restricted access Lee Abrams and the Cold-Blooded, Calculated Assassination of Detroit Radio: An Eyewitness Account
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410 ı n 1972 nineteen-year-old Lee Abrams was hired as program director (PD) at WRIF-FM radio in Detroit. In less than two years, he changed the sound and, most important, the face of FM rock and roll radio. The recommendation of a friend, writer and jazz expert Geoffrey Jacques, my Creem credentials, and the need to meet minority-hiring requirements had gotten me a part-time on-air shift at WYSP in the fall of 1971. I went full time a few months later, working overnights (i.e., the black-guy shift). When Abrams came to WRIF I was cut back to part-time work, and all personal appearances, emceeing concerts, and the like were eliminated.So was most of my income as well as any mention of my name in any station promotion on- or off-air. I got a little satisfaction after Abrams was let go. Right around my own nineteenth birthday, I was made music director at WRIF after first turning down a shot at his old job as PD. With Abrams in control, the focus was on courting white, male, eighteen-to-thirty-five-yearold listeners with disposable income and the bigmoney national advertisers that chased them. It wasn’t that sinister a move from a business standpoint, but doing it meant turning away from the part of the audience that didn’t fit that mold, the part of the audience that was younger, older, female, economically challenged, and, especially, nonwhite. I didn’t detect any overt racism in Abrams himself, and I think it was business and profit that motivated him. But the racial tension that came to a head in 1967 had left the Motor City burning and created an atmosphere characterized by the hostile antiintegration crusade disguised as an anti-schoolbusing movement led by Oakland County’s L. Brooks Patterson and his coalition. Abrams had found an excellent time and place for his ideas to take hold. One of Abrams’s first moves was to wrest control of the on-air content from the independent-minded jocks. If any jock could be found approximating or duplicating the tone of underground radio, control would be back in the hands of the brass, not the creative DJs like Jerry Lubin, Dan Carlisle, and Paul Greiner. Certain types of music were restricted to specific times of the day, “day-parting” in radio Newspeak. Playlists were assembled from data gathered from surveys and focus groups made up of people with time on their hands on a weekday afternoon. The now-mandatory playlist became progressively more restrictive. My overnight shift gave me four choices an hour. It may have been even less for other shifts. Before Abrams was gone it was down to none. All the blues, jazz, country, and most of the folk music was removed from the playlists, and the records were taken out of the studio library. Sly and the Family Stone,Rufus,and other integrated bands Lee Abrams and the Cold-Blooded, Calculated Assassination of Detroit Radio An Eyewitness Account Rick Allen 411 rıck allen were gone except for War and the Allman Brothers Band.Black rock and roll was completely eliminated except for Jimi Hendrix, who was down to a cut or two. No more Little Richard, Chambers Brothers, Love, or Garland Jeffreys. Almost anything remotely outside Abrams’s ethnic guidelines got the ax including Lolly Vegas’s Redbone and Jorge Santana’s Malo, a band that sounded a little more Latino than brother Carlos’s band, which also saw its airplay reduced. Even the bluesier cuts from Led Zeppelin were kept at a minimum. Significantly, all Detroit and regional music was pulled except for Alice Cooper’s hits, Grand Funk’s “Closer to Home,” and occasionally the Amboy Dukes’“Journey to the Center of the Mind.” In the days before the Beautiful Loser and Night Moves albums put him on the national scene, Bob Seger got “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” but that was about it. “Heavy Music” might have gotten a play or two but “East Side Story,” “Persecution Smith,” and other regional hits were out, taking with them Dick Wagner’s the Frost, The Teegarden and Van Winkle, Savage Grace, and even the Stooges and the MC5. Losing Michigan- and Detroit-area acts, especially the soul-heavy acts like the Rationals and Mitch Ryder and spectacularly creative groups like Parliament/Funkadelic, felt like a deliberate attack on Detroit’s rich music history. Motown was gone, too, except for Rare...


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