Finding an airplay chart from a station you knew, before you knew it, is like seeing pictures of your high school before they added the big south wing …
or pictures of your parents before they had kids …
or pictures of your favorite sports hero in the minor-league uniform of his younger days.
You feel some degree of connection. But at the same time, everything seems so alien.
And so it is for me tonight, as I contemplate the April 22, 1974, airplay chart for WCMF 96.5, from my hometown of Rochester, New York.
Before you check it out, a little history is in order:
‘CMF was my preferred radio station throughout my high school years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, dishing out a predictable, reliable diet of arena rock — Zep, Bad Company, Steve Miller, Queen and like that.
(Its slogan for a time was “Outlaw Radio.” As risible as that seems today, nobody laughed in 1990 when ‘CMF would run an ad proclaiming itself Outlaw Radio, then play REO Speedwagon or something equally freeze-dried.)
I couldn’t take much of that nowadays, but Rochesterians disagree. WCMF is still on the air, with an only marginally updated classic-rock menu. According to its website, the three most recently played songs as I type this are “I’m Your Captain,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” and BadCo’s “Shooting Star.”
So, WCMF might end up playing the old warhorses until the sun swallows the earth.
It wasn’t always like that, though.
Looking at the 1974 chart — and if you haven’t already done so, g’wan ahead now — I’m tickled to see that ‘CMF had an alternative/progressive jawn going in its earlier days.
(Dig the gnarled old tree bending away from the sun, and the slogans “Unlike Any Other Radio Station” and “Music We Like.” No platinum corporate rock for this ‘CMF. Note also that the chart listed top albums, but not top songs or singles. The LP was what mattered in those days.)
In fact, the 1974 edition of ‘CMF was so far off the wall, I had no idea who five of the top six artists even were.
I thought I vaguely recognized one of the names, but beyond that, research was required:
Howdy Moon was a folk-rock trio featuring singer-songwriter Valerie Carter. Their only album featured a version of Carter’s “Cook With Honey,” which I once wrote a weird, schizophrenic blog post about in its Judy Collins version.
Harriet Schock was (still is) a singer, songwriter and actress who cut three major-label albums in the mid-1970s before concentrating on writing for others. “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” from Schock’s LP Hollywood Town, was later a hit for Helen Reddy.
Sharks were a British rock band featuring ex-Free bass player Andy Fraser and well-traveled session guitarist Chris Spedding. As far as I know, they didn’t write any material that was successfully covered by soft-rock chanteuses.
Passport I thought I recognized … but I was wrong. Wiki describes them as a German jazz-rock ensemble somewhat akin to Weather Report, and I note the presence of former Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon among their long list of former members. Apparently they’re still around.
Snafu was a British heavy-R&B-funk band, one of those journeyman ’70s ensembles whose members would either go on to bigger things (guitarist Micky Moody and keyboardist Pete Solley joined Whitesnake) or were coming down from bigger things (guitarist Clem Clempson had played in Humble Pie).
Albums by Mouzon, Deodato, Charles Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet showed a solid bent toward jazz — and not all freaked-out fusion, either, as the MJQ stayed close to its cool-bop roots throughout its career.
(Tom Hampson, who hosted a Friday night jazz show on ‘CMF in ’74, is still playing jazz on Rochester’s NPR AM station, WXXI 1370.)
For the live-music freaks in the crowd, ‘CMF offered the King Bisquit (cq) Flour Hour and live sets by local and regional bands with names like Big Screaming McGrew and Ko Ko Morgan.
For those who still wanted to smoke hash and giggle a lot, the station picked up the National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Firesign Theatre’s “Dear Friends.”
And, as a stoney old-time touch on Sunday nights, there were Sherlock Holmes dramas.
(The WCMF of my era programmed a long-running program of local music on late Sunday nights, featuring a locally beloved DJ named Unkle Roger. I didn’t listen to it, but I wish I had, as it was probably the most interesting thing on the station.)
I’m not sure when ‘CMF gave up the hippie-freeform ghost and went corporate.
As late as July 1979, they were willing to let progressive-rock icon Robert Fripp do some live improvising on their airwaves — a sign they hadn’t totally abandoned their wild roots. The tree was still growing away from the sun, at least a little bit.
I would have liked to have heard that version of WCMF. I bet it was pretty wild, edgy even, by the prevailing standards of the upstate Seventies.
Outlaw radio, you might even say.