Some half-formed thoughts in my head, and I may be too busy to write for a bit, so I’ll feed the beast with a little more ARSA trawling.
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I’m the kind of person who will cheerfully look at a book of maps for … maybe not quite hours, but extended periods of time, anyway. Longer than most sensible adults probably would. So while I’m not that especially well-traveled, I have a decently developed sense of where a lot of places are.
One of the side benefits of the invaluable ARSA online database of local radio airplay charts, then, is that it occasionally introduces me to cities and towns I’ve never heard of. These charts aren’t just playlists; every so often, they’re travelogues.
Here’s a sampling of ARSA surveys that have nothing in common except (a) they’re all dated December 14, and (b) they’re all from places that are marked “here be dragons” on my mental map.
Or at least they were until now. Hey, who needs atlases?
CJET-AM, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Dec. 14, 1957: Maybe it’s cheating to include Canada in this roundup, since of course I don’t know other countries as well as my own. I’ve spent time staring at maps of Canada too, but it’s a wicked big place, so I excuse myself for not having it memorized.
Anyway, Smiths Falls is about 45 miles from Ottawa, is home to about 9,000 people, and historically owes its success to a couple of railway lines that run through town. Brooke Henderson, one of Canada’s most successful female golfers, comes from Smiths Falls, as do former NHL players Terry Carkner and Gary McAdam.
None of them were old enough to notice what CJET was spinning in December 1957 — a mix of the past (Sinatra; Teresa Brewer; “Liechtensteiner Polka”) and the developing future (“At the Hop” and the Everlys).
Wedged somewhere between is Bill Justis’ “Raunchy.” The following year, a world away from Smiths Falls, a young George Harrison earned entrance into a fledgling Liverpool group called the Quarry Men by playing “Raunchy” wherever and whenever asked — including, legend says, atop the second deck of a city bus during a ride across town.
There is no record of George ever learning to play “Liechtensteiner Polka.”
WOHP-AM, Bellefontaine, Ohio, Dec. 14, 1963: Have you ever gotten high in Bellefontaine? Well, if you’ve ever been there, you have: Wiki says the highest point in the state of Ohio is in Bellefontaine.
For those wishing a more defined frame of reference, Bellefontaine is also the county seat of Logan County; the home of about 14,000 people; and about 50 miles northwest of Columbus, in the western part of the state. Like Smiths Falls, some helpfully located railroad lines helped put it on the map. Famous locals include Norman Vincent Peale.
This chart is no great claim to fame for Bellefontaine. In those last few calm weeks before Beatlemania, WOHP was giving the Singing Nun lots of spins, along with Bobby Rydell, Johnny Tillotson’s “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” and the Caravelles’ “You Don’t Have To Be a Baby To Cry,” which I once heard Casey Kasem play as an AT40 extra on some long-ago Seventies show. (It stuck out as grossly as you’d think it would.)
There’s a couple of good early Beach Boys records to be had here, and “Louie Louie,” and a few credible early Motown hits, and George Jones’ “My Mom & Santa Claus” sneaking in to add some seasonal flavor.
Still, probably the most interesting part of this chart is the improbable rises and declines of certain records — like Jan & Dean jumping from No. 32 last week to No. 4 this week, or Bobby Vinton going from No. 28 to No. 3. Almost makes you think they ranked the chart by pulling scraps of paper out of a Santa hat.
Anyway, I had to pick a song from the countdown, so I picked this one, because it’s all kinds of freakin’ dreadful, and thank God George Harrison set more ambitious goals for himself after he learned to play “Raunchy.”
KDIX-AM, Dickinson, North Dakota, Dec. 14, 1968: Could you find any city in North Dakota on a map? If you can, good on you.
Dickinson, as it happens, is in the southwest part of the state. About 18,000 people lived there in 2010, but thanks to the oil boom of recent years, some current estimates put the city’s population above 30,000 nowadays. Big doin’s in Dickinson, apparently.
There’s also a dinosaur museum, a state university, Theodore Roosevelt Airport, and the Paragon Lanes Bowling Alley. Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan comes from Dickinson, as does Seventies NFL player Doug Beaudoin, an old card of whom I have somewhere in my folders.
But what you really want to know: Was KDIX-1230 (which plays classic country nowadays) swingin’ in December 1968?
Well, the playlist is pretty good but not knockout great. A lot of great artists are represented, but not always with the songs I happen to like best — like Aretha with “See Saw,” or the Beatles with “Hey Jude.”
The Dickinsonians were hearing “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Wichita Lineman” and “For Once In My Life,” so they were doing pretty well all the same.
They were also hearing this song, by a band that had just played its final concerts and broken up about three weeks before. “White Room” is supporting evidence for my steadily growing conviction that the best and most interesting music Eric Clapton ever played was in Cream, and he’s thus been going downhill (not always steadily) since around the time this survey appeared.
WFAW-AM, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Dec. 14, 1968: My man Jim Bartlett has probably been to Fort Atkinson, as it’s in his general neck of the woods in southern Wisco. I couldn’t ever recall hearing of it, though.
