SINKING LOW: Few developments played such an integral part in championing the cause of rich musical diversity as did the tireless work done by the legendary visionaries who served at such pioneering Windsor/Detroit AM radio stations as WKNR Keener 13, CKLW The Big 8, WXYZ 1270 and WJBK 1500, as evidenced by the above WKNR Music Guide from 21 April 1965. However, in a recent PSA, one aspiring area AM outlet dared to suggest that it was an earlier incarnation of their own outlet which championed such developments, to the exclusion of the aforementioned quartet of broadcast giants. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell takes that station to task in the Editorial below, which features first hand observations from beloved alumni of WKNR and CKLW(Click on above image to enlarge).

By Michael McDowell

Fake news.

It is a term that has permeated the collective consciousness of the United States in recent months. It has primarily been used to direct attention to reports generated by the mainstream media, in which developments presented as hard news have been called into question for a lack of factual evidence. 

Overwhelmingly, the term has been applied to the political arena, which remains outside of the scope of Blitz Magazine's coverage. But in recent weeks, its usage has hit a little too close to home.

From the onset, the primary inspiration behind the mission statement at Blitz Magazine has been the groundbreaking work done between October 1963 and April 1972 by the legendary Dearborn, Michigan - based AM radio station, WKNR Keener 13. By definition, that inspiration also includes the remarkable accomplishments of such like minded counterparts as WJBK-AM (the area's key radio outlet from the late 1950s into the early 1960s), CKLW-AM (also known as The Big Eight, the station that succeeded WKNR in front runner status in the 1970s) and WXYZ-AM (which did much to pioneer the collaborative between broadcast and live performance with its regular presentations at the fabled Walled Lake Casino).

Long time WKNR afternoon drive mainstay and resident visionary Bob Green once referred to the station's highly influential format as "intelligent flexibility". That is, a basic template in which its various participants (also known as the Keener Key Men Of Music) were given artistic license in terms of presentation within that template in order to highlight the attributes of creativity and heart.

In the case of not only WKNR, but CKLW, WXYZ and WJBK, the basic foundation included without exception a richly diverse musical body of work. As evidenced in abundance through each station's weekly music surveys and the countless hours of surviving air checks, all four stations consistently championed a healthy variety of musical genres; an attribute rarely seen in the increasingly narrow focus found in present day mainstream musical outlets.

To wit, a random check of weekly surveys from each station more than underscores the point:

WKNR, 17 March 1965: Rock and roll (Herman's Hermits, Elvis Presley, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Sandie Shaw, the Animals, the Kingsmen), country (Roger Miller), easy listening (Vic Dana, Bert Kaempfert, Ronnie Dove), rhythm and blues (Major Lance, Dionne Warwick, the Ikettes, Shirley Ellis, Brenda Holloway, Maxine Brown, Tony Clarke, Marvin Gaye, Major Lance, Junior Walker And The All Stars), jazz (Sounds Orchestral). 

WXYZ, 05 September 1966: First generation garage rock (the Monkees, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Richard And The Young Lions, Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Count Five), folk/social commentary (the Abbey Tavern Singers), country (Sandy Posey), jazz (the Dynatones), rhythm and blues (Verdelle Smith, Jimmy Ruffin, Roscoe Robinson, the Four Tops, Lou Rawls, Alvin Cash and the Registers, Marvin Gaye). 

WJBK, 09 December 1957: Rock and roll (Danny and the Juniors, Margie Rayburn, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Crickets, Chuck Berry, Bill Justis, Terry Noland), easy listening (the McGuire Sisters, George Hamilton IV, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Billy Vaughn, the Four Lads, the Gaylords, Ron Goodwin), country (Jimmy Dean), jazz (the Johnny Pate Quintet), rhythm and blues (Roy Hamilton, Lee Andrews and the Hearts, Johnny Nash, Sam Cooke, the Hollywood Flames, Billy Scott).

CKLW, 02 April 1968: Rock and roll (the Beatles, the Tremeloes, the Box Tops, Elvis Presley, the Troggs), easy listening (Bobby Goldsboro, Hugo Montenegro), rhythm and blues (Darrow Fletcher, the Bandwagon, Arthur Conley, the Hesitations, the Supremes, the Intruders, Aretha Franklin, the Parliaments, Edwin Starr, O.C. Smith, the Sweet Inspirations, James Brown).

Given the overwhelming evidence at hand, it was most disconcerting to witness a disturbing development within the present day mainstream media. 

In late November, an up and coming area AM radio outlet aired an in house PSA (Public Service Announcement), which purported to give an overview of both the station's history, as well as their vision for the future. All well and good.

But in recalling the station's history, reference was made to their activities at the time when the aforementioned four stations were making their greatest impact. In the process, the PSA narrator suggested that his own station took decisive action to implement a specific format in the market which would focus upon musical diversity. The PSA announcer then specifically mentioned WKNR, CKLW and WXYZ by their call letters as the stations which prompted their actions.

Interestingly enough, the format which that station implemented at the time focused almost exclusively on one genre of music, in direct contrast to the rich variety of musical styles found on the three stations in question, as well as WJBK. All of which makes their unprovoked attack on those legendary stations and their enormously influential and immensely respected on air veterans both a malfeasance of logic and a blatant falsehood.

The world of psychology refers to such actions as "projecting", in which one finds their own perceived shortcomings in others, as so to venerate themselves. At best, the current station's actions are a poorly researched example of revisionist history. In either case, it is a development that does not sit well with either the surviving on air veterans, nor their legions of devotees.

"I am truly insulted by such an accusation", said Jerry Goodwin, who hosted the afternoon slot on WKNR Keener 13 from 1964 to 1968.

