The heart of summer.

Still not back to live-blogging American Top 40 countdowns. But, I’ll write about a local chart when I can find one.

And — courtesy the ARSA database of local radio airplay charts — here’s one carved from the heart of the summer of ’78. The week ending July 31, 1978, to be specific, for Allentown’s old hit-radio station, WKAP-AM 1320.

It’s a pretty epic week, as it turns out — some of the defining hits of the year, and some good stories to tell for them what are interested in such things.

Here goes, then:

– At Nos. 1 and 2, the pure products of 1978 go crazy. The theme song from the Movie of the Summer goes head-to-head with the Musical Style of the Year, represented by its principal diva singing one of her most irresistible songs. Truly, this battle must have made Mothra vs. Godzilla look like two Pop Warner teams on a muddy field.

In the end, wily old Frankie Valli would emerge successful, defending the craggy mountaintop that is Number One in Allentown with a terrible swift sword. I do not know who won the battle the following week; it might well have been his temporarily vanquished super-rival.

As you can see, the last week in July was a pretty damn good one for “Grease.” The movie placed three songs in the WKAP Top 10 and a fourth at No. 16. Three of those songs were moving up on the charts that week, and the theme tune would probably have moved up too if there were anywhere to go from Number One.

(Ironically, the week ending July 30 was the only week between mid-June and mid-October when John and Livvie’s high school musical wasn’t Number One at the U.S. box office. “National Lampoon’s Animal House” took the honors that week.)

– At No. 3, we get a whole lot less epic in a hurry.

The Jefferson Starship had struck mellow gold with Marty Balin’s “Miracles” in ’75, then struck silver with Balin’s similarly lovey-dovey “With Your Love” in ’76.

Like Bill Buckner trying to take third on Reggie Jax in Game Five of the ’74 Series, the Starship thought they could go for three with the Balin-sung “Runaway.

Unlike Buckner, the Starship got a hit out of their gamble, landing at No. 12 nationally. “Runaway” is the sort of flaccid, repetitive, hollow song that gives mellow gold a bad name, though.

They would have better off taking a gutsy chance and getting shot down for it, the way Buckner did.

(Both Buckner and the Starship would go on to much greater indignities in the mid-’80s.)

No. 4, meanwhile, is laid-back California the way laid-back California was meant to be done, and good summer-twilight highway music.

– No. 5 brings us an oddity, and a bit of a high-water mark.

Vocal group Boney M, the product of future Milli Vanilli producer Frank Farian, was phenomenally popular in Europe in the late ’70s. On the list of top-selling singles of all time in the U.K., Boney M is the only performer with two songs in the Top 10.

They never approached those heights in the U.S. “Rivers of Babylon,” with a No. 30 peak, was the group’s highest-placing (maybe even only) U.S. Top Forty single. The people of the Lehigh Valley loved it, though, sending it to No. 5 on the WKAP chart against some stiff competition.

This chart is Boney M’s highest placing on any American chart in the ARSA database.

So, whatever magic the people in England and Germany perceived was apparently audible only in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton on this side of the pond … and never more so than it was in the last week of July, 1978.

– No. 10, with its nostalgic, even elegiac quality (“Now that we’ve come to the end of our rainbow”), would have made an interesting back-to-back play with No. 6 or No. 16,¬†with their headlong teenagers-madly-in-love vibe.

– At Nos. 12 through 14, we get a solid three-fer blast of meat-and-potatoes Rock from Springsteen, Seger and the Stones.

By comparison, the Stones were No. 3 on the national Top 40 that same week; Seger was No. 7; and Springsteen’s “Prove It All Night” was completely absent.

– You can’t exactly compare Casey Kasem’s national countdown with WKAP’s chart because the Allentown chart has only 25 records, not 40.

Still, a bunch of the songs on the national Top 40 this week were totally absent from WKAP’s chart.

Nationwide hits not making the grade in the Lehigh Valley included Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (No. 2 nationally); Heatwave’s “The Groove Line” (No. 9); Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” (No. 14); ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me” (No. 17); Steely Dan’s “FM” (No. 22); Jackson Browne’s “The Load-Out/Stay” (No. 23); Steve Martin’s “King Tut” (No. 24); Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” (No. 30) and “Macho Man” by the Village People (No. 40).

Some pretty good records in that pile; I hope at least some of them were on the air here.

– Besides “Prove It All Night,” tunes on the WKAP chart that were not on the national Forty included Dave Mason’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow;” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Exile’s “Kiss You All Over.”

– Down on the nether end of the WKAP chart, we have what I consider to be two of the late ’70s’ classier one-hit wonders at No. 22 and No. 25.

No. 22 starts with a dreadful cardboardy-sounding drum machine and unexpectedly blossoms into a lovely, melodic mellow-gold excursion with a ten-foot-tall chorus.

No. 25 has rather stronger raw materials to work with — think Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — but doesn’t waste them.

