Sean Ross: It Was The Summer, The Summer Of ’83

posted in: by Sean Ross | 50

By Sean Ross (@rossonradio)

It Was The Summer, The Summer Of ’83 Sean RossIn 1983, five weeks out of college, I arrived in Los Angeles by bus and plane. The Greyhound ride was between Washington, D.C., and Houston. The plane was because my concerned grandparents prevailed on me to accept a plane ticket for the rest of the trip. I probably could’ve managed a plane ticket for the entire trip. I just wanted to hear more radio. Because it was early June 1983 and radio was awesome.

The Detroit radio I’d just left had been particularly awesome. Detroit in the early ‘80s was one of the great radio markets in one of its greatest moments: WHYT in its first six months with consultant Mike Joseph’s “Hot Hits”; WABX’s unusual CHR/new wave hybrid where “Save It For Later” by the English Beat was what it should have been everywhere else in the U.S.—a pop smash. CKLW was in its last throes of Top 40 on AM and playing its old jingles. WDRQ was galvanizing the market with Urban, fueled by and fueling the ascents of Michael Jackson, Prince, and what would be the roots of Detroit techno.

I often wonder if I was at an age where I was inclined to like radio uncritically, (or maybe I’ve now reached the age where I remember it that way), but I don’t think so. For one thing, I was at the age where I knew everything, exacerbated by having read “The Fountainhead” seven months earlier. (Ask me about the parallels between Howard Roark and Mike Joseph sometime.) And as I rode across the country, I heard a lot of so-so stations badly in need of my rookie advice.

For starters, there was a lot of “Hot Hits Lite.” Joseph’s galvanizing all-currents format that had revitalized Top 40 over the previous 21 months had been recast in most places as “Hitradio” (no “Hot Hits” trademark to purchase that way). Those stations played recurrents and perhaps one gold (then defined as last three years) every hour. They didn’t have the extreme regimentation of WHYT and its ilk, but they didn’t seem quite as jet propelled either.

It Was The Summer, The Summer Of ’83 Sean RossBut it didn’t matter. The Police had released “Every Breath You Take” about 10 days earlier. What CHR stations were doing was universally more exciting than what most of them were doing eighteen months earlier (and back then, there was a pretty good chance of the format disappearing, or being subsumed into Hot AC and AOR). And given the excitement about CHR music that had started to turbo about nine months earlier, the format was still absolved of minor sins. And that was the first lesson of that summer.

It Wasn’t Just Michael and Prince: Although the topspin from “Billie Jean” to “Beat It” to “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” was pretty exciting. It was Rick Springfield—and any other consistent hitmaker of the time. He may be reduced to just “Jesse’s Girl” on the radio now, but in spring 1983 “Affair of the Heart” was another driving, uptempo top 40 hit of what seemed like the same magnitude. It was also Duran Duran, just unleashing “Is There Something I Should Know.” My soon-to-be-boss, R&R’s Ken Barnes, would later note that “for a moment, they sure seemed like the next Beatles.” And that was the moment.

It Wasn’t Just That Core Artists Were In Abundance: The excitement of the summer of 1983 was hearing artists like The Fixx saunter in after a few close calls with “One Thing Leads to Another”—not even the first single from the album, but an effortlessly perfect radio record. And when the follow-up, “The Sign of Fire,” brought them back to near-miss territory, it didn’t matter because somebody else had a record of equal magnitude. Same with Eddy Grant. A consistent UK hitmaker already, he deserved more of a U.S. career than 2-1/2 hits. But none of that diminishes “Electric Avenue” and its moment.

It Was The Summer, The Summer Of ’83 Sean RossIt Wasn’t Even Just The Hits: The health of any explosive moment in music is defined by an abundance of riches. Why are there ‘60s garage rock or “Northern Soul” records worth collecting? Because there were too many good ones for them to all be hits. And like Country and Alternative a decade later, CHR in 1983 was in a place where even the songs that peaked at No. 25 were pretty good. For about a month, there was no reason to think that the propulsive “So Wrong” by Patrick Simmons wasn’t going to be as big a hit as anything else on the charts. I wasn’t similarly fooled by “I Couldn’t Say No” by Robert Ellis Orrall, but I enjoyed it finding its unlikely place on pop radio for a minute anyway.

Copycatting Was Good: The averaging out of new wave, corporate rock and R&B brought a lot of artists to great places (think Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back”) and sometimes-uncharacteristic ones (yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”). Today, the averaging out of new wave, R&B and pop has brought us a dozen lilting, midtempo trop-house records. And the current ratings travails of CHR support this as more than a cranky old guy comment.

