“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” – Stevie Wonder
And let me follow up by saying these memories can be both good and bad.
The music world, and the industry that supports it, radio, has changed a lot since the internet came along to upend their business model.
I am mostly digital now (OK, I still have a few hundred LPs) and I carry all that music on my phone. It goes where I go. And as a music lover it’s what I’ve always dreamed of. Open up an app, put it on shuffle, and I can hear anything from an old 78 to something new. But one day recently, a song popped up that brought back bad memories. This:
That’s right, the song is “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer. It’s not a bad song, and Rick Derringer is a talent. Derringer produced and played on “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Grammy Award-winning song “Eat It,” after all, and being a Weird Al fan, he’s therefore all right in my book.
It’s a sour song to me, however, because I’ve heard it already maybe a thousand times. Why? I grew up in Toledo in the 70s and 80s and listened to WIOT, FM104, because there wasn’t anything else.
“Radar Love” by Golden Earring. “Can’t Get Enough” by Bad Company. “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith. “All Right Now” by Free. “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. “All Right Now” by Free. Anything by The Who, or the Rolling Stones, or AC/DC. The list of songs I’ve heard “a thousand times” is a long one.
I grew up on two, maybe three stations – WJR (which my parents always had on), CKLW (which in its heyday, was my choice) and a little bit of WOHO, with the likes of Buddy Carr and Ken R. Deutsch. I had always heard, but was (and still am) unable to verify to my satisfaction, that CKLW in the late 60s-early 70s was the top-rated station in Toledo.
As I got older however, WIOT was ubiquitous among my age group. And indeed, a little research revealed the blog of Peter Cavanaugh, a former VP at Reams Broadcasting who has extensively documented his radio career. He wrote that WIOT was pulling in a total audience share of 19.7% in the fall of 1979, which I believe can be interpreted as nearly one of every five radio listeners in Toledo was hearing WIOT. It is a very interesting site.
And I am not surprised. Indeed, it was on everywhere: at homes, at the park, in cars, in stores.
And I listened, too. And that was my mistake.
Why? WIOT did what worked. They played music that people wanted to hear. Ad infinitum. Over and over and over again. To death. After all, it wasn’t a complete day unless you heard Eric Clapton’s Layla three or four times.
(This would be a good spot for a picture of the white-on-black WIOT t-shirts that were also ubiquitous, but thank heavens I couldn’t find one.)
And it was a big success for its owner, Reams Broadcasting. The company was started by Frazier Reams, a two-term congressman and lawyer and who prosecuted mobster Yonnie Licavoli in the 1930s. The company, eventually taken over by his son, Frazier Reams Jr., owned WCWA-AM (formerly WTOL-AM) and, as an aside, started up WTOL-TV from scratch. Its first night was Dec. 5, 1958. Blade amusement editor Ray Oviatt said a few days later the station transmitted a clear picture, “the staff members, both performers and crews, appear to be able people who know what they are doing,” and of particular importance was that Toledo would now have its own affiliate for the CBS Television Network. Plus it ended nearly ten years of Toledo being a one-station town, WSPD-TV having gone on the air in 1948.
Reams also started WCWA-FM when FM radio came along after World War II. I couldn’t really tell you with any authority what WCWA-FM, 104.7 on your dial, was doing prior to Christmas Day, 1972. According to The Blade’s radio listings from 1962, they had shows like “Ocean to Ocean” and “Mood After Dark,” which I can only assume to be music, so that’s vague at best. But on December 23, 1972, in the back of the Peach Section, Norman Dresser ran a little snippet detailing the pending birth of WIOT-FM.
One thing’s for sure: I don’t remember a lot of “folk music” on WIOT. But what did it leave us? A lot of the Rolling Stones, Rush, The Who, Led Zeppelin. But what else was there? Were we going to listen to disco on WMHE? Were we going to zone out on the comatose-inducing easy listening dreck on WLQR? No, we weren’t. We were pretty much stuck with WIOT, unless one wanted to tune in WRIF in Detroit, whose signal was sketchy even on the clearest of days.
So instead, I eventually tuned out after high school (1981), but WIOT was tough to shed (again, it was on everywhere).
Like a lot of people, I don’t find myself listening to the radio much at all anymore. I know this article may read like a headline from The Onion – “Local man finally discovers radio is repetitive” – but in my defense…well, I don’t have one. But in WIOT’s defense, they brought a lot of great shows to the Sports Arena, many of which I attended. They were a unifying force for all the disaffected youth. So I’m not trying to knock them. Radio is a tough business. They did what worked.
Other than the aforementioned blog, there’s very little solid information on WIOT’s history. Its Wikipedia page reads like it was written by an overenthusiastic intern. I do know that for the longest time, Reams Broadcasting had its studios in the old News-Bee building at 604 Jackson St. downtown, until One Government Center, now the Michael V. DiSalle Government Center, came along in the early 1980s. Reams was sold to Jacor in 1999, and is now part of the iHeartMedia conglomorate.
And I turn WIOT on today via the magic of the internet and what do I get? “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” by ZZ Top. Yeah, not much changes.