The Cincinnati AM Rock Radio Blues

After we moved close to Cincinnati in the summer of 1972, our cars’ AM radios, when they weren’t tuned to WLW (700) for Reds’ games, were set to WSAI (1360), through and through a Top 40 station. I was around ten when the music I was hearing began making a stronger impression. I discovered AT40 in the late winter of 1976; by then a transistor radio was an almost constant companion, and WSAI was almost always in my ear. I still recall several of the jocks’ names: most notably Jim Scott, but also John R. W. Whalen, Casey Piotrowski (who put out an album locally in 1975 that captured some of the humor on his shows), Ted McAllister (here’s a 1971 air check of McAllister’s). By early 1978, I had discovered FM radio and Top 40 powerhouse WKRQ. I wasn’t alone in transitioning away from the AM dial. That summer, WSAI began teasing a format change, to begin at 6:00 am on a Monday morning in August. I woke up early to tune in and discover: they were going country. Right or wrong, that was that for me. Top 40 radio on the AM side in Cincy went extinct, at least for the time being, that morning. Except for the Reds and listening to AT40 on WLAP out of Lexington, I pretty much became an FM-only listener.

But I guess I never quite stopped fidgeting with the dial on my portable radio. In the summer of 1982, weeks before I left for college, I found WCLU at 1320, which had at some point become a rock station with maybe a tilt toward breaking hits, especially if they had a New Wave flavor. It’s probably from them that I acquired my love for “Kids in America,” “Words,” and maybe even “Someday, Someway.” They were in on “Who Can It Be Now?” early, and were weeks ahead of the pack on “Rock This Town.” I have to believe WCLU would have been a regular listen for me going forward (even if they were daytime only) had I not moved away in September.

I don’t remember now if I tuned into them much the following summer, but they were still at it–I picked up three of their Top 60 playlists from record stores, one each in May, July, and August 1983. The first is dated thirty-seven years ago today.

There’s a much greater infusion of R&B music here than what I recall from listening in 1982, but I’d listen to this station now in a heartbeat. I imagine I’ll share the other two someday.

How long this format lasted for WCLU, I can’t tell you. The station changed its call letters to WCVG a few years later and made waves in 1988 by becoming the first station in the nation to adopt an all-Elvis format (which lasted a little more than a year). They are now known as The Voice and play a gospel format.

Both WCVG and WSAI have Wikipedia pages that attempt to capture some of their histories, if you’re interested. The station at 1360 once again has call letters WSAI (there’s a long, complicated story there that the Wiki article summarizes decently), but these days they go simply by Fox Sports 1360.

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