Friday, December 16, 2011


By the turn of the century Syracuse's teen population had nearly tripled and the black population had doubled that of 1950. To meet the needs of these young people Syracuse now boosted four rock n' roll radio stations, as WJMK North Syracuse (owned by Jim McKechnie & others)  joined the roster. WJMK was a short lived spin-off owned and staffed by former employees of "1260  WNDR Radio" and was virtually indistinguishable from its parent on the air. The market became over saturated at this point and WFBL converted to middle-of-the-road programing, while daytimer WJMK changed to become the ever more conservative WSOQ.

This left WNDR and WOLF to battle it out and battle they did! The constant friction and competitiveness between the two station was fertile grounds for much entertaining listening as well as for the development of many talented announcers.

The key to the tension was the power difference: WNDR had 5,000 watts of power versus WOLF'S 250 watt's. This forced "1490 Radio" to be constantly on its toes to provide superior programming. Despite its handicap in coverage size, WOLF succeeded in luring away much of WNDR's Syracuse audience and some of its commercial business.

Through a combination of coping its competitors better features and blatantly mocking and improving upon its worst, WOLF became a force to be reckoned with. It also became a springboard for many radio careers. The usual disc jockey pattern was to start at WOLF and attract a following, then be hired away for more money by WNDR, and then "break" into a larger radio market...and many announcers climbed the ladder of success in this very way.

Passing through WOLF in the early 1960's were many of radios most talented people. Tom (T.W.) Saunders hosted the "WOLFPACK PARTY" and them moved first to Buffalo and then on to KYA in San Francisco. There Saunders would join ex-WOLF morning man Gene Nelson ("The Emperor") and  WNDR's Russ "The Moose" Syracuse.. Hank Greenwald and Marv Albert became successful as national sports announcers after working in Syracuse. Windy Craig ("The Weird Beard") graduated to New York City production status and was heard across the country on numerous television and radio commercials produced by his own company. Other names like Dick Snyder, Bob Dell, Andy Andrews, Dale Kelly, Charlie Featherstone (TV-9), Jim Sims and Ron Roberts became household names to the Syracuse radio listener.

Rock n' Roll music was likewise moving in new directions thought the early 60's. and Syracuse radio was right on top of the trends. So much so that the market became influential in making hit records. The largest markets would keep a keen eye on Syracuse record charts and if a new song was doing well, they might be influenced to test it in their cities. The day of the "tight play list" has not yet come and radio program directors were not afraid to go out on a limb and play a new record by a national or local artist if they felt it would be popular. At the same time, both WOLF and WNDR would feed feed the trends in Top 40 radio in the larger cities and would pattern their sound to fit the latest innovations. Syracuse radio thus maintained an air of professionalism seldom heard in secondary markets.

The end of the 1950's proved to be a step backwards for Rock n' Roll after showing its greatness in the mid 50's. First a lot of Fabian, Frankie Avalon style music was patched together in the recording studio and new younger stars were being packaged and mechanized for public consumption. Television bandstand shows featured those of mechanized talent. Elvis Presley left to served in the U.S. Army in Germany. Gimmick records as Chantilly Lace, Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Poison Ivy and Short Shorts topped the charts.

Scandal Hits! The payola investigation tarnished almost the total disc jockey population of New York City, and Alan Freed was no exception. Freed then on WABC was charged with accepting $30,00 in bribes. His tearful good-bye came over the air as he broke into "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop" by Little Anthony and the Imperials. What Alan Freed had dome for Rock n' Roll music and its artists were soon forgotten by many who were eager to crucify the top rock leader. After taking the blunt of the scandals, Alan Freed the "Father of Rock n' Roll" spent his remaining days in Southern California trying to make a comeback that never happened.

Finally to add to this dismal year following a  February 2, 1959 concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, rock superstar Buddy Holly, along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were tragically killed in a plane crash near Mason City.. It wasn't until many years later that the genius of Buddy Holly really impressed the music world. His music lives as recorded by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Peter & Gordon, Paul McCartney, Bobby Vee, The Hollies, Linda Ronstadt, to name a just a few. Shortly after, another rock star Eddie Cochran was killed in a taxicab accident while touring the United Kingdom in 1960..

Even Syracuse felt this weak period of Rock n' Roll. Following his Coral Recordings Jimmy Cavallo returned home after his big shot at national stardom. Cavallo formed a new group with some of the areas finest as musicians- Billy Rubinstein, Gap Mangione and Joe Romano filled those spots with Cavallo also serving as the MC at Three Rivers Inn, the Central New York showplace of the stars.

As the dark age of rock cleared around the world the seeds of revitalization and renascence were taking root. In the U.S and the British Isles there were kids studying the rock greats (Berry, Holly, Cochran, Vincent & Presley) of the early and mid-fifties who were to become the masters of the next decade. One group formed in 1955 calling themselves "The Quarrymen", later known as "The Moondogs" then the "Silver Beatles" and finally settling on "The Beatles". In 1959, they performed outside of Liverpool for the first time, in distant Hamburg Germany. They returned to Liverpool and played in the Cavern Club before their discovery by record shop owner Brian Epstein.

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