By Ken Deutsch.
Once upon a time there was an also-ran rocker at 1310 on the AM dial in Detroit called WKMH. It fought a losing battle against other Motor City stalwarts like WXYZ, WJBK, CKLW (from nearby Windsor, Ontario) and even WQTE (Monroe), but everything changed for the livelier in the fall of 1963.
The new calls were WKNR (“Keener 13”) and while the station only played top 40 for about nine years, it was a very influential period for me.
I can’t comment on the jingles without first mentioning the station’s unique and rather sproingy reverb which gave the air signal a very distinctive sound. When Gary Stevens or J. Michael Wilson would snap their fingers for example, the result was quirky and wonderful.
WKNR simulcast their AM signal on FM, which was common practice in the 1960s. Of course today its the other way around. But the fact that they were on AM and FM meant I could listen easily with great fidelity from my home in Toledo, Ohio which is about 50 miles from Dearborn, Michigan where the station was licensed.
When Keener 13 first signed on, they used jingles produced by Dallas companies Richard H. Ullman, CRC (Commercial Recording Corporation) and Jodie Lyons. The latter created a package called “The Lively Ones.” All these jingles received a lot of airplay. Perhaps the station was unable to obtain jingles from PAMS of Dallas, the leading producer, because that company had an arrangement with ABC-owned competitor WXYZ until about 1965.
The Richard H. Ullman package, sung in Dallas provided the memorable “Action Central News” jingle and other great cuts from a package called “One-Derful.” The CRC material was comprised of several packages, but notably one called “Big Band Bit” which was orchestrated and conducted by Quincy Jones. These were the first jingles to use the WKNR melody for the call letters that would remain consistent until about 1970 when PAMS began to tinker with it.
While WXYZ was “go go’ing,” WKNR in 1965 bought their first PAMS Package: Series
30 “The ‘N Sound.” The vocal group was entirely female, but the station continued to use the non-PAMS packages simultaneously.
From that point, WKNR stuck with PAMS til the very end. They next bought Series 31, “Music Explosion” in 1966 which featured an electronic voice called a “Sonovox” saying the world “music.” The package had a very macho all-male vocal which gave the station a little more punch. Many of the jingles were acapella, but the instrumented cuts were bright and brassy.
WKNR actually helped PAMS pioneer the next package in the fall of 1966: “Swiszle,” which meant whatever you wanted it to mean. The phrase was created by PAMS sales manager Toby Arnold who had been known to have an occasional drink, so perhaps it was taken from the plastic swizzle stick used to stir cocktails. The series was number 32 for PAMS.
The station was so excited about this musical image that they flew in a contingent from Dallas to stage a live musical event for their advertisers to introduce their new sound. Featured singer Trella Hart and a small combo from PAMS performed.
Hart was also featured on the next jingle series, 33 known as “Fun Vibrations” in 1967. It was the summer of love, psychedelic music was popular and this series made much use of a new electronic toy, the Moog synthesizer.
In 1967 Detroits WWJ, which recently switched to an all news operation, also had PAMS electronic logos for their format which was not in competition with WKNR.
At the very end of 1967, PAMS developed series 34, “The Tenth Dimension.” While the title of the series never showed up in the lyrics, the phrase “music power” dominated the airwaves of Keener. Of course to put this in a social context, it was a time of “black power,” and the feminist movement which strived for “female power.” Music was still the driving force on AM, so WKNR went in that direction.
By this time, WQTE had dropped rock for a beautiful music format and WJBK had switched to a relaxed middle of the road style in presentation. It was a three-way rock battle among WXYZ, WKNR and CKLW.
WXYZ blinked in 1967 and abandoned the top 40 format for a middle of the road approach. Because the station was no longer competing with WKNR, it went to PAMS for their jingles as well and obtained an original custom series called “The Good Life” and later series 35 and some additional custom jingles in 1968.
Meanwhile across the Detroit River in Canada, CKLW was switching to very short jingles as part of their “Bill Drake” format. All promotional announcements were streamlined and a lot of “more music” segues were heard on this giant 50,000 watt station which could be heard in many states.
By comparison, WKNR’s AM signal was weak and highly directional and barely covered Detroit. Their FM signal could reach about 50 miles in all directions but who had FM radios in 1967?
Keener was still rocking, but took a different jingle approach going with a series of acapella jingles from PAMS for a year or two before asking PAMS to create a very different jingle package under program director Lee Sherwood in 1970.
In fact PAMS named Series 39 “The Sherwood Series” and the cuts sounded like the contemporary music of the day. Some jingles reflected the sensibilities of Crosby Stills and Nash, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears and others. This was the first ID package to break away from the highly memorable “WKNR, Keener 13” melody. The series never really caught on, at least in other markets where it was tried.
CKLW was coming on stronger each month.
In 1971, WKNR returned to a more traditional brassy male-voiced custom package from PAMS originally called “Sig Alert,” named after a Los Angeles traffic reporter of all things. The title of the package was soon changed to “Clyde.” The people at PAMS told me they gave it that name because they couldn’t think of anything else. Still later PAMS engineer Jon Wolfert, who went on to found JAM Creative Productions, made up some words to justify the title: “contemporary logos you don’t expect.” But listeners didn’t know that and PAMS never made it public.
PAMS continued to experiment with new sounds for WKNR, developing a package called “Grabber” and a final package that really sounded like the group Chicago but which had no name.
The latter used some soloists in addition to the vocal group.
There was also an unfinished experimental package called “Saturday Night,” developed by PAMS writer Jim Kirk which was never aired, and may never have been sent to the station.
The end was near, not just for WKNR but for AM. People began to switch to FM for music and WKNR changed its FM format to an easy listening blend called “Stereo Island.” PAMS created the jingles for that too.
The last step was to drop the WKNR call letters entirely and move to WNIC(AM/FM) but by then the top 40 party was over.
I would love to expound on the Keener jocks who were all excellent, but I’ll leave that to others. Suffice it to say that the WKNR jingles were trend setting and provided a great soundtrack for the lives of thousands of teenagers in Detroit for almost a decade.
Ken Deutsch. is a writer for Radio World and also maintains a Web site that is licensed to sell classic PAMS jingles including those of WKNR, WJBK, WXYZ, CKLW, WQTE and many other stations around the world. There are two hour-long CDs of WKNR jingles available. He’s also just released the definitive history in The Jingle Book. His Web site is www.kendeutsch.com.