Tag Archives: Top 40 Radio

Hearing Gordon McLendon Loud And Clear

Gordon McLendon is  a legendary name who dominated radio programming during the Golden Age of Top 40.

The McLendon Stations included power houses like KLIF Dallas and KILT Houston.  McLendon was also one of the first to try all news and bring Top 40 to FM.

He loved programming innovation.

I was reminded of a memo given to me by my late friend and mentor Larry Kent a former  PD for McLendon  at  KTSA San Antonio.

It’s called “Creating A Sparkling Station”.  In it, the “Old Scotsman” hammers on lazy Program Directors and lack of creativity at company stations.

The memo appears to have been written around 1970.

No one is mentioned by name, but we can assume they knew who was being singled out.  Those that didn’t “get it’ were probably gone pretty fast.

McLendon describes a ‘sparkling station’ as one that is: alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air and feeling of what’s going to happen next, and something continually going on.

He says “it takes work by the Program Director and all concerned — lots of work. And if that work is not a labor of love, rather than a labor of continuing effort, the chances are that the station will sparkle only briefly,”

He explains why Program Directors fail,  “the tendency not to want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”  In other words allowing bad copy, commercials and jocks on the air without speaking up.

McLendon is none too kind to the talk show hosts on his stations.

“The average stations talk man sounds like he is trying to conduct a church social and make as many friends as possible. They don’t clutter up their minds with a lot of confusing preparation, They plunge right in without a lot of information of the subject which might obscure their views.”

He finishes by saying “mostly our call in talk emcees are characterized by their extreme friendliness and courtesy, and also by the almost audible sound of radios being turned off by the thousands.”

Well you get the idea.  The memo takes just about everyone in programming to task.

McLendon was like many others of his era.  He demanded creativity and attention to detail .  Most of all he drove the point that topicality was key to a station’s ability to sparkle.

Times have changed.  Many of the elements he wrote about don’t fit today’s radio.

Many stations obsess over song rotations and spend too little time on creativity.

The McLendon  message still rings.  Stations must sparkle.  They need to be imaginative and kept fresh.  It’s not enough to just update the imaging once or twice a year.

It would be unthinkable that a McLendon station or others from that time would not be exciting.

Few stations today sound really excited about what they are doing.

Jocks are all too often left on their own getting no direction about their role on the air.

Everything  in McLendon’s memo referred to building great content.

Content is key to everything in today’s multi-media world. That means on-air, on the web, everywhere.

Radio doesn’t sell content.  Its sells advertising.

But without content, no one will have a reason to buy advertising.

Without advertising, it’s hard to say where radio goes from here.

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Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Radio programming


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Last Of The Originals

Paul Sidney loved radio.

WLNG was more than a radio station.  It was his life’s work but even more a labor of love.

As far as I know, the WLNG staff is all the family he had.

Paul passed away today at age 69.

I never met him.  But felt like I knew him.

WLNG is a throwback.  It connects with listeners like the great top 40 stations did years ago.

Lost dogs can still find their way home because of WLNG.

Birthdays are celebrated, new babies too.

WLNG is what radio always was.

A station without ego that never lost sight why it existed, to serve the public.

It’s a great station.

Paul ran it his way.

A funny thing happened.  WLNG enjoyed over 40 years of success during his watch.

Unfortunately they threw away the mold when Paul was born.

Let’s hope they can always find a place that will re-wind the carts, and sing a new set of jingles.

WLNG is one of a kind, because its leader was a true original.

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Posted by on April 3, 2009 in Uncategorized


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The Hits Just Keep On Coming!

Anyone who heard the great top 40 stations like KHJ and CKLW knows his voice.

He introduced the jock at the top every hour…”and now ladies and gentlemen…The Real Don Steele”, with the ID jingle that followed.

Bill Drake the legend passed away this weekend at age 71.

He was often accused of taking personality out of radio.

Drake’s contribution was bringing discipline to the Top 40 format.

Many Drake jocks of the 60s became some of the biggest personalities of the 70s and 80s.

He demanded discipline but loved talent that could bend the format just enough to standout.

There was a huge difference between the big ‘Drake’ stations like CKLW and those in smaller markets.

The small guys did the format, but lacked the sizzle of great personalities able to entertain within the tight format.

A Drake station required more than discipline, talent was a big factor too.

Stories about Drake are as large as the legend.

A CKLW jock told me a story about how difficult it could be to work for Drake.

The format at the time required the jingle to play after the commercials.

They NEVER jingled into the spots.

On this day the jock did his break and the engineer hit the button, but instead of going to commercial a jingle played.

Drake was at home in California tuned in on the listen line.

He called the jock and said, “you’re fired”.

The jock told him it was the engineer who hit the button, not him.

Drake asked to speak to the engineer and promptly relieved him of his duties.

The stations sounded fun on the outside, but they were doing serious business.  There was no room for error.

Ron Jacobs required new jocks at KHJ to perform shows off air until he felt they were ready for prime time.

Drake also became known for syndication, creating The History Of Rock N Roll, and automated formats in the 70s.

In recent years he consulted K-Earth 101.

The Drake sound was well defined.  Every station used jingles sung by Johnny Mann, and of course Drake voiced the ID.

The jocks were a who’s who of top 40 including Robert W Morgan, Charlie Van Dyke, Charlie Tuna,  Walt Baby Love, Sebastian Stone, Steve Clark, Sean Casey, Al Brady, Bill Brown and so many others.

Drake PDs included the likes of Jacobs, Paul Drew and Ted Atkins.

We can only hope that another Bill Drake or two are waiting to be discovered and will surface to put their mark on the industry.

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Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Radio History, Radio programming


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Me And My Wifi

A black Emerson Radio made in the 1940s first captured my imagination.

It was around 1960 that my mother brought the radio to me.  I was sick and she hoped it would help me feel better.

Little did she know how that afternoon would change the direction of my life.

The first station I remember listening to was WCBS with Jack Sterling doing mornings I think.

This radio thing was fascinating to a five year old.

Even now you can hand a radio to me and I’ll sit for hours tuning the dial to see what’s on.

But the most amazing device I’ve found is the CCrane WIFI Radio.  It brings the entire world to me.

Pick a location or format and bam you are there.

If WIFI Radio isn’t the future, I can’t wait to see what is.

Having the ability to listen to Oldies from over a hundred sources, or Reggae from WSTX St. Croix and news from 2UE Sydney is great.

It has rekindled my appreciation for local radio.

For a program director it is a great way to hear how other stations sound just like we used the skywave to hear the big Top 40s in the 60 and 70s.

I rarely listen to music radio from local stations.  Now CBS FM, K-Earth or WLNG are a few of the music stations that are always playing in my office.

For variety the morning show on Capital FM in Nairobi Kenya offers something interesting late at night local time.

It’s a good thing I don’t have WIFI in the car.  I’d probably get lost in the radio and drive right by the house.

Any radio junkie will find a whole new world, literally, with the WIFI.

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Posted by on October 7, 2008 in Radio programming


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