21 July 2008

Sitemeter, Sucking and 'The Spirit'

One thing I enjoy about having a Sitemeter account linked to this page is browsing all the visitors to my blog, and - most curious of all - how they got here. If via Google or whatever search engine, I can see what exactly you searched for. I don't know personally identifying info (thank goodness; I'm quite the privacy hawk), but ISP and general location are all fair game.

Take a visit to My Bloggage this evening, for instance. A surfer from the wilds of Dutchtown, Missouri plugged the following phrase into Google: kgmo sucks. Dutchtown is a small settlement southwest of Cape Girardeau. Mr. Dutchtown found my post about AT40 from February 1981, which included some recollections about Cape radio from that period of time, when my address was 2048 Anthony Drive in the north part of town.

It's funny that the phrase "KGMO sucks" was used, because for a goodly portion of my time in Cape, I said those very words more than a few times.

KGMO is a station with quite a storied history. It first made its name as an "adult middle-of-the-road" station at 1550 on the dial - 5,000 watts daytime only, but by 1967 they started a late-afternoon top-40 show. The jock's name was Rusty Sharpe, who had the convenience of having his Dad be one of KGMO's then-owners.

Rusty Sharpe went on to become a big rock jock later in the '70s, and emerged as your favorite talk show host and mine, Rush Limbaugh. I have a short clip from May 1969 when Rush, age 17, was playin' the hits for Cape. He sounded quite good for his age. Rush could hold his own as a top-40 jock in the day. "Light and livelyyyy ... K - G - M - Ohhhhhh!!"

March 17, 1969: KGMO-FM signs on with 28,000 watts at 100.7; after a year as an easy listening station ("The Million-Dollar Sound"), the station began a long period of simulcasting its AM sister, by then fulltime top-40 and calling itself "The Big 1550."

Around this time, KGMO-AM/FM, if one judges by surviving airchecks I have, was a very dysfunctional little combo. 901 South Kingshighway was home to some interesting radio, that's for sure. One particular run of tape has some jingles spliced out of various demo tapes, a common practice in smaller markets where there wasn't even the budget for the low-rent Pepper jingles (This is like saying you don't have enough money to shop at Goodwill!).

One acapella jingle cut from the late '60s, with trademark off-key Pepper vocals and clearly intended for an easy-listening music show, was played going into a Steppenwolf record. As I've said before, Gomez Addams couldn't have staged a better train wreck.

Until 1972, KGMO was pretty much the only game in town when it came to top-40. That's when another one-lung coffeepot fired up from nearby Jackson, Mo. It was KJAS, and the 1170 spot on the dial suddenly came alive with a well-engineered sound and a well-programmed hit music format. One early promo said it all: "KJAS: #1 ... and there's a reason why."

"Mr. Natural" looks as if his 250-watt sole is fixin' to flatten its 5,000-watt competitor.

Around the same time, KGMO was sold to the Withers family (the same folks who own it today), and initially they fought back with a new set of jingles, actually from PAMS (the Cadillac of jingles back in those days). "Solid Rock" it was called. "The rock of Cape Girardeau ... KGMO!"

KGMO dug in its heels, like GM trying to compete with a more superior Toyota product. By 1975, they bought a jingle package from TM Productions which forms part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. It included "The City Song" ... "Cape Girardeau, It's a wonderful place to be / Cape Girardeau, it's home town to me....."

And jingles like.....

"Southeast Missouri's listenin' to us / Southern Illinois' listenin' to us / Everybody's listenin' to us because we care! / 24 hours a day ... we play .... THE HITS! / K-G-M-Ohhhhhhh"

"The spirit of America ... The Spirit of Cape Girardeau ... KGMO!"

....even now can take me back to some interesting times of my junior high school days.

KGMO was still running those same cuts when we moved to Cape in June 1978. KGMO struck this 8th-grader as a little too heavy on the disco, and a bit stodgy-sounding. KGMO-AM 1550 and KGMO-FM 101 simulcast during daytime ... right down to the AM's sign-on and sign-off actually airing on the FM! And 100.7 kept going all evening and all night.

Did I mention KJAS - with a 250-watt, daytime only signal, mopped the floor with its AM/FM competition? To this 13-year-old radio geek, it was a thing of beauty to witness: two radio stations going at it for their city's rock listeners.

