Julian Breen remembers.....
Since the establishment of the Musicradio WABC Web Site we have been lucky enough to hear from some of the people who actually worked at WABC both on and off the air during its heyday as a Top 40 Music radio station. This has truly made this web page a "labor of love" for me!
One such person is Julian Breen who was Assistant Program Director at WABC. After leaving WABC, Julian went on to program KYA San Francisco and then originated the "Back Seat Music" Oldies format at WPEN Philadelphia in March 1975. The following summer he created the "Magic" format at WMGK (formerly WPEN-FM) which was copied by radio stations all over the country.
Congratulations on the WABC Musicradio site. You've really got the story straighter than I've seen anywhere else-- straighter even than many of the participants remember it. I've enjoyed the site from time to time and will again in the future. It is obviously a labor of love.
Compared with Rick, some of the talent, and especially some of the techs, my years as Assistant PD at WABC were relatively few-- from early 1968 to the summer of 1971. It was a very exciting time.
I had worked in radio in Atlantic City as a high school kid and worked in the New York suburbs after college, so WABC was my first major market job. It was a more than a thrill to go through the doors at 1330 6th Avenue every day.
In those days there was a barber shop on the third floor of the building. Rumor was Leonard Goldenson, the head of the company, liked the barber. A few weeks after I started work at WABC I went down to the barbershop for a haircut. The barber, making conversation, asked me who I was. He hadn't seen me in the shop before. When I told him I had come from a little radio station in the suburbs, he leaned over and said to me, "Well, you know, this IS the big time."
There are so many stories about the WABC of that era and some of them probably should not be told until after we're all dead. There were a number of gigantic egos in the place. Sometimes they clashed in occasionally funny, but most often vexing ways. There were also adventures of various kinds in a time when many swordsmen felt sexual harassment less a crime and more a duty.
And there was also a lot of fun among a group of people who knew they were at the very top of their game. Rick (Sklar), of course, was an accomplished practical joker. One day when we were coming back into 1330 after lunch, he pointed to two flags which flew outside the entrance-- the American flag and an ABC corporate flag. He told me solemnly that you could always tell how the ABC stock was doing by looking at the corporate flag. If the flag was at full staff, the stock had gone up. The flag at half staff meant the stock had gone down. If the flag disappeared, we were all in trouble. In my naivete, I actually believed the flag story for several years.
I've thought a lot about the effect WABC had on a whole generation, literally millions and millions of people. Some of that had to do with the fact that there were only six or seven radio stations in New York which covered the whole market. FM was not a factor until much later. In 1970 AM radio commanded a 70% share of audience while FM was less than 30%.
High power AM stations like WABC had tremendous reach, far beyond the immediate NY metropolitan area. I remember walking down the boardwalk in Atlantic City in the summer of 1968, never missing the WABC Chime at the end of every other song. The station was pouring out of transistor radios people were carrying even as far away as 120 miles from New York.
Another factor which generated such huge ratings for WABC was the nature of the dominant radio measurement methodology of the period. It was called The Pulse. Through personal interviews, Pulse claimed to measure everyone from the age of two on up. Welcome to the baby boom-- a huge number of children 2-11 among whom WABC had 90%+ shares.
The measurement of children coupled with the enormous geographical reach of a 50,000 watt AM station playing the hits without much competition delivered audiences of astonishing size. In one Pulse book WABC's total circulation throughout its entire coverage area was estimated just short of eight million people every week. That's a record which will never again be reached in North America because the conditions which made it possible no longer exist.
Those of us who work in radio leave little behind to commemorate what we do. It all goes out into the ether and, absent the occasional aircheck, lives on only in the minds of the people who listened. WABC stopped playing music almost 15 years ago and its real glory days were at least ten years before that. So, thecontinuing interest in WABC's Musicradio days is very gratifying to me. I'm sure Rick would feel the same way.
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