WIXY 1260 - The Next Generation
I've been asked over the years how I've come to know so much about a radio station that signed off the air before I was born. If you've ever wondered why I know the history of WIXY 1260 and the music that they played, this is the story you've been waiting for.
It all started with a sticker.
This is a picture of a WIXY 1260 sticker on the dust cover of a record player that I found in my great-grandfather's attic in 1997. His house was literally down the street from WJCU radio in University Heights, Ohio. My uncle was with me for this discovery, and he pointed out the WIXY sticker and said that was the radio station everyone listened to back in the 60s. He then gifted me the record player, along with a bag of 45s he found sitting next to a dumpster. Among the 45s was the record that inspired the B-side segment: The Montana's "You've Got To Be Loved." I always liked the B-side better, "Difference of Opinion."
The record player didn't have a stylus (needle), but Radio Shack still carried them for this particular model from General Electric. I have since added some more stickers to the dust cover, but none come close to the significance of this particular sticker.
I was 13 years old in 1997. Do the math and you will realize that I am not a child of the 60s...or even the 70s. Why would a 13 year old want a record player? In 1997, my peers used cassette tapes. The one's who had a larger allowance had CDs. By the early 2000s, it was cheaper to either borrow CDs and make mix tapes or download crappy mp3s from Napster and make your own CD. This was before the vinyl resurgence. In fact, my classmates in high school in 2003 couldn't understand why someone like me wanted "scratchy beat up vinyl" when "CDs have a much superior sound quality." Oh how things change.
My classmates were also big into alternative rock, something that I barely tolerated. I gravitated more towards the music that resonated with me. I listened to a lot of Elton John when I first got into music. That might seem odd to some, but Elton's music is diverse. "Empty Sky," his debut album, featured some great 60s rock, baroque, and jazz. Songs from his next two LPs, "Elton John" and "Tumbleweed Connection" combined Americana and soul. Some of the songs even feature Dusty Springfield singing backup! From Elton John, I branched out and started digging The Who. "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" was my first Who cassette, and is an essential compilation album to anyone getting introduced to this music. Yes, I listened to The Beatles and The Stones because they were getting played constantly on oldies radio, but they weren't playing The Who. The classic rock stations played them, but not their killer mid 60s stuff! Unlike most music from the 90s, the stuff I listened to was available on "vinyl." Besides, playing mp3s and CDs wasn't nearly as cool as playing a record.
During this time, I had another big interest: television game shows. I wanted to become the next host, or even announcer, of The Price Is Right. Perhaps I'd become the next Gene Rayburn and host the 21st century version of Match Game. Along the way, I discovered that game show legends like Bob Barker, Bob Eubanks, and Dick Clark all got their start in radio. I always thought radio would be fun, plus I love rock & soul music so it'd give me a chance to actually listen to the music and share it with an audience. I decided to follow in their footsteps.
In the fall of 2003, I started my freshman year at John Carroll University. I chose the school because their radio station seemed more active than the radio station at the University of Dayton (my other choice). I didn't realize just how important college radio was in Cleveland. Not every city has a historically significant college radio station, let alone three (WJCU, WRUW, WCSB). I also discovered that if you wanted a show on a college radio station, you had to do something different.
How do I make an "oldies show" different from the others?
In October of 2003, news broke about the death of Rod Roddy, the longtime announcer of The Price Is Right. While reading his obituary, I discovered that he too got his start in radio. There was a link to a tribute site for KQV, Pittsburgh. Looking around, I found audio clips of Rod Roddy on KQV from 1961. In fact, there were many audio clips of DJs on KQV from the early 60s all the way to 1975.
Then, I remembered the WIXY 1260 sticker on my record player.
Are there recordings of WIXY 1260 on the internet?
I came across Chuck Matthew's aircheck page on reelradio.com, and he had a clip of Jack Armstrong participating in a WIXY reunion on WMJI from October of 1997. I remember listening to him and thinking, "who is this guy? This guy is nuts." I had never heard anyone like him on the radio before. The longer I listened, the more I understood what Jack Armstrong was all about. The music energized him, something it has always done to me. What did Jack Armstrong sound like on WIXY? Lo and behold, I found an aircheck of him on WIXY 1260 from October of 1966. (There must be something about the month of October).
Hearing Jack Armstrong on a Saturday night in Cleveland from October of 1966 was inspirational.
This is it! This is what I want to do! I want to re-create this! Nobody else is doing radio like this!
In my search to find more recordings of WIXY 1260, I found Dan Exton's website devoted to WIXY. Dan's site had pictures of the WIXY-SIXTY Surveys from 1967-1970. As I'm going through the surveys, I could only recognize maybe 20 out of the 60 songs per survey. I had never heard "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by the Status Quo, or "Open Up Your Door" by Richard and the Young Lions, or "Hot Smoke and Sassafrass" by Bubble Puppy. All 3 were in the top 10 in Cleveland, yet they were not played on oldies radio.