"The various music guides should prove your point".

In addition to those weekly WKNR Music Guides, the station released (in tandem with Art Laboe's Original Sound label) four vinyl compilation albums between 1964 and 1967, collectively known as Keenergold. The albums featured classic singles by a rich variety of artists from Jewel Akens, Billy Stewart, the Ad Libs and Jerry Butler to J. Frank Wilson, B.J. Thomas, Dion DiMucci and Ritchie Valens.

CKLW followed suit in 1970-1971 with two double vinyl LPs on the Post label, CKLW Solid Gold. Those best selling collections spotlighted the work of everyone from the Crests, Bob Seger and the Last Heard and Shelley Fabares to Funkadelic, the Dells and Robert Knight. 

As such, key veterans of CKLW (The Big 8) echoed Goodwin's sentiments.

"If they have two hundred listeners, I'd be surprised", said CKLW alumnus Charlie O'Brien, who recently wrapped up nearly a half century in radio with a most productive tenure at affiliate Windsor, Ontario station CKWW 580 AM.

"But you only need to convince your core, and it's true for them".

Indeed, the parallels to the concept of "fake news" in the mainstream media are most disconcerting. Nonetheless, a few of Goodwin and O'Brien's colleagues have a slightly different perspective on the situation. 

"The perception has a lot to do with context", said Bob Green, mastermind of WKNR's "intelligent flexibility" and principal visionary behind the station's mission statement, who also served for a season at WKNR's predecessor, WKMH.

"The Singing Nun was on the list next to Aretha Franklin. Decisions on airplay could be made as simple as, 'We don't play that Mel Tillis country hit. We're top forty".

Nonetheless, WKNR DID play that Roger Miller hit. And that Jody Miller hit. And that Ned Miller hit. Not to mention select releases by Jimmy Dickens, Eddy Arnold, Tammy Wynette and Henson Cargill. And each one was more than welcome along the newest releases by artists ranging from Mongo Santamaria and the Rag Dolls to Lucille Starr and Tony and Tyrone. 

"I will stand with you as long as the period they are referring to is post 1964, and even more so after 1967", said CKLW legend Tom Shannon, whose extensive extracurricular work as a composer and producer includes successful releases by the Buena Vistas (Soul Clappin') and the Rockin' Rebels (Wild Weekend).

"Let's hope they change their message".

To date, the station in question has not responded to a written inquiry on the issue from Blitz Magazine. In keeping with Shannon's observations, it is interesting to note that the developments cited in the aforementioned PSA allegedly transpired in the late 1950s, at which time CKLW's format was MOR, and WKNR did not yet exist. Nonetheless, WXYZ and WJBK championed the cause of genre diversity handsomely in that most crucial of musical eras. 

"I was a kid in Pennsylvania in 1956, so I don't know the specifics of Detroit radio then", noted CKLW alumnus Bill Gable.

"I do recall that around 1957, teenage neighbors had Fats Domino and Chuck Berry records. I'm guessing they heard them on Philly Top Forty radio. 

"While working in the Washington D.C. market, I used to love listening to WOOK, one of the city's soul stations. One night, I heard the DJ play two Brenda Lee (singles), Break It To Me Gently and I'm Sorry. He raved about her soulful sound.

"A few years later, Donnie Simpson began playing Elton John's Benny And The Jets on (long time Detroit rhythm and blues powerhouse) WJLB, prior to he himself going to Washington. That resulted in CKLW airplay with (Music Director) Rosalie Trombley convincing Elton to release the cut as a single. Donnie and the other jock in D.C. are good examples of inclusion, rather than division".

Indeed, inclusion has been the irrefutable byword of each of those station's mission statements from the onset, as well as that of their still active alumni. To that effect, Gable's fellow CKLW alumnus Ric Allen has carved out for himself a most impressive post-radio legacy as an avid musicologist, record collector, historian and key news analyst at Mike Jackson's highly respected Michigan Music site. 

"They must think their listeners believe what they say", said Allen.

"The old timers in Detroit know better, or hopefully they do. I would say the new station has nothing to do with the old one, and that includes owners, announcers, etc. The listeners and the artists all knew who played the records. (The current announcer) wants to stir up trouble, and has never researched the stations in their heydays".

Perhaps Jim Beasley, who survived the transition from WKMH to WKNR in October 1963 and remained with WKNR into 1964 as Jim Sanders, best summarized the situation.

"You are right on the money", he said.

"In the earliest days of Keener, we were playing (rhythm and blues records) like Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog. I remember pop music stations played and broke (that genre of music) often, including Little Willie John's Fever, and the late, great Johnny Ace.

"I am not offended by this promotional ploy, because it is a common one. I think the message is to be that mass appeal stations did not play (one specific genre) exclusively. There might be an issue of getting new or local artists played. If they were part of the marketing and distribution system, they got exposure to the programmers who made decisions about playlists. Kids like me enjoyed (WJLB's) Frantic Ernie Durham.....to be in touch with what is going on more academically, rather than hip quotient. 

"I specifically remember that one of the unique factors suggested by Mike Joseph's weeks of phone research into Detroit was that the new station (WKNR) would be more aggressive about seeking (rhythm and blues) records because of what the demographic said about their musical tastes. 

"I am thankful for people like you who care about the truth".

In turn, in this era of fake news, in which truth appears to be a rare commodity, it is indeed both gratifying and inspirational to know that the existing evidence overwhelmingly and irrefutably supports, vindicates and exalts those pioneers who used the medium of radio to change the course of musical culture for the better. It would be even more encouraging to see their still active counterparts do so without speaking disparagingly and falsely of those who have been in their corner from the onset.