Analog Automated Radio
The History of Radio Automation
When local AM radio stations began to add FM service to their operation, most were simply rebroadcasting the signal of their AM station on their newly acquired FM station. During the late 1960s, the FCC determined that local stations in more highly populated markets should separate the AM/FM combos to offer alternative programming on their FM station.
Many took on “beautiful music” formats, which would require a minimum of attention from existing staff members while hoping to bring in more “dignified or distinguished” listeners to their stations on the hope of appealing to “luxury based upper end” advertisers. It actually began to work, at least in major markets, but there were quality control issues like periods of dead air, repetition of music segments and so on, all because of the lack of supervision by operators.
The manufactures of broadcast equipment had already pitched automation of radio stations as a way to reduce labor costs, but now, they saw a growing market of newly separated FM stations which could benefit from radio automation. That's when the prospects of using radio station automation exploded on the scene. Manufactures like ATC (Gates, Harris/Gates), IGM and other pioneers got in early even as far back as the late 1950s with simple automation systems with at least simple short term sequential operations, but others came on board with more complex systems which could run for hours or days without much attention other than music reel changes and commercial cartridge reloads. More manufacturers entered into the radio automation market from names like SMC, ITC, Schafer, and Broadcast Electronics. It's interesting to note that many of these manufacturers had roots right here in mid-Illinois. Several of these companies had operations in Quincy and Bloomington, Illinois. Note the address of the companies from the ads shown here.
Even the best automation system needed program material. Even though stations could actually program their own music, most didn't have the resources of material to bring a well thought out format to air, and a way to maintain and update the material. That's where the format syndicators come in. There would be quite a few of these companies each marketing their own brand of alternative music formats, pretty much based in the beautiful music genre.
Then, in the late 1960s, a company called Drake-Chenault formed by Top 40 DJ/programmer Bill Drake and broadcast owner Gene Chenault began to develop automated formats with a more contemporary sound. By the early 1970s, formats like “Hit Parade” which included more MOR standards with chosen contemporary songs which fit the tastes of those up to 50 years old came to be. Later “Solid Gold” was created to mix contemporary top 40 with more “oldies” from the late 1950s through the current day was released. It seems that every mid-market in the country had a “Solid Gold” FM station, along with some in central Illinois. WDBR in Springfield, WBNQ in Bloomington, and WTWO in Peoria are three examples.
Even a broadcast executive from Peoria, Ed Peters who had a history at WIRL/WSWT in Peoria became a production house for an automated beautiful music format, “Music Just for the Two of Us” and later a top 40 format “Love Rock.” Peters Productions was based in San Diego.
Below you'll see profiles of ones I remember and have found over the years of research. For many, the background information has been sparse, with the companies I profile having gone out of business many years ago. I have though, added information volunteered by former employees or executives of those companies, or just radio listener fans of those formats who have collected demo recordings of how they operate. I continue to welcome any and all information you might have to help document an almost forgotten part of broadcast history.
Radio Automation Systems at Work
SMC was in fact the "Systems Marketing Corporation" of Bloomington, Illinois. My experience with SMC was in the purchase of an automation system for use by WDNL in about 1991. Even though, it was based on the analog use of reel to reel tape players and the SMC carousel random select units, it also included some more modern technology. The control box was connected via fiber optic lines and in fact the control unit was all digital. I described it as a "Checker" cab....the use of a vehicle which looked like it came from the mid 1950s, with all of the modern amenities of the present. When our crew visited the SMC plant in west Bloomington the company was toying with using a "CD juke-box" system in their systems. Their main business was manufacturing change machines for car washes and other coin and bill based businesses.
Here are two ads both from 1973 with the SMC systems of the day. To see the one used by WDNL go to the History of WDNL.
(from Broadcasting magazine)
Analog Automated Radio Program Suppliers
There were a number of stations during the ’70s and 80’s which were using the Drake-Chenault formats, including the AC “Hit Parade”(later called “Contempo 300”) the Gold/Current Mix “Solid Gold”(later called Contempo 200”), the CHR “XT-40”, the Country “Great American Country”, the Oldies “Classic Gold”, the AOR XT-100.”
