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Where the Hits Happened

Dave Randall

Posted on July 22, 2018 21:48

2 users

Six decades ago, Top-40 radio began its dominance in New York and Los Angeles.

The story of Top-40 radio's origins reads like folklore, today: how an Omaha station owner, Todd Storz, observed waitresses at a bar spending their tip money on the jukebox, punching up the same 40 songs, over and over again. There's more to it than that, but Storz stations in the midwest began playing the 40 best-selling hits 24/7 with great success, reinvigorating a moribund medium that had lost the lion's share of its audience to television.

It took until 1958 for Top-40 to break big in the Numbers 1 and 3 media markets in America. In New York, 1010 WINS broke big (Music, news and weather where the Tens come together!), and in L.A. KFWB, Channel 98 (Colorful sounds on Color Radio!). WINS had a head start, as home to Alan Freed, the Disc Jockey credited with coining the term "Rock 'n' Roll."

In 1954, Freed had been hired away from WJW in Cleveland, where he'd created a stir, and rode the ratings rocket with his broadcasts of records by black artists on a mainstream station. The WINS of that summer had Bob and Ray's comedy show on in the morning, New York Yankee baseball broadcasts most afternoons, and Freed's Rock 'N Roll show at night. 

Following Freed's acrimonious departure in '58, WINS started rocking around the clock from 7 Central Park West, at Columbus Circle, its AM signal run through a tape-loop that created a reverb they called "Sound-a-rama." Former Storz programmer Mel Leeds and assistant Rick Sklar pounded out the hits and contesting over the Big Apple airwaves that captivated young New Yorkers. Even an announcers strike couldn't diminish WINS' power: Station producer named Bruce Morrow went on the air while the jocks picketed, and the legend of Cousin Brucie was born.

Three thousand miles away, at 6667 Hollywood Blvd, just down the block from Musso and Frank Restaurant, KFWB started pumping out Color Radio (a play on the latest rage, Color-TV). Chuck Blore, one of the most creative men to ever program, assembled performers like Bill Ballance and B. Mitchell Reed and, with KFWB's 5,000 watts, airing the hits over greater Los Angeles.

Two stations, two big markets, both tilling virgin territory for what is now common place, and nearly supplanted by music streaming, today — Top-40 radio, and the fanatical devotion of young people.

Radio itself is a fickle world. Ten years later, in 1968, both WINS and KFWB were owned by Group W/Westinghouse. WINS was New York's first All-News station in 1965, KFWB was L.A.'s in three years later. 1010 WINS is still the frequency New Yorkers go to most for news and traffic. KFWB, after being put out of the all news business by then sister-station KNX, tried talk and sports, but was sold off and is now La Mera Mera 98, The Best of the Best Ranchera music. 

It's important to know this history, lest it be lost.

Dave Randall

Posted on July 22, 2018 21:48

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