The next part of the video documentary about New York Rock and Roll radio will get into what is, for me, everything. 77WABC. I don’t care if you grew up in Los Angeles and think you had great radio stations there in the 60’s. You were getting second best. There were top-notch voices in L.A., to be sure; including the superb Gary Owens, who became a TV celebrity on Laugh-In, and Roger Christian, who co-wrote songs with Brian Wilson. But I feel that WABC in New York in its heyday remains unique.
WABC was the audio wallpaper of my childhood. Away from the city, in Connecticut, WMCA’s 5,000-watt signal couldn’t compete with ABC’s 50,000-watt transmitter. Thanks to my best friend, pop culture historian Dennis Rogers, who has many radio station playlists, I can now see that WMCA catered more to the inner-city audience, and was much less restrictive than WABC, which dominated the suburbs.
As conservative, in a sense, as WABC was, as the 60’s progressed, and the teen audience grew up — or at least got older — the music became increasingly wild. WABC’s morning man, the incomparable Herb Oscar Anderson (affectionately known as HOA), held down the fort for the Adult Contemporary format as long as he could. And as long as there were songs like “Strangers in the Night” topping the charts, he would also play “Satisfaction.”
By 1968 the shift had begun in the radio market from singles on AM to albums on FM. The Summer of Love bands that had appeared in 1967, like The Doors and The Jefferson Airplane, pushed AM radio playlists pretty darn hard. Too hard for HOA. Still #1 in the ratings, he nevertheless left WABC in September, 1968. By coincidence, my family left Connecticut a few weeks later.
Arriving in Massachusetts, my siblings and I heard the legendary Boston FM alternative station WBCN, which had been on the air for only six months, and that changed everything. AM radio turned to a younger audience and The Archies appeared at pretty much the same time as Led Zeppelin. Personally, I listened to both, and I liked both!
Here are two audio clips. First, a brief air check of Cousin Brucie from September ’68, when HOA walked, playing the beginning of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” Then, for contrast, Herb Oscar Anderson’s self-penned and performed theme song, the Lawrence Welk-inspired “Hello Again.” Is it any wonder that HOA could no longer bridge the Generation Gap?