September 19, 1987 marked my third Saturday on the radio at Lewis University’s WLRA. There’s nothing significant about the show. Oh, sure, I have the tape of it somewhere, but without previewing it I assume that it is only marginally better than my first show from two weeks earlier.
This week, while doing a radio show on my students’ lab station, WLSX, I shared a post about the morning show that I did on the same date back in 1988. (A note: Our station, WLSX, is a Top 100 mix of 80s and 90s music with brand new student DJs. I highly recommend – and ask – that you give it a listen. I’m on the air from 10am-noon Eastern on Mondays this semester and open to critique as I am very rusty.) This post was shared on Instagram by the site 35000watts, who are working on a documentary on college radio. A comment was made about the fact that I played REO Speedwagon on a college radio show in 1988, to which I pointed out that that was my modus operandi of the show. I wasn’t interested in discovering new music as the reason for my college show; if it happened, great – but my driving force, especially in my second year, was to put together demo material that would lead to work. (This would happen by November of that semester.)
So, that got me thinking: how much pop crossover was happening on those early radio shows? What if I took a close look at the Hot 100 from that first month of student radio, and noticed which songs we were playing on the “alternative” station? Let’s dive deep, shall we?
99. Crowded House, “Something So Strong” (89 last week). We played this record a ton at WLRA. I think it was a well-cue-burned 45. One of the members of our management team had a thing for one of the Finn Brothers, so anything Crowded House made its way into the studio – and therefore onto our shows. This also applies to “World Where You Live” at #70.
97. Bob Seger, “Shakedown” (64). This was from the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop 2. I seem to recall us using the intro to this record in our TV production classes, but don’t remember hearing it a lot on the radio station itself.
95. Suzanne Vega, “Solitude Standing” (94). I remember hearing neither this nor “Luka” (#34) on the college radio station. Had I stayed in college long enough for “Tom’s Diner” to come out I suspect that the result would have been different.
90. The Outfield, “Since You’ve Been Gone” (78). I will freely admit to being a huge fan of The Outfield. At the end of high school, when a few of us fancied the idea of forming a band, and I could still hit high notes, I could belt out “Your Love” with the best of ’em. The second LP, Bangin’, got airplay on my shows, and this song was perhaps the one that got the most attention.
84. R.E.M., “The One I Love” (debut). This may have been the single most-played song on WLRA in the fall of 1987. We played the grooves out of the Document LP, and had a few singles on cartridge tape (“cart”) for easy use by lazy DJs. This cart was worn out by Columbus Day. I, on the other hand, closed every show that semester with “It’s the End Of the World (As We Know It).” Leonard Bernstein!
81. Squeeze, “Hourglass” (debut). Same rule applies to this record, which I covered here. I will freely admit to turning up the volume in my campus office any time this appears on WLSX, because it’s still catchy.
76. The Hooters, “Johnny B” (67). I don’t think we played this record on the station, but we all listened to Johnny B (Jonathon Brandmeier) on WLUP radio. That’s not who the song is about, but it’s hard to miss a connection like that.
74. Los Lobos, “Come On Let’s Go” (92). Inexplicably this track got a LOT of play on WLRA (it must have also been on cart), but I don’t think it got much on my show. As an oldies purist, or as much as one could be at 18, I didn’t care for the remake. “La Bamba” was at #3 this week, down from being #1 last week, and I know that other students played it a bunch. I think I played Ritchie Valens out of spite.
67. Mick Jagger, “Let’s Work” (75). We played a lot of solo Jagger from this period. I was a much bigger fan of “Throwaway,” which I still think holds up as a solid record more so than this one.
56. U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name” (70, debut last week). For all the talk about “college radio was all U2 and R.E.M.,” it’s weird to argue that it was truly alternative when those are all over the pop chart, isn’t it? The same goes for #49 “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which is an important record for me in its own right.
51. Loverboy, “Notorious” (57). I loved this record. I heard it on WLSX just this afternoon and man, did it sound good in glorious AM mono in my office.
43. Billy Idol, “Mony Mony” (51). This was also carted up in the station, and I also refused to play it. Now, if it came on in the campus bar, I wasn’t opposed to adding additional lyrics in the chorus. I bet you know them.
42. Swing Out Sister, “Breakout” (46). I brought this 45 into the WLRA studios and worked it in a lot on my shows. It still sounds pretty catchy to me.
41. Tiffany, “I Think We’re Alone Now” (50). Recall everything that I have said thus far about refusing to play remakes of oldies. Now, throw all of that out the window for this record. I don’t know if I figured that by playing this song, Tiffany would leave the mall tour and run off with me or something, but I played this one pretty often. I think right here, with this record, I set the cause of college radio back several years. And, I’d do it again.
38. T’Pau, “Heart and Soul” (30). Hell, I was still working the 12″ mix of this into college shows in early 1988. Maybe I figured that by playing it, Carol Decker would leave the UK and run off with me or something. I played this record as a video each time I got to host the “Network Video Hour” program, which is cringey for a lot of different reasons.
36. Starship, “It’s Not Over (Til It’s Over).” I don’t think we played this one a lot, but “Beat Patrol” off of the same LP (No Protection) got an awful lot of airplay on WLRA. Maybe that should have been the single?
31. The Cars, “You Are the Girl” (36). This was also on cart, and also got played a lot. I heard one of my students play it this week and had a total time-and-place moment. Classic hits radio would do well to work this in.
27. Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer” (25). I can’t speak for the rest of WLRA, but I spun this one more than a few times. Here’s where I tell you that Danny Wilson is the name of the group and not the singer, so alphabetically this goes under D. (The group name is from the Sinatra film Meet Danny Wilson.) You’re welcome.
23. Richard Marx, “Don’t Mean Nothing” (12). I am sure I played this at least once just to say “So you do mean something.” Stan Freberg did the bit much better.
13. Debbie Gibson, “Only In My Dreams” (5). This got played on my very first radio show. This past week on the air at WLSX I played it and told the same story/made the same joke I did 35 years ago.
10. The Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey” (11). This was the biggest hit that The Dead ever had. I wasn’t cool enough to be playing this on my show in college. I might throw it on the air next week to make up for that.
8. Bananarama, “I Heard a Rumor” (10). This was from the soundtrack of the film Disorderlies, an LP I still have. No, not for this track. It’s that soundtrack that gives us Bon Jovi’s “Edge of a Broken Heart,” which ranks near the top of the list of “songs that remind me of the first semester at WLRA.” I may have played that every week.
4. Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again” (4). This song also got an obscene amount of airplay on WLRA. Hell, it still gets an obscene amount of airplay 35 years later.
Next project – coming soon: we go through the tapes from the fall of 1987 radio shows and fill in the gaps on this list. What else got played that might be a surprise? Stay tuned!