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When 'Radio Wars' Rocked The FM Airwaves In 1980s

John Kiesewetter
A WKRQ-FM billboard for its Q102 Morning Zoo show in the 1980s.

Even more fun! Bob "The Producer" Berry says he's attending the "Remembering Radio’s Rock Rivalries" program Sunday along with Eddie Fingers, Jay Gilbert, Mike McConnell, Pat Barry and Kevin "Doc" Wolfe. Berry worked for WKRQ-FM/WKRC-AM before joining Fingers on the WEBN-FM "Dawn Patrol."

The program is 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, at the main public library downtown.

Original post 10:46 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24: This sounds like lots of fun: Eddie Fingers, Jay Gilbert, Mike McConnell, Pat Barry and Kevin "Doc" Wolfe talk about the 1970s and  '80s radio wars Sunday Jan. 28 at the downtown public library.

Before the consolidation of radio ownership, folks at WEBN-FM, Q102, 96 ROCK and WSAI-FM engaged in all kinds of scams, stunts and dirty tricks to win over listeners as FM radio passed AM stations in popularity.

Credit John Kiesewetter
WEBN-FM softball jersey in the "Living on the Air" exhibit on the library's third floor.

I've heard many of the stories – and written about them over the years – from individual rock war veterans. I can't wait to hear a group of former competitors reminisce together about how they tried to get the best of each other. The library publicity for the event promises "a few surprise guests," and I expect a program like this to attract many other radio staffers from the 1970s and '80s.

Through the 1980s, the government limited  companies to owning one FM and one AM station in a city. WEBN-FM, WKRQ-FM, WUBE-FM, WSAI-FM, WSKS-FM, WBLZ-FM, WLW-AM and news/talk WCKY-AM each had separate owners trying to grab a larger share of the market.

So crazy stuff happened when a station tried to give away a huge cash prize…. Or put a huge secret prize box on the top of Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena)… 

Or was literally laundering honey-coated dollar bills from a sister station's give-away stunt involving a child's swimming pool filled with honey and money.

Credit WCET-TV
Kevin "Doc" Wolfe (right) with Gary Burbank, when I interviewed them for a four-part WCET-TV series before Burbank retired from WLW-AM in December 2007.

Wolfe started at WSAI-FM, located under the tower in Price Hill. He's best known as Gary Burbank's sidekick on WLW-AM in the 1980s and '90s. He now works for DonorDrive, a peer-to-peer fund-raising organization.

Fingers and McConnell came  from Dayton to work at Hamilton's upstart 96 ROCK. Fingers jumped to the competition, WEBN-FM's "Dawn Patrol," before Robin Wood started maternity leave. McConnell was hired by WLW-AM to do production before taking over the late-morning talk show.

Credit John Kiesewetter
WEBN-FM "Jelly Pudding" poster on display at the downtown public library.

Gilbert started at WEBN-FM in 1974, and did afternoons from 1980 to 2012. He created many of 'EBN's legendary on-air pranks, fake commercials and song parodies, which earned him a prestigious Marconi Award in 2001 for best "Large Market Personality" in the nation. Gilbert now hosts afternoon drive on WOFX-FM (The Fox 92.5), and writes the "Doctor Know" history column for Cincinnati magazine.

Barry was at WKRQ-FM (101.9) in the 1970s, when the Taft Broadcasting's Q102 battled for young listeners with independent rock station WEBN-FM.  Chris O'Brien (now at WGRR-FM) and Jim Fox hosted the "Q102 Morning Zoo."  The Q had a Bananaman mascot to compete with WEBN-FM's Frog.  Barry left Q102 to do WLWT-TV's weather in 1984, and has worked at a variety of stations. He now hosts mornings on oldies WDJO-AM (1480).

The "Remembering Radio’s Rock Rivalries" discussion was organized to promote the nostalgic "Living on the Air" display of Cincinnati radio and TV memorabilia at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County downtown, 800 Vine St., through Jan. 31.  

Credit John Kiesewetter
WUBE-FM T-shirt displayed at the library

Here's is a link to my "Living on the Air" pictures and story.On display in the third-floor Cincinnati Room are WEBN-FM shirts and posters; Q102 jackets and billboards; photos of WLW-AM's Burbank, Jim Scott and Bill Cunningham;  Dusty Rhodes' WGRR-FM jacket; a Lucky Strike/Pall Mall cigarette ad with WKRC-AM's Jerry Thomas,  Stan Matlock and Ted McKay; and items from WNKU-FM, WGUC-FM, WCIN-AM and other stations. All of them came from Media Heritage,the local nonprofit TV/radio archives which also has displays at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting in West Chester Township.  

"The 1970s changed the face of the radio dial as rock and roll made FM king of the airwaves," says Mike Martini, Media Heritage co-founder.

Credit John Kiesewetter
Display for WCPO-TV's "Uncle Al Show" on the library's first floor.

On the first floor are displays from the "Uncle Al Show," "Skipper Ryle Show," Nick Clooney, Bob Braun, Ruth Lyons, Rod Serling, Hasker Nelson, Al Schottelkotte, Paul Dixon, Bonnie Lou, "Midwestern Hayride" and "WKRP in Cincinnati."

The "Remembering Radio’s Rock Rivalries"program starts at 2 p.m. in the Reading Garden Lounge on the first floor of the main public library Sunday, Jan. 28.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.