June 12, 1981: Too Much Time on My Hands

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(Pictured: James Young of Styx, onstage in 1981.)

June 12, 1981, was a Friday. It’s the first day of a strike by Major League Baseball players after their union failed to reach an agreement with owners regarding free-agent compensation. It is unknown when the season will resume. The Middle East remains tense in the wake of Israel’s bombing of a nuclear reactor in Iraq last Sunday. Arab foreign ministers are appealing to the United Nations for sanctions against Israel. The United States has canceled delivery of four F-16 jet fighter planes to Israel, and President Reagan has expressed concerns about the attack. At the same time, he has assured Israel that its relationship with the United States is unchanged. Today, Reagan is in his office by 9AM and has several meetings with aides and Cabinet officers, as well as lunch with Vice President George Bush, who is celebrating his 57th birthday. Reagan also receives credentials from a number of new foreign diplomats and attends a ceremony declaring July 17 as POW/MIA Recognition Day. His working day ends at 3:20, although he speaks to a evening gathering of Republican National Committee members at the White House. In Italy, efforts continue to rescue a six-year-old boy who fell into a 213-foot-deep well shaft on a construction site two days ago. Today’s rescue attempt is broadcast on Italian television and watched by a crowd of 2,000 at the site. It also leads ABC’s World News Tonight, although the other two evening news shows report on it later in their broadcasts. Future supermodel Adriana Lima is born. Larry Holmes retains the world heavyweight boxing championship with a third-round TKO of Leon Spinks.

On TV tonight, HBO airs a comedy special starring former NBC daytime talk-show host David Letterman called Looking for Fun, which was filmed in 1979. Movies opening in theaters this weekend include Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Mel Brooks film History of the World Part 1, and Clash of the Titans. Popular video rentals this weekend are likely to be 9 to 5, Airplane, Stunt Man, Flash Gordon, and Caddyshack, which are the top five selections on Billboard‘s Videocassette Top 40. Bob Dylan plays Pine Knob Music Theater in suburban Detroit, Rush plays Anaheim, California, and Van Halen plays Oakland. Joe Walsh plays Chicago and ZZ Top plays Louisville. Three Dog Night and April Wine play separate venues in Maryland.

At KRLA in Los Angeles, there’s not much chart action. The top 12 songs of the week are the same as last week, and only four of them have moved at all, one spot apiece. The #1 song is “Medley” by Stars on 45; “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith is #2. Other hits in the Top 10 include “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train,” “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton, and Smokey Robinson’s “Being With You.” Big movers are George Harrison’s “All Those Years Ago,” up seven spots to #15, and “Living Inside Myself” by Gino Vannelli, up eight to #17. The highest debuts on the chart are “Too Much Time on My Hands” by Styx and “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon. Hitbound songs include “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates and “Seven Year Ache” by Rosanne Cash. The Seven Year Ache album is #1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country LPs chart. On the magazine’s Top LPs and Tape chart, Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon, Paradise Theater by Styx, and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC hold at #1, #2, and #3.

Perspective From the Present: The baseball season resumed on August 10. The first-place teams on June 12—the Yankees, A’s, Phillies, and Dodgers—were given a pass to the playoffs, and the post-strike games were designated the season’s “second half.” The young boy down the Italian well, Alfredo Rampi, died there on June 13. Several of the hits of June 1981 would remain radio staples for years thereafter, even though they left a 21-year-old college radio DJ mostly cold.


December 21, 1981: Overtime

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(Pictured: Jane Fonda at the premiere of On Golden Pond, 1981.)

December 21, 1981, was a Monday. Poland’s crackdown on political opposition continues after martial law was declared on December 13. Yesterday, Polish ambassador Ronauld Spasowski reportedly defected to the United States. Today, there are reports of militiamen attacking Catholic priests in Wroclaw and Gdansk. Shipyards at Gdansk have been ground zero for a series of strikes by the Solidarity labor union and its leader, Lech Walesa. President Reagan meets with top advisors regarding the situation in Poland and the federal budget for the forthcoming fiscal year. The New York Times reports today that the budget may include $45 billion in tax increases over the next two fiscal years. Reagan’s working day ends with a brief appearance at a surprise party for a departing presidential assistant. Many retailers are disappointed with sales figures for the weekend before Christmas. Shoppers are favoring larger stores and cheaper gifts as inflation continues higher than predicted.