It was as if a whole new world opened up for me. There was so much to discover.
As a single college student who had no interest in most of the people on campus, I spent a lot of alone time listening to recordings of WIXY 1260 and the songs that were played on the station. Keep in mind, there were no streaming services, no Youtube, no Facebook. You either had to go out and buy the records or CDs, or download it illegally. Fortunately, Dan Exton was more than happy to help, and he "shared" with me some mp3s of the songs oldies radio forgot about.
Not only did I have a unique concept for a radio show, but I also had the songs to go along with it. Now I needed some WIXY jingles. There was an online store called Ken-R back in the early 2000s that sold radio jingles. I bought the Cleveland package a few months before they closed up shop. The package contained the Pams jingles that WIXY used in October of 1966.
WJCU in 2003 was a lot different than it is today. Computer automation was rarely used because there was someone in the studio almost 24 hours a day...even people who weren't suppose to be there. The station was heavily dominated by people in frats and sororities. They were not my kind of people. My impression of them soured more when I was informed that I would not be receiving a timeslot in the fall of 2003. In fairness, my demo was terrible. I was beyond nervous because being on WJCU was a big deal for me.
I refused to go away. I "interned" with John Baryak on Saturday nights on WJCU playing records on a show called "Vinyl Venue." He was the best kind of teacher because he pretty much allowed me to take over the show. I ran the board and cued up records (yes, actual records). I lived to be on the air.
I then applied for a shift for the spring 2004 semester. Station manager Matt Taylor left a voice message on my parent's phone while I was home on Christmas break (yes, I did not have a cell phone at the time). My friend Joe was there when I heard the message. I ran outside and literally started dancing in the street. Taylor informed me that I was awarded "the final available timeslot: Sunday mornings 5-7am." Perhaps it was a test to see how badly I wanted to be on the air. I gladly accepted.
The first broadcast of Retro Radio took place on Sunday January 18, 2004 at 5am. Because I was officially a staff member of WJCU, I could now be a regular substitute. From January to May of 2004, I appeared as a sub on almost every daypart on every day of the week. Mitch from Kick Out The Jams dubbed me "The Super Sub" because I would often sub for the shift before his show or after his show.
I was honored that spring as I was awarded the WJCU 2004 "Best Apprentice Award." That meant a lot to me, and it helped propel me to a much better time slot: Tuesdays from 3:30-6:30pm, and that's when Retro Radio really took off. I would schedule my classes around that timeslot so that I could keep it. I picked up another air shift in September 2007 when I took over Saturdays from 4:30-6:30pm. I did both Tuesdays and Saturdays until 2008 or 2009 when I ended the Tuesday show.
It took me about 7 years to finally feel comfortable on the air and maybe another 3 years to finally get the show to sound the way I wanted it - the way it would have sounded if I were on the air on WIXY 1260 in 1966. Some people have natural talent. I don't. It took a lot of listening and practicing. I still do to this very day. Going from re-creating 1960s top 40 radio to Jumpin' Joe's Basement Show was a real challenge for me. It has taken about a year to finally adjust, and I'm still working on improving the show.
One final observation: Throughout my 17 years at WJCU, I would often receive phone calls from listeners, or meet listeners in person, who were amazed that someone my age would "know this stuff." They'd say, "How do you know about WIXY? You weren't even born yet?"
This is how I respond today: "Well, I know that George Washington was the first president of the United States, and I wasn't around for his inauguration in 1789. I know that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and I wasn't around in 1969. Why is it that I shouldn't know about WIXY 1260 and the music that was played? It's just as much a part of our American history."
I find it insulting when people sarcastically say (even to this very day), "Yeah right, what does this kid know."
A whole lot more than you think. Don't believe me? Turn on the radio and listen for yourself.
Fortunately, the cynics are in the minority. It's amazing how much people have embraced "Retro Radio" and "Jumpin' Joe's Basement Show" over the years. It's beyond humbling. I am very grateful to you for being there all these years and for your support.
Together, since 2004, we have raised over $50,000 for WJCU during the annual radiothons. I was the first student to break the $3,000 mark, and the first community staff member with a rock show to break the $5,000 mark during radiothon. To me, your donations during radiothon is the biggest thanks that I can receive. It shows the management of WJCU that my show is worth the two hours of airtime each week, and it helps keep the radio station on the air. With budget cuts happening today at John Carroll University and at schools throughout the country, those radiothon dollars mean even more today.
I never imagined that being on WJCU would allow me the opportunity to make band introductions on stage and even appear on two records. I never imagined having my name published in a book about Cleveland music history. I never imagined that I could interact with people from all over the world. I sincerely thank you for your kindness and support over the years, and I thank you for reading this retrospective on how an old WIXY 1260 sticker got me to WJCU. I'm still here...17 years later!
- Jumpin' Joe