Finding FM

For the first few years of my life as a radio listener, all I needed was an AM radio. I had the famous green plastic Westinghouse tube-type at first—the one I scrounged from the basement and installed on the dresser next to my bed in the fall of 1970. If I’m recalling correctly, I replaced it with my four-band Audiovox portable, which I got for Christmas one year, maybe 1973. The Audiovox was one great radio. It was solidly built and nearly indestructible (except for the telescoping antenna, which I broke fairly early on), finally giving out sometime early in the new millennium after 30 years of service.

I can’t necessarily claim that the Audiovox was my introduction to FM radio, however. When I think of my first days as an FM listener, I’m in the room we called the sunporch, a little area on the south side of the house I grew up in. In the 1970s, it was carpeted in an unforgettable orange-and-yellow shag, with an easy chair and a rocker and a bookshelf, and for a while, Mom and Dad’s console stereo, one of those giant pieces of furniture with a lid on the top that opened to reveal an AM/FM tuner and a turntable inside. I listened to WLS on the console, but it didn’t sound very good. I went looking for my music on the FM band now and then, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1974 that I found it for good.

Specifically, I found this:

It says 1975 on the clip, but based on the music, the aircheck has to be from late 1974, not long after the old WMFM became WZEE, also known then (and still known today) as Z104. Compared to the busy AM radio I was used to, Z104 was minimalist—just music and those short announcer bits. I’d forgotten that the early Z had jingles, although they sound pretty terrible now—especially the “rock and roll” one. I’d never heard an automated station before, and I spent a lot of time that fall listening to Z, fascinated. I would listen on and off for the next several years. At some point in the late 70s, Z would add live jocks, one shift at a time, and would eventually abandon their stripped-down sound for a more conventional Top 40 presentation.

AM radio would remain an important part of my life as a listener after 1974—as it was to every young man with a car in the 1970s. But the fall of 1974 was when FM radio arrived in my life to stay.

(Hat tip to Mostly Upper Midwest Airchecks, and to my college-radio colleague Jon Rohrer, who contributed the Z104 aircheck and the Platteville dial scan I posted last week.)

3 responses

  1. Best Z104 line-up after they went live: (circ a1980-1984)
    J D Barber
    Dr. Jonathan Little
    Jay Tyler
    Matt “Mad Dog” Hudson
    What a great station!

  2. your post jarred an old memory: FM converters. They were about 15 bucks and attached underneath the dashboard radio. Goodbye WLS, hello album oriented rock!!

    1. I had an FM converter in a couple of my first cars. Top-notch 70s technology.

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