Final Listen: WGHT (North Jersey 1500)
I don’t always listen to the last hours of a radio station. I’m usually more interested in hearing regular format, while I can, rather than the goodbyes and sometimes lengthy closing credits. But I did end up listening to WGHT three times before its sign-off last Thursday, including most of the last hour.
You can definitely say that North Jersey 1500 died as it had lived. Some of what owner Sillman played toward the end qualified as a policy statement—the Skyliners’ doo-wop version of “I’ll Be Seeing You”; the retro doo-wop classic, “Looking for an Echo” by Kenny Vance. Some of it was just typically eclectic. Why early ‘60s artist Joe Dowell’s follow-up to “Wooden Heart,” “The Bridge of Love”? Why quirky ‘60s Country artist Tommy Collins? Why “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” by Ian Dury? Not that I minded hearing it.
When I tweeted this column initially, somebody tweeted back, “It was a surprise they lasted this long.” I didn’t detect any derision there. As somebody who has spent a lot of time seeking out the stations where I can hear (or better yet learn) unusual oldies, the mortality rate of eclectic AM daytimers with music formats is usually pretty high. WGHT lasted 24 years.
Which didn’t make it any easier for the jocks on their last day, and this is a station that was fully staffed. PD Jimmy Howse and morning co-host Greta Latona were talking about the awfulness of becoming unemployed before the holidays. The pair mentioned that they rarely got sick, but had both been sick this week. Losing WGHT was making them “physically ill,” as Latona noted. As has been the case for a decade’s worth of Decembers now, that is a misery shared with too many other radio brethren. The difference was that listeners got to hear about it in advance.
WGHT didn’t lose its power to surprise and delight in the last hour. “Wow, ‘Switching to Glide’,” tweeted a reader. (And, yes, just the single version by the Kings; not the whole “This Beat Goes On” medley.) There weren’t so many final goodbyes, either; (the person I heard Sillman thank the most at the end was his wife). After “I’ll Be Seeing You,” there was one more stopset—an ad for a funeral home. The last song was “Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone. Then came the daily sign-off cart (which alluded to being back tomorrow).
The infinite dial means that there’s now no shortage of places to hear eclectic oldies, including the Spotify playlists of friends. It’s still different hearing them on the radio. It’s different still hearing them hosted. And even when the mix is eclectic, you can rarely count on Tommy Collins being part of it. (Although he is a core artist for WFMU Jersey City Saturday morning host Michael Shelley.) Those who sought out North Jersey 1500 know how to replace it for their own needs, but it will never quite be replicated.
Original Report 12/12: It’s business as usual today on “North Jersey 1500” WGHT Pompton Lakes NJ today. There are still promos about the station being live and local, and not voice-tracked (“our announcers drive to work”). There are still advertiser testimonials. (“There are no more flying chickens, because I sell so many wings.”)
But North Jersey 1500’s pending demise was announced a few months ago. There were reports of the station being taken over by its city of license. Now, a “Ross On Radio” reader reports that p.m. driver Art Rooney has announced that this Thursday (14) will be the station’s final day, with owner John Sillman signing off the station himself at 2 p.m.
So it was time for a “Final Listen,” although you still have a few days left for yours. If you enjoyed the final days of KSWD (The Sound) Los Angeles, an event which actually lifted the station’s ratings in its final month, you’ll particularly enjoy North Jersey 1500. When I finally tuned them out, they had just segued from Sammy Hagar’s pre-stardom “You Make Me Crazy” to “The Clapping Song” by Shirley Ellis.
While the mid-‘00s resurgence of Oldies-on-AM is mostly a distant memory, New Jersey still has several AMs left playing the ‘50s and ‘60s music not heard on FM, including 1340 WMID Atlantic City and “Great Gold 1410” WHTG Monmouth/Ocean.
WGHT went a step beyond those stations in terms of depth, which is staying something. The station’s era was “the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.” You could get a stretch of big hits that just aren’t regularly played on FM Classic Hits radio anymore. You could get songs that were never really radio hits. In the hour or so I listened, I got both those stretches; the latter after owner Sillman came on for his midday shift.
Here was WGHT at 10:35 on December 11:
- Peter Brown, “Dance With Me”
- Mel Tillis, “Three Little Rabbits” (not a song, but a comedy routine)
- Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
- Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23”
- Exposé, “Point Of No Return”
- New Kids on the Block, “Hangin’ Tough”
- Frank Sinatra, “L.A. Is My Lady” (the beginning of owner John Sillman’s shift)
- Frank Sinatra, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)”
- Susan Christie, “I Love Onions”
- Ray Charles, “Mess Around”
- Chuck Berry, “Maybelline”
- John Goodman, Dan Aykroyd & Blues Brothers, “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky”
- Burl Ives, “The Tail of the Comet Khoutek”
- Bill Haley & Comets, “Crazy Man Crazy”
- Kinks, “Picture Book”
- Larry Finnegan, “Dear One”
- Brenton Wood, “Catch You On The Rebound”