W.T. Koltek’s Memories

For some reason, I found myself listening to Monitor a great deal during 1967, and it is from that year that most of the following memories and comments originate.

My local NBC affiliate then was their Pittsburgh O&O, WJAS. They had tried one format after another during the ’60s without much success. But in spring 1967, someone at either WJAS or NBC came up with a concept I don’t think anyone else ever did in exactly this way — it was a format for the rest of the station called ‘Monitor Pittsburgh.’ This was an attempt to emulate the network’s weekend sound the rest of the time — they used the ‘Monitor Beacon’ sounder and had customized local versions of the then-current Monitor jingles cut (the ones that ran at :06, :29 etc).

In addition to the usual full-service elements one heard on local radio and the weekday network segments like ‘Emphasis’, there were other produced drop-ins, some local, some syndicated; and the DJs would identify themselves at the end of segments as ‘This is Bill Ross at Pittsburgh Radio Central,’ etc., with the NBC chimes on the half-hour and hour. The music was patterned after Monitor’s AC mix, though I’m not sure how closely. 

Some of the Monitor network hosts, like Brad Crandall, cut promos for the format that ran during the weekend Monitor segments (‘If you enjoy Monitor on weekends, tune in during the week for Monitor Pittsburgh,’ etc). This format lasted at least a year; in 1969 WJAS adopted an all-talk format that was probably the most successful thing NBC ever did with it (with Monitor continuing to air on weekends, of course). NBC sold the station in 1973 and it became the top-40 legend, 13Q — but that’s another story and another website.

Also, by 1967 NBC was back in Cleveland after the FCC reversed its notorious swap with Westinghouse in Philadelphia, and since Westinghouse was so successful with top 40 in Cleveland, NBC kept the format when they took over there. The calls became WKYC (they had been KYW), and as another person in your guestbook has commented, because of the top 40 format, they apparently were not obliged to carry Monitor on weekends. However, they WERE obliged to make good on all the Monitor commercials! So every weekend, in addition to all the local Cleveland spots, WKYC was filled with lots of national ads as well, which the station apparently taped from the Saturday morning feed. Consequently, WKYC listeners heard some commercials voiced by Gene Rayburn, originally as live copy, over the course of the weekend.

This might be a good time to mention a couple of other sponsor-related things I remember from that period: One of Monitor’s advertisers in ’67 was Champale, the malt beverage that allegedly ‘looks, tastes and sparkles like champagne.’ The commercial was a jingle, followed by a music bed over which the Monitor host read some live copy — with one exception: Ed McMahon on Saturday afternoon. His segment had a produced version of the Champale commercial voiced by Gene Rayburn, probably because of Ed’s contract as the Budweiser spokesman. Also, on the weekend of June 12-13, 1967, Monitor celebrated its 12th birthday with lots of anniversary greetings, drop-ins, etc. Why a 12th anniversary was such a big deal, I don’t know; I do know that the whole weekend was bought by one sponsor — DuPont’s auto products division, which ran commercials featuring Bob and Ray to promote some sweepstakes they had at the time. The anniversary stuff may have been intended to give DuPont some added value for their buck.

Also during 1967, I remember DXing WSB in Atlanta, which in the wee hours of weekend mornings ran ‘Monitor ’67, on tape,’ as the local announcer would say. Whether it also ran there during the day as intended, I have no way of knowing — someone who was in Atlanta then might clear that up.

In 1969, the ABC-FM stations launched a new album-rock format called Love. It was produced in New York and supplied to the stations on reels in one-hour segments, and in addition to the music they featured little bits of artist interviews, commentaries and other such things. I recall my take on it at the time was that it was a counterculture version of Monitor. (As a matter of fact, the late John Rydgren, who was the anchor of ABC’s Love format, turned up as a Monitor host briefly in the early ’70s, I seem to recall.)

A couple of final comments: I remember reading that the supposed reason for the demise of Monitor in 1975 was to clear the network lines for NBC’s new News and Information Service, Jack Thayer’s pioneering all-news network (this was still the pre-satellite era). But this may have been in part an excuse, as getting clearance for Monitor had become harder by then. But the concept had legs — surely the NPR ‘Morning Edition’ and ‘All Things Considered’ format can be considered one of Monitor’s descendants.

Also, back in late ’55, according to ads I’ve found in trade magazines (I don’t remember this), NBC attempted a Monitor-style makeover for its weekday, daytime schedule — it was called, in fact, ‘Weekday’ and was aimed at the housewife audience with a mix of music, features, etc. According to the ads, the air talent included Virginia Graham, Mike Wallace, Mary Margaret McBride and Dr. Frances Horwich (of Ding Dong School fame). Apparently this didn’t last very long, possibly less than a year.

It’s worth bearing in mind that television wasn’t the only impetus for such experiments on NBC’s part. An even bigger threat than TV in 1955 was the rise of the independent radio stations with what were then called ‘music and news’ formats — i.e., the McLendon, Storz, Plough and Bartell chains and their imitators. Their programming was inexpensive and geared to contemporary listening patterns in ways old-line network radio wasn’t. Weaver’s hope was that by combining a similar programming matrix and participating-advertiser structure with the kind of resources only a network could provide (live music remotes, interviews, actualities, comedy bits), NBC could beat the cheaply programmed indies at their own game. Unfortunately, he ran out of time and the concept never went further than weekends with any success.

W. T. Koltek