Then KJAS lobbed another attack on 901 South Kingshighway. On December 18, 1978, KJAQ made its bow at 99.3, and "Q-99" was off and running. It had 3,000 watts, and was in stereo. I didn't understand at first why KJAQ played up the stereo angle so much. It wasn't so much "Q-99" as it was "STEREO Q-99." I mean, the little red light on the FM dial of the stereo system I got for Christmas in 1978 would glow when tuned to KGMO. Right?

Yeah, sure, the FM had a stereo generator. But here's the dirty secret, revealed to me years later: KGMO-FM WAS A MONO STATION!! And was until 1981!

Summer 1979: memories of riding my 10-speed all over Cape, with my AM/FM transistor radio resting in a plastic can-holder, duct-taped to my bike's frame. As my pal Wiz and I hung out, we were treated to the mother of all radio battles. KGMO-AM/FM: so disco-heavy that its tower insulators wore platform shoes. KJAS was still rockin' and rollin' on AM, joined by another competitor: newly-christened KGIR-AM 960. And Q-99 was the hipster in the room, playing a succulent mix of top-40 and album rock.

Then KJAS, seeing the writing on the wall that AM top-40's days were numbered, chose to go out with a bang. The massive success of a couple of "no-disco" weekends crystallized in July 1979 with a change in format. Teaser promos ran, using the hook of Anita Ward's "Ring By Bell", being wow'ed to a stop: "You can ring my beeeeelll---*errrrrrrrrrp!*" "Something's dying on KJAS. Details July 15th."

KJAS ditched all of its disco records and shot a bird at KGMO, becoming "Your No-Disco Station." I remember it very fondly. For a time, KJAS was rocking harder than its FM sister!! It lasted maybe six months, and by 1980's Spring, KJAS settled into an "adult contemporary/oldies" format, where it did well for several more years.

The '80s saw the battle lines form between the two FMs: KGMO and Q-99. KGMO had the better signal, and the (slight) advantage of being live. Q-99 was automated. I enjoyed the live jock, but the Q had the better music mix. Where KGMO played a cue-burnt 45 of a song, Q-99 would program the entire album-length version.

Fall 1980 saw KGMO's button promotion. The KGMO Button became a status symbol among Cape's teen listeners. KGMO 'button spotters' roamed the city, giving (low-budget) prizes to those seen wearing 'em. Some students roamed the hallways of CHS, searching out buttons: "Is that a KGMO BUTTON you have on?" "Why, yes it is." "Well, YOU WIN .... NOTHING. I'm with Q-99, sucker."

I still have my KGMO button somewhere in one of a multitude of boxed-up junk. I hope.

Then came KGMO's new slogan: "We've Captured the Music!" Even today, I think it's one of the most hideously deformed positioning lines I've ever heard on a radio station. (KGMO-AM, now called KEWI and playing country, had the slogan "We've Captured the Country!")

By 1981, things changed. I was in 11th grade, and suddenly KGMO was sounding better. The audio was different, too, although I couldn't put my finger on it (see above - they finally began broadcasting in stereo!).

And one Friday night in September 1981, I was driving around, cruising Broadway by myself (ref: "girls would rather convert to lesbianism than go out with me", Paula being the sole exception). Anyway, I emerged from the Burger King drive-thru and as I turned left onto Broadway, KGMO played "Burnin' For You" by Blue Oyster Cult. Do-WHA???? I look at my radio -- yup, it's on KGMO, not Q-99. And later that same evening, I heard Rush's "Tom Sawyer" at 100.7! "Tom Sawyer" on KGMO?? Wow. Somebody's woken up and realized Q-99 was a serious threat.

KGMO in late 1981 had become a really good station to listen to. Overnight they began playing album cuts from time to time.

And then I was dragged kicking and screaming from all this good radio. We moved to Arkansas, where the radio just wasn't as much fun.

*********
By the time I was in Jonesboro for college, and dating a girl from Sikeston (a half-hour south of Cape Girardeau), I was again exposed to the Cape radio wars, still raging. In 1985, KGMO boosted its power to a full 100,000 watts and started kicking some tail in southeast Missouri. I could hear it in parts of northeast Arkansas, and it sounded great. Daytime it was still a basic top-40 like sound, but at night KGMO was balls-out album rock. Q-99 was calling itself "Hitradio" (its album-leaning days apparently over) and, while it now had live DJs, "The Q" sounded weak. 1984-85 was a period of time when KGMO appeared to have the upper hand.

