An exciting envelope recently arrived in the mail, containing a stack of vintage college radio station playlists from the 1970s and 1980s. Mostly handwritten or typed on typewriters, the “music surveys” capture lists of the most recently added music to these station’s libraries. Sometimes broken down by genre or divided by different types of rotation (heavy/medium/light), the playlists are a step back in time, when artists like the Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Thompson Twins, Gary Glitter, and Siouxsie and the Banshees were mainstays of the college radio charts.
Compiled by college radio music directors, these playlists were sent off to record labels to keep them apprised of which albums were getting played on the air. Sometimes the playlists contained brief updates or personal notes to record label personnel. For example, College of William and Mary’s WCWM-FM (1600 watts stereo 89.1 in Williamsburg, Virginia)’s Music Director Janet Kirkley wrote in her February 14-March 6, 1984 update,
Whew! Just returned from the IBS convention, and what a cain-raising time that was. Thanks to all I talked to for making it all so much fun. Sara and Mark L., my two Tontos, had a kicky time as well and can hardly wait for next year’s get together. Special thanks to Fred E. of CBS for the Psychedelic Furs preview; I’ll be chewing my nails in anticipation until the lp comes in…”
One of my favorites is WRPN’s November 27, 1973 playlist from Ripon College in Wisconsin (read about the station’s history and the end of its FM broadcasts here), which is titled “Nifty sounds and sensuous notes from the 10-watt powerhouse.” The purple-hued playlist (remember ditto machines which allowed one to make copies featuring purple ink?) is a mix of typed and handwritten updates and includes a note addressed to Steve. Here’s the note:
Steve – We’re in desperate need of Croce’s ‘I Got a Name’ album. Any chance of our receiving it in the near future? Thanx for any help. Yours, Warren Blahm Program Director”
A few playlists in the stash were addressed to Steve Resnick at ABC Records in Los Angeles, so it’s possible that this is who the WRPN note was for.
Another interesting playlist from November, 1973 hints at KZSU Stanford’s programming direction at the time. The new Music Director Francis Dickerson writes in the playlist,
There have been some more changes at KZSU. There has been a change in the music management here, and with it will come a change in our direction…We will be playing more of the familiar stuff than we have in the past and will be aware of all product that reaches us – albums and singles…”
The November, 1973 KZSU playlist’s top albums includes releases by Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Chicago, Kris and Rita, and others. Among the newly added albums were an eclectic mix of artists, including Herb Alpert, Yoko Ono, Curtis Mayfield, Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed, and George Carlin.
I was also amused by KZUU‘s July, 1984 playlist (the station is at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington), which includes the categories “Screaming at the Top” and “Knifing Them in the Back,” instead of the usual “heavy” and “light” rotation. Have you ever seen old playlists like these?
The Airheads Radio Survey Archive (ARSA) compiles information from all kinds of radio surveys, including some from college radio stations. Thanks to one of their volunteers for passing along this stash of radio surveys!