July 31, 2014

Medina
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New book explores history of WMMS

During the ’70s, pride among Northeast Ohioans proved to be a hard-to-find commodity.
The area’s image was in tatters with sports teams far from competitive, the city of Cleveland in default and the memory of a burning Cuyahoga River still fresh in the national consciousness.

What did stand out during this time was the emergence of a nationally respected radio station, WMMS-FM 101 (later changed to 100.7). Seemingly overnight, the station with the Buzzard moniker became a treasured beacon of light in the darkness of the post-Watergate era.
Guiding WMMS’ journey from obscure FM station — the black sheep sister station of the more powerful WHK-AM 1420 — was Program Director John Gorman, who was in charge from 1973 to 1986.

Recently, Gorman, now a media consultant, penned his memoirs in his new book, “The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock.” For baby boomers, the 320-page book acts as a vivid walk down memory lane when the Buzzard ruled the ratings books.

Listeners woke up to Jeff and Flash, went to bed with Betty Korvan, and partied along to the station’s diverse album-rock format, which included staple artists such as Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf and more.

“The book has been in the works for a few years,” said Gorman, a Boston native. “It was sort of an off-and-on project. It came down to the book had to have the right tempo. It had to reflect that era, and it really had to illustrate how crazy it was. So it took a little bit to get all of the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Gorman used his memories to create what he feels is an accurate description of behind-the-scenes tactics and shenanigans, juxtaposed with the actual listeners’ experiences. More so, there are insider stories — fueled by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — about how the then fledgling Buzzard used sabotage, cunning and creative programming to become one of the nation’s most recognized radio stations.

“What really comes out of it is that it was a place where everybody worked very hard and played very hard,” Gorman said. “So much of our lives revolved around the station in those days.”

Gorman compares the early staffing of WMMS to that of the ’90s Cleveland Indians, where rookies blossomed into perennial all-stars. For the Buzzard, this meant youthful, on-air commercial radio talent — Denny Sanders, Kid Leo, Jeff Kinzbach, Ed Ferenc, Matt the Cat, et al. — developed into revered industry all-stars that defined a generation.

“The station was a team, a family,” Gorman said. “I’m very proud of it. I think we had the greatest radio station and air staff in the world. It was an amazing ride and a group of talented people.”

For Gorman, the ride ended in 1986 when, in his opinion, the corporate side of WMMS began micro-managing the station in a fashion that was unfavorable. He jumped ship, and was the initial creative force behind WMMS competitor WNCX-FM 98.5.

Considering the number of humorous stories and in-depth insight into the era, “The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock” could easily become a movie.

“I think it’ll be a sitcom,” Gorman laughed. “It’s more a comedy than anything else.”

Gorman has scheduled a book signing for 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Borders Books, 4927 Grande Shops Ave., Medina. Call 330-723-8270 for more information.

Benson may be reached at ididhear@aol.com.