Thoughts on the End of WPLJ

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Aside from sports radio (WFAN in New York during the Mike and the Mad Dog era, the SCORE in Chicago during the “Harvard the Hot Dog” era, and my current favorite–the Dan Libotard Show with Stugatz on EPSN), two New York radio stations have shaped my musical tastes.  The soundtrack of my life was broadcast over WABC and WPLJ.

I grew up listening to WABC when it was New York’s Top 40 station. (Some of my friends listened to Imus and Howard Stern on WNBC, but I was loyal to WABC). When I wasn’t in school my transistor radio was always tuned to AM 77.  The rhythms of my day revolved around DJs Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, and Dan Ingram.  I remember how distraught I felt when I learned that WABC was going to an all-talk format in my sophomore year of high school. (And to make matters worse, they eventually started broadcasting Yankee games!)

When WABC switched to talk, I switched to WPLJ (FM-95.5).  My music interests were changing from disco and Top 40 to classic rock.  PLJ played a lot of  Doobie Brothers,  Kansas, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, The Beatles, Steely Dan, and Queen.  They even played some Springsteen every now and then.  Then, as I finished high school, PLJ changed formats to Top 40. In some ways, the station picked-up where WABC left off.  During my final years of high school I went back and forth on the dial between PLJ and classic rock station WNEW.

I never really connected with a music-oriented radio station during my stints in Philadelphia and Chicago, but when I came back to the area in the early 1990s to start graduate school on Long Island, I returned to PLJ.  By this point, the station was playing a lot of the stuff I listened to back in the 1970s and 1980s.  I was a big fan of the morning-drive team of Scott Shannon (who came over from Z100 after popularizing the “Morning Zoo” format) and Todd Pettingell–aka “Scott and Todd” or “The Big Show.”  I would listen to the show on long drives from Stony Brook to Nyack, New York where I was teaching Western Civilization courses at Nyack College.

Scott and Todd had a lot of great bits, but my favorite one took place during the NBA finals in the second Michael Jordan-era when they wrote a Wierd Al Yankovic-style tribute to Bulls center Luc Longley using the Barry Manilow song “Mandy.”  To this day I cannot hear “Mandy” without thinking of that parody.  “Luc Longley, you came to the Bulls from down-under–you’re the 7-foot wonder….” If anyone has a tape or recording of that bit I would love to hear it again.  I cannot find it online due to its obscurity.

Needless to say, I was saddened to hear that on May 31, 2019 WPLJ will end broadcasting.  In June a Christian radio station will be heard at 95.5 in New York City.  Here is a taste of Brian Niemietz’s piece at the New York Daily News:

WPLJ, a rock and pop music staple in New York since 1971 — will sign off for the last time on May 31.

The FM station, which started spinning vinyl when Three Dog Night was king and Carole King was queen, confirmed Wednesday that the end of an era is near.

“As hard as it is to believe, WPLJ will be going away on Friday, May 31,” according to a recorded message on the station’s Twitter page. “The format and personalities you’ve come to love over the years will no longer broadcast on 95.5.”

The 48-year-old station has been sold to Christian conglomerate Educational Media Foundation, which will begin religious programming in June.

The end of an era.  Forgive the momentary lapse into nostalgia, but another institution that shaped my life is gone.

Episode 38: Jesus Is the Rock That Rolls My Blues Away

Christianity Podcasthas had a complicated relationship with rock and roll music. For some, this style is the “devil’s music,” arguing that even Christian rock music is evil. For others, rock and roll is just an art form like any other, whether the lyrics are “secular” or faith inspired. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling both discuss their experiences with rock music and the Christian faith. They are joined by Randall Stephens (@Randall_Stps), author of The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ’n’ Roll.

*The Devil’s Music* Playlist

StephensOn Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, we talk to University of Oslo historian Randall Stephens about his new book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Randall talks about his new book and I reflect on my own experiences at the intersection of evangelicalism and rock music.  The episode will drop next weekend.

