Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WMEX (Boston): Top 40

One of Boston radio history's fabled Top 40 stations is WMEX (1510 AM), whose star disk jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg held court noisily from 1957 to 1967. His departure brought in Dick Summer, a man with a psychology degree that matched him up well with a radio industry getting increasingly preoccupied with demographics and audience behavior. Pursuing his concept of the "human thing" in radio, Summer launched his "Lovin' Touch" program, in which he'd wax poetic in the manner of Ken "Word Jazz" Nordine. A 1972 Rolling Stone article wisecracked that Summer's sensitive shtick "would have made Rod McKuen look callous beside him." Summer's experiment, though, fell in line with radio trends such as Brother John Rydgren's syndicated "Love format" on ABC radio (from 1968 to 1970) and the forthcoming "feminine" formats.

In 1970, the station became a quintessential early seventies outlet with the arrival of music director John H. Garabedian, whose aggressive playlist-crafting and phone monitoring boosted the station's ratings, at one point, past WRKO, its higher-powered competitor. Among his winning programming strategies were a heavy reliance on album tracks and a willingness to test drive records before conducting any lengthy research. The above mentioned Rolling Stone article, "Boston Tests New Music and Flunks Out," by Timothy Crouse, mentions such songs as "Do You Know What I Mean" (Lee Michaels), "Maggie May" (Rod Stewart), "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (Paul and Linda McCartney), "Sunshine" (Jonathan Edwards), and "Looking for a Love" (J. Geils Band) as being direct beneficiaries of Garabedian's attentions.

Although new ownership in late 1971 would send Garabedian and his "John H." show packing, WMEX—although never to be the ratings success it once was—maintained an album track-inflected approach and a sufficiently influential ability to "break" records. Disk jockey Jim "JC" Connors reportedly earned gold records for "My Ding a Ling" (Chuck Berry), "How Do You Do" (Mouth and MacNeal), "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" (Wayne Newton), and "Power of Love" (Joe Simon), among others, in gratitude for his perceived role in popularizing the tracks. (Connors was also the acknowledged inspiration for Harry Chapin's "WOLD.") In 1975, the station would switch formats to easy listening, bringing its distinctive early seventies Top 40 run to a close.

A 1972 promotional charity album exists for WMEX, which you can perhaps search for at Boston thrift stores. It was one of the many cookie cutter records manufactured by Variety Club of Indianapolis for use by radio stations all over the US. They all sported duplicate covers and track lists but made space for personalized images of a station's airstaff in the gatefold. Coincidentally, one of the songs on this Solid Gold compilation is the Irish Rovers' "Unicorn Song," which Garabedian happens to ridicule in a 1970 aircheck (at 13:25). The deejays in the photos are Bill Lawrence, Connors, J. Michael Wilson, King Arthur Knight, and Tom Allen. (I copied these images from an eBay seller, so I can't tell who's in the obscured one. It could possibly be Dan Donovan or Jerry Gordon, but it also appears to say "Program Director" at the bottom. I thought Connors was the PD at that time, so I'm stumped.)

 

Most radio surveys for WMEX between 1971 and 1974 (nothing for 1970) are available at the Airheads Radio Survey Guide. They reveal, after a scan-through, the following songs to be among the station's unique airplay additions that never charted nationally:

Mike D'Abo - "King Herod's Song"
McGuinness Flint - "Friends of Mine"
Lodi - "Happiness"
The Move - "Tonight"
Three Dog Night - "You"
Beach Boys - "Student Demonstration Time"
Grand Funk Railroad - "People Let's Stop the War"
Jake Jones - "Trippin' Down a Country Road"
Judee Sill - "Jesus Was a Crossmaker"
CCS - "Tap Turns on the Water"
Lighthouse - "Take It Slow"
The Rascals - "Lucky Day"
Poco - "Railroad Days"
Steve Martin (of the Left Banke) - "Two By Two"
Colin Blunstone - "Caroline Goodbye"
Newport News - "When the Bell Rings"
Tranquility - "Thank You"
Paul Williams - "My Love and I"
Robin and Jo - "Chapel of Love"
John Kongos - "Jubilee Cloud"
John Stewart - "Arkansas Breakout"
Sugar Bus - "Tramp"
The Eagles - "Train Leaves Here This Morning"
Michael Holm - "I Will Return"
Brewer and Shipley - "Yankee Lady"
Buckwheat - "Hey Little Girl"
Spyder's Gang - "Waiting in Line"
Sha Na Na - "Bounce in Your Buggy"
Tom Paxton - "Jesus Christ S.R.O."
The Lorelei - "S.T.O.P. (Stop)"
Peter Sarstedt - "You're a Lady"
Eric - "Wonder Where My Friend Could Be"
Barrabas - "Boogie Rock"
Livingston Taylor - "Over the Rainbow"

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