Thursday, April 22, 2010

For a Time It was Ohio's Country Giant

New Years 1970.

A new decade and a new format for an old friend.

The week between Christmas and New Years day is sort of an awkward time. And it's also prime time for radio stations to change formats and the hosts behind the microphones.

And so it was for WRFD radio.

Although the news of the day in one edition of that weeks Citizen Journal was that WNCI, WRFD's sister FM station was going to make the switch, that wasn't the real story.

That was corrected the following day, although WNCI was also going to get a formatic face-lift too! But that's a story for another day.

So in the new year and new decade of 1970, WRFD made the transition from standards and MOR music to Country and Western music. No longer would Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Doris Day flow through the speakers of Columbus radio at 880 on the dial. At least for the next 6 years.

And no longer would Columbus wake up to Johnny Martin and drive home with Spook Beckman, at least at 880 on the dial. Johnny would later explain in a letter to the CJ that he was joining Lew Davis, former WRFD farm director at a financial services company and Spook Beckman asked to return to selling air time.

Instead the twang of Buck Owens and the voices of Uncle Tom George, Bill Preston and Jack Bartley among others would now be the daily diet of audio on the frequency.

George had recently come over from WMNI who themselves had made the move to country in 1965. I'm not sure about Bartley and Preston. Maybe someone will be able to fill me in.

So why the change? I'm not really sure. My guess is station or corporate leadership felt that with WRFD's extensive farm programming, it was a natural fit. Or that WRFD's still popular MOR/Standards blend was waning in popularity and a change was needed.

But maybe Country wasn't the right choice. By the spring of 1972, the station was in transition again. This time away from slide guitars and to the do wops of oldies. Len Anthony, brought in from Cleveland/Akron during the country years, was now in charge of the transition to oldies with the help of sister station WGAR.

Len was part of the team who hired me in May of 1973 to spin the church tapes and mow the front lawn. By time I was on board, Len was gone to Denver.

I just found that Len later migrated from Denver through South Dakota and finally landed in Atlanta where he had a successful career as one of the cities radio entertainers (he hated the term disc jockey). But a career that was cut short by a heart attack at the age of 52 in 1999.

In the years beyond that, WRFD left the oldies format in 1977 and returned to adult standards with it's Unrock format. With that format, Spook Beckman returned to the airwaves. His midday show along with the farm revenue began to make things look up at the station.

But Spook was wooed to bigger things at WCOL and WRFD once again returned to trying to find it's place among the radio listening and more importantly advertising audience. (My Sunday show wasn't strong enough to save the day.)

The Unrock format died without ceremony and for a time an adult contemporary format was in place. There was even talk for a while of returning to county as it believed that done right, WMNI was vulnerable.

But that was not to be.

Enter Salem Media of Ohio who purchased the station in the early 80's with a rapid switch to religious programming. It's true. Not only can God save souls; it appears that with WRFD's current success, He can save radio stations.

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