Radio Got Its MTV And Ran With It: If every house had cable, or if you could listen to MTV in the car, 1982-83 might have been the moment where radio lost its hegemony over new music, such was the excitement over new-wave-inflected-pop that MTV is credited with helping foster in the U.S. But MTV was further limited by available videos and the last of its rock radio mentality. Radio ran with the new music explosion of the time, so successfully co-opting it that you can see how radio minimized some later threats, when it shouldn’t have.

There Was Still More Than One Way To Do CHR: Not everybody had turfed out all the oldies. KKBQ (79Q/93Q) Houston, which I finally got to hear live, was more aggressive on new music and reaction records than anybody, but their gold library also contained “Seasons In The Sun” because, hey, it was a reaction record, too. KFRC San Francisco could still play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at :00 (if the jock felt like it). I remember all the nearly identical “Hitradios” from my bus trip, but hearing KMCK (K106) Fayetteville, Ark., playing “Spaceman” by Nilsson in the middle of the night stuck with me.

There Was Still Music on AM: For the most part, there was still a migration away from CHR on AM, especially as most markets finally got a successful CHR FM for the first time in several years, or ever. CKLW was just leaving the format. KFRC, which did nothing wrong, was about to be diminished by KITS. 79Q had found an FM, while its short-lived rival KYST had gone to all-Beatles as “Beatleradio No. 9.” Southern California’s AM powerhouse, “The Mighty 690,” was about to lose its format monopoly in San Diego to KS103. But there were also AM CHRs, often in unlikely places, that in CHR’s renaissance found vindication for the original hit radio template—KSTN Stockton, Calif., KRGV McAllen, Texas. And when I got to Los Angeles, I spent as much time with R&B KDAY as anybody.

Adult Contemporary Was Still Contemporary: WLTW (Lite FM) New York was still a year away from making AC a softer, mostly library-driven format. In 1982, AC still played currents and still sounded pretty close to Top 40 presentationally, although by summer ’83, top 40 was peeling away. As exciting as any CHR for me was the visit that a family friend arranged to KVIL Dallas and the tour that Larry Dixon gave me. KVIL had been hot enough to report CHR for a brief period during the top 40 doldrums. (That said, I also remember the feature where they played listeners’ “oh wow” submissions, which, in that case, was the theme from “Exodus” by Ferrante and Teicher.

Jocks (And Jingles) Did The Work: Sweepers had been taking a more prominent place at Top 40 radio for a few years at this point, but in the shadow of the Hot Hits format, it was the jingles that provided the excitement. And nobody thought that jocks should be relegated to four breaks an hour. KFRC in 1983 had only one sweeper, an offhand (almost desultory) “KFRC” that played at :30. All the imaging magic was saved for the contest promos (of which there were several an hour).

Bigger Markets Aren’t Always Better, But In This Case . . . Even in the early years of my radio education, it was a truism that New York didn’t quite live up to its status as market No. 1. Los Angeles, on the other hand, was amazing. KROQ didn’t quite have the shock-of-the-new it had a year or so earlier, but it was still new to me. CBS’ “Hitradio” KKHR (Hitradio 93) had just launched. KIQQ, with its unusual presentation and aggressive new music stance, hadn’t been forced out yet. KGGI Riverside, audible from most of the market, had started to blend Hot AC and Urban into something unusual under consultant Jerry Clifton. KDAY was evolving into the cradle of West Coast Hip-Hop. And then KIIS hit a ten-share.

Two months after I got to L.A., WHTZ (Z100) New York’s top 40 format signed on. More than a decade before streaming, and with the listen-line only in the hands of heavies, I got to hear it only by calling the jock on the air (who I think was Linda Silver) and asking to listen to a few breaks, something that could still happen in that more collegial (and fully staffed) era. I told her I had come to L.A. to write for a trade publication. “What one?” she asked. “I’m hoping to get hired by R&R,” I said—feeling instantly less heavy. About 10 days later, after weeks of sitting on their doorstep, it finally happened.

So what are your radio memories (or, for those who don’t remember it, impressions) of 1983?

50 Responses

  1. Chris Bigham

    It was my first summer with a Walkman! I still listen to the mixtapes I made during the summer of 1983. The songs of the summer for me were Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard For The Money,” Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” The Kink’s “Come Dancing,” Human League’s “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” and Duran Duran’s “Is There Something I Should Know.”

