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First Listen: WLLZ vs.WCSX

Alt 106.7 Detroit's Wheels WLLZThe old WLLZ Detroit was a supernova. That played Aldo Nova.

Launched in 1980 from the template of the also phenomenal KWK St. Louis, “Detroit’s new Wheels” lasted until the mid-‘90s but most galvanized the market in the two years or so following its debut. WLLZ was the showplace home that corporate rock built before MTV-driven new wave and the resurgence of R&B forced it to downsize a few years later. But by the time WLLZ became just another radio station, rivals WWWW (W4) and WABX were out of the format, leaving only WRIF to battle back.

WLLZ was a needed diversion to a recession-plagued Detroit, and not only because they gave away cash “just for partying with Detroit’s rockin’ best.” WLLZ was also a showcase for the secret weapon records passed among owner Doubleday’s AOR stations and others, many of which seemed to speak to a market in existential crisis: Tarney-Spencer Band, “No Time To Lose”; Kansas, “Got to Rock On”; Shooting Star, “Last Chance.” Aldo Nova’s “Fantasy” was a record that every rock station played, but it particularly fit the “walking on the jagged edge of the night” theme of the market and the music of that time.

The notion of a revived WLLZ never died among radio people. When WDZH segued from Smooth Jazz to CHR a decade ago, it stunted with the Wheels format during the transition. Having had to accept that CKLW, the legendary Top 40 that peaked in the ‘70s, but hung on through the early ‘80s, wouldn’t mean a lot to any in-demo listeners today, I’ve also wondered how potent “Wheels” would be. WLLZ did have ups and downs over the years (including a bounce under PD Jay Clark). And to some extent, the KWK legacy lives on its Adult Hits successor WARH (the Arch) St. Louis. But the biggest excitement was nearly 40 years ago and not every rock radio person regards the “kickass AOR” era as a highlight.

Erin Vermeulen Trudi Daniels 94.7 WCSX DetroitBut the reviews in the market have been good since iHeart’s WDTW flipped back to Classic Rock after nine months as “Alt 106.7,” reviving WLLZ on what had once been W4’s frequency, and aiming it between Active Rock WRIF and Classic Rock sister WCSX. It helps that iHeart has a lot of experience and comfort with this format—the harder Classic Rock station that pushes into ‘90s grunge and beyond. (One joke heard on the station on launch day was that WLLZ had never gone away but been hiding in the city’s Uniroyal Giant Tire.) WLLZ is positioned as the new generation of Classic Rock, but over the last 4-5 years, this type of station has popped up in the guise of library-driven active rock as well.

Because of the station’s heritage, and because it’s Detroit, WLLZ does seem to go a little deeper into certain types of ‘70s/early ‘80s rock than other stations on a similar chassis. You will find Foghat, Rainbow, and three Ted Nugent titles. (You won’t find Stingray, “The Man In My Shoes,” or any of the other long-forgotten WLLZ signatures. So I decided to create a playlist for them.)

You’ll also only find three titles and a combined 11 spins by Bob Seger–“Turn The Page,” “Her Strut,” and “The Fire Down Below.” That’s fewer spins than “Turn the Page” alone got on WCSX last week. Helping get a local street named for Seger was part of the excitement that WCSX rode to the market lead last year. Now, it’s a line of demarcation between the two stations.

Here’s the new WLLZ yesterday, March 14, just before 3 p.m. with market veteran Doug Podell, who was talking about having been at the market’s first and last Kiss concerts; (the farewell tour had come through the night before).

  • Green Day, “Longview”
  • Golden Earring,”Radar Love”
  • Motley Crue, “Kickstart My Heart”
  • Puddle of Mudd, “Blurry”
  • Led Zeppelin, “Over The Hills And Far Away”
  • Offspring, “Come Out And Play”
  • R.E.M., “The One I Love”
  • Metallica, “The Unforgiven II”
  • Doors, “Roadhouse Blues”
  • Scorpions, “No One Like You”
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze”
  • Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”

And here’s WCSX just before 4 p.m. on the previous day (since yesterday was “Triple Shot Thursday”):

  • Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’”
  • Rolling Stones, “Paint It, Black”
  • Motley Crue, “Kickstart My Heart”
  • Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
  • Joan Jett & Blackhearts, “I Love Rock And Roll”
  • Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”
  • John Mellencamp, “Small Town”
  • Led Zeppelin, “Heartbreaker/Livin’ Lovin’ Maid (She’s Just A Woman)”
  • Bob Seger, “Hollywood Nights”
  • Billy Joel, “My Life”
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  1. says

    Great article as always SR. I worked with Bob Hattrik in St. Louis and Denver. The secret weapon records were all callout monsters in a very progressive callout system he developed. The songs all had great like scores weighted with unfamiliarity and that show power potential. We has this winning formula in all of the markets flipped to rock under Doubleday (cept’ NYC).

  2. John Gallagher says

    The original WLLZ playlist reminds me of a lot of titles that Bill Shannon and JJ Sanford were spinning at the locally researched WCCK-FM (K104) in Erie, PA from the late 70’s into the 80s. Bill Weston worked there from 1979-1981 as Scott Reynolds and has a fondness to this day of those ‘K104 hits.’

  3. saladressing says

    Nice Spotify playlist!

    707 “I Could Be Good for You”
    Point Blank “Nicole”
    Prism “Don’t Let Him Know”

    Absolute AOR gems!

    On heritage brands resurrected and playin’ safe stuff, perhaps one “oh wow” cut a handful of times per day would help with positioning and station identity.

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