WAIR-AM – Winston/Salem North Carolina – August 1960 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Much as we’d all like to think that once Rock n’ Roll landed in our collective national consciousness, everything as we knew it changed. The world went from Patti Page to LaVern Baker or Lawrence Welk to Preston Epps overnight. ‘Fraid not. In fact, Top-40 radio as it came to be known, was a slowly evolving shift in musical tastes and not all of it was greeted with open arms. Teenage America did not constitute the majority quite yet; the elders were still in charge. And so radio stations in smaller towns, like this one in Winston-Salem North Carolina, were pretty much the norm until later on in the decade. They stuck their toes in Rock, but only as far as Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers were concerned – they were sprinkled in between Les Baxter and Frank Sinatra and yes, Patti Page and Giselle MacKenzie.
Music was a lot different then – but in some ways, letting Rock seep into more conservative musical formats was a good thing – as it gave teenagers at the time an across the spectrum sampling of Popular music that would serve as an unconscious stepping off point. Thats not to say you had to like it all, but you were handed some musical diversity that would only show up later in a wildly truncated form as Underground FM.
One of the things missing from our current state of Popular Culture, to our creative detriment, is the wide range of music that was once the staple of radio as an entertainment medium – you got to hear things you normally wouldn’t in the course of a day – and some of it stayed with you. That’s not to say it was all good or even necessary, but it was different and it was the springboard for a lot of creative ideas that very often wound show up unconsciously.
That’s not to say you have to get rid of your current record collection in order to run out and buy George Melachrino or Mantovani albums. But it does say there are benefits to knowing those forms of popular music exist and can be borrowed from or investigated as examples of music outside your immediate sphere of influence. It’s the nature of what keeps music fresh – introducing different points of view and takes on things. Because as it stands right now, there is a strong possibility that ideas are coming less and less because the influences are fewer or simply not being discovered, or the recycling process is getting shorter and shorter. Those radio stations of 1960 who dabbled in Rock n’ Roll while still maintaining a relatively conservative Pop Music base probably did more to further expand Rock than anything else. But of course, we didn’t know that at the time. We just wondered why we were getting whiplash, hearing Roy Orbison one minute and Les Baxter the next and not seeing the connection.
Stay curious – go to thrift shops and garage sales – pick up those cheap albums that look weird – play them. Toss them away or listen to the over and over. There are discoveries to be made that could change the course of Popular Music – and they could start with you.
No pressure . . .
In the meantime, this is what you were no doubt listening to in Winston-Salem North Carolina during August of 1960 if you were anywhere between the ages of 15 and 20.