  2. Ron Gerber, host of "Crap From The Past" on KFAI/Minneapolis

    1983 radio was magical to my ears, me being a 15-year-old in the NYC market. WPLJ flipped from AOR to CHR in July, and suddenly “American Top 40” was on FM (it was previously on WNBC). Z100 signed on in August with a tremendous amount of hype, and really did go from “worst to first” in one book. AOR-leaning WAPP had signed on a year earlier with a commercial-free summer in 1982, and still sounded fresh (imagine a whole radio station somehow sounding like “What Do All The People Know” by the Monroes.) Throw in gentle WPIX and WYNY, and rock stalwart WNEW to round out the presets, and you had all the FM that the one giant speaker in the middle of the dashboard could handle.

  3. Don Tandler

    The first half of ’83 for me was on “Hot Hits” WILK-AM/Wilkes-Barre, doing the same thing as KKBQ/Houston, pounding the hits, aggressive on new music, & a gold library going back to 1964, along with very uptempo jingles. Loads of fun. Then Banana Joe Montione & I went to York-Harrisburg in mid-summer & put the same thing on WHTF, which we called “92 Rock”, even though it was top 40. The station was an instant sensation. We blew out York’s entire phone grid one day with a contest, & I was treated like a Beatle when I did a high school dance. Honestly, it hasn’t been as good since.

  4. Leona Laurie

    Wow, Sean. You hit a year that’s my total musical sweet spot. My first response was “Where’s Madonna? Where’s Cyndi Lauper? Where’s Culture Club?” But trusting you to know which albums of ’83 would have been on the air by June, I quickly established that those ones didn’t come out until July and October, respectively.

  5. Richard Sands

    I was actually delivering the hot hits & jingles that summer every night on KITS!

  6. Anita Bonita

    About that call to Z-100: if it was just after sign-on, you would have spoken to Stevie Brooks. Linda (a/k/a Shauna King) didn’t come on board ’til a few months later.

  7. Scott Miller

    Sean, Did you ever get to see the CKLW studios? And if you asked me and I didn’t invite you over, my apology, 34 years later.

  8. Harley Davidson

    In the summer of 1983 FM CHR had already taken hold of the Miami Market as Y-100 and I-95 were both doing great. I was doing evenings at AOR WSHE and the CHR effect crossed over to rock as well. Some of the songs we played that really stand out now were “Little Red Corvette”, “Beat It” and “Electric Avenue”. I also remember playing “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” one night and giving the tuner a spin to hear what was on the other stations. Y-100 was playing Quiet Riot. That seemed a little strange.

    • Dave Lange

      Harley – hope you are doing well. Those were fun days at WSHE.

      • Harley Davidson

        DAVE! Good to see you here. I am well and hope you are too.

  9. Lou Pickney

    Great fun to read your memories of radio from that time, Sean. I was very young at that time, and “Electric Avenue” was one of the first songs I distinctly remember hearing on the radio. It took me years to find out the artist (Eddy Grant) — my parents had no idea, and it wasn’t exactly like I could look online for the info back then.

  10. Sean Ross

    This story has hit home for a lot of people. Thanks for all the great comments.

    Harley, I remember the reverse crossover really well; it was a lot of AORs. WAPP came up a couple of times here, and in my e-mail. The Doubleday rock stations were still fearsome in 1982. By 1983, they were playing Shalamar/”Dead Giveaway” in between the rock records. And I should have added “Dead Giveaway” to my list of semi-legit hits.

    Scott, yes, I managed to get in to see Pat in senior year by doing a term paper on CK. Rosalie Trombley came in the office, but he didn’t introduce us and I didn’t ask.

  11. Warren Cosford

    As you know Sean, in 1983 I was working at Top 40 1050 CHUM Toronto. Due to Government Regulation of FM, Top 40 still had a few more good years on AM in most of Canada.

    Each year since 1977 we had been producing a 35 minute video documentary we called The History of Rock, updated it, and took it to area high schools throughout the school year.

    What we began noticing in the early ’80s was the growing segmentation of the audiences. A section of the audience might cheer Michael Jackson but boo Culture Club as another section was cheering them. Guitar bands such as Journey got pretty good reaction overall. But it seemed clear that what had once been the universality of Top 40 was fading.

  12. Jeff Axelrod

    What a great summer for music… and it was the summer before my senior year of high school, so a lot of it resonates on a personal level. At the time, growing up in Chicago, I was a die-hard WLS listener. B-96 was “Hot Hits,” and they sounded good, but their rotations were just a little too tight for my listening habits. (Of course, I spent the summer of ’84 as a B-96 intern, but by then, Buddy Scott had steered the station away from Joseph’s original image.)

    Looking back at some of the charts from that summer, I can tell you one reason why it was such a great time for CHR — song intros. There were so many distinctive sounds on the charts back then, and from the intros, there was never any chance of confusing one song for another. From the fiddles of “Come On Eileen” to the synths of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)” to the jittery techno beeps of “Electric Avenue” to the vocal build of “Let’s Dance,” you were getting a distinct flavor out of every jingle. It was exciting to listen to, stimulating for your ears.

