Memories of WBRU
in the 1960s
I joined WBRU at the end of my freshman year. What happened was, as a math major interested in rock music, I had always followed the top 40 charts closely. Even then, I had a passionate commitment to accuracy in numerical matters. In high school, I once called up a local station to complain when a song they had ranked as #1 for 3 weeks failed to place anywhere in their top 100 for the year.
I forget the details, but I came up to the WBRU studios on the top (third) floor of Faunce with an idea and some notes for a chart-related show, something I fully intended to hand off. (I walked past the second floor offices of the Brown Daily Herald, where I had spent my freshman year working on the business side, an experience that I never found particularly rewarding.) So there I was with my hand-off idea, and the person I met was Jerry Hubeny, who could charm the feathers off a swan. He persuaded me to try out for the station, and from then on, I was hooked. Dave Pearce was the other person I best remember from those earliest days, because he was the one who first made the leap to big-time professional radio god.
My original motives followed me through my tenure at BRU. Paul Payton and I had pitched battles over the BRU top ten lists, peaking with Paul's decision to rank as #1 a beyond-obscure song called "Love Wasn't Real" by Granger Hunt and the Believers. When I gained control of the top ten, it ceased to be a list of ten songs best liked by the BRU deejays and became my best approximation of what today is a well-established college radio top 10. Since I had no direct information on what my campus colleagues really liked or listened to, apart from what everyone else in town was listening to, on WPRO and WICE, I made minor modifications from the national charts. This led to what was probably perceived as the Granger Hunt episode at my end of the spectrum, which was when I followed the national chart and made "Ballad of the Green Berets" by S/Sgt Barry Sadler #1 at WBRU.
In hindsight, I see there were several things going on. One was my feeling that a top 20 list ought to be just that. A playlist can reflect the jocks' preferences, but a top 20 list ought to reflect the listeners' preferences, and those tend to be fairly conventional. It didn't hurt that my own musical tastes in those Beatles/Stones/Motown/California days were locked right into the national pop tastes. Forty years later, I'd still rather songs like those than what is being played as popular now. But I've retained my interest in charts and math.
My senior year at Brown, I billed myself as the Incurable Virginia Ham and His Half-Baked Show (my home was in Arlington, VA). Every hour segment was another slice of the Virginia ham. Two records back to back were a Ham sandwich. At least my audience knew what they were getting.
I remember one evening one of the Brown dorms and one of the Pembroke dorms got into a dueling dedication fight on my show. I remember one of the former asking for "Tramp" (Carla Thomas?). Ah, good times.
After Brown, I went to U. of Pennsylvania and got my Ph.D. in a variant of mathematics called operations research – basically the mathematics of organizational decision making. A couple years out of grad school, I began working on applications of my skills in the realm of fire safety and the fire service. Last April, I completed 20 years at the National Fire Protection Association, where I'm the head of statistics and related research. I get to use the skills I was trained in and save people's lives and livelihoods, however indirectly.
And my BRU training has held me in good stead. One year, I was sent down to NYC to film Fire Prevention Week interviews and spots on the set of the Today show. I've done a large number of radio and on-camera interviews for my work. I've also been on television talking about my major hobby – which is collecting memorabilia from TV science fiction shows. And every time I'm in front of a mike, I do better because I had 3 years of BRU training and experience.
My peak experience at BRU was being co-anchor for our continuous election night coverage in 1966, the first time we had attempted that since getting the FM station. It was intoxicating.
Roll forward many years, and I'm watching William Shatner (remember, hobby is tracking TV science fiction shows) hosting a VH-1 series purporting to be a top 100 countdown of one-hit wonders. Watching that show, I knew they had gotten it seriously wrong. Since I had been collecting a library of Joel Whitburn's chart compilations from the Billboard charts – and it isn't a hit if it isn't a hit on Billboard – I went through and developed what the real top one-hit wonder list should be. I have attached a copy for your amusement. [RealOne-HitWonders.xls - click to open, right-click to download]
Basically, one-quarter of the VH-1 list were songs from acts that had more than one hit. Another quarter were songs that never charted that high and would never place in a top 500, let alone a top 100. About the only thing they got right was that Macarena was the overall #1.
My list goes back to 1954 (which VH1 didn't do; they basically went back to 1980 with a few notables from the 70s). It ends partway into 1999, though I checked that none of the recent one-hit wonders had had disqualifying hits since then. I've begun the work to update the list into 2001. But I've got a real life to attend to, as well.
My list lends itself to generational partitioning. Just pick the years for your target audience, and off you go. (Posted 2/15/05)