It’s surprisingly hard to explain the concept of ‘cool’ to someone in Radio. Surrounded by celebrities, able to shame their former highschool peers with social media post after social media post of themselves with A List artists, let’s be honest: none of us would have gone into radio if we had been cool.
There are a few stations that I think I can, in 2015, legitimately stick that label on. One would be Cities 97 in Minneapolis. They’re the epitome of Cool. If they tried to be, then they wouldn’t be: Cool just IS. And it’s a fragile equation: attitude + music + content + events + talent = Cool.
You generally don’t see cool stations that do what other people are doing, ie: Dirty On The :30’s or Are You Smarter Than Paige? Cool stations are unique. James Dean was cool because there was no one else like him at that time. And that definitely applies to Cities 97 and what they do on/off/under the air.
I’ve launched a million successful CHR’s and the one common strategy is to out-of-the-gate steal the other stations Teens. Why? Teens dictate trends and what is hot and what is cool and if they all abandon your station, you’re one Mariah Carey add away from reporting Hot AC.
The person who was the litmus test for “cool” at my elementary school was named Kerry. She’d been the first to steal a copy of “Go Ask Alice” and bring it to recess. To discover the possible dingdong photo in the Men’s under garment section of the 1971 Sears catalogue. And in record label terminology, she was first ‘on’ Boobs. That in itself bestowed Cool on Kerry.
U-100 was the stuff of legends. You just don’t know how much to believe. There were rumors of skinny dipping parties in the pond behind their facility and everyone knew someone who could vouch for having been there.
It was the rare station that by being a listener, elevated your status.
And like a lot of cool CHR’s, there was a bit of a renegade to it and the parents hated it. And who when you’re 14 wants to listen to a station that your parents love?
“It was cooler because they would lean harder on rock artists, and it felt like they’d play an occasional album version of a single. Plus that first set of jocks they had – Jerry St. James, Bob Hall, Chuck Morgan, Jeff “Mother” Robbins were amazing. Rob Sherwood was there from the beginning and gave all sorts of good people a chance – Mesa Kincaid, Gary DeMaroney, Patrick M. “Cookin” McKay. U100 was always stirring it up with the other stations and for a teenage radio geek, it was everything you wanted to be, even though it probably wasn’t the greatest station formatically. And screaming over top of the hour jingles completely shaped every station I’ve programmed, to the point that I even used that formatic on K102”: Gregg Swedberg, SR VP Programming for iHeart Radio Minneapolis.
When was the last time you saw a radio station have this kind of effect on the audience. “Loud and snotty was what captured my attention. I had just started 5th grade a few days after U100 signed on from the MN State Fair. I remember tuning past 980 one night and hearing some loud-ass guitar song instead of Doug MacKinnon snoozin’ to the oldies. As the song ended, Jeff “Mutha” Robbins began screaming. Greatness. Of course, I went to school the next day and told everyone to listen to this cool new station instead of WDGY. I was hooked!
By the time I hit 6th grade, they had the Acapulco Gold Countdown. They had Chucker Morgan aka “The Mother Chucker” telling people to call in and “take a leak.” Translation: call in and give the test answers for your class so the other kids can cheat! And of course, the U100 GRABS ME shirts were infamous for the obvious reason. U100 was radical. My parents hated the station. My teachers hated the station. Which of course was why us kids loved it so much!
When U100 went off-the-air, it was like a day of mourning at my school. Nobody would have guessed that middle school kids would be that loyal to a radio station. It was without a doubt THE “cool station” to listen to.” : local teen turned Radio archivist Drew Durigan.
When I started researching this piece I lobbed out “What station do you think is ‘Cool’ to its listeners” on a Facebook group and sadly got replies that lauded innocuous CHR’s that all have Carmen Calls on the morning show and are PPM friendly to a fault.
Not one would inspire the loyalty of Z-95.3 in Vancouver that was so cool in the 90’s that local kids created their own station bumperstickers by taking the “N” sticker the province gave you as a New driver, and radicalized it by turning it sideways into a “Z”. Whole lunchhours at school were spent sharing cassette tapes of the previous nights new music feature.
I consult a station that is mired in mediocrity and I don’t think there’s a body in the building who’s ever worked at a #1 station. It’s hard to explain the high of being #1 to someone who has never experienced it. Much like explaining “cool Radio” to someone who never listened to Y-100 in Miami.
Y wasn’t a radio station. It had evolved into something that was bigger than just some music spewing box.
Bill Tanner is arguably the smartest person I’ve ever met in Radio:
“Y-100 was all about the people:
1. Cecil Heftel. He set standards of excellence, demanded showmanship
2. Buzz Bennett & Company, who were great programming and promotion people but who almost blew the company in the first four months.
3. John Rook, whom Heftel hired to save the station. Outstanding talent coach, great motivator.
4. The Bill Tanner/Robert Walker coalition. I pushed the personality boundaries with predictable unpredictability, and Robert Walker’s formatics reinvented a slick new version of his Bill Drake format background, steeped in forward momentum and great imaging.
5. Bill Cunningham, the GM who understood and managed the station’s larger-than-life image.
6. Wonderful jocks who learned how to be individuals and make a tight format amazing. Robert Walker, Don “Cox-on-the-Radio, Tanner in the Morning & Jim Reihle, Cramer Haas, Banana Joe Montione, Earl “the Pearl” Lewis, Mark “in the Dark” Shands, Quincy McCoy, The Madame Jo Maeder, Jay Marks, Dave Dunaway, and so many more.
7. In later years, owners Norman Wain, Bob Weiss and David Ross brought their own ideas to
Y-100 and made it a more successful business.
8. Great engineers who never stopped working their wizardry to make the station’s audio better. John Bailie, Roy Pressman, Doug Holland, Howard Quinton.
I was there from 1974-1983. After I left people like Sonny Fox and Ron Hersey brought their own personalities to the station and made it even more successful.
The cool factor was a combination of all of the above.”
Two things you should take away from this: “People” and “Showmanship”.
It’s mindblowlingly frustrating to work with people who are content to be background music. The opposite in terms of intellect from Bill Tanner is Jerry Clifton, with the final word on Cool:
“Stations that reach that rare air of popularity and hipness have in common the fact that they are their markets BULLSEYE of local pop culture. They’re not the center of the latest fad a month or even a week after it happens. They’re on it day one consistently. Many times they are the instigator of the next craze. I saw it happen at KHJ in the mid 60’s when Bill Drake and Ron Jacobs made KHJ more hollywood than hollywood. They stole the Beatles concert at the hollywood bowl from their competitor. They had local superstars sonny and cher hanging out at the station daily. The beachboys recorded special songs that were about and heard only on KHJ. AT 3:00 on a friday afternoon the MOR (Middle. Of the road ) formatted station on 930am segued from a Dean Martin type old people song to Bill Drakes station id “and now ladies and gentlemen…the Real Don Steal(logo KHJ Los Angeles)with Donald screaming over the intro of the eras most controversal song,Satisfaction by the stones”Its 3 oclock in Boss Angeles” and channel 98,KFWB might just as well have signed off Forever.
I saw it happen at KCBQ and again at Y100 in Miami when Buzz Bennette inserted his truley radical personality on these stations mirroring the respective markets hipness value. I tried to do the same on every station I programmed. The station becomes that “guy” that every mother dreads her daughter becoming involved with. Elvis was that guy, James Dean was that guy, John Lennon was that guy. WIRED in Philly was that guy for a minute. Z100 in New york was that guy. KBXX in Houston was tht guy. KUBE in Seattle was that guy, WDRQ in Detroit was that guy.”