More Adventures East of Midnight

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about overnight radio, and mentioned in passing how different the overnight environment is now. A spin around the dial late at night is a trip through a place with little sense of place, the audio equivalent of the strips of generica that adorn every city in the country now. Adrift amongst the syndicators and the automators, you could be anywhere. As a result, you’re nowhere.

Today, many stations are either automated or voice-tracked on the overnights, or they carry syndicated programming. Only a few stations have a live person on duty during the wee hours, and the bulk of them are talk-show hosts. ‘Twas not always thus. A college classmate of mine has recently posted on YouTube a spin around the FM dial as heard in Platteville, Wisconsin, on the night of May 29-30, 1979. Platteville is in the far southwestern corner of the state, so conditions must have been special that night to pick up stations from Milwaukee and distant places in Wisconsin, plus Chicago and the Twin Cities, along with the stations you’d expect to hear closer to home.

The aircheck captures a truly bygone age. Stations air newscasts and sports reports in the middle of the night. There are public-service announcements and full-blown public-affairs programming. One station introduces a rock-concert broadcast by telling listeners that if they intend to record it, the show will start in five seconds. There are lots of station jingles—distinct from highly produced sweepers, which everybody uses today, jingles required a cash investment, because singers have to get paid.

There are some automated stations on the aircheck, but it’s mostly real live people up late doing radio. Some of them are obviously young and inexperienced, stumbling through copy or ad-libbing clumsily. Others have more accomplished chops, but also the distinctive small-market lilt in their voices that will limit their on-air futures. Some are clearly bound for better shifts. A few famous voices are heard: longtime Chicago jocks Yvonne Daniels, then on WGCI, an urban/disco station calling itself Studio 107, and Bobby Skafish, then on WXRT. I recognized Jim Douglas from WFRL-FM in Freeport, too—and you might recognize some others.

(The aircheck includes two stations I was working for in 1979: WSUP, the college station in Platteville, and D93, the automated rock station in Dubuque. It includes another I would work for in the future, WFRL-FM, which would become WXXQ the next summer.)

About the title of this post: A commenter to my earlier post about overnights mentioned a jock in Dubuque who used “east of midnight” to refer to her time slot, but she’s not the only jock I’ve heard use it, and I don’t think she invented it. If you know anything about its origin, help a brother out.


5 responses

  1. The earliest place I’ve seen “East of Midnight” is on the early WLS Silver Dollar Surveys – specifically the Don Phillips show in 1964. Of course, they may have gotten it from someplace as well.

  2. LOVED, LOVED the overnight shift.
    My show was also called “East of Midnight, where the people who normally work are asleep and where the true backbone of America comes to do it’s business…”. First at WQUA Moline then at KSTT in Davenport.
    I made no money back then but had the best time of my life.
    Thanks for that.

  3. And for those of us who DX’d at night from the midwest….how about “The Music Room of the Hobbs House” – John Hobbs on WCCO – Mpls, “your good neighbor to the north”. And the venerable “John R”, overnight guy in the 60’s on WLAC-Nashville, and his “John R, on the board here for another (counting down the hours) on dubya-ell-ay-see, the broadcast service of the Life and Casualty Insurance Company in Nashville”. In the 70’s, a lot of the bands I worked with in the midwest (WI-IA-MI-IL) would have WTMJ-Milwaukee on, on the way home from Saturday night gigs, listening to “Grams on Jazz”, with John Grams holding forth over the late-night/early morning airwaves. Another musician’s favorite was WHAM – Rochester NY, which played great jazz on the overnight, but I can’t recall the jock’s name. Never met any of these guys, but they were all considered “friends”.

  4. Oh, man. Hobbs House was the soundtrack to late-night drives during my childhood: As we came home from, oh, the state fair, or visiting relatives, or from Christmas week spent at Grandpa’s farm, I’d lean back in my seat and hear Franklin Hobbs’ smooth voice and sweet music coming from the back-ledge speaker, easing us along the road and through the night. (As a side note, Gordon Lightfoot used “East of Midnight” as the title for a song and an album in 1986. The album’s pretty good; the song is especially good, but then, I’m a big fan, so your mileage may vary.)

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