Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

Feel free to contact me at mason2042 at gmail dot com

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

“WIXY 1260: Pixies, Six-Packs, and Supermen” by Mike Olszewski and Richard Berg, with Carlo Wolff (Black Squirrel)

Those of you of a certain age - in this particular case, those who came to maturity in the 1960’s - will remember how IMPORTANT radio was to us. It was our lifeline, our entree into the popular music which we felt represented our ideals and way of life, our connection to what people around us were considering to be new and hip and worthy of our era. Yes, there were local scenes in the 1960’s, but there also was, or so we thought, a consensus developing as to what was good and what wasn’t., even though it was never really the case that “everybody” agreed. We thought we all listened to the same songs (not really) on the same stations (of course not), and hung on every word spoken by the same DJ’s (though we can barely remember half their names now).

No, we never were that much in lockstep, even if we tended to feel that way at the time. Perhaps because radio has lost so much of its magic in this digital age, thanks to the Internet, iTunes, iPad, downloads,, many of us who were around when radio DID possess true magic - from the 1920’s into at least the 1980’s, perhaps 90’s - may have developed a tendency to romanticize its importance. I, on the other hand, KNOW how significant radio was in my life. Approaching my mid-60‘s, I still do a show on a college-radio station, still review books about radio, still keep in touch with like-minded friends, and in fact do just about everything except listen to radio. Because radio’s no fun anymore.

Along come the authors of this little book (144 pages) to remind us much fun radio used to be. WIXY was a small AM radio station in a big city (Cleveland), which successfully took on the clear-channel giants and long-established on-air favorites, quickly building itself into a major player in a major market, only to stumble awkwardly when the music changed and a new medium (FM radio) caused drastic alterations in America’s listening habits. Founded by three young men who loved radio and were eager to please their audience, WIXY appealed to the masses through a combination of the hottest Top 40 music going during the mid-60’s, popular on-air personalities, and wild, attention-grabbing promotions.

“WIXY 1260” - the cryptic subtitle will only mean something to people who remember the station and its on-air branding - traces the swift rise of a locally-driven format which could appeal to an across-the-board pop-music audience which had not yet splintered into subcategories and warring factions, those by-products of the dreaded out-of-town consultants minutely studying target demographics. The comings and goings of the station’s personnel are tracked - this was not an era in which it paid to become TOO attached to a particular jock, aside from certain superstars who would stay with a station seemingly forever - as are dealings with sponsors and visiting performers. But what many (including myself) may find most memorable are the detailed descriptions of the station’s promotional stunts and gimmicks, many of which were elaborate to the point of seeming preposterous in retrospect. And considering some of the headaches that came the station’s way as a result of a few of these promotions, they doubtless seemed preposterous at the time as well. But they worked, helping to increase the station’s audience many times over.

Yet, while the station rose to the #1 position in the ratings uncommonly quickly, its fall from grace dragged on far longer than it probably should have. The original owners saw the writing on the wall - the rise of FM as a listening alternative with superior sound quality, the introduction of the FM band to car radios, the split of the audience into “progressive FM” vs. “easy-listening”/”adult-contemporary/AOR” formats, the growth of the LP over the 45-RPM single - and managed to sell the station without losing their shirts. The new corporate owners struggled to succeed until the ignominious end. Success stories are always more pleasant to read than tales of woe, but one can often learn a lot from stories of failure as well. Thus, I wish the authors’ analysis of the station’s demise were as carefully detailed as their examination of the station’s success. The book is divided so that each chapter covers a particular year. Once we reach the 1970’s, the chapters become much shorter, the story less detailed.

But the first half of the book tells the success story in such a way that it made me wish this were a station I would have been able to listen to. Living in Western New York, I could hear WIXY’s top competitor, WKYC, loud and clear after sundown, weather conditions permitting, but WIXY itself was too low-powered to reach this far east. I would surmise that this book would have its greatest appeal to people who fondly remember hearing WIXY during its 1967-68 heyday. But since there were smaller, well-loved stations such as WIXY in many other parts of the US, I have a feeling that anyone who loved radio during the era will find much to identify with here. (I suppose this is where I should insert my memories of WNIA in Cheektowaga, NY, as format-free a Top 40 station as one could hope to find in the mid-60’s, but that’s really a story for another day.)

Recommended more to fans of radio-nostalgia than to people looking for music-nostalgia. But a nice little book, nevertheless. Black Squirrel Books is an imprint of Kent State University Press.

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