In the years before FM stereo became the standard for radio music broadcasts, old and often static-riddled monophonic AM radio was what I listened to for my music. In Chicagoland, where I grew up, there were two stations battling it out for the Top 40 listener in the mid to late 60s. WLS and WCFL, 890 and 1000 respectively on the AM dial. It was great that they were in such close proximity. You could quickly switch from one to the other when commercials or songs you didn’t want to hear came on.
In the early 60s, WLS was the only game in town when it came to Top 40 radio. With its 50,000 watt “blowtorch,” broadcasts could be heard in the overnight hours as far away as the Western Pacific. My brother Dale, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam war, would later tell me of the WLS broadcasts he would hear while at sea. I’ve also heard accounts from people all over the U.S. who are familiar with WLS.
With on-air personalities like Dick Biondi, Art Roberts and Clark Weber, WLS ruled the airwaves. The station played Top 40 Rock, Pop and R&B, regularly throwing in Golden Oldies from the “early” days of Rock and Roll. In the 60s, with Pop music rapidly changing with the times, usually anything 3 years or older was considered a Golden Oldie. But, with superstars like the Beatles, The Supremes and The Beach Boys exploding onto the scene, listenership was booming as well. So, in 1965 WCFL wanted a piece of the action and decided that WLS needed some competition. Switching to the Top 40 format and hiring on-air talent like Larry Lujack, Ron Britain and Barney Pip, “Super CFL” was ready to do battle with what would become “The Rock of Chicago”, WLS.
During this period, I listened to both stations. They played virtually the same music, though I preferred Super CFL because I thought they had the edge in on-air talent. They were like the “MAD Magazine” of radio, “the usual gang of idiots” coming up with comedic skits and characters like “Chicken-Man” that would make any 10 year old giggle, and served as exciting and dynamic segues into the hits of the day. But despite their efforts, WCFL never fully received the respect it was due. They were the Rodney Dangerfield of Top 40 in Chicago. Admitting listening to CFL was a bit like admitting being a White Sox fan.
In the 60s, CFL really had it going, ultimately to the benefit of all, because the competition made WLS improve. As a result, “Chicagoland” had two really great choices in Top 40 radio. Both gave airplay to local artists like The Buckinghams, The New Colony Six, The Shadows Of Knight, and The Cryan’ Shames. It was pretty special hearing hometown heroes on the big radio stations. I think it made a lot of kids dream, and eventually (for better or worse) pursue musical careers at some level. I know…I was one of them. The experience of growing up with these two wonderful radio stations, all the great music and artists they introduced me to, without a doubt made growing up in Chicagoland in the 60s, something really special.
– Submitted by Bill Spencer, Music Design