Sometime around mid-September 1983, the morning guy at KDTH in Dubuque wanted to get off the air to devote all his time to being program director, and I was asked to take over the morning show. It was going to mean more responsibility, more hours—and a lot of pressure. Every day I’d be judged by the guy I was replacing on whether I was doing his old job as well as he had. Given my relationship with him (and his relationship with everybody else on the staff, who almost universally disliked him), I suspected that I’d never be good enough, but I said I’d take the job— as long as I got more money. That might have been naive, but it didn’t seem unreasonable to me. The program director, however, found it quite unreasonable. He said something like, “I don’t know why you’d ask for that. If I got more money it wouldn’t ensure that I’d do a better job,” which made no sense to me then and still doesn’t. When I remained adamant, he decided to hire somebody else—and to fire me for good measure.
I don’t regret it. Never mind the problem of the shoes I was being asked to fill—I didn’t feel ready for a morning show yet. If I’d taken the job, I doubt I would have lasted in it.
KDTH was doing mostly country in 1983, and it’s just as well—1983 was not one of pop’s grander years. There was Thriller, and the invasion of videogenic British bands was revamping the sound of the Top 40, but there’s precious little else worth remembering from that September. Let’s try and find something on the Cash Box chart dated September 17, 1983.
1. “Puttin’ on the Ritz”/Taco (up from 4) I was music director at KDTH, and we gave this a few plays on the station, although I don’t think it was my idea. The thinking was that some of our listeners might remember the song from back in the day, although why we thought they wouldn’t be put off by the bone-deep weirdness of Taco’s performance, I dunno.
6. “Tell Her About It”/Billy Joel (up from 7) The first single from An Innocent Man, with an iconic video featuring “BJ and the Affordables” on The Ed Sullivan Show, “Tell Her About It” was the first of a then-staggering six hit singles from An Innocent Man, Joel’s homage to American pop of the ’60s. I’ve got a copy, but it’s been years since I felt like putting it on.
18. “Dead Giveaway”/Shalamar (up from 19) Shalamar came from inauspicous roots—two of its three members had been Soul Train dancers. Their lone Top-Ten hit, 1980’s “The Second Time Around,” was hooky light R&B, but by 1983 they had reinvented themselves as beat-heavy and rock-oriented. The synthesized percussion on “Dead Giveaway” sounds dated now, but it was pretty hot at the time.
27. “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (up from 32) It’s hard to imagine now, but Kenny and Dolly were once a sure-thing hitmaking pair, although a production as good as Barry Gibb’s on “Islands in the Stream” would likely have ended up a hit no matter who performed it. It would reach Number One on the Hot 100 and top the country charts as well, where it would be the Number One song of 1983. In 2005, CMT viewers voted it the top country duet of all time.
75. “Everyday People”/Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (up from 88) I still can’t figure out how this missed being a big hit, but it got only to Number 47 in Cash Box and Number 37 in Billboard. Meanwhile, the overproduced sludge that was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” did a month at Number One.
KDTH gave me six weeks to find a new job, which was decent of them, although in retrospect, they required time to find a new morning guy, so their need for my presence in the interim probably trumped any humane impulses they might have felt toward me. Within a month or so, I’d found a new job, and I would later end up working at another station for the general manager who had allowed me to be fired, but that’s another post entirely.