    Over the last several years, it feels like there’s been a lot of vanilla out there. A lot of Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Drake, and One Direction copycats, and a lot of song intros that are terribly indistinct. It seems like there are just a handful of sounds dominating CHR and Hot AC these days, and the sameness creates ear fatigue. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the formats’ musical genres becoming more producer-driven than artist-driven. And of programmers’ continued thinking that if their listeners love a song, they’ll also love another that sounds just like it. I would challenge programmers to build playlists where every song stands out… starting with the intros. Bring back the stimulation out of every jingle, and the ratings will follow.

  13. Dave Randall

    You nailed it. ’83 was the line of demarcation. I subscribe to Guy Zapoleon’s theory of music doldrums. 1983 was the year CHR, nee Top 40 became interesting to listen to, again. Just out of college, I’d taken a job at the public station on campus that had supplanted our student run 10-watter. I knew of The Pretenders, The Specials, U-2, The Go-Go’s, The Plimsouls, The Bangles, all the New Wave that would help fuel the resurrection of the format. As those groups came out of the tiny bars and began making hits, I was playing Monk and Miles and Coltrane late at night, and going to clubs on the weekend where I heard all the New Wave and “Soul” that remained after Disco bottomed out. With the music returned the energy of presentation that was near forbidden between ’80 and ’82.

    No, it wouldn’t be the 60’s, when you’d hear The Statler Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, Arthur Lee and Love, Herb Alpert and Junior Walker on the same station, within the same hour. But the concept had course-corrected. 80’s CHR was better than the decades to come.

  14. Steve McVie

    Thanks again Sean for keeping Mike Joseph’s format alive almost 35 years later. That was the year I was begging Hot Shots like Todd Parker at KITS and Mike Frazer at WMAR to send me Hot Hits airchecks. I also spent my college allowance on cassettes of WHYT Detroit from California aircheck. If only streaming and the internet existed. My 1983 travels took me to Harrisburg, PA to record Hot Hits “ripoff” Fire 14 WFEC, and to Borderntown, NJ to record WCAU-FM out of Philly. While attended Bryant College in RI, my prayers were unanswered for CBS to put Hot Hits on WEEI-FM in Boston. Instead it was the not even close “Hot Hits Lite” on WHTT, which teetered out after being clobbered by Kiss 108 and soon to call themselves “Hot Hits” 94.5 WZOU The Zoo! I cherish all these memories which still live in my aircheck library!

  15. Scott Lowe

    Perhaps because of my age, I have often stated that 1983 is the best year for music. Growing up in the Philadelphia area and going into the 7th grade, my radio listening included: WIFI-92, WCAU-FM and rockers like WMMR, WYSP and a couple of college radio stations. My favorite station in the Summer of ’83 was the Rick Carroll consulted, WIFI, which a few months earlier was reformatted as “I-92, The Rock of The 80s”. My neighborhood didn’t have access to cable, so no MTV for me, but that summer marked the debut of NBC’s “Friday Night Videos” and there was also a daily “Video Rock” show on a local UHF station. It was also the year our family got a VCR, so I could record those shows and put my favorite videos in high rotation…in my living room.

  16. Robin Daniels

    In late July/early August of 1983 I drove from my parents’ home in Pittsburgh to take a PD gig on the south coast of Oregon. Seems like every time I changed stations, within a few minutes, All This Love by DeBarge would come on. I still slip this one in on our AC station once or twice a year as an “Oh wow” song.

  17. T. Jay

    You also forgot to add that the technology fad at the time was AM Stereo. CKLW was using that technology to save it’s music format. I, too was listening to Detroit radio in 1983 — I just got my drivers license and was enjoying my freedom cruising the streets with the radio on. It seemed like everyone had their own sound. Country crossovers were fading into the sunset, and first-time artists were getting a lot of favorable airplay. So much variety on just one top 40 station before the splintering of pop genres begun. You’re right, it’s hard to describe that magical year in just a few words.

  18. Damon Collins

    1983 was a great year for music. It is what radio needs today. Another British Invasion, more great R&B, and the one or two breakout hits that radio stations are willing to take a chance on, not just the boring “going for adds this week” mentality. “Where’s are the Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Culture Club’s in 2017. or is is music so stale that we have one artist or band with two or three songs in the top 40 at the same time. Sadly, breakout artists and bands are now few and far between.

