The article below, written by Bud Connell, first appeared as a post from Mike Devich to the
Broadcast-Airchex message board in July 1999. When I read this essay Mr. Connell had written and sent to Mike, I was stunned that his time-sweep perspectives on youth, music, and radio so closely mirror my own--I couldn't have stated my own like-feelings and mindset regarding some of these matters any better than Bud Connell has done.
There's a lot of early Top 40 history in this piece--drawn from Mr. Connell's days at WNOE (1957-60),
WFUN (1961),and KXOK (1961). (By the way, as evidenced by the few WNOE airchecks I have of him, he was a true "personality dj"). It was there in New Orleans, as Program Director at WNOE, that Bud Connell developed the classic "dramatic" newscast format which he later exported for use in Miami and St. Louis. Many of the more interesting Top 40 stations across the country borrowed the concept during the 60's; two that come to mind are WRBC (Jackson, MS) and WVLD (Valdosta, GA).
Presented here, with permission of the author, is a powerful treatise about radio--where it WAS, where it IS NOW, and how it got from there to here. Many will agree with Bud Connell's perspectives, some won't. We welcome YOUR viewpoints.
My sincere thanks to Bud Connell for this very welcomed contribution.
"The Radio Generation and the Origin of Top 40"
Radio's radical effect on America's behavior during the twenty years beginning in 1950 was initiated by the shift of entertainment from network radio to network television. The first seven years of the period yielded a complete transfer of radio programming from central network control to local operators and small chains. New media habits quickly developed in the under 40 population. We learned to wake up to radio, carry it around, listen to it anywhere,and to go to bed with it at night. Radio became the principal source of news and information for most Americans. Radio, never television, was always first to respond. The Daily Birdcage Bottom, the local newspaper, began to lose readers and circulation. Throughout the day, we relied upon radio to give us the correct time, weather, hit records, news updates, opinions, contests, games, prizes. It was good company--a pal. A personal choice. Radio grew as a stealthy influence on society. Its history cross-hatched through layers of community from the upper crust down through the entire pie of population to the crumbs on the floor beneath the feet of the media masters.
At fifteen years of age, I was one of these crumbs when I entered broadcasting as a personality disc jockey early in 1952. The theater in my mind playbilled and regularly offered up sound snippets of the Music, Music, Music from the preceding six or seven years. It was a potpourri of performances by Brewer, Bennett, and Clooney and Stafford, Lanza, Como, Page, and Nat King Cole. Encouraging, romantic, nostalgic, inspiring, shaming, revealing, teaching, fun--running a gamut from country to classics.
Juke boxes and radio stations played Lefty Frizzell's country devotion to family entitled Mom and Dad's Waltz, followed by Mario Lanza's borderline classic, Be My Love. Lefty's lyric made me want to hug my parents. Listening to Mario Lanza pulled me up to a higher level in societal awareness. Most young people of the early 50's had a wide range of interest, appreciation, and understanding; and they seemed to desire healthy emotion, elevation, and growth.
The ideals of the post-war youth began to slip away in the late sixties. New ideas of the stoned generation appeared in popular lyrics. Doped up, they hitched rides to San Francisco with flowers in their hair. They imagined life without boundaries, nationhood, possessions, religion. As the new millennium approached, youth's musical cry was little more than a muffled cacophony of monotonous noises, poor poetry, and gutteral grunts. Let's do just enough to get by, let's make love indiscriminately, let's have a child out of wedlock, let's kill a cop. From high to low. From healthy to sick. From morality to morass. How did we get here from there? Some blamed movies and television. Many blamed radio and popular music. The media was the pipeline, but the pipe was being filled by rudderless, raw, market force.
Radio, as we know it today, began with the spaced repetition of hit records. Todd Storz, a young man barely 28 years of age, started the rapid transition from New York-Chicago-Los Angeles based network programs to local home-town programming soon after he and his father acquired KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1949. The young Storz was a ham radio operator and accustomed to being in control. In the very early 50's, music and news became Todd's principal output. Warm on-the-air personalities and primitive listener promotions coupled with the primordial popular music programming and the nation's first hourly newscast garnered an immediate dominant audience. He required that the station be identified before and after every record.