As far as I can remember here is a grouping of stations in Central Illinois and a few from surrounding areas using each of the Drake formats. Not many of them continued with Drake-Chenault formats past the early to mid-1980s, having changed to live programming or to satellite networks.
Drake-Chenault was sold to Wagontrain Enterprises in 1986 and the operation was moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1989 it was purchased by Jones Radio Networks in 1990 and moved to Denver.
It operates today as part of the Jones Radio Network which along with other music services, formats an array of radio station formats via satellite which is broadcast by stations across the country, under the guise of being a local station.
Above left is a picture of a typical Drake-Chenault furnished 10-inch reel, which probably contained current selections. It was not unusual to have a partially filled reel of tape which could have held as few as 6 songs, or as many as 15. The planned rotation of current music was very tightly controlled by Drake, although it was up to the individual station to maintain the format. This particular reel was from the "Solid Gold" format, which would feature current selections, although the main theme of the format was oldies from the 50's, 60's and 70's.
Drake-Chenault was based from 8399 Topanga Canyon Road, Canoga Park, CA 92304. Their phone number was (213) 883-7400. Sales material from them stated their "formats are designed to be run on standard automation equipment readily available from several manufactures. A basic system sufficient to run the complete formats, 24-hours a day, can be purchased for as little as $18,000 or leased for as little as $425 a month."
Drake-Chenault's "Hit Parade"
later called "Contempo 300" "bright contemporary easy listening/MOR for today's 18-49 year old" on 50 AM and FM stations
voiced by Charlie Van Dyke and Jim Carson
WHTT-Quad Cities(late 70's)
Drake-Chenault's "Solid Gold"
later called "Contempo 200" "best of the oldies along with today's top contemporary hits, selected by Bill Drake and his programming staff. It's a heavy gold modified top 40 format which zeros in on the crucial 18-34 demographic" voiced by John Leader, Billy Mitchell
WBNQ-Bloomington(mid to late 70's)
"proven Bill Drake approach to top-40, a fast-paced contemporary-a winner on either AM or FM the clean uncluttered sound of today!"
voiced by John Leader, Billy Mitchell
KGRS-Burlington, Iowa(mid-late 70's)
Drake-Chenault's "Great American Country"
"the best country music ever recorded appealing to the 25-49 year old." voiced by Bob Kingsley
WIL-FM-St. Louis(mid 70's)
Drake-Chenault's "Classic Gold"
"the greatest hits of all time...all the time! Flexible, evolving... Classic Gold covers the years 1955 to 1972 in phases, linked to your market needs!"
WLBC-Muncie, Indiana(mid 70's)
Drake-Chenault's "Super Soul"
"The Drake-Chenault format for Urban Contemporary listeners"
Drake-Chenault also produced the long form program "The History of Rock and Roll." The special was a 52-hour program narrated by Bill Drake and researched, written and co-produced(with Bill Drake) by Gary Theroux. I heard from Gary, who told of his experiences at Drake-Chenault. He explained that "The History of Rock and Roll" debuted on more than 400 stations in the U.S. and over 400 stations overseas and won Billboard's "Top Special Program of the Year" award. He also explained how the 52-hour program was broken down into "modules, each designed to focus on and spotlight a particular genre, or in some cases, a key artist in rock history." The "modules were presented, more or less chronologically, starting in the early ' the 50s(prior to "Rock Around the Clock") and running through to what was current in the year the program was produced: 1978." Gary also designed each hour of the show to stand on its own which would allow stations to strip the show throughout the week, and use any number of hours each day. Gary went on to describe the show as taking the approach of a "reporter" not a critic and tried to have the individual artists tell their story as much as possible, using the narrator Bill Drake to tie each story or items together. It was Gary who did choose to end the series with the Number One montage of all of the number one hits of the rock era.
Gary also told of the situation of his leaving the company, not by his choice, but by the choice of a former GM of Drake-Chenault. Gary's leaving the company angered Bill Drake and Drake made a move to bring Gary back into the fold. By then, though, Gary accepted an offer to teach music and entertainment history at UCLA. He later co-hosted a long-running Saturday night oldies radio show in New York and was Music and Entertainment Editor for Reader's Digest, where he created over 300 multi-box sets of music featuring nearly every style and era of 20th Century music. He's also the author of "The Top Ten" which tells the story of each of the top 10 biggest hits of each year.