– The deejays bringing us all these tunes on WKAP included the immortal Smokin’ Doug on the 6 p.m.-to-midnight shift.

For some reason that strikes me as just about the goofiest name I’ve ever heard a DJ adopt. To me, it just doesn’t ring.

The Interwebs tell me that Smokin’ Doug (Hanley was his last name, at least on-air) later ended up at WEEX across the Valley in Easton. No idea where he went after that.

Perhaps he is selling ads or siding or something, and still remembering how nice “Fool If You Think It’s Over” sounded coming out of the studio monitors.

January 22, 1979: C’est chic.

I don’t live-blog American Top 40 countdowns any more, but I’m still interested in record charts.

And whaddya know but the marvelous ARSA database has a hit-record chart for Allentown’s old WKAP-AM for this very week in 1979 (the week ending Jan. 22, to be specific.)

That looks like a marvelous target to waste a few hundred words on. So let’s turn on WKAP and see what we think of it, shall we? I guess I’ll put my favourites in bold, like old times:

1: The Village People, “Y.M.C.A.” This has become such a cultural touchstone that I can scarcely imagine hearing it for the first time, or the tenth time.

(I have even more trouble imagining hearing it without knowing about the homosexual subtext, though I’m led to believe quite a few Americans didn’t really know what was going on at the time.)

My dad told me once that he spent a few days at a YMCA when he first moved to Rochester in 1966. I imagine he got himself clean and had a good meal; I do not think he went so far as to do whatever he felt.

2. “Le Freak,” Chic. Cool and crisp as gin; maybe half a notch below “Good Times” but still one of those records disco doesn’t have to apologize for. This was Number One in the country that week, and had topped WKAP’s list the week before.

3. Nicolette Larson, “Lotta Love.” I much prefer this in the hands of its creator (and his ragged-but-right BFFs). Strings, horns, and a precious flute solo don’t compare to the joys of hearing Billy, Ralph and Poncho oooooooh-ing like choirboys.

4. “September,” Earth Wind & Fire. The first of several hits on this chart from performers who appeared in the “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie the previous year. The movie, however dreadful, was maybe not the career-killer some have made it out to be; it certainly didn’t stop EW&F from dropping tight funk here.

5. “A Little More Love,” Olivia Newton-John. I remember rather more of this song than I would have thought, which means I must have some fondness for it. Listening back on YouTube, though, it feels a little too turgid and bloodless to get a bold. (It gets me nowhere to tell it no.)

6. Bee Gees, “Too Much Heaven.” I can’t help it; I like them more when they strut than when they croon.

7. “My Life,” Billy Joel. I think this is the turning point when things start going to crap on the countdown. Few artists asking to be left alone have made more convincing cases.

8. “Fire,” Pointer Sisters. Another song that is probably better in the hands of its creator (and his BFFs.)

9. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Rod Stewart. I find this to be one big parodic goof, and pleasant enough, though I would have burned out on it double-quick if I’d heard it every hour on WKAP in 1979.

10. “We’ve Got Tonight,” Bob Seger. I like Seger well enough, and I wouldn’t turn the radio away from this, I suppose.

11. “New York Groove,” Ace Frehley. Awwwwwww yeah! Big dumb glam-style stomp, and probably my favorite song on the countdown. It’s a tradition in my family to play this in the car on road trips, any time we cross a state line (or, on one occasion, an international border) into New York state.

12. “Hold The Line,” Toto. Well-turned propulsive arena-rock, and probably the Toto song I’d want to hear if I had to hear one. That’s slim gruel as far as endorsements go, though.

13. “Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race,” Queen. OK, this might rival the Space Ace for my affections. One side of filthy, sweaty hard-rock stomp; the other of loopy, only vaguely less filthy glam-pop eccentricity.

I’m not sure how I never got more into these guys: Any band with the charisma and imagination (and pipes) of Freddie Mercury and the guitar inventiveness of Brian May seems worth checking out at length.

Most of the players on the local minor-league baseball team choose country or crunch-metal for their at-bat music. But last season, infielder Tyler Henson used “Fat Bottomed Girls.” He was a naughty, naughty boy, and I wished he’d come to bat every inning so I could hear it again.

One more note: Unless I’m missing it, this song was not even on the American Top 40 that week. On the other hand, two songs from the National Top Ten — Eric Clapton’s “Promises” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Ooh Baby Baby” — are missing from WKAP’s Top 25. One of those is a shame.

14. “How You Gonna See Me Now,” by Alice Cooper. The last of a handful of ballad hits Coop had in the latter half of the Seventies. I don’t have great use for any of ’em, I don’t think, and the others at least are catchier than this.

15. “Somewhere In The Night,” Barry Manilow. Not for me, thanks.

16. “Shake It,” Ian Matthews. Watching this on YouTube brings back absolutely no memory of it. It sounds like a hundred other records from 1978-80, and while I have a mild fondness for those production values, they’re still pretty bland.