Todd also involved the audience with contests and promotions, and in the creation of news with the original Newstip of the Week award. The ratings steadily increased until little daytimer KOWH in Omaha was the highest-rated radio station in the nation. In the spring of 1953, Todd's newly acquired
WTIX in New Orleans coined the term "Top 40" in the title of the nation's first and only daily Top 40 Countdown show. Radio, which had been ground down to near distinction from 1948-52 by television's massive assault on America's free time, began its rapid rocket ride to recovery. Top 40 was so successful that by mid-1954 it had been copied in most major markets. For the next twenty years, the radio medium would grow and improve, challenge and inspire, entertain and serve. The broadcast nation looked to Omaha and its satellite sister stations for innovation, and innovation was what they heard and copied coast-to-coast. Todd was broadcasting's man-to-watch.
In 1956, Todd Storz vacationed in Hot Springs and phoned me while I was on the air on KXLR in Little Rock, Arkansas. When he called, I was reading a news piece about him published in a recent Time
magazine. He had given radio a new life, saved it from death by tv, and was being recognized worldwide. I studied his picture as he spoke. He didn't look much older than I, but his image in Time made him appear as a giant in my young eyes. Shortly after his initial call, his program director negotiated a deal with me to move to Omaha. He was generous for the time, and I would have taken the job for any salary offered. A chance to work for Todd Storz was a piece of serendipity that had fallen to the Earth. The next twelve years would be my own rapid rocket ride into programming and management that would forever alter my life. I would learn how to take chances on the instinct that I could second-guess public taste. I called it programming by creative leaps of faith. Todd and others allowed it because they knew that I believed I could do it. My mettle thickened with increasing ratings. Early masters of the radio medium wielded their strongest influences through creativity merged with the manipulation of various format factors.
The early formatics consisted of music, news, information and public services, personalities, promotion, and, of course, commercials. All elements were carefully scheduled, but the almighty commercial was the supreme entity to which most media masters bowed. The new local programming delivered massive audiences, and a lower cost per thousand to the advertisers. Through the years, commercials were the building blocks of great broadcast fortunes. Conversely, when programmed to excess, they turned audience away and were the poison leading to financial death for the deserving greedy. Commercials continued to supply smart radio operators with high octane fuel. The more money-fuel the media masters accumulated, the more cleverly and expertly they manipulated the other programming factors.
Each format factor influenced the success or failure of all radio entities, and as a by-product created unintended changes in our society and cultural fabric. Music type, music selection and rotation schemes; quality and frequency of news, or the lack of it; recurrence of services such as time, temperature and weather; caliber and stature of talent and patter; timeliness, cleverness, and enjoining addiction of promotions. Some major, some minor, influencing elements all. Music, personality, and promotion each had periods of high popularity on broadcasting's stage, and encored incessantly during radio's big change years--the twenty years preceding 1970.
In Omaha, I discovered my ability to maintain complete dominance of an audience. I was acting by rote, recreating what Todd had created--following the leader. When Todd sold the station a year later, I found myself working for a young publisher named William F. Buckley, Jr., with plenty of charisma but no broadcast background. Devastated, I called the second banana on the broadcast stalk, Gordon McLendon, owner of the Texas Triangle, KLIF-Dallas, KILT-Houston, and KTSA-San Antonio, and son-in-law of the ex-governor of Louisiana, James A. Noe. Gordon gave me a choice. I could go to work as a disc jockey for any of the Texas stations, or become the afternoon drive personality on his father-in-law's WNOE in New Orleans. He said the potential for growth was the greatest in New Orleans, and that they might soon need a new program executive. When he revealed that he had just hired Gary Owens for the morning show on the same station, I knew he was serious about making a mark in the Crescent City. The overriding factor in my decision, though, was that Todd Storz' prized WTIX was dominant in New Orleans, and this would be my chance to beat Todd in the ratings, potentially later returning to Storz Broadcasting as a conquering hero. There was no contest. I took the job in New Orleans and a few months later was named program director. It was my opportunity to win ratings and make my programming statement.
