|Submitted by Zookeeper on Sun, 11/09/2008 - 07:00|
The KZEW story actually began in Detroit Michigan at one of the nation's first progressive rock radio stations, WWWW (W4) 106FM, where five original KZEW staff members had already teamed up to create the number two station in the Detroit market. Once a beautiful music station, in 1970, "W4" became an album oriented rock station and briefly styled itself "W4 Quad" during its brief use of quadraphonic transmission in the early 1970s. It is most remembered today as one of future shock jock Howard Stern's earliest radio jobs.
In 1971 W4 brought in John Dew as the station's Generial Manager and Ira Lipson as the Program Director. Already, several FM stations in California and New York had started what was then known as underground radio, a free-form type of programming that abandoned the popular Top-40 format and basically let the DJ play and say whatever he wanted. Unlike their chatty AM counterparts, underground DJs spoke as if they were stoned and played blocks of obscure album cuts from a wide variety of artists. Between songs, the DJs would ramble on in a laid-back voice about whatever topic they chose, from the Vietnam War to Richard Nixon.
Lipson took the best features of the underground concept and married them with features of more traditional radio, creating a station that was easier to listen to. He hired great talent and gave them leeway to put together top album tracks from a large playlist of music that reflected the station's image. Now Detroiters had a station they could listen to that balanced new music and familiar music, presented by talented DJs who connected to the listeners.
In just two years, John and Ira brought this number twelve radio station to the number one 'rock' station and number two in the entire Detroit radio market. With John's direction, and Ira's programming, plus great radio talent such as Ken Rundel, Mark Addy, Gary Shaw, Don Schuster and Michael Benner they couldn't go wrong. Ira himself even filled in as needed on the air as Ira J. Cook and even had a daily show for awhile.
Ira had a unique programming style that was responsible for most of W4's success. Michael Benner who came to W4 in 1972 remembers, "We ended up kicking WRIF's butt. We had a very progressive and loose format. Ira had a 3-ring binder with every tune that could be played. It was alphabetized by bands. Under each song were 31 numbers for the days of the month. Each jock had a different color grease pencil. When you played a tune, you marked that day's date with your day-part color next to the title. Four days had to pass before that song could be played again. It was a wonderful combination of a program director who had control over his music, yet as jocks, we were still pulling our own tunes." Ira would later program the ZOO using this same system.
Meanwhile, W4's owners decided to cash in on the station's success and put the station up for sale. John and Ira both decide, it was time to move on. After W4's transformation, they have learned what works and what doesn't, they were excited to try this formula elsewhere.
To be continued...