Yesterday, the Minnesota Vikings played their final NFL game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, losing to Kansas City 10-6. It was their fifth straight loss, ending their season with a record of 7-and-9. In the postgame rush for souvenirs—seats, bleachers, goal posts, and chunks of sod—dozens of fans were injured. Tonight, in college basketball, Cincinnati defeats Bradley 75-73 in seven overtimes. The game was tied at 61 following 40 minutes of regulation play. Through 35 minutes of extra time, both teams play keepaway. Only one overtime period (the fourth) features more than one basket each, after neither team scored in the third overtime. The game is decided on a last-second shot by Cincinnati’s Doug Schloemer, who scores the only points in the seventh overtime.

Top box-office draws over the past weekend included Reds, On Golden Pond,and Porky’s, and new releases Sharky’s Machine starring Burt Reynolds, Neighbors starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the re-release of Walt Disney’s Cinderella, and Absence of Malice starring Paul Newman and Sally Field. Tonight, Field stars with William Hurt in a live NBC presentation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play All the Way Home, which follows an episode of Little House on the Prairie. The CBS lineup features four sitcoms: Private Benjamin, The Two of Us (starring Mimi Kennedy as a single mom and Peter Cook as her English butler), a Christmas-themed episode of M*A*S*H, and former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers in House Calls, plus Lou Grant. An ABC News Closeup investigation of possible Soviet “yellow rain” chemical warfare in southeast Asia precedes the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. The Chargers win 23-10 to capture the AFC West and knock the Denver Broncos out of the playoffs. San Diego has a bye in the opening round, which will begin with two wild-card games next Sunday.

AC/DC plays Landover, Maryland, and Black Sabbath plays Chicago. Rush plays the first of two shows at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Duran Duran plays Birmingham, England, and U2 wraps up a two-night stand at the Lyceum Ballroom in London. Journey opens a two-night stand in Honolulu, the last dates of their Escape tour until April. At KFXM in San Bernardino, California, “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart is the new #1 song; last week’s #1, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” by Foreigner, falls to #4. (On the Billboard Hot 100, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” is in its fourth of what will eventually be 10 straight weeks at #2.) In between Rod Stewart and Foreigner are “Leather and Lace” by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley and “Trouble” by Lindsey Buckingham. Three songs are new in the Top 10: “Heart Like a Wheel” by Steve Miller, “I Can’t Go for That” by Hall and Oates, and “Yesterday’s Songs” by Neil Diamond. Those three take the places of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by the Police, and “Oh No” by the Commodores.

Perspective From the Present: The first semester of my senior year in college was over, and I had just completed a third semester as program director of the campus radio station. Come spring, I would take 13 credits, most of which was independent study or internship, because in February I would start my first full-time radio job at KDTH in Dubuque. In early January, a fire in my college apartment would accelerate my timetable for moving to Dubuque, but on this day, I was merely looking forward to Christmas.

May 13, 1981: Prophecy and Transformation

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(Pictured: Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA, 1976.)

May 13, 1981 is a Wednesday. Some believers in Christian prophecy spend what they think is going to be their last day on Earth. Calculations based on the foundation of Israel on May 14, 1948, indicate to them that the Rapture will take place tomorrow. (It won’t.) In Rome, a crowd of thousands in St. Peter’s Square is shocked when Pope John Paul II is shot by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca. The 19th International Symposium on Functional Equations closes in France. Seven people spot a UFO near Denison, Texas. High Point, North Carolina, institutes a new rule forbidding gay and lesbian couples, as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, from occupying public housing in the city.

Pop singer Joan Weber, who hit #1 in 1955 with “Let Me Go Lover,” dies in a New Jersey mental institution at age 45. Future Penthouse Pet of the Year Sunny Leone and future NFL linebacker Shaun Phillips are born. The Los Angeles Dodgers win their third in a row, 8-6 over Montreal; tomorrow, rookie pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela will start against the Expos. His record is 9-and-0 with an earned-run average of 0.22 over 80 innings pitched. At the University of Wisconsin in Platteville, an aspiring DJ and his roommates spend more time watching baseball and barbecuing than studying, even though it’s finals week. At their local Eagle grocery store, fresh bratwurst is $1.58 a pound, a 52-ounce can of pork and beans is $1.09, and a 20-pound bag of charcoal is $3.09. In Doonesbury, Joanie and Rick continue to plan their wedding. On TV tonight: The Greatest American Hero, Diff’rent Strokes, and Real People. The Grateful Dead plays Providence, Rhode Island, U2 plays Santa Monica, California, Rush plays Syracuse, and King Crimson plays Paris. A Swedish magazine publishes a story about the early career of ABBA’s Agnetha Faltskog.

