Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Hot Hits 98" WCAU-FM Philadelphia

As I said in my post earlier this week regarding the Forgotten Film FM, I've been thinking a lot lately about radio, a medium I've always loved. The one station that is likely most responsible for that love is the late WCAU 98.1 FM and their "Hot Hits" format of the '80s.

This format was a form of Top 40 that focuses on high energy presentation, as little talk from the DJs as possible, avoidance of even the slightest moment of dead air, and heavy rotation of the biggest hit songs. In regards to DJ talk, it wasn't that the DJs shouldn't talk at all, but that the talk be concise, to the point, and to serve in the transition of programming, and WCAU-FM's DJs did that excellently.

This format was created by a consultant named Mike Joseph, who had also been instrumental in creating the Top 40 formats of legendary stations WABC-AM in New York and WFIL-AM in Philadelphia, among others. Joseph had refined his format into what he would term "Hot Hits," and the format debuted in 1977 in Hartford, Connecticut to ratings success.

In April 1981, Joseph met with the management of WCAU-FM in Philly to help the station and its struggling disco/dance format (disco being pretty much dead by 1981).  After a few months of testing and tooling behind the scenes, the Hot Hits format made its debut in September 1981.

It was an instant success.

The music, the jingles, and most importanly, the DJs, all hand-picked by Joseph, worked together to create a station that was energetic, fresh, and very very 80s. The best way to explain all this is through the sound of the station itself, and thanks to recent YouTube posters and aircheck collectors, I can do this for you now.

Here is early midday jock Rich Hawkins a mere day or two into the new format.

The most popular DJ at the station, and my favorite DJ of all time, was Terry Young, the "Motormouth." He was funny, strange, fast, and very popular, especially with younger listeners. Here he is in November 1981 during his 7 to midnight shift.

Here is a composite of several DJs and dayparts from February 1982.

Here is a whopping 16 minutes of 98's first major morning man and "shock jock" Barsky in February of 1983. He would be fired in 1985 but return to Philly in the '90s at several Philly stations for many years afterwards.

You can hear the station undergo changes here and there as the 80s progressed, especially in jingles. Here is Jefferson Ward from July of 1985.

As other stations started to erose ratings from the station here and there over the years, and with station owner CBS high on the oldies format that was very successful on their New York City station, WCAU's days as a Top 40 station were numbered. Here is the station from October 28, 1987, days before it would flip to the oldies format.

Two bits of irony about the station's flip to oldies: the station had been an oldies station through much of the 1970s already, and as the station today has included a good deal of 80s songs into their current classic hits format, they're starting to sound more like they did in the 80s.



FilmFather said...

I discovered WCAU in '81 when I was 12 and loved the format. The Top 40 over and over with almost no interruptions -- how cool! I used WCAU as my first foray into taping songs off the radio. I distinctly remember recording "Start Me Up," "Kids in America," "Don't Stop Believing," and lost one-hit wonders like Chilliwack's "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" and Diesel's "Sausalito Summernight." Thanks for the memories -- both to you, Brian, and WCAU!

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Phillyradiogeek said...

You're the first person I've heard acknowledge the existence of "My Girl" and Chilliwack besides myself :)

There's a Web site for the main guitarist of that group, with the best URL ever:!

Todd Mason said...

And somehow this reminds me of how the Old WCAU (soon to become WTOP), the CBS O&O in DC recorded a whole broadcast day back at the turn of the '40s...occasionally played over 24 episodes of THE BIG BROADCAST on WAMU in DC in the '80s and '90s...

Ellis B Feaster said...

WCAU-FM was an awesome station. It did a great job of being the soundtrack of a great era in the early to mid 80s. When I recorded the Barsky aircheck, above, I knew this time would not last forever, so I was trying to save as much CAU-FM as I could. I recorded about 20 hours, but I wish I had recorded more!

neidermeyer said...

As I remember it, the format was fading as hip hop and Power 99 were rising, and males like me were embracing more metal on WYSP as we got closer to adulthood. In the last days of WCAU, I distinctly remember Terry playing extended dance mixes and as much Duran Duran as he wanted.


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