Golden oldie: Bob Brown does double duty on both WSEN and WFBL, Syracuse’s newest new-format radio station. Michael Davis photo.
That’s because on April 7, WFBL, the sister station of WSEN-FM 92.1, switched from a talk-radio format to spinning the wax, albeit via digital technology, of golden oldies from the 1950s and early 1960s. Ironically, they’re now playing the same ditties that were twisting and shouting out of the speakers of WSEN when they first adopted an oldies format in 1986. Those hits have disappeared from the FM dial as WSEN now only plays cuts from the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
“Every year WSEN comes down a year and the playlist keeps getting refreshed, which has created a lack of ’50s and ’60s music,” said Judy Kelly, general manager of Baldwinsville-based WSEN and WFBL. “We were getting many requests from listeners saying, ‘I wish you’d play the real oldies, the golden oldies,’ but unfortunately those songs weren’t part of our newer format.”
John Lennon once said that, “If you tried to give rock’n’roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” but the songs of Johnny B. Goode and other rock pioneers had no particular place to go in Syracuse. While WSEN will still spin a faint selection of classic Motown hits and a few early Beatles and Rolling Stones cuts, most of the tunes you’ll hear have a backbeat oldies purists hope the station will lose.
WSEN’s “older-newer” format includes the likes of Hall and Oates, ABBA and the Bee Gees—not exactly true rock’n’roll—and some listeners can’t change the station fast enough. A big part of that demographic is the local classic car contingent, and they have so far been the main target of WSEN and WFBL.
“The car clubs are a huge source for us,” said Kelly. “We addressed them that the change was happening, and the Syracuse Nationals and Regional Market, along with all other events WSEN sponsors, will be co-branded with WFBL.” The Regional Market hosts the “Cruise’In” nights held inside the Park Street venue. In previous years, they were held Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., but that has changed to Tuesdays for 2008. Most of the hundreds of hot-rods and lead sleds that cruise in and out had AM-only in the dashboard when they were rolled off the assembly line. FM didn’t join the party until the early 1970s when it became standard in all cars—right about the time many of those rock’n’roll riders think the music died.
“We wanted to offer what the listeners were asking for,” continued Kelly. “Bob Brown is the program director on WFBL and Jim Tate is for WSEN and they work together to make sure there’s a good blend. The two stations encompass the years between 1955 and 1984, and there is a couple years the stations overlap in the ’60s, but they both play different songs from those years, so it’s a completely different listening experience between the two.”
Kelly mentioned that they’ve been working aggressively on the launch of WFBL for the last six months while still keeping up with WSEN affairs. Regulars from the FM dial, including Gary Dunes, Diane Wade and Dick Mastriano, have scheduled mike times on WFBL, but with the exception of John Carucci, the only “real-time” deejay is Brown—and he has painstakingly put together a radio show that would make Wolfman Jack rock around the clock.
“The playlists run from 1955 to 1968,” said Brown after a recent Thursday morning on-air shift. “I took a look at the Billboard Top 100 from ’55 on and tried to grab the best of all those years and pick some songs to play that people might not have heard in years, like ‘16 Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford, ‘The Ballad of Thunder Road’ by Robert Mitchum and ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Loses Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)’ by Lonnie Donegan.”
A recent Sunday listening stroll encountered the classy breeze of “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra with the garage-rock nugget and Lester Bangs favorite “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five not too far behind.
Aside from the local talking heads, there are also a number of nationally syndicated programs slotted into WFBL’s schedule. Cool Bobby B’s Doo-Wop Stop is broadcast Saturdays, 8 to 11 a.m., and Inside the ’60s transmitted via Los Angeles on Saturdays, 5 to 8 p.m., with host Gary Bryan instilling another dimension to your euphonic dementia of a decade you thought you knew everything about.
Brown mentioned that another programming element is time-era local and national radio jingles from Wrigley’s Gum to Coca-Cola and everything in between. And because of the AM feed, everything sounds like the way it was during the era of 45s.
“These songs were recorded for AM and in the dawn of rock’n’roll, back in, say, 1960, Top 40 radio was just that: top-selling songs,” continued Brown. “The umbrella was so big and the Top 40 included some country, rock, jazz, blues and doo-wop, and we play everything from that. It can be anything from Tony Bennett to Connie Francis to Rick Nelson, and it’s kind of refreshing to go back to that time and have that kind of reach.”
Around and around WFBL goes and what song Bob Brown plays next nobody knows. All the listeners that yearned for a return to a simpler rock’n’roll time knew was that they desperately wanted a second chance to hear the songs they thought would never return to their lives, and they finally got it, through a strange and wonderful time machine called a radio.
To request that oldie but goodie that’s been on the tip of your eardrum, call 421-9325. For a complete program schedule, visit www.wfbl.com.