Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Buzzard by John Gorman with Tom Feran

WMMS Buzzard This was a walk down Memory Lane to my teenaged years when my sister blared her radio nonstop. WMMS was one of the radio stations we listened to (the other was rival M105) and this book traces it’s influence on not only radio in Cleveland, but the careers of some major musicians such as David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. The author joined WMMS as program director in 1973 and guided the changes to an album driven format with distinct DJ personalities, becoming the leading station in Cleveland for more than a dozen years, until corporate meddling destroyed the station and it’s reputation in the mid-eighties.
People who think of the ’70’s as the reign of disco are sadly mistaken. That was the era where popular music branched out in many directions and WMMS provided a banquet of musical acts, ranging from Top Twenty power ballads to a lengthy track from an obscure British band or exclusive interviews. Music culture was very big in Cleveland at that time; with our empty downtown, failing sports teams and disintegrating industrial employment, the city needed a civic booster and music, especially rock music, fit the bill. Between Jane Scott, the grandmotherly rock critic of the local newspaper and as a prime stop on concert tours, Cleveland was living up to it’s heritage as the Home of Rock and Roll(the term originated here with Alan Freed, a concert promoter in the 1950’s).
WMMS was a rallying point for music lovers and their logo, a cartoon buzzard(turkey vulture) was ubiquitous. I was interested to learn the origin and evolution of the buzzard from this book, as well as the large role it played in advertising the station. In many ways, the book is an account of a successful marketing campaign, one powerful enough to influence local institutions and change parts of the industry across the U.S., even in other mediums. For instance,their acoustic ‘Coffee Break Concerts’ on weekdays was the inspiration for MTV’s “Unplugged” years later.
I expected more celebrity gossip from the book, but that was kept to a minimum. There was a lot about the workings of the station and how it grew to be such a trendsetter, mainly by acquiring a track record that showed they were serious about promoting music. The last chapter or two, on how the author left WMMS after severe corporate meddling was very vague. I suppose it could have been libelous to reveal more, but it was a marked difference to the many details earlier in the narration.
While The Buzzard is an excellent replay for anyone interested in popular music from the ’70’s and 80’s or the broadcasting business in general, it’s probably best as a time capsule in book form. It perfectly captures a moment in time; the hopes and fears in a rust belt city in the American Midwest where songs expressed it better than anyone ever could.

Gray & Company 2007 289 pp. ISBN 978-1-886228-47-4

4 comments on “The Buzzard by John Gorman with Tom Feran

  1. rosyb
    February 8, 2013

    This seems quite a personal piece. I haven’t heard of this radio station but it’s nice to have the atmosphere of a time and place conjured up. Does radio have the same place in present teenagers’ lives with the rise of spotify etc?

  2. Jackie
    February 8, 2013

    My review did not express all I wanted to say & came out kind of choppy. Why is it so much harder sometimes to write about things which are important?

  3. Lisa
    February 9, 2013

    I enjoyed this post, Jackie. It made me remember how important the radio was to me, as a teenager. Rosy, I think I have lost my enjoyment of the radio, what with my iPod playlists and Spotify, which is a shame.

    But Jackie, this review made me want to read the book AND listen to the radio more, so thanks! It didn’t seem choppy at all, btw.

  4. kirstyjane
    March 11, 2013

    This sounds tremendous — and amazingly the station and its history does ring a bell, somewhere in my mind, so I must have heard of it… Thank you for this review, which was not choppy at all: it IS very hard to write these things, but it came out beautifully.

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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