I remember "The History of Rock and Roll" as being a holiday tradition at WDNL when I was there in the early years. The show debuted on Memorial Day Weekend in 1978 on D-102 where it was an instant hit. I remember one advertising client whom I tried to persuade to advertise on the show, has turned me down, was upset that I didn't persuade him more. The next time we ran the show....on Labor Day weekend in 1978, he was the first to sign up for sponsorship!
I also remember the "Silver Anniversary" edition of the 52-hour special, which was released in the early 1980s. I felt at the time the show was not of the quality of the original presentation of 1978. Gary Theroux explained that a new staff came in and "hacked the hell out of" the original show, adding elements featuring then current artists even though they had no historical significance or should not have been included because they didn't fit the genre as rock artists. For example, producing a full hour on the "legendary rocker, Dionne Warwick." Gary goes on to explain that Ms. Warwick was a pop balladeer, and one of the all-time best, but didn't warrant being included in the program. The new version also cut the history of the 1950's down to just one hour of the 52-hour series!
Reel Radio also features a demo of "Solid Gold Rock and Roll" an all oldies format from 1970. It appears to be the second format after "Hit Parade" developed for automation by Drake-Chenault. It contains many of the same types of elements of the later formats, but the style of voice-overs for the music was considerably different from later examples. The jingles read, "Solid Gold-Rock and Roll." This was probably replaced by "Classic Gold" and "Solid Gold" evolved into a mix of oldies and currents. Many, if not all of the jingles from the early period were produced by the Johnny Mann Singers. You'll still hear the style of many of the Johnny Mann Singer's jingles on many oldie stations today.
It appears that, and it has been confirmed by contributors, that Drake-Chenault ownership and management failed to ride the changing tide of technology and re-direct the format services from being a reel to reel format supplier to that of being a satellite format programming supplier, of which there are several operating today. What was left of the original company's assets were ultimately absorbed by the Jones Radio Networks.
It's unknown if the original "History of Rock and Roll" would be available today.....but I would suggest perhaps a CD set???
To hear an air check of "Solid Gold" go to the CHR History page and look under WWTO and WBNQ.
Drake-Chenault's "THE GOLDEN YEARS"
hosted by Robert W. Morgan. This demo was "lost" for years.....now a special music/history radio program which would highlight an individual year, is unearthed for you to check out. This sample demo includes a segment from the year 1965.....
It was great to get more information by e-mail from Denny Adkins, who was the "original" PD of WBNQ when it went with the "Olde Golde"(from Draper-Blore) format in August of 1972 and left to work for Drake Chenault in 1976. He was President of Drake-Chenault when he left the syndication company in 1987.
Drake Chenault From the Inside Here's a wealth of information about "how they did it!" as described by the Director of Engineering at Drake Chenault from 1974 to 1988. Henry "Hank" Landsburg's narrative of the technical aspect of supplying over 300 radio stations with formats is featured on this site. There's more to be added including pictures and audio, so check back often for updates!!! Be sure and return here!
Denny Adkins, former PD of WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois and a former President of Drake-Chenault for his contribution!!
Tim Brown from KGRS in Burlington, Iowa, former D-C station for his contribution.
Jon Rohrer for his contribution of more D-C demos from the 1970's!
Gary Theroux for his contribution about "The History of Rock and Roll"!!
Cliff Rogers for his contribution of music reels from Drake Chenault's "Solid Gold!"
George Nicholas for details on Billy Moore's voice overs of the XT-40 format.
Many thanks to Hank Landsberg, former Director of Engineering at Drake-Chenault Enterprises, Inc. 1974-1988 for sharing his incredible experiences!
The San Diego based Peters Production’s formats included the CHR format, “The Love Rock” and the beautiful music format “Music Just for the Two of Us.” Below is a demo for "Love Rock". "Love Rock" was very similar to Drake-Chenault in sound....basically formatted reel to reels with announcer intros and outros, jingles, position statements, id's, buffers and etc.. I can only assume that the methodology was very similar to that of Drake-Chenault with dead rolls, "EOM" placement and formatics. "Music Just for the Two of Us" was a beautiful music format with voiced buffers, no song identification was done.