But something happened. With its full-tilt signal, KGMO started getting complacent again. The station was drifting .... I mean, they couldn't decide whether they wanted to be adult contemporary, top-40, or album rock .... so they decided to be all three at once. KGMO sat back as if to say, "Our 100,000-watt blowtorch trumps Q-99's 3,000 watt blow-dryer."

Then Q-99 got sold. In 1986, new owners poured lots of money into that little station, refocusing the music back toward the original rock-leaning top-40, and dropping the "hitradio" logo. They invested in something called CD players! Many of their songs were now played from CDs, no small feat in 1986-87. One night, I heard something surprising - a skip in the record being played on Q-99. The jock came in and aborted ... saying something like "What's wrong here? That's the last time we play records borrowed from KGMO!!" Yes, mentioning the competition on-air.

What happened in March 1988 is one of those juicy pieces of drama that radio geeks just love. KGMO fell victim to a classic tortoise and hare scenario. KGMO sat back and let its superior wattage and signal coverage carry the station while they had some really middling jocks and terrible music flow ... and Q-99 was tight, well-programmed and sounded nearly too good for the market. Q-99 had some great TM jingles. And KGMO, gawd love 'em, was still airing some badly-dated cuts from the '70s.

KGMO underestimated its Gordonville neighbor one time too many. 100.7 blinked, knee-jerking to a bland "Light adult contemporary" format. A 3,000-watt station successfully ran a 100,000-watt competitor out of its format, a format they first brought to Cape!!

As time marched onward, KGMO evolved into an oldies station and by the late '90s, to its present-day classic rock format.

I've listened to KGMO a couple of times this decade, during trips to Cape (both in 2006). They strike me as a generic classic rock station, nothing special and - sadly - with no hint of its heritage in Cape Girardeau rock & roll lore, dysfunctional as it might've been. The playlist is a little wider than your average CR station, I will give 'em that.

Well. I didn't intend to get that bogged down in Cape radio history. This ought to provide some nice eye-candy for anyone plugging KGMO or Q-99 into Google, eh?

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Sitemeter is My Friend" Gleck

5 comments:

Georgia Road Geek said...

I, too, listened to AT40 back in "the day", and I was sort of a "radio geek" myself.

Here in Atlanta, Z-93 was Top 40 back then, 96 Rock (RIP) rocked, and what's now Star94 was 94Q (featuring Willis The Guard).

I enjoy reading your blogs and always look forward to more.

Kate/Susan said...

Sitemeter keeps indicating to me that people are coming to my blog via a Google search of "My house is making me sick". I have no freakin' clue what that is all about, but what the hell...

Kevin A. said...

Love your blog. You should check out a site former Q99 employees have started on Facebook.com, http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=23006303826&ref=mf
We've got photos and airchecks are coming....along with more photos. In 1992 there was a Q99 Radio Reunion Weekend that brought back ANY former jock from ANY station back to be on Q99 for 5 days. There are some photos on the site now and I'm loading more. We'd love to have you. You blog on the history between Q99 and KGMO is dead on. There was a lot of gorilla warfare that went on behind the scenes that listeners never knew about. It was lots of fun.
Kevin A.

Sherri said...

Hi...it's Sherri "Ross" from KGMO...KJAS/KJAQ 1977-1984. Love the blog...brought back lots of memories...I still have my KGMO "We've Captured the Music" satin jacket...and it still fits!

Congrats on the weight loss...I did WW too...lost over 100 lbs and have kept it off...good luck...keep the memories alive :)

Doug said...

What happened in March 1988 is one of those juicy pieces of drama that radio geeks just love. KGMO fell victim to a classic tortoise and hare scenario. KGMO sat back and let its superior wattage and signal coverage carry the station while they had some really middling jocks and terrible music flow ... and Q-99 was tight, well-programmed and sounded nearly too good for the market. Q-99 had some great TM jingles. And KGMO, gawd love 'em, was still airing some badly-dated cuts from the '70s.

**************

Thank you! I was the Program Director of Q99 from 1987 - 1989, and we really DID take the KGMO-Q99 war VERY seriously. Our owner was a total competitive radio geek, and did everything he could to put a blemish on KGMO. We used to make fun of the GM, on the air! We would play "Fool On The Hill" from the Beatles, and dedicate it to Rich at KGMO. We would also call KGMO all the time and request really BAD songs...which they would play. I loved being able to "program" the music on both stations!

-doug cannon