At WLS in Chicago, the top four singles on the survey to be released Saturday will be unchanged from the previous week: “Morning Train” by Sheena Easton, “You Better You Bet” by the Who, “Kiss on My List” by Hall and Oates, and “Too Much Time on My Hands” by Styx. (The top five albums will be similarly unchanged, with AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap leading the way; their Back in Black will hold at #8. ) The hottest singles on the new chart are “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, blasting from #23 to #7, “Living Inside Myself” by Gino Vannelli, jumping from #29 to #18, and “For You” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, rising from #33 to #25. The latter, yet another Springsteen cover, is emblematic of how WLS has transformed itself this year, playing a greater variety of rock songs in morning drive and at night and softer stuff during the day.

December 7, 1981: Let’s Get Physical

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(Pictured: Olivia Newton-John.)

December 7, 1981, was a Monday. President Reagan tells reporters that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has sent assassination teams to murder top U.S. officials, after an American official is killed by suspected Libyan gunmen in Paris yesterday. (Later in the week, Reagan will call on Americans in Libya to leave, and forbid any other Americans to enter.) Reagan also meets Colonel Joseph Engel and Captain Richard Truly, the astronauts who flew the space shuttle Columbia on its second mission last month, and nominates Robert Bork to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Seven coal miners are killed in an explosion in Knott County, Kentucky. Spain officially joins NATO. The Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Northwest holds its first meeting in Seattle. Joe’s Pizzeria and Vittoria opens in Summit, New Jersey.

The Oakland Raiders score 16 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-27, on Monday Night Football. At baseball’s annual winter meetings, the Chicago Cubs trade pitcher Doug Capilla to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for pitcher Allen Ripley. (Tomorrow, they will make a major trade, acquiring three players from the Philadelphia Phillies, including infielder Keith Moreland and pitcher Dickie Noles, for pitcher Mike Krukow.) Future NFL defensive lineman Tank Johnson is born. William Edmunds, who played minor roles in Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life, dies at age 95.

The cover story in Time magazine is “Crazy Over Cats,” inspired by the proliferation of cat-related popular culture, including Garfield, the musical Cats, and the book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat. People‘s cover story is about Johnny Carson’s return to his hometown to film a documentary. Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. TV shows on the air tonight include M*A*S*H, That’s Incredible!, Lou Grant, Knots Landing, and Little House on the Prairie. The Grateful Dead plays Des Moines. Badfinger plays Cleveland. Eric Clapton plays Budokan in Tokyo. Frank Zappa plays Salt Lake City. The Rolling Stones play suburban Washington, D.C.

At WLS in Chicago, “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John takes over the #1 slot from “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates, which slips to #2. Among the biggest movers on the chart are “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart (#26 to #14), “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie (#45 to #24), and a live version of “Closer to the Heart” by Rush (#44 to #30). These records indicate the hard-rockin’ direction the station has taken in 1981, particularly in morning drive and at night. The station is still playing Air Supply, Christopher Cross, Sheena Easton, Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow, and “Endless Love,” but also Triumph’s “Magic Power,” “Nicole” by Point Blank, “Heavy Metal” by Don Felder, and Diesel’s “Sausalito Summernight.”

October 6, 1981: Sensation

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(Pictured: Pat Benatar, circa 1981.)

October 6, 1981, was a Tuesday. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, reviewing a parade in Cairo, is assassinated by Muslim extremists after 11 years in office. President Reagan makes a brief televised speech about the Sadat assassination after attending a luncheon in honor of the visiting prime minister of Thailand. He also proclaims October 9 to be Leif Erickson Day. The Progressive Conservative Party wins a majority in general elections in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The Mall of Memphis opens in Memphis, Tennessee.

The major-league baseball playoffs open, with an unusual format made necessary by the players’ strike earlier this season. Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros outduels rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers in one game; in the other, Oakland defeats Kansas City. Two more series will open tomorrow: New York Yankees at Milwaukee and Philadelphia at Montreal. Actor Gary Coleman tells producers of Diff’rent Strokes that he wants a new contract; he will not appear on new episodes of the show until the dispute is resolved. Shows on TV tonight include Hart to Hart, Three’s Company, and the TV movie Return of the Beverly Hillbillies.

The Grateful Dead play the Rainbow Theatre in London, AC/DC plays Newcastle, England, and Motorhead plays live on the BBC. The Dead Kennedys play Rome, and the Police play Russelsheim, Germany. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks, and the Joe Ely Band share a bill in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Pat Benatar plays Austin, Texas. At WLS in Chicago, the top album is Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones, which has knocked Journey’s Escape from #1. The live album Nine Tonight by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band leaps from #12 to #5; Dan Fogelberg’s The Innocent Age also enters the Top 10, moving to #8 from #25. The soundtrack of the R-rated, animated sci-fi movie Heavy Metal is at #11. Two songs from the soundtrack are new on the WLS singles chart: Devo’s cover of “Working in the Coal Mine” is at #40 and the title song, recorded by Don Felder of the Eagles, is at #41.