Peters Productions "Love Rock"
The fictional call letters of KPPI were used in the demo, standing for Peters Productions Inc. This automated music service included the top hits of the day mixed with recurrents and oldies, great production elements with local elements.
WSOY-FM Decatur, IL(early 1980's)
Peters Productions "Music Just for the Two of Us"
This was a beautiful music automated format which included a selection of instrumental and select easy listening vocals.
WMDH-FM Muncie, IN(1970's)
Jon Roher for the "Love Rock" demo
Dave Bickford for the "Music Just for the Two of Us" demo
According to Scott Davis, whose father was a jock with WGY(AM) in Schenectady, New York, he discovered the format as it was on the station's FM sister station WGFM. He says, "As a music lover, it was great to able to listen to ALL parts of a song uninterrupted, including the intro." He goes on the describe the format as containing 15-minute segments of music consisting of 2 currents, one oldie and 1 recurrent. The first stations using the "Stereo Rock" format included KXXY, Oklahoma City and WMAQ-FM, Chicago. Others included WFBQ, Indianapolis, WSAI-FM, Cincinnati.
The format was conceived for TM Programming by George Burns, of Burns Media Consultants as an "adult alternative" to screaming DJ's, teenage contests, bubblegum music, etc.. The style of the format was one that was more in the "FM tradition" style of presentation, as opposed to the "AM style" of Drake-Chenault and other syndicators. The "voice overs" were done by long-time Dallas area DJ, John Borders. At its peak, TM had this format in over 100 markets.
Some of the jingles used were from the TM SR-1, SR-2 and SR-3 series from the mid-'70s. According to Scott, there were different series of tapes, that would change or flavor the format to be more album oriented. The album-oriented tapes would include back announcements with mention of the album the cut was from.
In the 1980s TM Productions merged with Century 21 Programming to form TM-Century. For a look at TM-Century Productions now visit tmcentury.com.
thanks to Scott Davis, A TM Productions radio format expert for his contribution!
TM "Beautiful Rock"
This automated contemporary music format included a complete package of music, production elements, and jingles allowing for the use of local elements. This format used a beautiful music style of presentation with complete fadeouts of songs, periods of silence between songs and other program elements and was very low key. The music featured were from the original pop artists instead of using instrumental versions of the hits by cover artists.
TM "Stereo Rock"
This automated contemporary music format included a complete package of music, production elements, and jingles allowing for the use of local elements. This was a much lower energy presentation of contemporary music, a more adult approach and very much unlike what was heard on many AM Top 40 stations at the time.
WHBF-FM, Moline, IL(mid-1970's)
WMBD-FM, Peoria, IL(mid-1970's)
WFBQ-FM, Indianapolis, IN(mid-1970's)
TM Stereo Rock ad from 1979 and New TM Pure Disco Format ads from 1979. Click on each to see larger picture. (Broadcast Magazine)
Jon Roher of WeB Video for his TM "Stereo Rock" demo.
Scott Davis, A TM Productions radio format expert for his contribution!
More Music Programming
Facts about More Music Programming are difficult to find. The only information I have comes from around 1975 with a demo of a recording of an automated format called "The Performers" which featured a "live like" sound with four different announcers used each day. Each jock would have a shift at your station which would run 6-10am, 10am-3pm, 3-7 pm and 7 pm to midnight. It was called a "progressive MOR" format and featured contemporary easy listening songs from the 1960s and '70s. It would be comparable to a "light rock" format of today.
The format seemed to be similar to TM's Stereo Rock, in that, the current music selections would be grouped in pairs and voice tracked right on the reels. There seemed to be more than one way to announce the current two song sets, some were announced during the segue, others would drop in a custom station ID slogan line, but each set would end with a back announce of the two songs. Each announcer would have his(no hers at the time, it was 1975), set of reels, probably day-parted as to time slot. Oldies were back announced and would lead into spot sets. Each jock also did a series of local PSA's which were inserted into spot sets, and custom weather intros, which would lead to local announcers with weather, news or whatever local programming elements programmed. There were also customized drops with station ID's for music segues.
