1990 WSAY Radio Feature
July 1990 WXXI-AM Radio
WSAY- Part I
INTRO: Last month marked the 11-year anniversary of "The Death of Rock 'n Roll"-
the end of an unusual open musical format at Rochester's WSAY-AM, the forerunner
to WXXI-AM 1370... Three disc-jockeys from that period, KEVIN DeHOND,
JACK SIMMONDS and HORACIO MARTINEZ and LISTENER/FAN SUZIE HEIKOOP reminisce
about WSAY's image, poor wages, music selection and SAY's impact on the competition.
JULY 1980 7:01
[ MUSIC CLIP: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young- "Southern Man" ]
Try to imagine a break-even commercial radio station, without
outside advertising, without a sales force, 20-year old equipment,
minimum working wages with no raises and progressive rock 'n roll
format- mixing with ethnic and religious programming and you'd
have WSAY in the mid-1970s.
DeHOND: Music from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded live from Four
Way Street. And a lot of these tunes going around the turntable for the
last time. Maybe somebody will give them another spin or two, as we
move on into Saturday and a little bit of Sunday that will be…
smattered with rock 'n roll.. as the end draws near. Monday morning..
it's uh..the "Country King" I guess.
7-year disc jockey, Kevin DeHond-
[ MUSIC CLIP: ]
DeHOND: I still tune in, you know. It's not even SAY, it's XXI.. I just
gotta hear the frequency, know what I mean? (laughs)
SIMMONDS: I know what you mean.
DeHOND: So everybody who never worked there must have tuned in once in
awhile. And I wonder if they thought we were the big bunch of rummies
that everybody else seemed to think we were-
SIMMONDS: They probably did.
DeHOND: Or if we were doing something that they always wished they
could have gotten away with-
[ MUSIC: ]
Which was a musical format, so to speak, that entrusted the disc-
jockey to produce commercials and play whatever music they wanted to.
[ MUSIC: ]
SIMMONDS: (commercial clip) Well tonight, the Penny Arcade gives you
the opportunity to eat as much free popcorn as you want- as loud as you
want. After all, you'll be there alone won't ya, Casanova?! So cut the
old girl a break and remove your face from her sight, and stick it the
beer where it belongs.. at the Penny Arcade…
[ MUSIC: ]
SIMMONDS: Total.. creative.. responsibility.
DeHOND: Nobody told you anything. Make your own commercial, make it the
way you want...
SIMMONDS: Every sound that went over the air was your responsibility.
There are the turntables, there are the records. You have six hours. Go
[ MUSIC: ]
In fact, it wasn't until Rochester Red Wings baseball came aboard
in 1978, that a direct request line was available. Prior,
listeners would mail in their music requests, or be transferred from
the downtown switchboard to talk with the jock. Horacio Martinez worked
at WSAY for two years. And went on to DKX, VOR and spent two
years selling time for WPXY.
MARTINEZ: Alright maybe late winter, early spring. I remember we
painted the place-
DeHOND: Electric blue-
MARTINEZ: Yeah, electric blue and real bright orange- that was the
trim. That's when we got the phone. And I think we had a two-point-nine
rating in the marketplace. And we were never the cellar station. I
think the other AM station there at three-W-G was always the
[MUSIC CLIP: Rainbow- "The Man on the Silver Mountain"]
Despite continuous bottom-of-the-ladder ratings, WSAY maintained
its small- yet loyal- audience. Morning man Jack Simmonds says the
listener could more-easily identify with the jocks at SAY. He admits to
spending nights at the studio when his paycheck ran out , and
he didn't have gas money to go home and get back to work again.
SIMMONDS: So I would sleep on the floor, and the engineer would come
up, and I had a tape set up with the national anthem on it. And that
would be my alarm clock. And the engineer would come up and hit the
button. And I had like two minutes to get up and out of the
sleeping bag in my jockey shorts and get to work. That was the point:
we had really nothing. And I think the people that listened to us had
essentially nothing, too.
[ MUSIC CLIP: Good Rats- "Klashkabob" ]
Because of the open format, the jocks were at liberty to discover
or "break" new bands on the airwaves; some that may not ever attain
great commercial success- still, excellent musicians notheless. Groups
like Triumph, Max Webster, The Good Rats, Moxie, Boomerang.
Listener "Rock'n Roll" Suzie Heikoop remembers.
HEIKOOP: Any new band that came along that was excellent, that was
good, that one of the guys thought was good was on the air instantly.
There was no questions, there was no debate. There was not "are they
gonna like it?" "are they gonna hate it it?" "they're gonna hate it, we
can't play it". It was "it sounds good" "it sounds great" "it's new"
"let's play it". That was the type of attitude that the station had
and the spirit that they had which made it so unique.