In the meantime, head over the the website of Harvard University Press and listen to a Spotify playlist of songs and artists that Stephens considers in The Devil’s Music.  It includes music by Sam Cooke, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley & the Comets, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Andre Crouch, Sha Na Na, Bill Gaither Trio, Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, Keith Green, DeGarmo & Key, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, DC Talk, and Sufjan Stevens.

And if you are a Randall Stephens fan, don’t forget to check out “The Randall Stephens Collection.”

Bruce Springsteen Talks About His Memoir

Born to RunOver at the blog of E Street Radio, Springsteen chats with Dave Marsh and Jim Rotolo about writing Born to Run.  H

Here is a taste:

If you still had questions about Bruce Springsteen after reading his autobiography Born To Run, Dave Marsh and Jim Rotolo have attempted to get to the bottom of them in an exclusive, in-depth interview with the man himself on E Street Radio.

Named after his iconic 1975 album and song, Born To Run, the autobiography was released on Sept. 27 and has received critical acclaim. With the success of his book thus far, Marsh and Rotolo were curious if Springsteen ever planned to write a follow-up. His answer? Probably not.

“Not really, I think that’s my swan song. I had one story and I told it. But if something else came up, it would need to touch me as deeply [as the first one],” he explained. “Like they say, you write one book, and it’s like your first album. You’ve got 20-something years or 67 years to call upon and look back on. You write a second book or a second record, you’ve got about six months or a year. Yeah, I don’t know if I’d write again, but I wouldn’t discount it. I did enjoy it very much and if something came up, I’d do it.”

Read the whole interview here, including some interview clips.

Springsteen at 65

Bruce is going to be 65 next week.  Over at History News Network, John W. Johnson of the University of Northern Iowa offers three reasons why American historians should take notice:


1.  Springsteen holds an important place in the history of rock music.
2.  Springsteen addresses historical themes and events in his music.
3.  Springsteen is ubiquitous as a public figure.

Here is a taste of Johnson’s piece:

In 1984, Ronald Reagan appropriated the chorus from “Born in the USA” for his upbeat re-election campaign. Springsteen responded by inquiring from the stage: Has the president “actually read” the lyrics to “Born in the USA”? A key stanza features an archetypal veteran expressing some not so optimistic sentiments: “Down in the shadow of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”
During the last few years, hardly a week has gone by without “a Springsteen story” hitting the news. Some examples: 1) Springsteen delivers the keynote address at the South By Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival; 2) Springsteen is recognized to receive Kennedy Center Honors; 3) Springsteen stumps for Barack Obama in the final stages of the 2012 presidential campaign; 4) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claims to have attended more than 100 Springsteen concerts; 5) Fans of The Boss submit more than 2000 videos for possible inclusion in the crowd-sourced film, “Springsteen and I”; 6) Boss: The Biannual Online-Journal of Springsteen Studies publishes its first issue with articles bearing such esoteric titles as “Springsteen as Developmental Therapist: An Autoethnography”; 7) A scrap of paper with Springsteen’s handwritten working lyrics for “Born to Run” sells at a Southeby’s auction for $197,000; and 8) Springsteen stars in a short western, “Hunter of Invisible Game,” reminiscent of John Ford’s “The Searchers.”
Since 2005, long articles on Springsteen and his music have appeared in such serious publications as The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. In 2013, Rolling Stone published Collector’s Edition—Bruce, containing pictures and four decades of Springsteen interviews. Perhaps only Bob Dylan, among American singer-songwriters of the last fifty years, has inspired more book-length studies than Springsteen.
Here’s another rough index of Springsteen’s impact on contemporary popular culture: My impressionistic survey of the music played in the background before and after commercial breaks on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” reveals that Springsteen is by far the most featured artist. Occasionally the hosts and guests on the program even joke about who will be able to claim the privilege of having such Springsteen standards as “Badlands” or “Thunder Road” play over and around their comments.
So . . . love Springsteen or hate him. You just can’t ignore him.
If you’re a historian of recent America, Springsteen should be on your playlist AND in your syllabus. Now eligible for Medicare, Springsteen continues to create, perform, entertain, campaign and provoke.
A very happy 65th birthday, Bruce! Rock on!

I would also add that Springsteen is an important figure in American religious history.  

HT: Tim Lacy