Thursday, October 27, 2016

Video Made These Radio Stars

The year was 1983. MTV was broadcasting music-videos into the bedrooms of virtually every teenager across America. And the Greg Kihn Band was riding high on the pop-charts (and receiving steady video airplay) with its biggest hit, Jeopardy.

          Flash forward thirteen years and Greg Kihn found himself riding a whole new wave of popularity – as the host of the # 1 rated FM radio morning show in the San Francisco Bay Area. A pop-star turned radio star, Kihn served as the wake-up voice across northern California for nearly two decades. A stark contradiction to the declaration made by the Buggles in their 1980 landmark hit, Video Killed The Radio Star.

In my novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation, there’s a scene in which our protagonist, Johnny Elias, is visited at home by an iconic (fictional) radio personality, Larry Jacobs. Johnny, once a burgeoning pop star, is now living in suburbia and self-imposed obscurity after a major tumble from grace. Initially, Johnny suspects that Larry Jacobs is attempting to recruit him as a DJ on (the fictional) WNYR classic rock station. Mr. Jacobs clarifies his true reason for visiting, but also cites a handful of former popstars who went on to enjoy successful careers as radio personalities. The list is quite fascinating.
Greg Kihn as a radio host
Greg Kihn and his band were hardly a one-hit-wonder. After a decade of releasing mildly successful albums in the 1970s, the band broke through in 1981 with their first top-20 hit, The Breakup Song. Jeopardy would hit # 2 on the singles chart, and was later famously spoofed by Weird Al Yankovic. But by 1987, musical success had dried up and the band went their separate ways. Following a pair of largely–ignored solo albums, Kihn got a tryout as a late-night DJ in San Jose. A year later, he was offered the morning show, which he successfully hosted until 2012.

Dee Snider was the flamboyant front-man of the 80s hard rock group, Twisted Sister. His band peaked in 1984 with their album, Stay Hungry, featuring the hit songs: We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock. When Twisted Sister’s cycle of popularity ran its course, Snider moved behind the radio mic. In 1997, he began hosting a nationally syndicated heavy metal program aptly named House Of Hair. In 1999, Snider became the popular morning man in Hartford, CT on radio 104 FM – a position he would hold through 2003. After stints in a variety of reality TV shows, Snider again returned to radio, hosting a show on Sirius satellite radio.

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman are best known to music fans as Flo and Eddie. From 1964 – 1970, the duo performed as the classic rock group, The Turtles. The band scored a series of top-ten hits throughout the decade including the #1 smash, Happy Together. In 1970, Flo and Eddie joined up with Frank Zappa’s band, Mothers Of Invention. By the early 1980s, the duo set their sights on broadcasting. A tryout at a Los Angeles FM station (KROQ) led to a weekly show on Sunday nights, and eventually an afternoon show on KMET. Their program consisted of a blend of interviews with rock stars, comedy bits, and snippets of classic rock songs. From 1989 – 91, Flo and Eddie moved to NY, where they hosted the afternoon drive program on 92.3 FM, K-Rock. Eventually, they got back to live concert performances and left the radio business behind.

Mickey Dolenz rocketed to fame as the lead singer and drummer for The Monkees, a TV sitcom band who evolved into a much celebrated rock group. His lead vocals can be heard on the hit songs: I’m A Believer and Last Train To Clarksville. Dolenz continued to act on TV and in films after the Monkees break-up. He also performed on a variety of Monkees reunion tours throughout the decades. In 2005, Dolenz was handed the reigns of the morning show on WCBS-FM, New York’s legendary oldies station. Much fanfare was generated for the new program, which garnered strong ratings in its first three months. But on the very day that he celebrated his 100th show, Dolenz learned that CBS was scrapping their oldies format for all-music programming with no DJs (JACK-FM). Dolenz was unceremoniously dumped, along with all of the on-air talent at the station.  He would soon return to the concert stage, but never again to radio.

Country music fans across America have been in love with Kix Brooks since 1991. That was the year that he and Ronnie Dunn teamed up as Brooks & Dunn, the most successful duo in the history of country music. Brooks provides lead vocals on the #1 smash, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, one of twenty Country chart-toppers for the duo. In 2006, Brooks became the nationally syndicated radio host for America’s Country Countdown – a weekly Top-30 program. He took over for Bob Kingsley, the show’s longtime popular host. In a style similar to Casey Kasem’s American Top-40 program, Brooks introduces the bestselling country songs of each week, reads listener requests, and shares stories about the artists in each 4-hour program. It is currently heard on 103 FM stations across America.
The advent of radio subscription services (Such as Sirius and XM) have turned other mega music stars into occasional DJs. Artists such as Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett and even Bob Dylan have recorded a handful of pre-recorded studio banter on their artist-branded stations. It’s not quite the regular gig as cited in the examples above. However, the concept of popular recording artists transitioning to radio hosts is a trend we are most likely to see continue long into the future. An opportunity for heritage artists to keep in touch with their legions of fans, while also providing a deeper glimpse into their off-stage personalities.
Suffice to say, video did not kill the radio star. But in some cases, it may have enabled a few.

Poet Of The Wrong Generation by Lonnie Ostrow is now available for pre-sale in paperback and eBook format. It will be published on November 10th. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece! If memory serves, I had a near miss seeing Dee Snider back in Yonkers before he got famous when Twisted Sister was playing at the Rising Sun. Who'd have guessed where he'd end up?