Rock Radio in New York City in the 1960s

11/16/2010 05:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I grew up with parents who absolutely forbade TV, any TV, Monday through Thursday.

My Dad was a newspaper editor, my Mom was/is an artist. They decreed, "TV is garbage that rots your brain and ruins your schoolwork. Therefore, you can only watch it on weekends!" Yep, way back in the 1960s, they were that ahead of the curve. Of course, that meant I gorged myself from about 7 p.m. Fridays through about 9 or 10 p.m. Sunday night. 

When it came to weeknights, I had to suffer hearing about all kinds of cool shows from my friends at school that I rarely if ever saw for years. But, in early 1965, due to a small household accident, I got amazingly lucky.

Someone, and I don't think it was me, broke the built-in aerial off of our one TV, a 19-inch black and white Zenith, and, from that point on, for some reason, my bedroom was the only room in the whole house where we could still get decent reception. And, I had the 3rd floor to myself.

The TV being parked in my bedroom on the top floor allowed me to sneak Hullabaloo on Monday nights and Shindig on Wednesday nights. I'd watch 'em both at low volume sitting about two feet from the screen, ever ready to go "camo."

See, I'd figured out that if and when my Mom suddenly started up the stairs shouting,
"Do you have that TV on?", I could quickly turn the contrast knob all the way up and the volume all the way down and the TV would instantly look and sound like it was off. I'd grab the book I had next to me, within easy reach for just such an emergency. She'd burst into my room, I'd look up from my "reading", say, "Huh?", and she'd mutter and leave. Then, I'd go back to watching rock stars. She never once figured it out.

The classic night of them all as far as this sneaking-TV naughtiness of mine was concerned was when Shindig showed a clip of The Who at an outdoor show (I believe it was The Richmond Jazz Festival on August 6, 1965. You can see the exact same footage in the recent Who DVD, Amazing Journey) and the song they'd been playing devolved into just crazy drum bedlam and noise. 

Now, a one sentence digression, I had already been playing guitar for over a year and, for me, the single most coveted inanimate object on planet Earth was the Rickenbacker 12-string that George Harrison was using in Hard Day's Night. Hands down, okay!

Anyway, while this manic freak of a sweat-soaked drummer in The Who was just thrashing away in a way I'd never witnessed before, nothing like Ringo or Charlie, and while the singer was bashing the cymbals with his mic, the bassist was tuning onstage, and with his back to the audience (something that seemed almost sacrilegious), the enormously nosed guitarist was openly messing around with the knobs on the biggest amp I'd ever seen, making an ungodly noise, and then, he started banging his guitar against his amplifiers. Yes, oh my God, he had more than one of those taller-than-me amps... and the guitar he was abusing was... a Rickenbacker 12-string!

Then, this Who guitarist suddenly took this guitar-of-the-gods off and threw it over the amps, walked offstage, came back with another Rickenbacker, plugged it in, and they finished the song. I had now completely lost my mind. I had the TV's volume just jacked! 

Suddenly, my mom was yelling at me from downstairs and she was pissed, and for the first time in my life, I yelled back, "Fuck you!"  Yes, The Who were responsible for my first "Fuck you!" to a parent. Yes, I got in big but totally-worth-it trouble. 

Anyway, to get to my main topic here, while television was utterly forbidden, I was allowed to listen to the radio 24/7, even while doing my homework.

And who did I listen to while doing my homework?

Well, my nightly choices were: Cousin Brucie on WABC, Murray The K on WINS, B. Mitchell Reed on WMCA. Look at that! A battle of absolute titans! My favorite was "Your Leader BMR" on WMCA. But, I loved Murray The K too. Truthfully, Brucie, I only sorta liked.

The stations were essentially a blend of the same content (hits were hits were hits) and yet remarkably different, with almost radically different personalities, and I mean the entire stations' presentations, not just the monster air talent.

But, regarding the jocks, not only were evenings incredible, the afternoon-drive's choices were; Dan Ingram's Flingram on WABC. Scott Muni ("Scotch Mucus" as we all called him because of his gravelly and slightly woozy delivery) on WINS. Dandy Dan Daniels on WMCA. Bona Fide Radio Legends all!