And though SAY never seriously threatened their progressive rock
competitor at the time, WCMF-FM, the AM station had a definate impact
when CMF started getting requests for tunes that listeners heard first
on SAY. Jack Simmonds-
SIMMONDS: It wasn't that they were complimenting us either. It was:
they had no choice. The public heard tunes and wanted to hear more. And
CMF said "I'm sorry, it's not on our playlist". And eventually it got
to the point where they would say, "Geez, we got 25 calls
this week to hear a band called The Good Rats. Where are these people
hearing it? Well, it must be from SAY but let's look around and see if
they've got something a little more, you know, 'hit' worthy. And that
was how we kinda got…
DeHOND: And in the long run I think it was good for AOR/progressive
rock stations like CMF. I think actually they had probably had more
success because we opened the minds of some people. Kiss was the same
way. They finally hit the new WBBF and they had that single. The Kiss
concert sold out and everybody gave BBF the credit 'cause they were
crankin' the single. But we had been playing them a year and a half
SIMMONDS: Like "Black Diamond"…
DeHOND: And "Strutter" and all that stuff. And CMF wouldn't play that
because it was a little bit too...
DeHOND: Too young, yeah. It was like the punk rock of its time.
MARTINEZ: I had a talk with a music director then at CMF, Gary Whipple.
Gary said that for many years SAY was a thorn in CMF's side. 'Cause if
we wouldn't have been there, CMF would have picked up that point or
point and a half that we used to consistently get out of the
marketplace, you see. And that would have been much more revenue for
CMF and much more credbility.
[ MUSIC CLIP: Argent- "God Gave Rock 'n Roll To You" ]
Tomorrow, the trio of disc jockeys will discuss today's music on
so-called rock 'n roll stations, remember groups that probably will
never be heard from again, and not-so-fondly recall the late WSAY
owner: the technical genius, yet eccentric Gordon P. Brown. Bill Flynn,
[ MUSIC CLIP: Argent- "God Gave Rock 'n Roll To You" lyrics:
God gave rock 'n' roll to you
Gave rock n' roll to you
Put it in the soul of everyone ]
WSAY- Pt 2
INTRO: Looking back on the freeform progressive music at WSAY AM radio
of the mid to late 70s in Rochester. Three of those disc-jockies,
KEVIN DeHOND, JACK SIMMONDS and HORACIO MARTINEZ plus listener/fan
MIKE THOMPSON recall stingy owner Gordon P. Brown, rival musical formats
and music that will probably nevr be heard from again. JULY 1990 7:14
[ MUSIC CLIP: Masters of the Airwaves - "Gettin' Tight" ]
At the helm, from 1936 'til his death in 1979 was WSAY owner Godon
P. Brown- truly one of radio's pioneers and technical genuises. He
built a transmitter at age ten and envisioned sattelite-tv direct hook-
ups more than 25 years ago. He was turned down twice on bids to own TV
stations in Rochester. Remembered as a maverick and a fighter, he
actually lost his life's savings winning a challenge against his FCC
license shortly before he died. But as his former employees can attest:
he was the "Ebeneener Scrooge" of radio owners- paying minimum to poor
wages with no raises in sight. Seven-year disc jockey, Kevin DeHond-
DeHOND: (mimicking Brown) 'I sell advertising. I don't buy
advertising'. And that ain't the way it works. Nowadays you know,
advertising agencies hire other advertising agencies to advertise their
advertising agency. He thought that was a waste of money… and maybe he
MARTINEZ: He bid for a TV as a broacaster in television, and then I
think what happened was..
DeHOND: He didn't hire the right lawyers and he didn't spend the money,
you know, to get the people that have opened TV stations. He wanted to
do it on his own his way- just like we wanted to do it on our own our
way. And where are we now? We're talkin' about it in the back yard,
instead of doing it for a living! (everyone laughs)
The story goes: current area radio general manager Jack Palvino
lost a battle with Brown over a half-cent raise in the 1950s. And that
transmitter equipment in dire need was found by the boxful inside
Brown's house after he passed away. Water at the studio
site was un-drinkable because Brown refused to hook up with the town's
system. And employees who served for decades still received that same
five dollar Christmas bonus. Seven year disc jockey Jack Simmonds-
SIMMONDS: He liked his money. He counted it into dust. (mimicking
Brown) "Records by the pound!"
MARTINEZ: In a way you an say that.
Two-year SAY DJ Horacio Martinez-
MARTINEZ: He didn't go with the flow. And as a result he was a dinosaur
in a time when dinosaurs were extinct.
DeHOND: God bless you, Jerry Garcia. (everyone laughs)
[ MUSIC CLIP: ]
DeHond says it's a shame today's owners won't go with an old SAY
format, because greed rules in radio also.
DeHOND: Every station in America is sold to people that want to make
money off the station.
DeHOND: And they will play whatever they have to play to get a bigger
bite of the market.