It was really not a bad sounding format and sounded somewhat "live like" although it would have been impossible to react to any local issue which would have come along that would have been normally mentioned with a real live announcer. Local issues like bad weather, local news events, etc. would have been totally ignored by the on-air announcer.
I'm not familiar with any station using the format within central Illinois, or at least within my listening area. The station on the demo was KASK.
Another format offered by More Music Productions was called "The Great Hits" and was a more contemporary format, similar to what Drake-Chenault was offering with "XT-40" or "Solid Gold." The voice overs seemed more energetic and less robotic than the Drake-Chenault formats. Once again, I'm not familiar with any local central Illinois stations airing the format. The station used on the demo was KIOQ in Bishop, California.
More Music Productions also syndicated along with a long-form program called "The Chronology of American Music" and was a direct competitor to Drake-Chenault History of Rock and Roll. This long form program also included a musical montage which included a segment of every number one song from 1955 to the present, which was then 1972. The demo was distributed on a 7" single which would have been played at 33 1/3 rpm. An actual demo was contributed by Randy and Michelle Middleton to dougquick.com and the audio is available above. The audio includes typical record noise of pops and clicks which we no longer experience with digital audio....ah the good ole' days.
If anyone has any information on these formats or any others offered by More Music Programming, I would like to include it here. Please e-mail me.
thanks to Randy and Michelle Middleton for the More Music Production demo for "The Chronology of American Hits"
More Music Programming, "The Chronology of American Music"
This long form program traced the history of contemporary music from the mid 1950's to today(which was 1972).
More Music Programming, "The Chronology of American Music"
This is a much-shortened version of the mid-1950s to 1972 montage of all of the number one hits throughout the era.
Randy and Michelle Middleton for the More Music Production demo for "The Chronology of American Hits"
Century 21 Programming
Century 21 Programming, was located in Dallas, Texas and was a producer of radio station jingles, commercial jingles and eventually automated radio formats. Sometime in the 1980's Century 21 Programming merged with TM Productions to form TM-Century Productions. They continue to offer radio station imagery packages, as well as commercial jingles. For a look at TM-Century Productions now visit tmcentury.com.
More information was received about the automated formats offered by Century 21 Programming and Productions from Chip Douglas Mosley. He was an employee during the 1970s for about a year and tells that Dave Scott Blythe was the Operations Director of the company at the time. Chip supervised the country and "E-Z" formats as well as tape mastering and duplication processes.
The "Z-Format" was created by Dave Scott and Mike Rice for KFMZ in Colombia, Missouri after Mike had a falling out with Drake-Chenault. (I assume that Mike was a former employee of the D-C??). Chip worked at KFMZ, and later at KIRL in St. Louis, then at Century 21 in Dallas.
If anyone has any more information about the company...the format....or any Illinois/Indiana radio stations which programmed any of their formats....please e-mail me.
Century 21 offered several formats, including "The Z Format" which was a relatively "soft" album format. It included songs from Seals and Crofts, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Yes, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Steely Dan. Pictured above is what Century 21 would feature on the cover of each reel of tape, inside a music list with information about each song, time, intro(for live formats-and talk over), licensing information for BMI/ASCAP reports, etc. It also included recording information for quality control. The reels were coded and numbered and scheduled for format control. Many times, reels from other formats would be intermixed with others in order to daypart the station as to available audience at certain times of day.
Century 21 Programming "Z-Format"
The Z-Format was an automated contemporary format which included the top hits of the era, mixed with recurrents and oldies. The format included production elements as well as jingles.
Jon Roher of We B Video for his Century 21 "Z Format" demo.
Chip Douglas Mosley for his information about Century 21!!
Cliff Rogers for his contribution of music reels from Century 21's "Z Format" and "AC" format.