The whole flavor of these three stations, all mining the same turf, was starkly unique.

WABC was All American Sunshine (except perhaps when the twisted Ingram was on from 3 'til 7). A tight but good playlist. When it came to the hits, WABC just pounded them, some of them spun almost hourly.

WINS was Hip, Baby, Hip. Cool slick hipster jocks. Excellent music mix, easily better than ABC's.

But, WMCA was insane!
Wonderfully cluttered with tons of crazy sound effects and odd non-sequitur moments all day, WMCA was almost always the first to play new stuff, with the most variety, although you heard the hits as much as you did on WINS.

All three stations did what I now realize were constant test rotations with at least 5 songs a week, as in, probably 20 spins a week for two weeks. If they clicked, they were added to the play-list. No click... gone.

That band, The Who... I heard their first singles, "I Can't Explain", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "My Generation" on WMCA at least twice each. Never once on WABC or WINS.

But, the easiest and most fun way for me to best illustrate the compelling difference between the stations' presentations and personalities is what I like to call The Selling Stridex Gambit.

As follows:

 Cousin Brucie:  Yelling with a yodel and crack in his voice, smiling from ear to ear...

Oh, cousins, lemme tell ya... you got a zit, you've got NO problem... NONE!  Stridex Stridex Stridex Medicated Pads are here to save the day! Cousins, letting acne ruin even one date is just crazy. Ccccrrrrrrazzzy, guys and gals! Get yourself some Stridex pads... Now!  Mmmmmmmmm... It's your cousin talkin' to ya... Stridex Stridex Stridex Stridex! Cousins, I LOVE saying that word... Stridex Stridex Stridex! That's right, Stridex medicated pads work work work! Has your Cousin ever ever ever told you a fib ever ever ever? NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! I gotta tell ya, Your Cousin Brucie's in the mood for that brand new Beatles again on W A Beatle C, aren't you? Striiiiiiiiiidex!!

Into "Hard Day's Night."

Murray The K:  Super close-mic technique, almost whispering, slowly becoming a preacher...

Oh... oh... oh... Oh, man... he's finally... finally... asked you out. Yes, HIM! It's real, baby. This ain't a dream, bay bay. You're goin' to the big dance with HIM. And it's now just three nights before this big beautiful date... oh, baby, the breeze, it'll be blowing through your hair... You're what's happ'nin', bay bay, and... What? What, baby? You have a what? A zit is coming up on your chin? Oh, now, hush. Look, it's only a quarter to 8. I'll bet the drugstore two blocks down is still open. Here's what you're gonna do, you're gonna put on your coat, now listen to Murray, baby, you're gonna put on your coat and you're gonna go buy some Stridex Medicated Pads. Right now, baby! Yeah, okay, you're gonna miss a few songs, but, you'll be back to me in 10 minutes. And you know why you're gonna do this? Because... if you go get those Stridex Medicated Pads right now and start using them tonight, that little problem on your chin is gonna be a tiny insignificant mee-izz-emory, baby. You're gonna be watchin' those submarine races, baby! Has Mee-izz-urray the Kee-izz-ay EVER steered you wrong? Stridex, baby! Here's that Fab new Be-izz-eatles smash, just for you, be-izz-aby, while you're gettin' your coat outta the closet. Ahhh Bey Koouh Zowuhh Zowuhh!

Into "Hard Day's Night."

B. Mitchell Reed: Manically talking as fast as those speed-enhanced disclaimers nowadays, and at the top of his lungs, with bells ringing, foghorns blasting, breaking glass, in the background...

StridexMmmmmmmmedicatedPadsMANthesethingsaredeeeeeeeeeeLICIOUSwith somepeanutbutteronaRitzcracker! Oh...YYYYYYYYYYEEEEAH! Here'sthelatestJUNKfromTheBeaglesBeeflesBeachgirlsBeebopaloulaBeatles... [a disgruntled old black man's voice says "I oughta know... I'm Chinese, ain't I!"]

Into "Hard Day's Night."