MARTINEZ: The problem with an SAY format is that it's low quarter-hour
radio… the appeal of such programs, and compared to what the industry
DeHOND: I'll take a two-share of the market. I'll run that place. Just
let me have that place, give me the equipment. I'll take a two-share of
the market and I'll be happy, with my forty grand a year, okay? But
these guys don't. They have to make hundreds of thousands of dollars-
MARTINEZ: There you go. It's again what the industry demands. And I'm
not saying that it's right. I don't agree with it in many ways. I think
it, in a sense, homogenizes the industry to a great degree.
[ MUSIC CLIP:]
Shortly before the break-up of the progressive rock format, WSAY
was behind a bumper sticker seen around town: "Rochester Radio Insults
My Intelligence"- a blast at uncreative, repetitive, so-called rock 'n
roll stations that were actually just playing the hits over and over.
DeHOND: You know, nowadays the record company comes in with "Hey Mr.
Radio Guy, I got this brand new group, these are the two hits on the
album, push these. Hey, when the group comes to town, I'll give you
first shot at an interview. The program director goes boom, carts up
the two tunes, those are the two tunes you hear. But the cranker is on
the "b" side of the album, and it's seven-and-a-half minutes and they
MARTINEZ: And they won't play it-
DeHOND: And they won't play it!
SIMMONDS: It'd be nice for you to have another reason to buy the album
than the one song.
[ MUSIC CLIP: Roy Buchanan- "Ramon's Blues" ]
Mike Thompson, known as "O.T." during on-air requests, remembers
the dull rock 'n roll offerings of area radio, before stumbling on to
THOMPSON: And I listened some more and then all of a sudden there was
some lady saying some prayers, and I said: what's going on here? Then
there was some more hard rock coming back on, then a ballgame. And I
figured then and there that I had to seek this place out. What it
reminded me of was just going over to a friends house and playing some
records.. getting together with your friends, and they're listening to
the same music that you like. And they would honestly put on a request.
[ MUSIC CLIP: ]
One sad outcome with the loss of SAY's rock 'n roll format was the
actual loss of the music.
SIMMONDS: A group called Good God… Bull Angus… Neil Merriweather-
DeHOND: Oh, yeah!
SIMMONDS: Neil Merryweather… was.. a killer!
DeHOND: Michael Fennely.. Crabby Appleton they were hip. Like, REO
Speedwagon I, Gypsy Woman's Passion- you ever gonna hear that song
again? Never again! And like it's one of their best songs- they don't
even play it live anymore, it's so good… White Witch.. Eric
Quincy Tate… Beck, Bogart and Appice, right? But Bogart and Appice
started in Cactus- they should play old Cactus just like they play old
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but they won't.
MARTINEZ: I guess they weren't playing at Woodstock. (laughs)
DeHOND: Johnny Winter. Oh sure, he comes and plays a blues concert once
in awhile in a small club out in the outskirts of town-
SIMMONDS: (sarcastic) Yeah, didn't he work with Muddy Waters?
DeHOND: The rock 'n roll albums he's got that burns!
[ MUSIC CLIP:
Looking back, it's easy to remember the good and forget the bad.
And Jack Simmonds says he wouldn't have changed anything- other than to
make his SAY days last longer.
SIMMONDS: I got memories that'll last me a lifetime. I mean it's not
like I'm living in the past. There's plenty-enough going on now to keep
me busy. That part of my life is very special to me. There's a
special.. something.. about-
DeHOND: It's like your first girl.
SIMMONDS: It is. And I did make some money at it. It wasn't you know,
like I was starving to death, but very nearly. I'd save the tartar on
my teeth for Wednesday afternoon when things got tough, sure. I know
what it was like.
[ MUSIC CLIP:
MARTINEZ: I think SAY's listening audience wanted exactly what they
were getting. They couldn't get it any place else- not with the
continuity.. not with the desire to find new music that fit along
those parameters. And that's what kept them there loyally.
[ MUSIC CLIP: Tommy Bolin- "Teaser" ]
And, Kevin DeHond-
DeHOND: It was like a…
SIMMONDS: Cult following.
DeHOND: Yeah, a sub-culture. As much like Greatful Deadheads, as much
as yuppies and hippies and what ever you want to call them. There was
like an SAY cult.. you know, hanging out at the beach, with their cars
and windows down, listening to AM radio and turning it up loud and just
having a good time.
SIMMONDS: Part of a lot of people's growing up process was SAY.
[ MUSIC CLIP: The Good Rats- "Songwriter" lyrics:
The songwriter can make you laugh or cry
He's pumping gas at night just to survive
And all he asks of you is sing his songs
And put his name in lights where it belongs
Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370
[ MUSIC CLIP: The Good Rats- "Songwriter" lyrics:
They won't play my music, so I'm never coming back ]