Radio Arts was yet another of the radio syndicators which supplied various formats and programs to radio stations. The company produced the formats: "American Rock," "Sound 10," "Bright and Easy Country," "Encore" and "The Entertainers." Radio Arts also produced several weekend features including "Your Hit Parade" which starred Andre Baruch(the original announcer for "Your Hit Parade") and Bea Wain(Andre's wife and former Big-Band era singer) and "The Polka Parade." Former client services employee of Radio Arts, Chris Edwards worked there for around a year and said it was a treat to have them in the studio for their taping sessions every few days, how much history they both represented in the music business and they were "both the nicest people you could imagine."
Chris Edwards also described the radio formats produced by Radio Arts. "American Rock" included a 2-thousand cut library, "Sound 10" was the adult contemporary format, "Encore" was similar to the "Music of Your Life" format with MOR standards, and "The Entertainers" contained several variations which could range from MOR standards to a MOR/soft rock format." The voice of "The Entertainers" was Ron Russ who was also working at KBIG. Brian Bierne was the voice of "American Rock" while working at KRTH, Jerry Bishop of KFI/KGIL was the voice of "Sound 10" and Dick Sinclair who also hosted the "Polka Parade" Show was the voice of "The Bright and Easy Country" format. The company also offered unannounced versions of their music reels but also offered custom promos, time announcements and other custom production elements for their clients.
The studios were located in Burbank, California at the end of the southbound Pass Avenue off-ramp on the 134 Freeway. Chris admits the company joke about some drunk failing to break and wind up as part of the furniture in Studio B.
It's unknown how many stations the company serviced or for how long during the era, or what happened to the company. As far as I know, there were no central Illinois format clients, although local Danville, Illinois AM station WITY ran the "Your Hit Parade" program during the 1980s.
thanks to Chris Edwards, Client Services of Radio Arts for his information about the company!!
Radio Arts-"American Rock"
this was another syndicator getting into the business, but delivering a less than a first class product. This is a partially scoped version of the original demo.
Jon Roher of We B Video for his Radio Arts "American Rock" demo.
Chris Edwards, Client Services of Radio Arts for his information about the company!!
BPI-Broadcast Programming International
BPI was the successor of IGM's "International Good Music." IGM sold the equipment and the formats to BPI. See History of WTIM-in particular WTIM-FM for more on the IGM formats and how it operated. IGM was known for "Concie's Carousel" and "Music with McMaster."
Very little else is known about this company. Pictured is a demo produced by the company called "Classic Rock" but it just contained snippets of a few older Top 40 selections and a few which weren't hits. The sample did not present a "format" demo.
At left is an ad from Broadcasting Magazine from 1979 promoting the various formats that were then available through BPI. Click on the ad for a larger view.
The address was listed as:
Broadcast Progamming International, Inc.
PO Box 2027
Bellevue, Washington 98009
(206) 454-5010 Toll-Free 1-800-426-9082
thanks to Fred Cantu for additional information
Chuck Blore, was a former radio programmer from the L.A. area and was part of the development of live and automated radio formats. Other than that, I've been unable to find any other information about this one-time popular radio format company. This format was under consideration at WDBR in Springfield, but the kick off automated format ultimately became Drake-Chenault.
This wasn't the case with WDZ and WBNQ. Both central Illinois stations utilized the "Olde Golde" format for a time. It's unknown when WBNQ began its experience with contemporary music automated formats, even though even then it was an "oldie" format. WDZ began around 1970 airing "Olde Golde." I was totally new with automated radio at the time, and even though it got my attention with it's "canned" sound, the music selection that was on WDZ included quite a few 50's songs which were unfamiliar to me.
I liked the consistent, jock-less sound of the formatics and the custom jingles, as I had never heard anything like it before. The format was later replaced by one of local origination which ultimately was better than any automated format in central Illinois for quite a few years. Check out details on WDZ section of Area CHR Stations.
WBNQ, on the other hand, left Draper-Blore in either 1973 or early 1974 and went with Drake-Chenault. Former WBNQ P.D. Denny Adkins, years later, said the format change was made because of quality issues and problems in getting programming updates on time. When and where Draper-Blore appeared and disappeared to is unknown. If anyone knows anything about this once prominent radio programming company please e-mail me.
Draper-Blore Radio "Olde Golde" and others
WDZ-Decatur, IL(early 1970's)
Thanks to: John Fortmeyer