It turns out to be the home of about 13,000 people and the marvelously named Rock River, which floods the downtown every so often. It’s named for a guy who killed Native Americans (or, more accurately, it’s named for a fort that’s named for a guy who killed Native Americans). Former Chicago Cubs manager Charlie Grimm was from Fort Atkinson, as was Helmut Ajango, the architect who designed Wisconsin’s legendary Gobbler Motel.
So what was WFAW (easy call letters to decode, those) spinning? Not quite the same stuff they were hearing in Dickinson, North Dakota, that same week. Some pretty good stuff shows up in the lower half, like “Crimson and Clover,” the Beach Boys’ unjustly unsuccessful “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” Canned Heat, Dusty Springfield, and Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut.”
While there are no Beatles tunes on the top 40 here — not even “Hey Jude” — the White Album sits atop the station’s brief list of hot LPs. Wonder if the WFAW DJs were trying to find ways to slip “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey” or “Cry Baby Cry” into the hitbound rotation?
Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with the song at No. 30 … but I had a sneaking suspicion that Chicago’s garage-rocking Shadows of Knight doing a song called “Shake” pretty much had to be worth hearing. And it was.
KBYG-AM, Big Spring, Texas, December 14, 1968: Big Spring is south of Lubbock and west of Abilene, and is located a little bit east of the bottom of the west Texas cutaway, if that helps you picture it a bit better.
It’s a relative Gotham by the standards of this post, with more than 27,000 residents. There used to be an Air Force base (Webb) there, though it closed in the late ’70s. And you might have seen it on the big screen: The opening scenes in Midnight Cowboy, showing Cowboy Joe Buck leaving the sticks for New York, were apparently shot in and around Big Spring.
Famous Big Springers include actress and singer Betty Buckley and a bunch of NFL players, such as barefoot kicker Tony Franklin, who presumably found his technique easier to execute in Big Spring than it was in Foxborough, Mass.
So yeah, the survey. Not much different here that wasn’t being played in Fort Atkinson or Dickinson — though I don’t remember seeing Tammy Wynette’s warhorse “Stand By Your Man” on those other two surveys. Also a good glut of soul music at the top of the chart, with Eddie Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Johnnie Taylor lined up in places two through five (behind that quintessential soul performer, Bobby Vinton, holding Number One. Can you dig it?)
Stuck for a tune to choose, I picked “Picking Wild Mountain Berries” by Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson pretty much at random. I was expecting some sort of folkie goofiness but this turns out to be kinda soulful and perfectly likeable. (Apparently Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn later covered this, and I’m sure theirs is probably the better-known version.)
CKBC-AM, Bathurst, New Brunswick, Dec. 14, 1969: You could look at a map for a while and not see Bathurst, New Brunswick. It’s wedged way up at the northern end of the province, and has one of those Wiki entries that tells every single noteworthy moment in town history even though none of them are memorable to people from away.
(One cool Bathurst fact: The area is home to an endangered and rare butterfly, Coenonympha nipisiquit, or the maritime ringlet, which feeds on salt-meadow plants. That’s pretty awesome. About 13,000 people live there too.)
I just wrote about a December 1969 survey not too long ago, and this one has the same highlights as the last one — “Fortunate Son” (at Number One — did Canadians understand this song the way Americans did?); “Something” and “Come Together” getting a lot of play; “No Time” and “Whole Lotta Love” both breaking onto the chart; and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” fading off of it.
Pick hit? Well, we were just talking about Midnight Cowboy, so hell yes, you get the Grand Twins of the Twin Grands:
KKIQ-FM, Livermore, California, December 14, 1979: I’m stretching a little bit here. The name “Livermore, California” is vaguely familiar — it sounds like I’ve heard it before — but I have no idea where it is or what they do there that’s fantastic, so I’m gonna count it for the purposes of this post.
It’s in Alameda County — the Bay Area, that is — with almost 90,000 people. It’s known for research laboratories (the context in which I remembered it — the word “Livermore” seemed to go in my mind with “laboratory”) and vineyards. So it’s a pretty big place, just overshadowed by bigger and more famous places that surround it. The world’s longest-lasting light bulb is there, too.
Famous Livermorians include Conrad Bain and Jill Whelan of ’70s-’80s TV fame; Baseball Hall of Famer Randy Johnson; and boxer Max Baer. You may also have seen scenes of Livermore in Bill Owens’ photography collection, Suburbia.
So how were the tunes in the last few weeks of the Seventies? So-so. I happen to kinda like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” And I’ll never complain about a chart with “Dream Police” in the Top Ten, although the song’s national Top 40 chart run had already ended by that point. A lot of the rest is a bit on the bland side — though “Video Killed the Radio Star,” sneaking up through the hitbounds, points the way toward the decade to come.
Couldn’t find a surprising, unusual or unexpected video from this chart, so I settled for somebody else who turned out to be pretty big in the ’80s, as he appeared on national TV about a month prior to this countdown.