Archive for the ‘radio’ tag
Since we were talking about radio today, I thought I'd note the passing of Son Of Steve.
When TV went digital a few years back, it was almost like having cable-lite: Each channel was now split into two or three subchannels, and along with the all-weather-all-the-time air filler, we also got fairly nice content like Me TV.
I finally got a digital radio for my car after the first replacement radio gave out and found that the same thing was true for it. Of course, in Columbia, that is not saying a great deal as the only digital channels I can think of here are WUSC and 967 Steve FM. While WUSC does run a secondary channel, it always seems to be some sort of world music that I don't care for when I hit it.
Steve, on the other hand, ran a secondary channel dubbed Son Of Steve which was, in theory, a 90s jukebox. I always got the feeling that it was someone's pet project and didn't get a lot of attention from management. For one thing, there were never any commercials, so, while that was nice, it can't have been a money-maker. For another thing nobody ever went through and equalized the levels on the promos and inserts -- they were always much louder than the music, to the extent that you had to hit the volume knob sometimes. And finally, it really wasn't a 90s channel. In fact, it seemed to skew 80s more often than not. Still, I like the 80s, and it was always a sure bet to find an actual song while commercial hopping amongst all the other local stations.
The way my car radio works is when you hit the primary channel for a digital station, the next time you hit the seek button, it hops to the secondary channels in order. So, I was used to punching the Steve button, and then hitting seek to hop to Son Of Steve. I was somewhat surprised last month when doing that tuned in a sermon. It turns out that if there is no secondary channel on Steve, the next hop is 97.1 which seems to be a religious station.
Interestingly, I can't find anything on the web to prove that Son Of Steve ever existed. If it was ever anywhere on the WLTY web site or any promo material, it's gone now, and it seems nobody else ever mentioned it online.
When I was in high school, a new radio station came to town, with a new concept: "Album Rock".
The station was WZLD (or "Z-96") and operated out of Cayce, first from a little storefront (apparently now vacant) to the left of a barber shop on State Street, and later from an odd looking building out on Airport Boulevard (at least I think that's where I remember seeing the sign).
I'll admit that the concept of "album rock" confused me a bit. I had only discovered rock music in 1976, and I was still a little iffy about all the definitions. For instance, I thought "acid rock" was the same thing as "heavy metal" since the only acid I had heard about was sulphuric, and I could imagine heavy metal dissolving stuff in the same way.
So, to make a full confession, I kind of took the promos about how "we play album cuts, not just singles" to heart and was deeply disappointed that they were not playing tracks from my then current favorite album, Billy Joel's "The Stranger". In fact, I went so far as to write them a deeply embarassing post card (in retrospect..) complaining that they were playing Van Morrison's "Wavelength" which was a Top-40 hit, and not "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant". I'm sure the DJs had a good laugh at it, and I've come to the point where I'm a huge Van Morrison fan nowdays (he can be very inconsistent in shows, but tore up the place in Atlanta last May..)
From what I've been able to gather from looking at old phonebooks down at the library, WZLD first showed up in the December 1974 Southern Bell phonebook. I don't think they were "album rock" at that time, or at least I didn't hear of them as such until later, but they were already at 1303 State Street, and already had their long-running phone numbers of 796-8896 business and 796-9996 for the contest line.
In the Janurary 1983 phonebook, their address changed to 2334 Airport Boulevard, and in the Jan 1984 phonebook, they took out their first yellow pages ad which rebranded them as "Number 1 Hit -- Kicker". Now, that phrase, "hit-kicker" is very similar to a non-radio-friendly phrase sometimes used to describe Country music, so I'm wondering if they underwent a change to a Country format at that time. I was still living in town at the time, but I don't think I was listening to them very much, and have no memory of it one way or another.
At any rate that catch phrase didn't last very long, and the yellow pages ad in the Feb 1985 phonebook described them as "Red Hot Radio 1". That also didn't last too long, and while the Feb 1988 phone book did not have a full ad, the tagline in their listing for that year was "All Hit".
They were not listed in the Jan 1989 phonebook and seem to have left the airwaves at that time.
Along the way, they did some memorable promos, with the most famous probably being the annual "Ramblin' Raft Race" on the Congaree. At this remove, sponsoring something like that seems as though it would be an insurance nightmare, but in those olden days, apparently encouraging tipsy people to navigate was OK..
Here's a few WZLD comments we've had here from time to time:
The one on Two Notch was indeed “The Zoom Flume”. I remember it well because they were a major sponsor at WZLD-FM where I worked. It’s heyday was the summer of 1979. We gave away free passes all the time. I think we tied it in with “The Ramblin’ Raft Race” on the Congaree River.
