(Above: The back of the WGES survey, complete with on-air lineup.)
One of the great tragedies of history occurs any time we lose something we can’t get back. Along the way to doing the research for my dissertation, I learned quickly that the efforts made to preserve popular culture aren’t equal, and there’s no better example than with radio surveys. If you’re looking for a copy of a WLS survey, you can find at least a dozen places to look for them, whether on sale on eBay, scanned or otherwise replicated online, or even at a garage or rummage sale. Try looking for surveys from any of Chicago’s Black radio stations from the same period, though, and it’s going to be a tough task. Nowhere near the same effort was put into protecting the history of Chicago’s great Black stations – WGES, WVON, WOPA, WBEE, and many others – and now, sadly, we only have a few pieces to work with.
Fortunately, there are some folks working on saving what they can. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Robert Pruter, whose book Chicago Soul is an excellent read. He provided me with photocopies of WVON surveys to peruse while doing my research. Every so often I run across one on my own, and I make sure to usher it safely to the same place I stash old WCFL surveys for safekeeping.
Such is the page I share with you this time: it’s from 57 years ago today – the beginning of February 1962. WGES-AM aired at 1390 AM, covering Chicago’s South Side and beyond with a 5,000-watt signal coming from right near my great-grandparents’ house at 86th and Kedzie. It broadcast under those call letters from 1941 until the end of 1962; it was sold to Gordon McLendon, who flipped the call sign to WYNR and attempted a Black Top 40 format. That lasted until 1964, when all-news WNUS went on the air. It was those letters I remember seeing on the transmitter building on the drive to see the family. The station’s still on the air now as iHeart Media’s WGRB.
But what was WGES playing in February of 1962? Let’s take a look. We don’t have a “last week/this week” for comparison, so we can’t tell from the one page what’s moving up or down.
On to the countdown. I’ll list full titles: see the scan for how they were reported.
30. Jimmy Elledge – “Funny How Time Slips Away.” First thing to know: the great Soul stations in Chicago didn’t play exclusively Black acts. The late Herb Kent shared with me that the music was what mattered, and if that meant playing the Rolling Stones or even the Four Seasons, you did it.
29. Hank Ballard and the Midnighters – “Do You Know How To Twist?“ This is pretty much the same record as “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” re-worked to cash in on the twist craze.
28. Al & Nettie – “Now You Know.” This is what you probably picture in your mind when you think of a Chicago Soul or Blues station. Fantastic record.
27. Carla Thomas – “I Kinda Think He Does.” This didn’t cross over to the pop charts. Carla was 19 when she sang this one, which means she’d been singing for about nine years.
26. Eddie Holland – “Jamie.” This is a fantastic record. You more likely know Eddie Holland for his work writing songs with his brother and Lamont Dozier instead. (He didn’t write this one; Barrett Strong did.)
25. Calvin Carter – “The Roach.” This is an instrumental on the B-side of a cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” It’s darned good.
24. Solomon Burke – “Cry To Me.” This is listed as the Pick Of the Week, so I assume it’s moving up the charts. I could just listen to this on a loop.
23. Gene Chandler – “Duke Of Earl.” Years ago I got to see Gene perform this live. He saved it for the encore, allowing himself time to change into a cane and top hat. I regard it as a highlight.
22. Maxine Brown – “What I Don’t Know (Won’t Hurt Me).” This is another one that didn’t cross over to the pop chart, and it should have.
21. The Marvelettes – “Twistin’ Postman.” Again, let’s cash in on the twist craze. That doesn’t make it any less catchy.
20. Lee Dorsey – “Do Re Mi.” It’s very, very similar to “Ya Ya,” the song he charted three months prior. Go with what works.
19. The Marlow Morris Quintet – “Play the Thing.” This is a really cool piece of jazz that I’d like to hear a lot more of.
18. Paul London & the Kapers – “Sugar Baby.” This is a local product: Check-Mate Records is a subsidiary of Chess Records, who later get into the broadcasting business and turn WHFC into WVON. They’re another White teen group crossing over.
17. Lowell Fulson – “Hung Down Head.” This is a straight-up Chicago Blues record, and it’s freaking fantastic.
16. Willie Cobb – “You Don’t Love Me.” I’m getting ideas for a web station the more I go through this list. This is fantastic.
15. Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson – “Back Door Blues.” He gets help from Cannonball Adderley on this track. We are missing out on so much great music leaving these records on shelves or in basements.
14. Joyce Davis – “Mean To Me.” This one’s another B-side: the flip is “Chances Are.” I can’t find much on Joyce, but she certainly sells this record.
13. Aretha Franklin – “Rough Lover.” Yes, one and the same. Long before she moved to Atlantic Records and took over Soul music at the end of the Sixties, she was recording some great sides for Columbia. This crossed over to the Pop chart but stalled at #94.
12. McKinley Mitchell – “Town I Live In.” I would listen to this station all night long.
11. James Brown – “Lost Someone.” The Godfather just missed a crossover Top 40 hit with this one – it made it up to #48.
10. The Corsairs – “Smoky Places.” This has always sounded like a fun record to me.
9. Jerry Butler – “Moon River.” “The Iceman” from Chicago. This is the definitive version of this song, and don’t bring that Andy Williams stuff near me.
8. Barbara George – “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” I know you know this one, as it was a huge crossover hit as well.
7. The Miracles – “What’s So Good About Good-by.” I’m inferring here: the playlist gives the title as “Goodbye’s.” There’s no track that I can find, and this was a hit in ’62, so I assume this is what they mean. Here’s where I’d love to have the February 8th list, but such is the gap in history.
6. The Shirelles – “Baby It’s You.” I will take this version over the Beatles eight days a week. (See what I did there?)
5. Chubby Checker – “The Twist.” It’s the only song to go to #1 on the Billboard Pop chart twice in two different years. This is from the return trip.
4. Joe Henderson – “Baby Don’t Leave Me.” Silly me – I actually looked to see if this crossed over. It was too cool for 1962. His next release, “Snap Your Fingers,” did.
3. Ray Charles – “Unchain My Heart.” This one you know.
2. The Dukays – “Nite Owl.” They’re the band on #23 above, and the songs were recorded at the same session. The Nat release came first before the Vee-Jay re-release. This is a song that my friend KJ – who has one hell of his own record collection – turned me on to years ago when we worked together in Springfield, Illinois.
And, at #1 this week – it’s Gladys Knight and the Pips – “Letter Full of Tears.” Long before the string of the hits in the 70s, Gladys was turning out solid songs. This one went on to be a #19 hit on the Pop chart as well. If all you know from Gladys is post-“Grapevine,” there are some great records for you to discover.
In fact, that’s a great way to describe this whole chart – a lot of great records to discover. I really, really wish I had more charts to work with; I wish others had saved as much of this material as was saved for, say, WJJD and WLS, who dominated Chicago’s AM dial at the time. But, I’m glad to pass this on to you. If this survey just sits in a drawer in my office, no one enjoys it. This way, we can all listen to the list and think “Why isn’t there a station like this by me now?”