The Friday 5×2: The Last WCFL Survey, February 1976

In what might have been the worst-kept secret in Chicago, WCFL Radio switched from rock and pop music to a “beautiful music” format on March 15, 1976. It had been the #2 AM rock station in Chicago and was losing audience both to WLS and to the panoply of FM rock stations that had been springing up all through the Seventies, and the Chicago Federation of Labor, which owned the station, decided that they didn’t want to operate a rock station, anyway. They issued the last survey of their rock days on February 21, roughly three weeks before the big change. Here’s the Top 10 from that survey.

  1. Rhythm Heritage, “Theme from SWAT” Composed for the 1975 TV series by Barry DeVorzon, it was recorded by Rhythm Heritage and appeared on their debut album Disco-fied. It reached #1 nationwide on February 28; it had jumped all the way to #10 from #18 on the Super CFL survey, where it remains. A modified version of the song is used for the reboot, starring Shemar Moore; as with all of the other reboots curently on CBS, the theme songs and character names are all that’s the same.
  2. The Who, “Squeeze Box” From The Who By Numbers, this is a song about a woman who plays the accordion. Any other interpretation is just wrong. (Yeah, right…) Up from #14 the week before.
  3. Fleetwood Mac, “Over My Head” The first time I heard this was Fleetwood Mac, I had a hard time accepting it. To me, Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green’s guitar and British blues at its finest. This just made no sense. Anyway, this announced the metamorphosis of FM into a more pop-oriented ensemble, and the new sound was well-received. Up from #9 the week before.
  4. Bee Gees, “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” The song didn’t ring a bell with me, and after playing it I can honestly say I don’t remember it. It had jumped from #10 the previous week, so how I missed it is a mystery.
  5. Eric Carmen, “All By Myself” From Carmen’s self-titled debut album, it’s based on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, and the chorus was lifted from Carmen’s “Let’s Pretend,” which he composed and recorded with The Cranberries in 1972. I didn’t find a shorter version, but given CFL’s tendency to record a 45 RPM record at 48 RPM, and assuming my math is correct, the song ran for half a minute less there. Up from #11 the week before.
  6. Kiss, “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night” Kiss’s popularity was at a peak in the mid-70’s despite the fact that it was generally agreed that “they suck.” This was headed down CFL’s chart from #2 the week before.
  7. Electric Light Orchestra, “Evil Woman” This was ELO’s first big hit, from their album Face The Music. It was written by band leader and future Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne and hadn’t moved from #4 the week before.
  8. The Four Seasons, “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” From their Who Loves You album, this was written by keyboard player Bob Gaudio and sung by Gary Polci. Up from #6 the week before.
  9. Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” This is the slower and bluesier version of the song that I got the impression few people enjoyed as much as the 1962 version, which starts this out. Up from #3 the previous week.
  10. Paul Simon, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” Remaining in the top position from the week before is this from Paul’s Still Crazy After All These Years.

WCFL’s spot on the AM dial (1000 kHz) is now held by sports-talk station WSCR (“The Score”). The call letters are owned by a religious broadcaster in Morris, Illinois which acts as a repeater station for one in Champaign. The spirit of the old station lives on thanks to, operated by JR Russ.

And that’s your Friday 5×2 for February 9, 2018.

15 thoughts on “The Friday 5×2: The Last WCFL Survey, February 1976

  1. It was sad to see the end of Big 10 Radio WCFL. They were my AM rock station of choice in the 1960s. By the time they were gone, I had moved on to making my own jazz-rock music in horn bands in the middle of studying for EE degrees at UIUC. Got most of my new music ideas from dorm co-residents, bandmates, apartment roommates, and what they were spinning at Champaign, IL’s Record Service.

    It was a different time. Radio still had some personality, sorely lacking today.


    1. I had gone all-blues by that point, but was still listening to WLS. I never really got into CFL, even given my association with Lew Witz.

      It’s mostly the music that’s without personality, I think. But the on-air personalities are bland as well and are just there to announce the time and the names of (most of) the songs. Unless you’re talking the morning crews, and let’s not go there…


  2. My family moved away from Chicagoland in ’73, but I would sometimes listen to WCFL at night from Maryland, when the propagation was right and there wasn’t much fading. Being so far away, I hadn’t heard that they were changing format. Imagine my disappointment when I tuned in one evening to hear something way different than the usual fun. At first I thought I had picked up a different station; I almost cried when they announced their call letters as WCFL. End of an era, an important one for me.

    I didn’t know about their playing 45s at 48, but that explains why the songs sounded a little flat on other stations.

    I love! In fact, Chickenman should be on soon!


    1. WCFL was one of those “clear-channel” stations that was a real powerhouse even at night, so it was pretty easy to pick up.

      We in Chicago had been talking about the impending change to beautiful music from about the beginning of the year, so it really didn’t come as much of a surprise when they made it official. WLS bought commercial time to tell Chicagoland they weren’t going anywhere:

      There’s a recording of Larry Lujack during the last ten minutes of Super CFL:


  3. Right around that time I recall going to a concert In Terre Haute, IN featuring the Four Seasons who were riding high with their “Who Loves You” and “Oh What a Night” hits. They had been a favorite group of mine since the sixties. It was a great show played to a full house at the Civic Auditorium. Also saw Jethro Tull at an earlier concert in the same auditorium.

    Tossing It Out


    1. The Four Seasons used to be on Gary, Indiana’s Vee Jay Records, as did The Beatles and Frank Ifield. They were a staple of AM radio in the 60’s and 70’s.

      Tull did some great music back then. “Aqualung” is still one of my favorite albums, and “Thick As A Brick” was an integral part of the soundtrack of my high school years.


  4. I miss that old style of the radio station and dislike all the new junk but oh well…at least we have records or cds or, well, whatever:) I love ELO and have many of their records. Funny how some songs like the Neil Sedaka song was the same big hit as evil woman


    1. Back in the days when radio personalities actually HAD personalities. Yeah, I know.

      The Seventies were a weird time for music, when you could hear Led Zeppelin and Barry Manilow back-to-back on pop radio. It’s no surprise that you’d see ELO and Neil Sedaka on the same survey, and Neil actually ahead of ELO (although “Evil Woman” had been on the chart longer and was already starting to descend).


  5. Sometime in mid-1965 WCFL brought in Ken Draper from a Cleveland station to manage the transition to Top 40 format. Draper did an amazing job – great jingles, top-notch air talent, solid news team, lots of local band airplay. In my judgment the old WCFL from around 1965 – 68 (when Draper left town) had to be one of the best Top 40’s in the US. Eventually they brought in WLS’s old PM John Rook who came up with “Super CFL”. The station did pretty in the ratings between 1972-75. More and more cars had FM radio by the mid 1970’s. The Chicago FM band began capturing much greater numbers of younger listeners (i.e. WDAI, WMET, WFYR, WGLD, WXRT, etc.) Sadly, AM Top 40 with its great “personality” jocks and music is now a distant memory from a time we will never see again.


    1. I’m surprised FM didn’t kill off both AM rockers much sooner. WLS held on until the late ’80’s with the format, but WCFL seems to have gotten out while the getting was good. It was a great rock station while it lasted, particularly when Ken Draper was running the show. The switch to beautiful music never made a lot of sense, though.


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