Listening to Buffalo

(Pictured: just another day in America’s bicentennial year.)

One day recently I decided it might be interesting to compare two radio surveys from the same city for the same week. I picked WKBW and WYSL in Buffalo, New York, and I chose a week in July 1976 because of course I did. The project got a little bigger than I planned—I ended up with an Excel spreadsheet tracking the chart action on both stations plus the Billboard Hot 100 for the whole month.

And I intend to use it, on the flip.

WYSL (known as “Whistle”) was a 1000-watt station that cut its power to 250 watts at night, while WKBW (“the big KB”) was a 50,000-watt blowtorch. So WYSL’s main competitive tactic was to be quick on the draw: for example, for the week of July 5, WYSL was way ahead of WKBW on “Baby I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton, which was at #9 before WKBW even charted it (and when it was at #56 on the Hot 100). By the week of July 26th (mistakenly dated the 29th at ARSA), WYSL is no longer charting “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band, “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy, and “Shop Around” by the Captain and Tennille even though they rank #11, #12, and #14 on the Hot 100. WYSL wanted to be perceived as hip and new, and moving records on and off quickly was one way to do it. “The Boys Are Back in Town” is an interesting case. WYSL charted it at #27 for the week of July 5th and then dropped it, even as it continued to climb the Hot 100 and the WKBW charts. Similarly, by the week of July 12, WYSL no longer charted “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck or “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, even as they joined Thin Lizzy in reaching Hot 100 peaks toward the end of the month. “I’ll Be Good to You’ by the Brothers Johnson, which it its national peak in mid-July, was also gone from WYSL by then.

It wasn’t especially unusual for local station surveys to run ahead of the national numbers in Billboard; similarly, records frequently overperformed or underperformed their national numbers in local markets for lots of reasons. WYSL didn’t chart “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans until the week of July 19, when it had already reached #2 in Billboard. WKBW charted it a couple of weeks earlier, but dropped it on its chart dated July 22—two days before it reached #1 on the Hot 100. An even more extreme case is Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue,” which started the month at #3 in Billboard but is missing in Buffalo by that time.  There are no WKBW surveys for weeks other than the 15th and the 22nd, so I can’t say definitively “Misty Blue” never charted there, but WYSL surveys go back much further, and “Misty Blue” ain’t there. (It eventually appears, oddly, on WYSL’s year-end survey, which puts it at #19 for 1976.) “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates was at #4 in Billboard at the beginning of the month, although it had been gone from WYSL for a good long while by then, and it doesn’t show up on either WKBW survey.

In any of the three weeks for which there’s WKBW data, the station is charting 11 or 12 records that WYSL is not. For July 15, the 11 were mostly older records (as the branding of WYSL would lead you to expect), with two exceptions. “Dancin’ Kid” by Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes, which WKBW had at #14 (and would keep there for one more week), had already fallen off the Hot 100 and doesn’t appear to have charted at WYSL ever. (It’s one of the rare singles that’s not at YouTube, so I have no idea if it’s any good.) Also never charting at WYSL is “We’re All Alone” by Frankie Valli. It is not, as I feared it might be, a disco version of the Boz Scaggs original; neither is it remotely as charming as the cover Rita Coolidge would do in 1977. It would run the Hot 100 for three weeks in August.

WKBW beat WYSL to “Ode to Billie Joe,” the 1967 Bobbie Gentry hit that was turned into a movie during the summer of 1976. They’re on it at the beginning of the month, while WYSL doesn’t get to it until nearly three weeks later. However, WKBW does not chart “Foxy Lady” by Crown Heights Affair, which will top out on WYSL at #23 by month’s end. It is not a remake of the Jimi Hendrix song; it’s a decent 1976 dancefloor joint that would make #49 on the Hot 100.

But wait, there’s more . . . in a future installment.

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2 responses

  1. Interesting contrast between the two stations. And I always love a challenge, and I think the video is not well indexed, but here’s “Dancin’ Kid.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB9PFsABGpE

    1. Turns out, according to discogs.com, that’s the B side, the long version. The A side was listed at 3:25.

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