  19. Don Rooney

    I’d been in radio awhile, mostly working Top 40 in smaller markets, having a ball — when it all seemed to suddenly come to a screeching halt. By 1980, disco was dead and CHR had devolved into something close to easy listening. Now I was playing Dionne Warwicke and Poco’s “Crazy Love” (nice song, but there was better stuff on the album) and that damned Rupert Holmes “Pina Colada” thing. I got hotlined one morning when I played Linda Ronstadt’s “Hurt So Bad” because it had, the PD said, “wailing guitars in the middle of it that were a little too loud for morning drive.” Then, in 1982, I got hired for afternoon drive by WFEC in Harrisburg, PA — ripping off Mike Joseph’s “Hot Hits” format, it was 50 songs, tight rotation, no oldies or recurrents, jingled in and out of everything, number one song twice an hour — I really took the job not knowing what to expect and was quickly blown away by the non-stop energy. “Hot Hits” died after a couple of years, but I noticed that, well into the 90s, CHR stations were more willing to play new music in a heavy rotation. “Hot Hits” died young but left a good-looking corpse.

  20. Charlie Mitchell

    I remember “Hungry Like The Wolf” as the turning point.

    IIRC, Harvest/Capitol, following the “MTV as AOR” mindset, first shopped it to that format, who rejected it – although AOR was where I first heard it in 1982. Of course CHR picked up that ball and ran with it…just as CBS/Epic was dropping the second single from “Thriller”…”Billie Jean”.

    Even the stiffs were cool, like Total Coelo’s “I Eat Cannibals” and “Goodbye To You” by Scandal. My station, an Upstate NY-college-town CHR, played both. Scandal was a hit in our market.

    The Hit Music Format had become cool again. With great music and great presentation.

    We even had our “Beatles on Sullivan” moment when Michael Jackson did the Moonwalk on NBC’s Motown 25 Special.

    It was hard to see any of this happening in 1979 when the Disco Apocalypse was taking place, but for those of us who loved and breathed Top 40, 1983 was the sweetest of redemptions. A standout year I’ll never forget.

    • Charlie Mitchell

      One important detail I left out: Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” album. “Photograph” made history as the first Metal record with proven female appeal. This can’t be overlooked as it set the tone for Rock in CHR for the rest of the decade. Many Rock titles from “Cum On Feel The Noize” to “We’re Not Gonna Take It” were as impactful in CHR as AOR, if not more so.

  21. Bill Spradlin

    Growing up and going to college to learn broadcasting in Oklahoma,Top 40 was dead here by 1981. KAKC, KELI, KOMA, and WKY, had all dumped the format and any FM’s left behind were devolving to AC or country. The hardest thing they’d play by then was “Eye of The Tiger” or “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and maybe Joan Jett at night.

    Then in 1982 KAY-107 in Tulsa (now KHTT) premiered that summer and soon later OKC’s KJ-103’s started with a copy of the Hot Hits format. Tulsa’s KELI returned in the summer of 1983 as the short-lived “14-K/92-K”. Despite having a small 3K FM signal they were a great sounding CHR that only lasted around a year despite beating KAY-107 on debuting many new songs in the market and a superior DJ staff.

    And thanks for mentioning Fayetteville’s K-106.They were your old school Top 40 in the early-mid 80’s. While every other CHR was rocking Optimods, Audio Prisms or CRL Systems they still sounded like they had a couple of CBS Audimax/Volumax’s pumping away. But they had a huge 100K signal that I could easily pick up in Bartlesville at night.

  22. Sean Ross

    Thanks to all for so many great comments. Here are a few more:

    From James Machinia: The R&R chart moving from 30 to 40 titles pretty much sums it up. Just so many great songs worthy of airplay. All those mentioned plus:
    Flashdance and Maniac
    I’m Still Standing and Kiss the Bride
    Overkill and It’s a Mistake (maybe not the next Beatles, but it sure seemed like Men at Work would be around a long time)
    Family Man
    She’s a Beauty
    1999 (the second time around)
    The One Thing
    Baby Jane
    The Woman In You (The Bee Gees return to the radio! For about a month.)

    From Anne Gress, WOGL Philadelphia: Nice shout out to KKBQ too. That station was amazing back in the day.

    From John Lassman, KXXR Minneapolis: I was the 19-year-old promotion director of WAPP New York, an amazing station until two things happened: they added commercials and Z100 [came along]. Great article and, yes, CHR was very special that summer.

  23. Paige Nienaber

    I had just gotten to WLOL in Minneapolis and spent the first two weeks sitting at the State Fair listening to CHR for the first time in a couple of years. There was NO Top 40 outlet in Portland and I hadn’t heard Prince or Michael Jackson until I got back to Minny. Agneta. Also Jim Capaldi were songs that I remember loving the first time I heard them.

