Introduction to the Musicradio WABC Website
by Allan M. Sniffen
How do you capture lightning in a bottle? Is it possible to grasp a piece of your past that captures your feelings about a time now gone? For some, it might be a visit to a baseball game or maybe a high school reunion. For me, that lightning is Musicradio 77, WABC.
This is a webpage dedicated to the greatest Top 40 music radio station of all time: WABC New York. From December 7, 1960 to May 10, 1982 WABC was the definition of Top 40 radio. It was the most influential music radio station of its day and had the power to make a hit record by simply playing it on a hunch. With its 50,000 watt clear channel AM signal at 770 kHz it covered the nations most populated region like a blanket and at night could be heard throughout the eastern half of the U.S. on a transistor radio. WABC was even occasionally heard as far away from New York as Hawaii.
But thats not what made me a Musicradio WABC fan. I grew up in the New York Metropolitan area so all of this meant little to me then. What really was great about Musicradio WABC was that it always sounded like fun. From the music that played to the disc jockeys who played it, there was always the feeling that this was the single most fun thing anyone could possibly be doing. It seemed to me that working at WABC must be the easiest, most enjoyable thing any adult could ever want to do. Of course, I later realized how much planning, work and talent it took to create that sound. But to the listener, it could not have seemed more exciting. This is not to say that there was anything about WABCs sound that was left to chance by its program director, the late Rick Sklar. In fact, everything was tightly controlled from its music to its promotions. The magic was in making it all sound spontaneous.
Disc Jockeys were personalities, not just great voices good at running records together and reading 3 x 5 cards. From Herb Oscar Anderson and, later, Harry Harrison in the morning through Ron Lundy to Dan Ingram in the afternoon, then to Cousin Bruce Morrow and Chuck Leonard at night, and finally Charlie Greer in the overnights, the station had DJ's who were fun to listen to. And, this airstaff was relatively stable for many years. WABC had a very low DJ turnover rate (which is very unusual in Top 40 radio). I guess once you make it to the top, you stay there! Dan Ingram is probably the greatest Top 40 disc jockey of all time and could deliver a one liner over a record intro that could make you laugh through the first half of the record. Cousin "Brucie" Morrow had such a tremendous following that he attracted 25% of the entire evening radio audience on Saturday nights. And how could you not like a guy like Ron Lundy who opened his show with "Hello Love This is Ron Lundy from the Greatest City in the World!". Herb Oscar Anderson ("all the way with H O A") sang his own theme song "Hello Again". Bob "Bob a Loo" Lewis was one of the first "rapping" disc jockeys where record titles were announced as rhymes. And, who could forget Bobs "Divariable people furtser from the past ("letting the time slide .Roll!"). Charlie Greer single handedly kept the Dennisons Clothing Store ("where money talks and nobody walks") in business for years. Chuck Leonard was probably the smoothest DJ of the 60s and 70s. And, Johnny Donovan could talk in and out of a record with more precision than N.A.S.A. There were, of course, others like Farrell Smith, Sam Holman, Jack Carney, Chuck Dunaway, Bill Owen, Scott "Scottso" Muni, Bob Dayton, Frank Kingston Smith, George Michael, Jay Reynolds, Jim Nettleton, Roby Yonge, Les Marshak, Jim Perry, Bob Cruz, Liz Kiley, Steve O'Brien, Howard Hoffman, Sturgis Griffin, Ross and Wilson, Marc Sommers, Mike McKay, and Peter Bush.
Then, of course, there was the music. Musicradio WABC emphasized that above all else. It was a time when everyone who listened to popular music listened to the same music. Whether you were from the inner city or the suburbs, regardless of ethnicity or age we were all listening to the same hits. Unlike today where musical tastes are fractionalized across the radio dial, we were all at the same place. Beginning with Elvis, then to Beatles (WABC billed itself in the mid sixties as WA Beatle C) through the British Invasion, then to Fleetwood Mac in the seventies we were all there, together, listening. WABC, again through the guidance of program director Rick Sklar, decided what music to play in an extremely organized and scientific way. First, WABC had one of the shortest playlists in radio. According to Rick Sklar in his book Rocking America, the records that made it to this list were determined by rotating a sales survey from among 550 record stores. Then, every Tuesday morning, WABC held a "music meeting" where one or two songs were added to the WABC playlist. Previously added records that showed no gains were dropped. Songs at the top of this list were typically played over the air at 70 to 80 minute intervals. There were "daypart" decisions made about some of the music where records that had more of a teen appeal were emphasized at night and less during the day hours. Every Tuesday night, WABC had a countdown of its top 20 songs for that week conducted by Cousin Brucie. I cant tell you how many Tuesday nights I waited until just before 10:00 to find out the number one song for the week!
