Friday, June 24, 2011

Remembering 97 GTR

Back in the late 80s/'90 I often found myself laying rubber to the guitar and metal crunch of Miami's WGTR 97.3 FM. It was an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station in a market already crowded with 'em. 97 GTR focused more on the rock of the day than obscure Crosby, Stills, & Nash like competitor Zeta 4, though. Along with the expected hair band fluff of Warrant and Poison, GTR played Joe Satriani and even Donald Fagen and Midge Ure tracks.

The music suited me, but it was the station's personalities who made it so much fun. Herman and McBean (formerly of competitor 103 SHE) did the morning show. It was actually funny. Steve Stansell, a very personable sounding guy, did evenings. Scott "Guitar Balls" Chapin lent his voice to just about everything (and guaranteed you've heard him somewhere, as he's done spots and voiceovers for many TV and radio stations around the country). GTR portrayed a party atmosphere that was infectious, and evident at the remotes they did in Dade and Broward counties (occasionally southern Palm Beach, too). Crazy contests, song parodies, practical jokes (they hyped and simulcast a fantasy superconcert with the driving directions which, if followed exactly, would've led you smack in the middle of the Atlantic). I also recall an event where eveyone met in the paking lot of a Sound Advice and cranked Guns 'N' Roses' "Paradise City" simultaneously to see who had the best (or least distorted) car stereo unit.

In the same North Bay Village (off the 79th Street Causeway) building as GTR was AM talk station WIOD, and I also listened to host Neil Rogers in those days. During his show, Neil would stop and remark that the walls of his studio would rumble due to the music and Lord knows what else was going on in the GTR studios next door. It was like a scene out of that film FM (scroll back for review). Somtims GTR jocks would stop in and chat with Neil, too. As a side note, Rogers passed away in Dec. 2010. I posted an entry about him a year and a half or so before. He was quite the personality himself, so having him tangentially involved in the GTR nonsense just made it all the more fun.

It all sounds dumb, I realize. Many stations, even today, don the infantile act, but GTR was something different. It was a nice alternative to the self-importance, relentless self-promotion of so many radio stations (FM and AM) at the time. It somehow made you feel like you were part of it, not just some anonymous listener. It was one of the last stations I heard that so prominently featured "personalities", DJs who actually added to the mix, rather than just being annoying voices that talked all over your music. Those who grew up in generations past really got to experience radio stations as more of an art form. I wish I had been old enough to appreciate it. Those who were might've felt GTR was already a corporate compromise, but I felt it was something cool. Yes, I was in my late teens/early 20s, but still.

These days, radio has largely become consolidated, lifeless shlock (the music and the DJ banter). Clear Channel and other behemoths have drained the life away, and housed many stations on the same floor in various buildings. I got to visit a local industrial park last year where one of my patients, a DJ and tinnitus sufferer, worked. We played around with a mixer and spectral analyzer to suss out various narrow bands of noise for him to listen to on his iPod. Very cool night. But it also allowed me to see that several local radio stations were all just a door away from each other.

One of the most memorable of the GTR DJs was Patty Murray, who did drive time broadcasts (3-7 weekdays). Her energy and appreciation of even the most ridiculous tracks (like Sam Kinison's cover of "Wild Thing") made for fun listening. Sadly, she died in a car wreck in 1989, on a day I still remember so clearly. The way the normally raucous station handled this tragic news was tasteful, approriately reverant, yet the spirit of the station was never morose. Patty would've wanted it that way. Shortly after, a CD featuring several of 97 GTR's song spoofs was compiled, with proceeds going to the Make A Wish Foundation. I never got to purchase one.

About a month ago, the GTR page on Facebook announced that a box of these CDs had been found in Chapin's (now living in Wisconsin) garage. Again, proceeds from the $10 discs would go to Make A Wish in Patty's honor. I got one and experienced that rush one gets when hearing something familiar for the first time in many years. Patty herself sang "Bimbo Rock", a knock-off of that old limbo song. Other tracks take potshots at Jim Bakker and Sylvester Stallone, both dubious 80s icons, of course. "Bowling with a Turkey" is a wildly silly but well produced take on CCR's "Proud Mary". The disc also contains the infamous "Jamaican Bobsled" and National Condom Week tunes, as well as the theme song for the "Home Invasions", where listeners would win contests to have the DJs crash their houses at 6 in the morning with a whole bunch of ruckus. Imagine living next door to a winner! Van Halen's "Eruption" vibrating your windows.

Listening to this disc put me right back in my old '86 Chevy Cavalier, rockin' out while driving to Palm Beach Atlantic College. Those were good times. But, in May of 1990, 97 GTR went dark. After the last rebel yells, the safer sounds of "the 70s, 80s, and today" suddenly filled the air: The Coast was born. I also clearly recall driving home from school and wondering what in the heck Michael Jackson and Swing Out Sister were doing where Rush and The Cult belonged. You know the story; the Arbitron ratings weren't favorable. Three rock stations were perhaps one too many for the market. I wish I could hear tapes of the last several hours of 97 GTR. An article I read stated that management told the jocks they could play whatever they wanted that final afternoon, as long as they didn't rip on their bosses. Would be pretty historic to hear, hours that could also be analyzed as some of the last of Old Radio itself......
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