Above: Mixtape, Summer 1991.
25 years ago today – 9/20/1991 – I did my last radio show on 97X in the Quad Cities.
The summer of 1991 was a magical time at that station. We were a solid #1 in every demo and every daypart. The Birch ratings for the spring book had the night show, which I did, at something like a 48 share among listeners 18-34. (Arbitron scored it somewhat lower, which led me to preferring Birch until they went out of business.) I don’t think it was as much about what I was doing as it was the fact that the station was simply solid 24/7. From the contesting, which I still use as a point of reference in my Intro to Radio class about “local community standards” (I mean, a contest where couples compete to get pregnant called “The Breeders Cup” ?), to the imaging (“Hi, I’m Dick, and I listen to Power 98.9. Don’t be a dick.”), to the local control over the playlist incorporating some tremendous lost classics, it was a fun station to be a part of.
So why leave it? Well – for one, there wasn’t a lot of money in it. My move from the rated market back to mornings in Joliet (with no competition for numbers) yielded me a 25% raise. Two – it was time for me to take on something more challenging, and there was an urgency to move on quickly. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to jump right into mornings, but you get to the point where you need to make a decision and go. I always had that sort of premonition that made me radio’s Indiana Jones, in a sense – running just in front of the giant boulder that was smashing everything in its path. Ratings success led to ratings pressure, and that pressure began to manifest itself in attracting an older, more affluent demo. Less Guns and Roses, more Steve Winwood. While this was well before my programming days, I got the sense that the band was about to be broken up. Turned out I was right: within two years just about everyone on the station, save the morning show, would have moved on to other projects. The lightning in the bottle had flashed.
I still remember the awkwardness that preceded my last show. I was admittedly a bit of a loose cannon, and PD Guy Perry asked if I planned to do anything to call attention to the fact that I was leaving. “No – the station will still be here tomorrow,” I replied. He indicated that he had to double-check and see if I planned to steal anything. I assume he meant ideas for my morning show. I said that that was unlikely. Later that night, I relayed the story to the overnight jock that relieved me (I can’t remember who it was). His advice? “Steal the coffee maker. They will talk about you forever.” I laughed, and upon realizing that the coffee maker was in fact hard-wired to the water line, left it in place. I loaded up the car, headed for Joliet, and moved town to town, up and down the dial.
I made a few trips back in the immediate years after to visit friends, but haven’t been back now in about nineteen years. It would be a trip to see if the Rock and Roll Mansion is still haunted (I’ll save that story for closer to Halloween) and see if any of the watering holes are still intact. Can you still “drink your height” at the Bowl-Mor? (And would it kill me to try? Probably.)
In yesterday’s piece I mentioned the mixtape I made in the production studio. I found it this morning. It won’t play without repair – the tape split after enduring several summers left in the car. Fortunately, there’s an index written on the J-card to remind me of some other great songs from that station.
Jerry Doucette – “Mama Let Him Play“. Another of those “rare” albums that I likely paid too much for at Co-Op Records when a copy became available. This was a request night staple as well from 1977.
Billy Squier – “She Goes Down“. Billy toured in support of this album, and it was his visit to the station where I posed for the photo above with him. It’s an unfortunate time capsule, given the IOU shirt and stone-washed jeans. I’m one Generra shirt away from being a cliche here. When backselling this song, I always tried to make it a little dirty…. “it’s Billy Squier, and she goes down on 97X.”
London Quireboys – “7 O’Clock” . This came out that summer and should have been a bigger hit. I mean, how can you have a night show and NOT play the snot out of a song with a chorus that goes “It’s seven o’clock and time for a party?”
Eric Johnson – “Cliffs of Dover“. We were big into power instrumentals at the station. Between this one and Joe Satriani there was plenty to go around. My students may recognize it from Guitar Hero, but have probably never heard it on the radio.
Rainbow – “Since You Been Gone“. I am sure that, as nighttime jock, it was my job to provide the soundtrack for the beginnings and endings of numerous romances across the Quad City area. Autobiographically at that time I was more musically well-versed in the endings than the beginnings. Needless to say this song got play on my show more than a few times. It’s from 1978’s Down To Earth LP.
There are so many songs that come to mind I could do more parts to this story. Lots of those songs crossed over to my morning show at WLLI, so I’ll include them as stories come up. Suffice to say, though, that when I look back on thirty years on the air, my time at WXLP was pretty darned special. I didn’t realize it nor appreciate it at the time. That’s one of the benefits of hindsight – you don’t know the highs until you see the lows, which the next two radio homes – WLLI and WCFL/Morris – provided.
Or, as a couple of very nice guys I met at the station sung – you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.