  24. Debbie Southerland

    Glad to see the mention of KKBQ – I’m from Houston and was 13 in 1983. It was so exciting when KKBQ added the FM station that year! My friends and I played it constantly. 1983 was really an excellent year for pop music. Some favorites — “Time,” “Overkill,” “Cool Places” (Jane Wiedlin and Sparks). “When I’m With You” by Sheriff was played a lot as well, several years ahead of its big breakthrough later in the 80s.

    As the decade progressed, KKBQ got even more aggressive with adding new music when KRBE became top 40 as well and the two stations competed.

    And I had forgotten all about “Beatles Radio No.9”!

    • Eric Wilson

      Also from Houston, and 13 in 1983. You beat me to it mentioning how KKBQ played “When I’m With You” by Sheriff as if it was a #1 hit in ’83. Houston definitely took chances on songs that others wouldn’t. Living in Houston, you would have thought that Book of Love had three Top 40 hits in 1986-1987 as much as they were played on CHR stations. KRBE kept the progressive mindset flowing well into the mid 90’s. (Now, Houston radio is as bland as anywhere else.)

  25. Tony G. Pizza

    Remember well the summer of 1983. Trying to date a beautiful young lady named Jacqueline Lucas who I met in college, and of course the great music on WCAU-FM with Terry Young, Bill O’Brien, Glen Kalina, and Christy Springfield. WIOQ at that time was probably the most interesting station on the block as it presented what would be today Hot AC with mellow DJs (Harvey in the Morning, Ed Sciaky, David Dye, Helen Leicht). Songs from that summer: Let’s Dance and China Girl by David Bowie, Our House by Madness, Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, Slippin Away by Dave Edmunds…also a shout out to a former PD, Alex “Sandy” Mirzoeff, who used to provide his list of top sellers as a hobby and distribute them at local record shops like Record Revolution in King of Prussia.

  26. Matt Bailey

    Arguably, the summer of ’83 was so different (and so awesome) compared to ’81-’82 because the summer of ’83 is when Generation X overtook Boomers as the dominant consumers of new music. Sure, the artists (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince) were late-wave Boomers, but the people buying the records and determining music trends became first-wave Gen Xers. (1983’s high school seniors were born in 1965). Christopher Cross and country crossover were out. New Wave was in. 1964’s British Invasion was similar: Boomers replaced the Silent generation as the primary consumers of new music. (1964’s high school seniors were born in 1946). Bobby Vinton and faux folk’s days were numbered. Rock ‘n’ Roll’s transformation to Rock had begun.

  27. Rick Alexander

    I started at WIKZ in May of 1983, when the whole CHR explosion was getting underway. Not only did get to play those songs in” real time”, but I got to witness a lot of great radio, being located only an hour and 45 minutes outside of both Washington and Baltimore. As matter of fact, our cable provider at the time, Time-Warner, provided out of market FM reception. By plugging the coax in the back of my stereo, I could hear Jan Jeffreys programmed B104 and the sign on of WMAR Hot Hits 106 in Baltimore. I also got to listen to Q107 and the new All-hit 105, WAVA as well as the brief run of CHR for WASH. 18 years later, when we began airing “Big 80s Weekends”, the lion’s share of titles we played came from 1983-85. Those truly were “the Big 80s”. 1980-82 was AOR leftovers (REO Speedwagon) and wimpie AC (Air Supply). In 1986 and later, there were a lot more disposable, one hit wonder titles as the format fell back into the doldrums.

  28. Greg Guise

    Thanks for a great music kindle to jog my memory. Judging by the responses it seems I’m in good company. Sadly in many areas of the country the music that made 1983 so great just isn’t available on over the air radio. My “custom mix” consists of SIRI-XM channels 6,7,8, 17,21,32 and 49. Perhaps with the new improved FM translator rules an enterprising AM( with a beefy translator) may take the gamble to musically serve a 60 year old.

    While on the topic the years ’65 and ’69 also resonate with those who love pop music but I guess you just cannot sell that demographic.

  29. Cary Pall

    It was the “new wave” of alternative-turned-pop that really fired up the change at 96KX Pittsburgh to “Hitradio 96” WHTX. In late ’82 I was passing through Detroit running tape on the stations, when I discovered WABX and just left it on. Where the hell was Paul Christy finding this stuff? It sounded incredible. Although the politics didn’t quite let that happen at HTX, we did try to make use of that new wave sound during 1983, with lots of Duran Duran, Prince and even The Psychedelic Furs. I will never forget our GM, a former Drake programmer named Ted Atkins, coming in to tell me “I love the Psychedelic Furs song…it sounds like Abba with male vocals!” (Our sister AM, WTAE, played every Abba song ever made.)

