Steve Goldstein is the former Vice President of Programming at Saga Communications. Today, he is the CEO of Amplifi Media.
My Wonder Years included growing up with some fantastic radio in the New York area. WNEW-FM was iconic with its deep commitment to rock and personalities who were integral to the fabric of the station. Scott Muni held session every afternoon talking about music in a way few have equaled. Jonathan Schwartz could talk about anything and make it compelling. WPLJ was much more hit driven but no less committed to rock and the pop culture of the era with Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, Carole Miller and others playing “Rockin’ Stereo.” Of course, rock was different then. Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” was rock. Linda Ronstadt was selling out Madison Square Garden. I was at WABC during the waning days of Top 40, and one floor above, PLJ was the new cultural icon.
My career had taken me to Detroit to resurrect a Mike Joseph CHR, WHYT. I learned that one apartment building from mine in the same complex at 14 and Orchard Lake, Fred Jacobs who had been the research guru for the ABC-FM stations during my time there was toiling at his dining room table. He was conducting focus groups around the country and developing a “what if” hypothesis that rock was fragmenting. A large body of music was being ignored. The baby boomers, the largest population America had ever seen, were being left behind.
Around the same time, I had joined what was then Josephson Communications (and is now Saga). We were looking to rebuild WMGF an AC station in Milwaukee that was stuck. We fielded research and it was clear that some form of “oldies” was the way to go. Sure we could play Gary Puckett, but this was the Midwest and we took a gamble that “oldies” was code for something more rock based like The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Boston. By then, Fred had a few early success stories in Dallas and Lansing. We took the plunge and Classic Hits 96, WKLH was born. In our first book we debuted with a 7 share and swept every key demo.
It is important to keep in mind that oldies stations had not yet proliferated. Classic Rock and Classic Hit stations were the first library based stations in most markets. The naysayer’s were many. “It is isn’t durable.” “It will burn out.” “What will you do next book?” It is 20 years later and WKLH is still number one 25-54. While tons of credit must go to President/General Manager Tom Joerres and Program Director Bob Bellini for outstanding execution, the credit for the vision into the future (or past) belongs to Fred who saw it, built it and innovated.
It’s been a long time since that long haired mad scientist was working at his dining room table and had he not come along we’d all be listening to “Hungry Like The Wolf” and wondering where “our” music went.