WZLD…. The ROCK… of the city. The Ramblin’ Raft Race! I was going to BC when they had the first one of those (did they have more than one?). I happened to be in study hall when a DJ and a guy from some raft rental company out of Atlanta came over looking for some kids to work for them. I signed up, and that was the hardest I think I’ve ever worked. We had to be there at 5:00am to blow up the rafts, rent them out, and then pack up and head down Old State to the pickup spot. Needless to say, the people getting out of the water didn’t resemble the folks we rented to at the put-in. I think we worked about 12 hours straight. Didn’t even get a lunch break! Great times! (: E.J.
WZLD…. The ROCK… of the city.
The Ramblin’ Raft Race! I was going to BC when they had the first one of those (did they have more than one?).
I happened to be in study hall when a DJ and a guy from some raft rental company out of Atlanta came over looking for some kids to work for them. I signed up, and that was the hardest I think I’ve ever worked. We had to be there at 5:00am to blow up the rafts, rent them out, and then pack up and head down Old State to the pickup spot. Needless to say, the people getting out of the water didn’t resemble the folks we rented to at the put-in. I think we worked about 12 hours straight. Didn’t even get a lunch break!
Great times! (:
UPDATE 2 July 2012 -- As mentioned in the comments, the A-frame looking building I have pictured above is not the Airport Boulevard location for WZLD. The correct building is next door, and I have finally gotten a picture of it:
You may be familiar with WXRY FM as a new-ish non-commercial radio station in Columbia, a sort of WUSC for grownups. (And I know that at least one of their staff follows Columbia Closings: Thanks!).
What you might not know is that is not at all how WXRY started.
FM radio actually goes quite a ways back in US broadcast history, but the story is not straight-forward. In the beginning, FM was pioneered by Edwin Armstrong. He figured out a way to create radio networks using FM only links (a big deal at the time as other networks had to use expensive AT&T landline links). This brought him into conflict with David Sarnoff and his Radio Corporation of America. Showing the ever-present danger of political influence when government gets too entwined with business, Sarnoff pressured the new FCC to change the rules for FM, destroying Armstrong's network and driving him to suicide while leaving RCA's AM technology in the driver's seat. These shenanigans destroyed FM for several decades.
When FM started to make a comeback in the late 1960s, AM totally owned the pop market and FM stations felt they needed to do something different to create a market presence. Some used the higher fidelity and static-free nature of FM to broadcast classical music, others created the "album rock" concept, playing non-single cuts by popular groups that would never have otherwise been on the radio, but a large number of FM stations went the "beautiful music" route.
"Beautiful Music" (I'm not sure that was an "official" format name, but it seemed to be how these stations often described themselves) was what we would now call "muzak" (though that's actually a trademark) or "elevator music". If the names One Hundred and One Strings or Mantovani mean anything to you, then you understand the "Beautiful Music" format, and WXRY was Columbia's "Beautiful Music" station.
I think I've written before about how I came to rock music fairly late in life. My parents didn't hate rock or think that it was ruining society, they simply didn't care for it that much. We listened almost exclusively to WIS AM, which was mostly middle-of-the-road grownup pop. I was always into tinkering with radios though, and at some point I pulled an old bakelite FM-only radio off a neighboorhood trash heap. After testing the tubes at Liggett's and finding that there was a bad one, I convinced my parents to spring for a new tube. At that point the radio worked, but I found that the "off" switch built into the rheostat was broken. I never did master soldering, so I couldn't swap it out, but I could put a powerline switch in the power cord, which I did. The result was what I'm still convinced to this day was the best sounding radio I've ever heard. Sure it was mono, but somehow those transformers and tubes (and not having to support AM circuits, I suppose) gave it a really rich sound. I couldn't listen to WIS on it of course, so I poked around until I found WXRY and spend many hours listening to music that would have given other 12 year olds hives (and would give me hives now..). Eventually I took the radio to our beach house where I found another "Beautiful Music" station out of either Georgetown or Myrtle Beach and I'm sure gave my cousins hives. In the end the radio's tuning went out, though I've still got it stored away somewhere.
After I took the radio to the beach, I more or less lost track of WXRY. I do recall that in the 1970s, a guy in my scout troop knew someone who worked there and told the story about how the staff decided to get wild one day and slip John Denver's "Annie's Song" ("You fill up my senses like night in the forest..") into the lineup, and how they got phonecalls to stop playing that "hippie music".
Loopnet says the building currently at 2400 Decker was built in 1981. If that's correct, the original WXRY studio must have been torn down at some point. I don't know what happened to the station between its being "Beautiful Music" on Decker Boulevard and its current status as "The Independant Alternative" from high atop "The Historic Barringer Building" on Main Street, and whether it was on the air continuously during that whole period. I must admit I have not heard Mantovani on their current air.
UPDATE 2 March 2012: Just found out that at some point after WXRY, this building was a location of homeschooling store Educational Wonderland.