  30. Jeff Gerstl

    I remember growing up in Monterey, CA. Our cable imported some San Francisco stations and I saw a 15-second ad for KITS but couldn’t get the station at all from 100 miles away. I could only hear it when we went to the Bay Area a few times a year. I stayed glued to the station on the car radio from when it started to come in around Gilroy until it had devolved into static around the same area coming home. I remember doing homework listening to my Walkman and once in awhile the fog over Monterey and the Bay Area would create an inversion layer of sorts and all of the Bay Area radio stations would pound into Monterey giving me nights of great radio discovery, and mostly listening to Hot Hits KITS. By 1985-86, at sixteen, I had started working at KDON and one Saturday night the legendary Flip Fryer, late of KITS and before becoming Rick Chase at KMEL, was working at our station updating some air checks live. I drove the 20 miles to KDON to meet him and spent a couple of hours in awe sitting beside him, mostly talking about the Hot Hits days of KITS which by now was Alternative “Live 105.” He said the repetitive nature of Hot Hits easily caused burnout and fatigue for the jocks, but many soldiered on because of the perceived excitement of the format.

    By the way, for some memories of the era, mixed with some other radio gems that you have long forgotten, check out Jeffro Radio online from Chicago, run by K-Hits Chicago’s Jeffrey T Mason. Great FM processing, jingles, and hits of the 80s to now will take you back and then some. No relation to me, even though it carries my name.
    By the way, for some memories of the era, mixed with some other radio gems, check out Jeffro Radio online from Chicago, run by K-Hits Chicago’s Jeffrey T. Mason.

  31. Roddy Freeman

    I was living in New York, which had been without a CHR for several years. I remember the excitement when Z100 signed on in early August. Scott Shannon made it a unique CHR at the time, and it was great. WPLJ had started evolving from AOR into an Adult CHR shortly prior to the Z100 sign on. It took them a while to totally convert. Scott Shannon was a bit cruel to WPLJ PD Larry Berger (called him “Larry Booger”), but it made for some great radio. Shannon promised Z100 was going from “worst to first”, and he was true to his word, taking the #1 spot in that fall’s Arbitron. It took a while, but WPLJ got its CHR act together, and it made for some super competition.

  32. Willis Damalt

    The Summer of ’83. Great music and great memories. Eurythmics, Hall and Oates, Dexy Midnight Runners, etc Thank you for rekinding them.

  33. John Gallagher

    From 1981 to 1983, I worked in Parkersburg, WV. First, at Burbach’s 95XIL, then, during the summer of 1983, I was winding down my days in Parkersburg, Worked afternoons at a daytime country AM (WADC) and part-time and fill-in on 99Z (WIBZ.) 99Z was an AOR, but the CHR influence made it’s way there too. Duran Duran, Eddy Grant, Kajagoogoo all got spins that summer.

    By Sepetember of 1983, I had made my way back to Burbach and came to Erie, PA to again work for Bill Shannon at K104. Turns out in my career, I ended up working with Bill 5 times at 5 different stations. K104 was definitely spinning all of the aforementioned songs and artists. Although, some songs did better nationally than with the Burbach research and vice versa.

    • Jeff Cobb (@Jeffery_Cobb)

      John, 1981-83 was my soph, jr, and sr years at Parkersburg High School. All the “cool” kids listened to WIBZ. I loved the station. I remember hearing really off beat new wave/alternative songs like “Whirly Girl” and You Don’t Want Me Anymore” along with straight up AOR. I was a great mix of music that all the older teens loved.

  34. Bruce Blake

    In 1983 I lived in LA but spent a great deal of time in Ensenada, Mexico. The “Mighty 690”, transmitting out of Rosarito, Mexico, was the only choice for American Top 40 radio. If I recall, they had a short playlist and had as currents songs 6-12 months past their prime. In LA I mostly listened to KDAY so “The Mighty 690” .was an introduction to Top 40 pop. The djs were pretty much interchangeable and rarely said more than a word or two between songs.

    Somewhat surprisingly, while it was clearly aimed at north of the border audiences, it was quite popular with the locals in Ensenada, particularly young people. I remember a young kid shining shoes with a transistor radio (!) listening to “The Mighty 690”.

  35. Bill Hennes

    Mike Joseph had been in Chicago in 1982…working his plan for WBBM FM Hot Hits…I was traveloinmg and consulting stations and flying here and there…My wife at the time, Kim asked me when do I think Mike’s “Hot Hits” will hit the air….I told her…YOU WILL KNOW!!!! 2 days later I flew back into Chicago and while waiting for her to pick me up….I hear…..The “Hot Hits” jingles coming out of 3 cars……as Kim pulled up to pick me up I said…anything NEW? She said…Bill you are correct….The sound is everywhere!!! It’s Exciting!!! It launched 2 days ago! Great music, Formatics, Jingles, Localization, audiece building contest and Excitement!

