(Above: Me in my WJTW shirt in the production room of WCFL/Morris, 1990. I do not know why I am wearing it there.)
In the summer of 1989 I was just starting to get my legs under me in terms of my radio career. The station I worked for in Joliet, Illinois, WJTW, gave me a shot at being on the air while the sun was out shortly after Memorial Day, and then I got lucky. Joliet is very much a transitional market, and many people either move up and out quickly or don’t stay in the business very long. This was the case twice: we lost the afternoon and night jock, and I ended up working afternoons for a month or so in the interim – and that would have been around the end of summer, when I should have been making plans to head back to Lewis University in a few weeks. Of course, the dropping out/getting kicked out incident was going to keep that from happening. I was instead taking as many hours on the air as I could.
I wanted to be a rock jock. The morning shows I had been doing at WLRA featured music with more than a little attitude (some of those shows from October, November, and December of 1988 are detailed on this blog), and that’s what I wanted to be playing. Instead, I was stuck in the land of soccer moms and divorcees calling the request line asking what I looked like. It was that summer that I first appreciated the idea of what my friends back at college called “selling out:” the idea that I could manage a paycheck to communicate with an audience, and that the job of an air personality wasn’t necessarily about loving every song that you played. In fact, in pulling out the AC chart from this week – full of songs that we played – there are indeed few records that I liked, let alone loved. Let’s head to the countdown, shall we?
30. After All – Cher (with Peter Cetera). Despite my best efforts to forget about this record, here it is. The same can be said for
29. Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler. This was the one that would come up on my show all the time. Since I was grabbing as many hours as I could, I’d still pull long weekend shifts in addition to working during the week. On a six-hour show you could be assured of getting this thing twice. I had to resort to making up alternate lyrics to stay sane the same way I did with “The Living Years.” (“It would suuuuuckkk….. if you diiiiiiiied…..”) This ended up being about wind between your legs, and it’s much, much funnier when you sing it that way.
28. How’m I Gonna Sleep – Tim Finn. I recall that we played this record, but not for very long.
27. No More Rhyme – Debbie Gibson. I will always stop seeking the dial on a Debbie Gibson record. I played her on my first day on the air, and since we were only something like two years apart, having a crush seemed OK. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I worked at a station that played her again after this.
26. On the Beach – Chris Rea. This is a terrific record. I remember putting this on a tape and having it in the car when my friends and I would head to West Beach in Indiana. I had dreamt up a concept for a mixtape called “The Beach Album” that would open with it. I never did put it together.
25. Second Chance – .38 Special. One of the many “fresh breakup” songs on this chart. They are precisely what you don’t want to hear when you are fresh off a breakup, and that was the case in the summer of 1989. Lucky me.
24. Into the Night – Benny Mardones. To me, this song never seemed to go anywhere. I could never tell if it was almost over or not. That makes it hard to leave the studio.
23. Where Are You Now? – Jimmy Harnen and Synch. See above, “fresh breakup.” This added a level of whiny to it that made it that much more enjoyable.
22. Spell – Deon Estus. Guilty pleasure record. His first record, “Heaven Help Me,” was a huge hit largely due to the George Michael backup vocal. This one didn’t have that and stiffed, but it’s not a bad record.
21. We Can Last Forever – Chicago. No, you can’t, and you shouldn’t.
20. Miss You Like Crazy – Natalie Cole. Yet another breakup record.
19. Everlasting Love – Howard Jones. OK, this one is kind of catchy. I heard this in the car a few weeks ago and was surprised at how many of the lyrics I could come up with despite not having heard it in a long time.
18. Darlin I – Vanessa Williams. This was one of the many down-tempo Black female vocalist records we played in 1989, and all of them sounded like the same record. There was a formula in place in the studios that summer, and we added all of them.
17. Unborn Heart – Dan Hill. I couldn’t have hum this one if you gave me $100 to do it. I looked it up, and I know why: I blocked it out. A 20-year old single guy does not want to be entertained with songs about pregnancy. I’m guessing that this is why I kept a cassette of metal in the car; after a show with this in it I needed a sorbet.
16. Rooms On Fire – Stevie Nicks. Fun fact: in college I learned that if you sing and slap yourself on the back repeatedly, you can sound like Stevie Nicks did in the late 80s. Try it. This song is perfect for that.
15. Good Thing – Fine Young Cannibals and 14. Express Yourself – Madonna – I don’t think that we played either of these songs at WJTW. I’m not clear on #15, but I am sure about #14. We had a music director who was a born-again Christian who decided that the “Like a Prayer” video was sufficient for a total ban from the playlist. This stayed in place until “Vogue” was such a huge record that he had no choice.
13. Cry – Waterfront. This is a damned good record.
12. Sacred Emotion – Donny Osmond. This is not, which explains why I seem to remember us playing it a lot more than we probably did.
11. Trouble Me – 10,000 Maniacs. I was impressed when this band crossed over from college radio to become so mainstream that even the mom stations played them. For a much cooler record, though, try “Poison in the Well” from around the same time.
10. My Brave Face – Paul McCartney. Of course we played Sir Paul. How could you not? This was the trade between him and Elvis Costello – they co-wrote songs with each other to record. Costello got “Veronica” out of the deal, which we actually played on the station, and I will still turn up loudly to this day.
9. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) – New Kids On the Block. Yuck. Barf. No, thank you. Yes, I know they were popular. I hated – HATED – playing this thing, and liked it even less when they covered the Delfonics.
8. My One Temptation – Mica Paris. See above, Vanessa Williams.
7. Waiting Game – Swing Out Sister. Another guilty pleasure alert: I kinda like Swing Out Sister. I think it’s Corinne Drewrey’s voice. It’s another one that I can do pretty well after a few beers. (That’s a short slope, though: too many beers and everything sounds like Joe Jackson.)
6. This Time I Know It’s For Real – Donna Summer. Hey, remember going out and dancing to disco records before you got married? Now that you’re divorced, re-live the fun of dating all over again, kids…
5. Soul Provider – Michael Bolton. I did not celebrate his entire catalog.
4. The End Of the Innocence – Don Henley. I didn’t mind this until the Gulf War started. Then, inexplicably, someone took clips of news footage and spliced them into this, and we played it at 97X in Quad Cities. I didn’t want to be playing Don Henley at 97X, but there it was.
3. If You Don’t Know Me By Now – Simply Red. No. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. That is all.
2. Don’t Wanna Lose You – Gloria Estefan. What, another breakup song?
And new to the #1 spot that week… Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx. Whoo boy – the sappiest of the songs of summer, and here it is, every four and a half hours. I don’t even mind some of what Richard Marx did, but I can’t get past this one. (As far as the family goes, I am a much bigger fan of his father’s work – the Dick Marx Orchestra.)
As it turns out, the station would post the afternoon job that I was filling in the trades – in such a way that I couldn’t apply for it as I didn’t have enough experience despite hosting the show. They hired an afternoon guy, promoted a part-timer to nights, and gave me – overnights. It didn’t last long, though, because by the end of September the management of KRVR would be kicking my tires about moving to Davenport.