Radio People: A Series Just for You Called “The State of the Disc Jockey”

Its is part one of a five-parter that will be published in RadioInfo this week.  

Part 1:  Personality Radio is “Dying”- But Still Gets Solid Ratings

NEW YORK — There was a time when people in the 1950s and 1960s would huddle next to their radio and listen to WJW-AM in Cleveland or WINS-AM in New York City to hear Albert James Freed, or Brooklyn’s Robert Weston Smith in the 60s and 70s who spun records on the “Mighty 1090” XERB-FM broadcasting throughout Southern California and “66 WNBC” in New York, or Kemal Amin Kasem, who got his start on the Armed Forces Korea Radio Network and became famous for launching his national “American Top 40.” They were the epitome of the word “Disc Jockey,” not only spinning vinyl records on a turntable, but having a loyal following and was what every person who ever wanted to stand behind a microphone and play music wanted to be.



Alan Freed, Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem were larger than life on the radio, and blazed a trail when AM radio was the home of top 40 music, to the FM dial where music migrated in the 1970s, and later on satellite for Sirius and their competitor, XM Satellite Radio, and in 2012 on the web through Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio or from someone’s basement on internet radio. Freed, Wolfman and Kasem, along with other voices like those of “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, Robert W. Morgan, Johnny Holliday, “Dr. Don” Rose and so many others who were the “Boss Jocks” of their day would become the role models for the next generation of disc jockeys who gained fame, such as John “Records” Landecker, “Shotgun” Tom Kelly and others who learned from the “masters” of their trade, and in their own way became legends of their craft.

Ask any long-time disc jockey now, and most will tell you that the radio landscape has changed, and unfortunately, not for the better. Technology, deregulation of ownership rules and especially the new corporate nature of radio using syndication, downsizing and voice tracking has removed many opportunities for local legends to be made, virtually wiping out what was known as the “farm system,” local radio in small markets. However, there are still some disc jockeys left making their name doing exactly what their idols did before they took their place behind a microphone – and still going relatively strong.

There are some radio stations where you know the music, but as a listener you wouldn’t know or wouldn’t even care if the disc jockey who normally does middays is on the air or on vacation. When it comes to oldies music, many of the personalities you hear were former top 40 DJs who spun records with names you grew up with, and most likely idolized.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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