Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Damn you Bill Gavin!

My major complaint of radio is it's increasingly homogeneous content. Brands are trademarked and xeroxed coast to coast, programs are syndicated, playlists centralized and tightened, DJs are voice-tracked and sat-cast. I have examined the history of radio and I have arbitrarily selected a precipice and a guilty party.Bill Gavin was in San Francisco when he took the Billboard list of the top 30 selling records and turned it into a radio show at KNBC. Then he started writing to DJs across the country and asking them to send him their top 10 lists. Many complied. Radio stations reached out to Bill and asked him to consult for them with this "top 10" data. KYA went for it as did KCBQ in San Diego. This collated list became known as the Bill Gavin Record report. For anyone that actually enjoyed regional diversity this was the beginning of the end.

Before the Gavin report the most important sources for information on hits were juke boxes and Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Bill took those concepts and went big and homogeneous. His sheet was serviced weekly by mail. Bill was looking at it as a radio programmer. His tip sheet was to improve listenership by playing the right music. There were other charts out there, Bill's were just better.His tip sheet was not like the trade magazines like Billboard Magazine and George Albert's Cash Box.

Cash Box had been running since 1942 and collated jukebox play. It was focused on vending machine owners. Billboard was much older, starting in 1894 but was initially marketed to the bill posting industry. It branched out into media as they were billboard buyers. Only in 1961 did they re-focus on the record industry. Their first music chart launched in 1940, Btu it mixed sales AND airplay. Bill got into programming with the playlist for the show Lucky Lager Dance Time. In 1941 Lucky Lager sponsored their teen-targeted program on KFAC. It was very similar to the Lucky Strike Hit Parade running since 1935. But Bill had a hand up on the competition. Bill had a Top 1o countdown. Lucky Strike just followed the Billboard Chart. Bill didn't want to ape Billboard.

The program was carried on 48 West Coast stations. What made the program odd was that it was scripted out of 1330 KFAC-AM but then hosted locally by announcers on the local stations. Bill was known to critique local hosts if he felt they weren't right for the program. It was carried by KMOD, KGO, KSEI, KTRB, KGW, KPOI,KVOA, KSFO. Bills tip sheet begot the end of local programming and the rapid expansion of both Top 40 radio, and radio consultants. In 1945 KFAC dropped the program to go all-classical but Bill wasn't ready to let go. His tip-sheet grew into a trade magazine.

Bill Gavin died in 1985 at the age of 77. His eponymous trade rag floundered in the late 90s as radio chains like Infinity and Clear Channel refused to participate in their conference and made their own centralized playlists. In February of 2002 it's British parent corporation pulled the plug. Lucky Lager is still bottled today and is at least available regionally on the West coast.