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Backstage: Customized Songs

Rock To The Rescue
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

Back in the 80′s, one of the great things about being in radio was getting songs customized for their city or station.

Now you’re probably thinking, “well Rick, what does that mean?”

A couple of example are from Billy Idol, Eddie Money and Steve Carlisle.

First  up:

Billy Idol-”Hot In The City”

Not one of Billy’s bigger hits. It’s peaked on the charts at #23 in 1982.

at 2:38 in the song there is a line “I can really feel the heat now……New York.”

the customized version we received at the radio station (on cassette) was…..

“I can really feel the heat now….BANGOR!”

Kinda cool to hear it on the radio and  have Billy scream out your city.

Steve Carlisle-”WKRP In Cincinnati”

This studio/jingle singer had made a few appearances in movies, but his big Pop claim to fame was singing the theme song to the TV hit on CBS. It starred Loni Anderson and Howard Hessman. Funny show for non-radio people, but absolutely hilarious for folks in the biz. A lot of the “sight gags” had either happened or would happen to radio people.

The song got some radio airplay, but never cracked the Top 40. It really didn’t matter, since you would hear the song every week at the beginning of the show.

At the end of the 3 minute radio version, like it’s 1 minute counterpart on TV ended with Carlisle singing: “I’m at WKRP In Cincinnati.” Radio stations all over the country received version where the last line was sung with their station call letters and city. It was 1981, and I was just starting my radio career, when one day, while working Midnight to 6am, I played this one of the radio. The boss never mentioned that there was a “special version” that we had in the studio. So, imagine my surprise, as the song was ending I hear coming out of my speakers (loudly), “I’m at W-Z-O-N in Bangor!”

Eddie Money-”I Wanna Go Back”

This one actually happened at a concert, instead of on the radio.

I was working in San Luis Obispo, Ca (at KZOZ, a classic rock station) and we had a show with Eddie Money at the California Midstate Fair in Paso Robles. I remember this moment like it happened yesterday. I was walking towards stage left, to go back to hang backstage. Eddie was signing his Top 20 hit from 1987, “I Wanna Go Back.” I should not that I was very familiar with this tune, because it was originally written and recorded by a guy named, Billy Satellite.  (Billy never even hit the charts with the original.)

So, as I am right in front of the stage, Eddie is singing the line, “I was listening to the radio. Heard a song, reminded me of long ago.” Well, here is how Eddie sung it: “I was listening to the radio. Hear a song-on K-Z-O-Z, reminded me of long ago.”

I stopped dead-in-my-tracks and was about 3 feet from the stage and looked up at Eddie and had the biggest grin on my face. He saw me and quickly smiled. I think I had one of “those” grins for about a month after wards.

So, that’s a little bit about “customized songs” this week. I hope you enjoyed going “Backstage” with me.

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