Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock Radio--A Memoir
by John Gorman | Tom Feran
- Softcover, 289 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- ISBN: 978-1-59851-051-5
John Gorman describes in exclusive, behind-the-scenes detail the state of rock 'n' roll from the early '70s to the late '80s, when just about anything happened and everyone looked the other way . . . This is essential reading for musicians, entertainment industry leaders, and music fans alike. Mike Shea, CEO/Co-Founder, Alternative Press magazine
This rock and roll radio memoir takes you behind the scenes at the nation's hottest station during FM's heyday, from 1973 to 1986. Sex and drugs, music and merchandising—it was a wild time when the FM airwaves were wide open for creativity and innovation.
John Gorman led a small band of true believers who built Cleveland's WMMS from a neglected stepchild into an influential powerhouse. The station earned high praise from musicians and even higher ratings from listeners.
Gorman tells how WMMS remade rock radio while Cleveland staked its claim as the “Rock and Roll Capital” by breaking major international music acts.
Filled with juicy insider details, this fast-paced story will entertain anyone who listened in during those glory days when FM delivered excitement and the Buzzard ruled the airwaves.
Illustrations: 37 black-and-white photographs
John Gorman's memories and behind-the-scenes accounts are the next best thing to having the WMMS of the late-1970s to mid-1980s still on the air. This entertaining and amusing read will be appreciated by avid listeners of “The Buzzard” during its heyday and anyone interested in Cleveland's music history. Cleveland Magazine
Written in an easy manner, parading zany, wonderful stories in a coherent, wildly entertaining style . . . If only radio today was as energized as this lot. Goldmine Magazine
Gorman's memoir isn't just about a radio station in Cleveland; it's about the precarious place of rock radio in American culture . . . His love for the station he helped to create is apparent on every page. In fact, Gorman's tale is so engaging that it's hard not to become a fan of WMMS even for those of us who never had the chance to tune in. Small Press Reviews
A nostalgic, narcotic ride through the history of a station that broke some of music's top groups while leaving local competitors in the dust. Currents
A time capsule of an era when FM rock stations were emerging from the underground and becoming big business. Northeast Radio Watch
More than just the story of that neglected stepchild-of-a-radio station and its powerhouse rise, it is a period piece. It is a time capsule of a bygone era. It shows the disparate Cleveland of yesterday and its rise in rock prominence and the floundering beginnings of FM radio (which is a story all the more poignant as the format continues to decline with the advent of satellite radio) and tells how they both grew and worked together to change the face of rock 'n' roll. Erie Life Magazine
About John Gorman
John Gorman began his broadcasting career in Boston and in 1973 moved to Cleveland to join WMMS, a small, free-form FM station then under new ownership. Over the next thirteen years he helped turn WMMS into one of the most popular and influential rock stations in the country, serving as music director and program director, and eventually operations manager of WMMS and WHK. He helped start 98.5 WNCX in Cleveland and has worked with stations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, and other markets. Gorman received the Radio Consultant of the Year award at the 1985 annual Pop Music Convention and was named Operations Director of the Year in 1995 by Billboard magazine. He was inducted into the Ohio Radio-TV Hall of Fame in 2000 and received an Award for Excellence in Broadcasting from the Cleveland Association of Broadcasters in 2008. He lives in Bay Village, Ohio. More About John Gorman
Question & Answer with the author...
Q: What attracted you to a career in broadcasting?
A: I think I was born next to a radio. In fact, I do know there was a radio transmitter right next door to the hospital I was born in. Radio was always a part of my life. My father was an absolute Red Sox fanatic, so he always had a radio with him to catch the game. I always liked listening to the radio. When Top 40 formats started playing a steady dose of rock and roll—Elvis, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper—that's when I really became attracted to radio.
Q: Why write this book now?
A: I've heard so many urban legends about WMMS and the people on the station that it was time to really address them and set them straight. I was very fortunate in the fact that my programming assistant Rhonda Kiefer kept meticulous records. So, I had the entire history of 'MMS right in front of me.
Q: What made WMMS so different from the other stations of its era?
A: I think it has to do with the fact that we had a championship team. It was a creative environment, and when you have a creative environment you are going to attract creative people. You hear a lot today about Google and other new tech companies that have a very creative atmosphere, the opposite of a suit and tie environment. That's what MMS was. When you walked in to the station at WMMS it was nothing like any other station on earth. People were having fun. Any office you walked into, there was an incredible amount of activity and passion in what everyone was doing.
Q: What kind of promotional or marketing tactics did you use that may have been unique for the time?
A: Having the buzzard logo really helped us. It gave us an icon to represent what the radio station was. We started printing a lot of bumper stickers, and people started putting them on their cars and then cutting the buzzard out and doing all kinds of creative things with those bumper stickers. There was a period back in the early '70s and right into the middle '80s where you couldn't go anywhere without seeing a WMMS sticker on a car or the side of a building or wherever.
Q: What drew audiences to WMMS?
A: We were loyal to them. We gave listeners the radio station they wanted to hear. It wasn't a typical rock station, it wasn't a typed play list, it wasn't what most radio stations are, which is reading liner cards—“The sky is blue, the sea is green, it's 12:13.” We had very strong personalities, each one sounded unique in their own way, which was what WMMS was about.
Q: How has radio changed since the WMMS days?
A: In my 'MMS days, in what I would call the Glory Days, we had a lot of competition. Companies could own only one AM and one FM per market, and they were also limited in the number of stations they could own across the country. It was great competition, and the real winners were the listeners because everyone was battling for a piece of the pie. Also, if someone didn't like working at a radio station they could cross the street and go to work for another station. Since deregulation in the Cleveland market you have four or five companies that own nearly every radio station in the market. In the old days when you had so much competition it was a rising tide with small ships. Now they're all sinking.
Q: Does the book include any new facts or information about WMMS—stories that have never been told before or are not generally known?
A: Quite a bit. There are some stories that have never been told before. I think this book lets you get to know the inner workings of WMMS and what was going on behind the scenes. One story no one really knew about was Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys having a nervous breakdown at the station. That was a very unique story that was really kept out of the news for so many years, close to thirty years. I'll never say that was my favorite moment. It was actually one of the worst moments I experienced, but it was memorable.
Q: Could radio ever return to the old days of WMMS?
A: Radio has lost over 35% of its audience in the past ten years, that's significant. In the past ten or eleven months it lost another four million people. There are significant drops in radio listening, and people who do listen to terrestrial radio are listening less and listening fewer hours and are listening less often, and there isn't any favorite radio station anymore. When you look at the rating of terrestrial stations today there isn't that much difference between the #1 station and the #10 station anymore.
About Tom Feran
Tom Feran has been a writer and editor for The Plain Dealer since 1982. He was named Best Columnist in Ohio in 2007 by the Society of Professional Journalists, and is former president of the Television Critics Association of North America. His work has appeared in publications including Ohio Magazin, Cleveland Magazine, and DirecTV Magazine, and he has been a regular pseudonymous contributor to the tabloid Weekly World News. He is a graduate of Harvard College, where he was president and editor of the Lampoon, and of Cleveland St. Ignatius High School. More About Tom Feran