At WNOE, I developed the skill of creating and manipulating programming elements and the station went totally audience dominant in May, 1958. In a multi-state rating sweep conducted by C.E. Hooper, Inc., my personal program carried a 52% share of audience from Tampa, Florida to Beaumont, Texas. All the other stations in the six-state coverage area shared the remaining 48%.
What elements made it possible for one personality on one station to attract such a massive audience? The answer--an expanding knowledge and growing ability to mix the right elements in the right proportions at the right times. The listeners came because I reached deeply inside and brought forth the sounds that entertained, informed, and satisfied my own needs. There were no focus groups,
no research, no consultants. There were only results called ratings, and they showed up after the fact. Radio was a reflection of key people programming music, news, personality, and promotion through an ethical prism.
We were forced to think of the public need, interest, and necessity by our fear of the Federal Communications Commission. If we were too commercial, if we were too crude, if we didn't give religious programming or agricultural news enough airtime, we could lose our valuable license to broadcast. That would be the end of a station, and certainly the end of our careers. So, we were careful to cover the bases, to meet the needs and interests of the public. The act of having to report programming percentages to the FCC forced a type of thinking that spilled over into general programming. The music must be moral, the personalities must be principled, the services must be reliable, the required public service programmig must not be sham.
After a period of dominant New Orleans ratings, Todd Storz interviewed me for the managership of WDGY in Minneapolis. I was only 24 and I didn't get the job. With chagrin and indignation, I advertised my availability in Broadcasting magazine and attracted Esquire magazine, WINS in New York, and Rounsaville Radio. Esquire was new to the business, New York was not my style, and Rounsaville wanted a manager to open a new station in Miami against Todd Storz' fabled WQAM. Again, no contest.
I took the offered managership and built the new WFUN, Miami. We were top-rated in less than sixty days. Twice beaten, Todd offered me control over his newly acquired KXOK in St. Louis. I didn't have to think. It was exactly what I wanted. Control over Storz' largest station in the country's ninth largest city. Again, we went number one in the Nielson ratings in the first sixty days following my reprogramming.
Music--the Top 40, Pick Hits, and "Extras" comprised more than half the programming. Records were chosen with great care. I took responsibility to control selections for virtue, excellence, and entertainment. I avoided junk and picked only the cream of the new releases for inclusion on my playlists. Nothing was added that I did not deeply believe would eventually become a top ten hit. Few junk recordings made it to hit status. If recorded trash hit in another market, it seldom entered the charts in my markets even with airplay on competing stations. The listeners could rely on my station to pick the right song, to play it often enough, and to let it rest when tired. Audiences supported my unstated position through continued loyalty; but, music was no more important than any other element. My stations could be counted upon to be forever consistent in whatever attracted the listeners in the first place.
Reliability extended to all elements. News was faithfully programmed every hour, and twice per hour in the morning and afternoon drive times. The context of each newscast was always predictable and the content was entirely unpredictable. We provided "news as it happens, from wherever it happens". The listeners became accustomed and dependant on locally generated news coverage and programming. They liked knowing the "when" contrasted to today's "if". We could be relied upon. No one can rely upon a station to be consistent today, not even upon a major network.
From station to station, I mined the gold vein deeper and wider as I learned how to expand the time tuned in by the old listeners and broaden the reach to new ones. When ratings were released, my staff crowed our figures and number one positions. The loyal audience always shared in our celebrations. We supported the work ethic. We supported the concept of family. Traditional holidays were events every year. We honored important figures. We respected the dignity of life and old age. These firmly rooted attitudes permeated our decisions and blended with our programming. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, we aired news and played classical music for six days. Our underlying mindsets transferred on-the-air to listeners through attitudes of responsibility, music selection, newswriting fairness, promotions, and personality patter. Our little worlds of influence were better places, at least for that brief time.