17. “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” Foreigner. Never liked these guys either.

18. “I Will Be In Love With You,” Livingston Taylor. This is totally an impulse bold, and one I’ll regret tomorrow. This one’s also kissed with that same choking 1979 lushness, which, in this case, works in its favor. I also give it credit because I cannot read the title without phrasing it into music, which is one sign of a catchy chorus.

(One negative: Livingston, through no fault of his own, sounds like his brother slowed down a quarter-step, and I can’t help wondering why the record’s playing slow.)

19. “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away),” Andy Gibb. My previously stated equation regarding the Brothers Gibb (funky>>>slow) holds true for their little brother too. (Was Andy ever really funky? Maybe he should have tried it.)

20. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. I should actually tear myself away from Livingston Taylor and go listen to this, because I don’t remember it. It sounds like it might be brainless disco, and sometimes that’s fun. Let’s see …

… oh, damn, this is pretty good. That opening sounds like the Brothers Johnson. I’m gonna bold this. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. No parking on the dancefloor!

21. “Crazy Love,” Poco. How many damn songs have there been called “Crazy Love”? I was kinda hoping this was an earlier, rowdier version of the Allman Bros’ hit of the same name. But once I played it, I recognized it for one of those moody finger-picking country-pop hits I’ve heard a million times but didn’t know the name of. Nice acoustic-guitar sound, anyway.

22. “No Tell Lover,” Chicago. My dad had a bunch of Chicago records when I was a kid, and I could always tell Hot Streets was different from the rest. It wasn’t just the absence of Terry Kath, or the absence of a Roman numeral on the (flamingly dopey) front cover. The sound of the record was different than it had been under James William Guercio; wetter and more echoey and wet-noodley. This undistinguished Cetera ballad is pretty much the musical exemplar of that sound; listening to it is like unfolding a rain-soaked newspaper.

23. “Soul Man,” Blues Brothers. I heard a fair amount of BBs as a kid, too — enough for me to grudgingly grant them status as a legit musical band, and not a coke-fueled ego trip. This cover version doesn’t go anywhere the original didn’t, though.

24. “Lady,” Little River Band. As ballads go, I find this more memorable than many of the others on this countdowns. Still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t switch channels on it.

25. “Goodbye, I Love You,” Firefall. Not gonna go listen but I bet my comments would be substantially the same as No. 22.

So, yeah — 1979 countdowns are hard roads to travel, more often than not, and Allentown was no better or worse than the country as a whole in that regard.

Seconds from history.

I love when information on the Internet settles a question once and for all.

But on the flip side, there’s nothing more frustrating than finding info and not … quite … being able to believe or trust it.

I learned today that my grudgingly semi-sorta-adopted hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is supposedly the home of the broadcast profanity delay.

According to the Wiki piece, an engineer at local AM station WKAP developed a primitive five-second tape delay system in 1952 for use on a new call-in program called “Open Mic.”

The innovation allegedly spread to other radio stations owned by the same company, then throughout the radio industry, and eventually to the world of network television as well.

I know some of of the basic facts are true. There was a radio station called WKAP in Allentown for many years. (Casey Kasem mentioned it a good half-dozen times on American Top 40 countdowns between 1974 and 1977, according to Pete Battistini’s excellent AT40 book.)

But the Wiki page for “broadcast delay” is completely unattributed. No references are provided for any of the material. Not industry publications, not newspaper articles, not interviews with the principal players … nothing. That’s always a red flag.

I also note that there are two different paragraphs next to each other covering pretty much exactly the same ground on the WKAP story. When I see that in a Wiki entry, it always makes me wonder which one is right (or closer to right); where the contributors are getting their information; and why each section includes information the other one lacks.

While the first graf is more crisply and professionally written, it includes the phrase “it is believed that,” which should set off alarm bells for anyone even remotely skeptical about accuracy. (It was believed once that the earth was flat, too, until people started looking into it. What people believe and what is accurate are all too frequently not the same thing.)

I also find it interesting that the Wiki page for WKAP’s descendant station, WSAN, makes no mention of WKAP’s claim to broadcast history. One would think such a fact would be worthy of mention on the WSAN page … if it were verifiably true.

Finally, Googling some of the basic names and terms from the Wiki article turned up no substantial supporting information. All I seemed to find were articles on other sites that had copied Wiki’s text.

This little tidbit of local history — which marks its 60th anniversary this year, by the way — might well be true. If it is, it’s kinda cool, in a whaddya-know sort of way.

I just wish the greatest, most wide-ranging  information source in the history of the world gave me enough information to be completely sure about it.

(Coda: As I think more about this, I find it remarkable that in a boring burg like Allentown, in a supposedly polite era like the early ’50s, people were concerned about inappropriate comments on the air. Were they really worried that someone was gonna call in and say, “This is Stu from Lehighton, and I’m really f—king sick of Harry Truman”?)