Musicradio WABC also had a unique "technical" sound. Since there were other stations playing top 40 music (the great AMs WINS, WMCA, WWDJ, WNBC, and later the FMs WOR-FM/WXLO, WPIX, WPLJ and others) WABC had to stand out. Rick Sklar did this in a technical way. Reverb was mixed with the WABC signal to give what seemed like a louder signal and a unique one. You could always tell you were listening to Musicradio WABC just from the way it sounded. Even if you were listening to the station at night on a skywave signal where you could be hundreds of miles from New York, Musicradio WABC had that unique sound. While today the idea of lots of "echo" on a signal might seem crazy, don't forget, this was in the two inch speaker transistor radio days, and it really made that little radio sound great.
Musicradio WABC had the best jingles ever. And, they were used constantly . Unlike today where most stations use them just as a way to get back into music from commercial breaks, WABC ran them between commercials, under the DJs and frequently two or three in a row. Jingles announced the weather, the number rank of the song, the DJs, the year that an oldie was a hit and so on. They all had the same consistent theme such as "Musicradio WABC", "the music sounds best on WABC" or my favorite "Music pow pow powerrrrr!!!". Some were long, some short. But ALL were upbeat and kept the pace moving. And then, there was "The Chime".
Musicradio WABC had a "chime" which was a bell that sounded something like the bell that rings between rounds in a boxing match. At first it was run by itself after a record was ending. Later, it was incorporated with a WABC shotgun type jingle again at the end of every record. It was immediately followed by the Disc Jockey giving the "WABC Chime Time". And, with the reverb the station had, that chime really had a sound all its own.
The news at Musicradio WABC was scheduled five minutes before every hour. In those days all radio stations were required to carry news and while most stations carried the news at the top of the hour, WABC ran it "five minutes sooner". The idea was to pick up more listeners who might be tuning away from other stations when they carried their news at the top of the hour because, by then, WABC was finished with its news and back to music. This concept, in fact, lead to the creation of one of the news networks carried by ABC Radio called "American Contemporary Radio". Other stations around the country were then also able to pick up this ABC network newscast five minutes earlier. Even the weather had a distinctive WABC touch. Whenever the temperature was given, it was announced in "W A B C Dgrees".
And slogans? There were LOTS of them over the years: "The WABC All Americans", "Music is our message", "The music sounds best on WABC", "Music lives at 77 WABC", "The best music on the best station", "Music power WABC", "W A Beatle C", "77 WABC with the hot line of hits", "More of the music you want to hear is on 77 WABC", "The most music on 77 WABC". These are only a few. They were repeated constantly by the disc jockeys and the jingles.
Station contests have been around forever and continue today. But, having original promotions on such a grand scale that are fun is another thing. Musicradio WABC ran contests for the Principal of the Year where 176 million votes were cast, a contest for the best and worst picture of one its then new DJ's Roby Yonge (the announcement was sure to point out that his mother could not enter), a contest for the best blackout story (after the great 1965 blackout), the best kite (in Central Park.. a contest that practically caused a riot from the huge turnout), the Mona Lisa art contest (as judged by Salvador Dali), and Musicradio buttons and bumper stickers which promised $25,000 to the winner, and many, many more.
I think the thing that amazes me the most about Musicradio WABC is the tremendous reach that it had. It seemed like everyone was listening to it. There are lots of anecdotes about this, but my favorite is the one about The Beatles visit to New York in 1965. As Dan Ingram told it on his twentieth anniversary WABC radio show (on July 3, 1981), The Beatles were camped out in the Delmonico Hotel and WABC did everything possible to get locked in with them. Among other things, WABC rented a suite in the hotel above The Beatles suite. As word leaked out that this was where The Beatles were staying, 10,000 teenagers started jamming the New York streets around the hotel. Most of them, apparently, had transistor radios tuned to WABC. For whatever reason, Scott Muni and Cousin Brucie, who were at the hotel, got the idea to get the crowd to sing along with the WABC jingles. Dan Ingram was back in the studio and Scott and Bruce described the crowd to him from their remote microphones over the air. They instructed Dan to play some of the current WABC jingles on the air, and as he did, this huge throng of teenagers sang along with the lyrics! Can you imagine that! Of course, WABC was broadcasting all of this which only helped to further whip the crowd into a frenzy so that when Dan announced they would play a Beatles record (Roll Over Beethoven), the crowd really went wild. Now that is real broadcasting power and is really unbelievable. It would have been incredible enough if they had them singing Beatles songs, but to sing the WABC station jingles? Wow!
So, those are a few reasons why I idolized Musicradio WABC. But, this is only a small part of the story. Check the last link below if you really want the inside scoop from Rick Sklar and Cousin Brucie. I was (and still am) only a fan. I hope I have conveyed some of that excitement to you in cyberspace, a place that never existed in the Musicradio WABC days. It was a point in time that is not likely ever to be repeated. Like anything else, you really don't recognize these things as they are happening. But, when you look back at them 15, 20, even 30 years later, they're like a gold nugget from your past. That's the way Musicradio WABC is to me.
WABC Musicradio 77 Home Page