The average person actively listened one to six hours a day to carefully concocted programming. At its best, it influenced young people to stretch, to become better than they were. At its least, it offered valuable services, a few laughs, and a friendly background for living. Underlying morality, methodology, and meticulousness subliminally supported most listeners as they continued through their workdays and schooldays. They frequently listened at night in lieu of watching TV. Radio was first to be tuned in a crisis. Often, programming was inspiring and instructive. Sometimes it taught, or it generated pathos. It always occupied a place in our minds and hearts.
In the years after 1970, spaced repetition of records became one of the hurtful spears on which radio was hoisted. As the new-wave owners demanded more cash flow to pay for their expensive station buying sprees, personalities, promotion, news, and other program elements were cut to allow more time for records and commercials.
Music, it was reasoned, cost nothing, and more commercials meant more revenue. So, cost-bearing program elements were reduced or dropped to make room for more records and a higher number of commercial interruptions. More music programming took the listener's spotlight off the station's personality and placed it on the individual record, the hit song. Listeners began to control the medium through rapid station changing, and seeking the better record from moment-to-moment. After all, music was now all they had to listen for, and they took charge. First, they demanded more of their favorite music style, and this gave rise to radio's fragmentation producing several different kinds of pop music, different kinds of country and black music, and AOR, CHR, MOR, AC, Rock, CHR, Christian, Alternative, New Wave, Progressive Jazz, and the fragmentation continued. If more reasons had existed to tune in, listeners would have been less demanding about narrow music tastes. The profusion of music types and specialty stations gave the record companies incentive to release more music product. More music product then expanded into even more fragmenting of the radio formats.
Todd Storz, the father of modern format radio and Top 40, died in 1964 at the age of 39. His uncanny foresight and sagacity would live for a time in the daily works of his lieutenants; but, without his strong leadership, the accountants, bankers and lawyers would soon take over. Creative radio with a conservative conscience would apex in the late 1960's. Without regulation, and without conscience tempered by the past, the young media moguls acquired megachains consisting of the choice facilities in the prime markets. Most radio stations became mere money-machines, programming whatever faddish noise that might attract whatever transient listener. The did not know how to program with expertise because they never learned how. The people who did know moved on before the younger money men took over the industry. The real experts relished competition and crushed it. The new kids on the block embraced competition, promoted the bizarre, aired the crude Stern-like programming, or found their "niche". They fought for dominant positions in low single digits and still do, often determined by tiny tenths of points. Little do they know the joy and elation of achieving a rating in the twenties, thirties, forties, even fifties. The audience was truly with us.
We had one weekend daypart in St. Louis with a 92% share! Imagine. All the other stations, AM and FM, shared the remaining 8%. How embarrassing it must have been for them. How sweet it was for us.
Bud Connell is a media expert with a half-century of experience. In the 50's and 60's, he was employed by major broadcasting chains, personally creating benchmark stations such as WNOE-New Orleans, WFUN-Miami, and KXOK-Saint Louis. In 1970, he became a consultant with Chuck Blore's db programming in Hollywood. Thereafter, he produced a special for NBC-TV, formed his own company and consulted more than a hundred stations from New York to Los Angeles, including Ted Turner's stations, Eastern Broadcasting Company, Rounsaville Radio, Midwest Family, and many others. In 1989, he formed BCTV Productions in Los Angeles, and has written, produced, and directed hundreds of commercials, films, and videos for many major companies and organizations. He identifies himself as a long-term image-maker and a generalist. He has never failed to achieve dominant ratings and massive ROI. Connell now lives in Laguna Niguel, California, produces video, writes fiction in his spare time, and occasionally consults with select radio or television stations on programming matters. He can be contacted through BCTV (949) 495-1500. Fax (949) 495-4954. E-Mail: [email protected]
Congratulations to Bud Connell on his induction into the Saint Louis Radio Hall of Fame!
To hear actual newscasts featuring the format developed by Bud Connell, go to:
Uncle Ricky's Reel Top 40 Radio Repository, type "WFUN" or "KXOK" into the "find it" box, then follow the links to the descriptive information and audio files. To listen to a lengthy and totally fascinating story about Todd Storz and the Storz stations, type "Storz" into the "find it" box.
--page created 20 March 2002
--amended 23 March 2002