS. The back of the building was tarpaper. To its left on Euclid stood a bank; on the right was a Blepp-Coombs Sporting Goods store with Indians and Browns jackets in the window. The view didn''t improve inside the stations'' dingy lobby. It was a place where the woman who ran a small snack stand died behind the counter as she was closing up one evening, and no one noticed or cared until the stench became unbearable. There were two other cars in the lot. One belonged to Hal Fisher, the general manager. Lugging a briefcase overflowing with papers, he was wrapping up a half day of work on this holiday morning. "You must be John Gorman," he said as he shook my hand. "Welcome aboard. I''m looking forward to working with you." I hauled boxes upstairs, to the stuffy loft that was the music library and my office, while Denny got some paperwork out of the way, and decided to pass on a station tour in favor of lunch. My primary concern was finding a furnished apartment, and I pulled out the Plain Dealer classifieds as we waited for corned beef sandwiches at Hatton''s Deli, a few blocks down Euclid. The next day, my first on the job, I took the bus down Euclid and got an early start. Waiting for Denny to finish his morning show, I headed upstairs to the music library, switched on the intercom for WMMS. The library hadn''t been a priority. Few albums were filed alphabetically or in the correct cabinet, and I found box upon box of unopened albums. I spent an hour trying to make sense of it. In a desk drawer, I found a faded copy of a months-old clipping from Scene magazine, a local entertainment tabloid, criticizing the station for losing its past glory. On the intercom in the background, a song ended and a deep voice--like the voice of God--boomed from the speakers. "This is . . . Len Goldberg . . . on W-M-M-S. Good mornin'' to you. Here''s Van Morrison." This guy did middays? He made Isaac Hayes sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Denny walked in, his show over, and brought me down to the studio to meet Len. If Central Casting was looking for a mad cave dweller, Len would have been the essential choice. His thick head of hair was a veritable jungle, and his full beard matched. Small, square reading glasses perched on his nose, and he had on well-worn bib overalls over a blue T-shirt. His voice could rattle windows like a passing freight train. "The music department is completely fucked up," he said. "Half this fucking library is scratched to shit, and there''s a lot of things I want to play that we don''t have. You want a list? I''ll give you a list." He paused and took a hit of pot from a tiny pipe, probably to see my reaction. Although surprised, I pretended that I saw that sort of thing every day. "Meet JC yet?" he asked. "My advice to you is not to let JC run this fucking radio station. If you are the music director, you should run the fucking department the way you see fit. Understand? You do that and we''ll get along just great." We walked down the hall toward the archaic production studio, and I met the new production director, Jeff Kinzbach--six feet tall, rail thin, with shoulder-length hair. Then I followed Denny to a claustrophobic office in the back of the FM sales office and met the sales manager, Walt Tiburski. He proposed a Cleveland tour to visit a few clients and record labels, immediately suggesting a date and time. My next order of business was to meet John Chaffee, Malrite''s national program director, who had approved my hiring. From phone conversations, I pictured a conservatively dressed executive in his early 30s. Short, dark hair, light to medium build. "We call him JC," Denny said. "JC is brilliant, brilliant in his own way. He''s very product oriented." I asked what he looked like. "Like a hippie on Dragnet," Denny said. "You know how Dragnet stereotyped everyone. Just think of how Dragnet would portray a hippie. He wouldn''t look like a real hippie. He would look like a Jack Webb version of a hippie. A stereotyped character." At that instant, someone who looked exactly like a hippie from Dragnet entered the hallway. Graying, shoulder-length hair. A slightly wild, medium-length beard. Dark, piercing eyes. A two-piece outfit, not exactly a suit, of a peculiar fabric in a medium blue hue. Cuban-heeled boots. A furry shoulder bag. JC, extremely courteous, welcomed me "on board" and marched toward the back of the building. Denny suggested lunch at Hatton''s. As we pulled out of the parking lot, he cranked up the radio--"Evil Woman" by Spooky Tooth. Then it happened. "Eeeeee-vil (click) Eeee-vil (click) . . . Eeeevil (click)." Len Goldberg, in his best burning bush voice, boomed through the speakers, "If anyone from the music department is listening, we need a new copy of that Spooky Tooth album"--followed by a loud crack. "Denny, did he just break the album on the air?" "Hmmm. Sounds like it, doesn''t it?" On my second morning, I walked up the stairs to the music office loft, opened the door, and turned on the light. Someone was sleeping on the couch in the corner. He was tall, thin, had shoulder-length hair and a beard. "Whuttufuck, whuttufuck," he mumbled. That was my introduction to Kid Leo. Denny had left him a note to meet me. For Leo, the best way to do that was to stick around after his 2 a.m.-6 a.m. show. He was groggy and tired, but we exchanged pleasantries. He asked me about Boston--"Are they all eggheads and weirdos up there?"--and I asked him about Cleveland. We talked music. Being roughly the same age, we shared similar reference points, and he was extremely knowledgeable--from New Music through Top 40, garage bands, and rhythm and blues. He grew up listening to WJMO--"they had this jock, Michael ''Da Lover'' Payne--an'' sometimes WIXY, KYW-KYC, ''NCR, ''MMS. ''MMS is what got me interested in radio." I soon met the rest of the staff and started to settle in. With the exception of a quick hello, however, I had no interaction with Milton Maltz, the president and essentially the owner of Malrite Communications. The office help called him "Grouchy," after one of the Seven Dwarfs. Others called him "Little Napoleon," "The Tiny Tyrant," and "The Mean Midget." Terms of endearment. Everyone feared his explosive temper. It was considered normal to hear his snarling shouts emanating from the stairway to Malrite''s corporate suite. If Maltz was meeting in Hal Fisher''s office, one could easily hear his bellows in the second-floor music loft directly above it. Only JC appeared to have a true rapport with Maltz. He called him Milt. Fisher called him Mr. Maltz. I doubted he even knew who I was until the afternoon I collided with him as I came down the stairs from the music loft, and he stormed out of Fisher''s office with Fisher and JC behind him. "WE-E-E were just talking about
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