  36. Brian Craig

    1983 was one of the most interesting years in pop music, kind of like 1974 in terms of variety and weirdness. 1984 and 1985 were also good years for CHR but were more star oriented with fewer of the one hit wonders.

    But then by 1986-87, it started going downhill to me. Part of it might be I was 20 and no longer a teenager but the late 80s definitely seem much more blah when it comes to top 40 radio.

    I’ve always blamed the introduction of dance oriented CHRs like KPWR for part of the decline. That format introduced more disposable music and once those stations started being CHR reporters, it had a negative (in my opinion) on the charts.

    But I’d be interested in other theories as to why the second golden age of top 40 was so short lived.

    • Bill Spradlin

      By 1987 many of the big MTV hitmakers that revived CHR from 1982-86 (Hall & Oates, Huey Lewis, even Springsteen and Mellencamp) were starting to run out of creative gas and their hits became further and further apart. Madonna, Prince and Micheal kept having hits but those other acts were replaced by a mob of hair bands and anonymous one-hit-wonders, then boybands, rappers, divas and grunge came along to split up the CHR audience even further.

  37. John H Kier III

    1983 was clearly my favorite year of the ’80’s for music as new wave, my favorite ’80’s genre, was all over the radio, especially in LA with FM’s KIQQ, KRTH, KKHR and KIIS which managed a 10 share with all that competition. Of course, there was the world famous KROQ which had its best year of the ’80’s with a 4.6. On AM there was KFI and KRLA. 1985 would prove to be the last good year for radio and my tastes in music. Now, I listen to my all time favorite era for the most part, 1964-74, but I still listen to ’80’s “First Wave” on Sirius/XM.

  38. Bill Shane

    1983 was a GREAT year for music. I was working at Fun-102 on the Eastern CT shoreline and we made it into a party station. The format switch from a very blah AC was dramatic, but the market picked up on us quickly. We were playing party songs from the CHR charts as well as the Dance charts and even some tunes we heard on MTV which was starting to have a direct influence on our music selection. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and ABC were big at the time. We also played Pass The Dutchie, Rumours and Total Coelo’s “I Eat Cannibals.” The station was a bit crazy, but there were tons of remotes, the beaches of Eastern CT and Western RI and a GM who drank too much firing someone just about every time he got drunk. On air people included Louie Manno, Paul “Boom Boom” Cannon, Rick Springer and Dan Dubonnet. There were many a joint smoked and good time had by all. I was finally fired that Summer because I turned in my boss (Dan Lennon) to the state of CT for paying me $100 a week and $50 in gas and restaurant trade (minimum wage violation). That Summer still sticks in my head as one if not the best Summer I ever had in my 35+ years in radio.

  39. Reggie Beasley

    All of these comments brought me back to an amazing time in my life. ’83 was my Junior/Senior year in high school in Chicago, and it was the first year of me discovering (what I called) rock music. I was in a program at the Illinois Institute of Technology for smart inner city kids, and during the summer we took over the jukebox in the cafeteria. For some reason, we were all about David Bowie, The Romantics, Duran Duran, The Police, The Thompson Twins, Men Without Hats, etc.

    In 1983, House Music was exploding within the Black high school community. There were 3 high schools that had the most amazing parties, and had the mixshow DJs from WBMX and WGCI spinning at the parties. The Hot Mix 5 on WBMX were GODS to us! Farley Keith, Kenny Jason, Mickey Oliver, Ralphi Rosario and Scott Silz all brought something different to their mixes. Italo House, Freestyle, New Wave and “after Disco died” Disco all were mixed with House being put out by Trax Records and DJ International.

    The regular programming on ‘BMX, ‘GCI, WVON, and WJPC also gave us break out stars like DeBarge and New Edition, secondary hitmakers like the Mary Jane Girls and Midnight Star, and one-offs like Rockwell and Hashim. Even though Prince was starting his run, spawning The Time and Vanity 6, Luther Vandross was probably bigger at that time. Michael Jackson was becoming MICHAEL JACKSON. Madonna was sparking. In 1983, scanning the dial would have you stopping on almost every station because they all had amazing music.

    P.S. Even though this is about music, I can’t forgot how much the personalities on Chicago radio influenced how I sound on the air today! Tom Joyner, Doug Banks and Herb Kent were historic Black personalities, but also Armando Rivera, Marco Spoon and Ladonna Tittle hold a special place in my heart.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.