Perspective From the Present: It was the fall of my senior year in college. A group of us decided to watch the afternoon baseball playoff game in the student center bar. At 6:00, we decided to skip our evening class to watch the second game and drink more beer. At 10:00, my girlfriend (now The Mrs.) pulled me out of the bar, reminding me that I had to be on the air the next morning in Dubuque at 5AM. Because she was sure I would never get there by myself, she put me to bed on her couch, rousted me at 3AM, and drove me to work. I was still half-intoxicated, and the other half of me was hung over. I lasted until 7:30, when a friendly colleague took pity on me and sent me home. It is to the man’s eternal credit that he didn’t report my condition to our boss, because I would surely have been fired, and justifiably so. But he didn’t like the guy any more than I did, so it remained our little secret.

March 6, 1981: I Have the Skill

(When this blog began in January, I promised to write entirely new, never-before-seen posts for it once in a while. This is the first one.)

March 6, 1981, is a Friday. President Reagan holds an afternoon news conference. The reporters asking questions were chosen after Reagan drew names from a jelly-bean jar the previous day, but there are no limits on the questions he can be asked. He takes questions on the political situation in El Salvador, his economic recovery program, and his proposed cuts in social welfare programs.  Longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas asks him if his stance on the right to life means he is opposed to contraception. He responds, “No, I am not.” In today’s Peanuts strip, Sally writes a report for school. Future actress Ellen Muth is born, and George Franconero Jr. is shot to death in front of his home in North Caldwell, New Jersey, in a suspected mob hit. Franconero, a disbarred lawyer and the brother of singer Connie Francis, was cooperating with the FBI in an investigation of organized crime.

After 19 years, Walter Cronkite anchors the CBS Evening News for the final time. He tells the audience, “I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years.” CBS has placed full-page ads in newspapers around the country touting that assignment: a trip to Moscow as part of a five-hour special report on America’s defenses and the new series Walter Cronkite’s Universe. In Platteville, Wisconsin, several young college broadcasters have a little party to watch the last Cronkite show. CBS primetime features The Incredible Hulk and two episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. NBC lines up Harper Valley PTA, The Brady Brides, Nero Wolfe (a detective drama starring William Conrad and Lee Horsley) and NBC Magazine. ABC has Benson, I’m a Big Girl Now, and Long Journey Back, a 1978 made-for TV movie starring Mike Connors, Cloris Leachman, and Stephanie Zimbalist, about the aftermath of a real-life bus/train crash that took place in 1972.

With less than one week to go in the regular college basketball season, undefeated Oregon State remains ranked #1, with once-beaten DePaul at #2. A column in the Chicago Tribune suggests that TV commentator Billy Packer is likely done after NBC loses the NCAA tournament to CBS in 1982. (Packer will move smoothly from NBC to CBS and remain one of its lead college basketball voices until 2008.)

The Grateful Dead plays Pittsburgh and Queen plays Rosario, Argentina. Duran Duran continues its first headlining tour of the UK in Cardiff, Wales. The Boomtown Rats play Toronto, and U2 plays the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, a show that will be widely bootlegged and eventually get an official release in 2004. Ted Nugent plays Portland, Oregon, and Kansas plays in Wichita with Loverboy opening. At D93 in Dubuque, Iowa, “The Best of Times” by Styx takes over the #1 spot from John Lennon’s “Woman,” which falls to #3. “Smokey Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap sits between them at #2. Two songs are new in the Top 10: “Hello Again” by Neil Diamond at #7 and “Hearts on Fire” by Randy Meisner at #10. They replace “Don’t You Know What Love Is” by Touch, which is down from #6 to #14, and whatever was #9 the previous week, which has fallen off the survey entirely. The biggest movers are all up four spots; in addition to “Hello Again,” they include “What Kind of Fool” by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb, ” “Morning Train” by Sheena Easton, and “Just Between You and Me” by April Wine.

Perspective From the Present: I had been working part-time at D93 and its AM sister, KDTH, for nearly two years by March 1981. D93 racked up enormous audience shares, although the numbers were somewhat illusory: its lone Top 40 competition in town was an AM station. D93, which was completely automated with no live jocks, had developed a modest reputation for breaking hits, although that rep came at the cost of playing lots of relative stiffs. The generic pop-rocker “Don’t You Know What Love Is,” the much more interesting “I Have the Skill” by the Sherbs, and the pointless Roy Orbison cover “Running Scared” by the Fools all made the Hot 100. But “Come to My Arms” by Graf, an attempt to clone the Doobie Brothers that’s pretty terrible, did not. Taken all together, D93’s music mix looks pretty weird, but it didn’t sound much weirder than what any other Top 40 station would have been playing in the spring of 1981.