I don’t have any tape of WIXX Green Bay, Wis., as Top 40 “Rock 101” in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. I didn’t need to. I could hear WIQB (Rock 103) Ann Arbor, Mich., which was briefly, and less successfully, running the same TM Stereo Rock automated format. Stereo Rock, widespread in that era, was the least hip distillation of the format, and it was readily identifiable whenever one came upon it in their radio travels with its perfectly cadenced backsells (essentially today’s AC song tags).
I once heard WIQB segue from Aerosmith’s “Draw the Line” (on its nighttime reel of AOR songs) to Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” I once heard affiliate WSTW Wilmington, Del., play “Nothing Ever Goes As Planned” by Styx, the only time I ever heard that song on the radio. Because the only way you ever heard a stiff on TM Stereo Rock is if it was a superstar act that unexpectedly bricked in the middle of a hit streak.
WIXX is wrapping up a two-week celebration of its fortieth anniversary as a Top 40 station this week with its old jingles, on-air reminiscences from staff, and lots of audio. That sent me back to my aircheck collection. The first WIXX I can find is from August, 1984. At that time, the station had modified its automated programming to go live assist, finally becoming entirely local around 1986.
At a time when most CHR was still using a modified version of Mike Joseph’s Hot Hits format—lots of jingles and high(ish)-energy jocks, WIXX felt decidedly AC-flavored to me at the time. The aircheck is the last hour of morning man Gary Johnson and, in that 9 a.m. hour, it could have as easily been a midday show. There’s a crossplug for Casey Kasem, a PSA about a high-school orientation, weather, sports scores, and an artist teaser. Finally, there’s one joke, about that day being Ozzy Osbourne’s birthday. “I don’t want to know how he celebrates,” Johnson said, and I smiled.
The top of the hour ID is the sort that used to be common at the super-clean top 40 stations of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s: just the DJ over the music, no jingle. “It’s a minute before nine o’clock. We’re Rock 101, WIXX Green Bay. My name is Gary Johnson and we are the music.” This week, WIXX’s throwback promos include former PD Bill LuMaye whose reminiscence ends with “we are the music.”
I always respected WIXX. It was too successful for me to do otherwise. In the late ‘90s, WKSZ (Kiss 96.9) launched with a more musically aggressive CHR. In almost every market in America, stations that sounded like WKSZ were forcing stations that sounded like WIXX to change drastically—either engage directly for the CHR franchise by becoming more rhythmic, or retreat into Hot AC. WIXX did neither—remaining perched on the cusp of Mainstream and Adult CHR. And both stations found an audience.
When I came to appreciate WIXX was about a decade ago. Whenever I wondered if anybody in the CHR format was playing a given pop- or rock-leaning song that I thought should be doing better at the format, WIXX was often the only station playing those songs (and certainly the only one giving it real rotation, not overnight spins). That happened last year with Wrabel’s “11 Blocks.” WIXX is just backing off on it now, after nearly a thousand spins.
One might argue that being a Mainstream Top 40 reporter with rock and AC crossovers really makes you an Adult Top 40. I always wondered if labels would force WIXX to move to the Hot AC chart eventually. Instead, they appreciated having an early outpost at CHR for their pop records, and it was Hot AC WWMX (Mix 106) Baltimore that moved—in the other direction.
Just as I appreciate Classic Hits WMJI Cleveland for still playing the ‘60s and early ‘70s, I came to particularly appreciate WIXX for showing that there was still another way to do Mainstream CHR. And it’s not because its owner won’t do the format as it exists elsewhere. Midwest Communications recently took over WNFN (i106) Nashville. That station is playing its powers a more typical 101x a week (unlike WIXX’s 67x). It’s not playing Andy Grammer or Wrabel.
I listened to WIXX again on Wednesday (April 5), and station veteran Otis Day was doing more of a show in middays than Johnson had in mornings. There was a “10 O’Clock Trivia” feature (the station’s version of “The Impossible Question”). There were frequent plugs for the Free Money Name Game. And in that particular hour, there were two stopsets of three minutes … or less.
Here’s WIXX in August, 1984 at 9 a.m.:
- Huey Lewis & News, “If This Is It”
- Laura Branigan, “Gloria”
- Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
- Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”
- Human League, “Don’t You Want Me”
- Kool & the Gang, “Tonight”
- Elton John, “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”
- Sammy Hagar, “Two Sides of Love”
Hagar is the last song before a stopset. Morning host Gary Johnson does a tease for four upcoming artists which, if all were represented by their current hits, would have been:
- Jacksons & Mick Jagger, “State of Shock”
- Dan Hartman, “I Can Dream About You”
- Billy Joel, “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”
- Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters”
And here’s WIXX on April 5, 2017 at 10 a.m.:
- Nelly, “Hot In Herre”
- Kygo x Selena Gomez, “It Ain’t Me” (a throwback jingle into)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Thrift Shop”
- Niall Horan, “This Town”
- AJR, “Weak”
- Meghan Trainor, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”
- Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons”
- Justin Timberlake, “SexyBack”
- James Arthur, “Say You Won’t Let Go”
- Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger”
- Andy Grammer, “Fresh Eyes”
- Shawn Mendes, “Stitches”
- Chainsmokers, “Closer”
- Katy Perry, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”
- Linkin Park & Kiiara, “Heavy”
- Jason Derulo, “Talk Dirty”