Monday, January 7, 2013

Rant #877: Saturday Night Is Not All Right

I read on Friday that Mark Simone, the host of WABC Radio's "Saturday Night" show, was moving over to radio rival WOR and that this eight-year-old show would be no more.

This was the last gasp of radio for me, the last show I really listened to on radio, and now, it's gone.

If you don't know anything about the show, let me fill you in.

About nine years ago, WCBS-FM, the No. 1 oldies station in the country, suddenly dropped that programming for something called "Jack," which was basically nameless, faceless, personality-less rock/pop radio that had worked quite well in other markets.

People who had listened to WCBS-FM were aghast at the change, and WABC saw a niche that needed to be filled.

WABC-AM was the top Top 40 radio station in the country in the 1960s through much of the 1970s, drawing in rating numbers that are hard to believe today. Millions of people in the New York area listened to the station, as well as millions of others who were able to get the station's strong signal for thousands of miles during the evening, both south and west.

The station had legendary disk jockeys like Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy and Bruce Morrow, and WABC was really the station that most others aspired to be, but never could be.

But tastes changed, and in the early 1980s, the station turned to all talk, and once again, it rose to the top of the ratings, standing today as the top talk radio station in the country.

Anyway, with a void to be filled without WCBS-FM doing oldies, they premiered a show originally called "Saturday Night Oldies," to run on Saturday nights, naturally. It was supposed to be a one-off mix of oldies music and reminiscences of the old WABC format, hosted by Mark Simone.

The one-off became so popular that it became a staple of New York radio, even when WCBS-FM finally came to its senses and returned to the oldies format just a few years after abandoning it.

Simone's show featured artists that you wouldn't hear anywhere else, people who had had their time, but people who hadn't crawled into a hole and faded away, either. Such artists as Jay Black, Gary Puckett, Micky Dolenz and the like were right at home on the show.
The show took on a life of its own, and listeners even had their own gatherings to salute the program, and to salute Simone.
Later in its existence, the show's name was changed to simply "Saturday Night," so it wouldn't be pigeon-holed into simply an oldies show.
The premise was basically the same, but the show expanded its guest list by doing this.
Heck, it even had newer performers, like Clay Aiken, as guests with this slightly changed focus.
Personally, I would record the show off the Internet, and listen to it later, so I was never caught up with the current program.
But wasn't it fun to listen to Todd Rundgren speak, or to hear what Pat Cooper had to say?
Well, it is no more.

On the show, especially for the past two years or so, you could hear in Simone's voice that he was tiring of the grind of doing a live, Saturday night show. He had other duties at the station--he certainly was WABC's top fill-in host, often subbing for Don Imus--and working six or seven days a week was not to his liking.

And then, he just picked up and left.

All good things must come to an end, and I guess that the "Saturday Night" show just ran its course.

But to many listeners like myself, we have just lost a good friend, our Saturday night companion, so to speak.

It's a sad time, because no one had a chance to say goodbye to the show. 

Simone's WABC exit seemed to be abrupt, but I had a feeling something was going on, because his podcasts weren't on the WABC website any more.

The whole thing is too bad, so this is my personal goodbye to the show and Simone.

Thank goodness I have a storehouse of these shows recorded, and can refer back to them if I wanted.

It really was radio at its best.

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