Riding High

(Pictured: kids in America, summer 1976.)

In Buffalo, New York, WYSL still exists today, still on AM at 1040 (and on FM at 92.1), running mostly conservative talk. The 50,000-watt signal on AM 1520 isn’t called WKBW anymore; it’s WWKB, and it carries ESPN Radio. Each station has a colorful history, and the Top 40 days we discussed in a previous post are a big part of it. (You can read about WKBW here and WYSL here.)

Although the two stations offered their 1976 listeners two different experiences, in one significant way, they were highly similar. No matter which station you had in your ear all day every day, each one gave the summer of 1976 three signature songs.

One was a Hot 100 monster: “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. I’ve written about this song several times over the years (most thoroughly here), and I suspect that regular readers of this pondwater might be able to predict what I’d say about it were I to try to write about it again. So go watch this VH1 clip to see a bit of their short-lived TV variety show (with David Letterman), from which I learned that one member of the group is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s keyboard player today. I didn’t realize it was the same guy.

Another of western New York’s summer of ’76 signature songs is a Hot 100 oddball: “A Little Bit More” by Dr. Hook. The song would become a significant national hit, but not in the summer—it wouldn’t hit its Hot 100 peak of #11 until October, but it did a long stretch at #1 in Buffalo starting in late June, long before it ever got onto American Top 40. It occasionally shows up on worst-songs-of-the-70s lists, mostly for some pretty unsexy images, including “When your body’s had enough of me / And I’m layin’ flat out on the floor.”  But at a certain point, a good performance can sell anything: lead singer Dennis Locorriere makes “We’d better get it on now / Cause we’ve got a whole life to live through” sound like a beautiful declaration of love.

Then again, it was on my radio every couple of hours in October 1976, so I might not be the most credible authority on it.

(Digression: somewhere in my archives I have the tape of an interview a couple of us did with Locorriere and Ray Sawyer at WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois, before Dr. Hook appeared at the Stephenson County Fair in 1980. I expect it was pretty terrible, although I can remember one funny line: Sawyer said that his famous eye-patch is real. “I lost my eye in a car accident,” he told us. “I went back later and tried to find it, though.”)

The third signature hit of the Buffalo summer of 1976 is a song most people today don’t know at all: “Listen to the Buddha” by Ozo. Apart from a couple of stray surveys from WBBF in Rochester, New York, the two Buffalo stations are the only ones at ARSA showing this semi-hypnotic reggae number, and both stations have it riding high throughout July. It will reach #4 on both by the end of the month. Buffalo might be singlehandedly responsible for getting it onto the Hot 100: it would go #99-98-96 and out during a three-week run during the last half of August.

I wonder if any of the oldies stations up there are playing it today.

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5 responses

  1. I was gonna leave a comment on Ozo on the first post (something along the lines of “who the hell is that?”) but figured you’d come back to it.
    And indeed you did.

    I have no memory of hearing that song on any of the Rochester stations to which I was exposed between the late ’70s and early ’90s.
    There *were* a couple songs I remember growing up that were more popular there than in the rest of the world — Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason” comes quickest to mind. But I don’t remember any reggae songs about the Buddha.

    Thanks for choosing western New York for a look-in.

  2. When I think of the summer of ’76, I always think of “The Boys are back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. The summer of ’76 came in-between my junior and senior years in high school and for me and my friends, the line “won’t be long til summer comes,” in that song made that particular summer really come to life.

    @kblumenau: since you are a native of Rochester, is a singer named Lou Grammatico (Lou Gramm) held in high regard still to this day?

  3. I was never aware of Ozo being played in Rochester. I listened to WAXC and BBF all the time, but even as ’76 rolled around, I found myself listening to Rock 102 (WBEN-FM) in Buffalo (mainly at night, since I couldn’t hear the local Rochester stations at night). While it’s surprising that YSL and KB are still around in some iteration, I’m even more shocked that a disk jockey I heard in the late 70s/early 80s is still around and on the same frequency. Rock 102 utilized the TM Stereo Rock automated format (I truly loved that format, despite no local jock presence). Eventually, they would have a guy on in the morning. His name is Roger Christian and he is still on 102.5. While it has morphed over the years and is now some kind of triple a format, Christian is still with the station. For an on-air radio personality this is almost unheard of. Despite little interest in the music they play, I will still listen occasionally to hear Christian’s voice and reminisce about the “good old days.”

  4. @Shark: Depends who you ask. ;-)
    Certainly people knew about Lou Gramm and respected his success, but I think he preferred to keep a low profile. I don’t remember a lot of local news items about him when I was growing up, and I didn’t get the sense that he was a hugely beloved local institution.
    He wasn’t hated or anything, but he didn’t own the town.
    I think Chuck Mangione was closer to that status than Lou was, maybe because Rochester showed up a little more in Chuck’s background — i.e., he was more likely to discuss it in interviews, and mention it fondly when he did so.

    I took bass lessons in high school with a guy who’d gone to Gates-Chili High School with Lou Gramm.
    He didn’t have any colorful stories to tell, though … just remembered Lou as one of those guys who was way into music and determined to make it.
    We probably all went to HS with one or two of those guys, except this one made it.

  5. If you want to know what OZO looked like, here’s the group performing “Listen to the Buddha” on a UK television show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihmB5uVAL4Q

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