Sunday, August 22, 2010

Joe Niagara - WIBG Philadelphia 1957

If you have a way to listen to this in your car, it's the way to go. They called this series Cruisin' because that's what you were doing when you listened to shows like this. Mostly gone were the days of sitting around the radio with your family. Television saw to that. Now whatever was blaring out of your dash was your personnal soundtrack and kids took it seriously.

LP liner notes by Jerry Hopkins - "If you're ready, this rockin' bird will fly!"

The sound comes thundering into your teenaged head and it's 1957 in "Wibbageland," the greater Philadelphia area within the broadcast range of Joe Niagara and WIBG Radio. On this volume of the CRUISIN' series Joe sells you a Muntz TV and a '57 Mercury ... he ad libs a rhymed patter ("You hear the word/From this rockin' bird") ... he plays all your favorite teenaged hits. The words come tumbling from his lips in phrasing and originality that will influence a decade of disc jockeys, affecting a generation of listeners.

If you were growing up near Brotherlylovesville in the Fifties, you had someone worth emulating in Wibbageland, you had a friend at "Radio 99" — someone who talked to you confidentially, but with a sense of excitement. In every way, Joe Niagara seemed right for rock radio.

He had been born in South Philly (birthplace of Mario Lanza and Joey Bishop) and had come to WIBG in 1947 following service in the Panama Canal Zone and a year at another of Philadelphia's dozen or so radio stations. Between 1947 and 1957 he had the highest rating of any radio personalities in the city.

Joe Niagara believed in rock and roll, or certainly seemed to. In '57 he actually seemed to be caught up in the revolution in sound that continued to sweep not just the country, but much of the world. In Japan a nineteen-year-old named Masaaki Hirao was being hailed as "the Elvis Presley of Japan's rockabilly set," and wearing not blue but yellow suede shoes. In Zakopane, Poland, blue-jeaned youngsters were belting what they called "ruck en rullye." In Boston a deejay offered six hairs from Presley's sideburns and in one week there were more than 18,000 contestants.

1957 was a year of accelerating excitement. The "cover" concept (whites singing songs originally recorded by blacks) was passé. Package rock shows were racially mixed and packing houses everywhere. The 78 rpm record was dead. You held a fist-full of 45s now, hooking them over your thumb. And you hung knitted dice from the rear-view mirror of your chopped and lowered Forty-nine Ford. A radio announcer from upstate New York appeared in Philadelphia with a new idea in after-school television programming; he was called Dick Clark and it was called "American Bandstand." In October, Little Richard threw $8,000 worth of jewelry into a river, said he was quitting show biz to "prove his faith in God," and enrolled in a seminary... and Elvis got his draft notice, But it didn't seem to slow the rush. Things were, as Elvis himself shouted, All Shook Up.

On another level in 1957, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" got the Oscar for best picture ... French existentialist Albert Camus was the Nobel Prize winner In literature (this, in the year Jack Kerouac published the bible of American existentialists, "On the Road") ... John Kennedy took the Pulitzer in biography for "Profiles in Courage" ... Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolona set a new filibuster record, keeping his mouth moving for twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes ... and a small toy company in Los Angeles introduced the Barbie Doll.

Spirituals, gospel shouts, funky rhythm and blues, rockabilly, folk music, pop novelty ... by 1957 it had come together; from Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, the Pacific Northwest, Tex-Mex ... one amorphous, jumping, rhythmic, dynamic mass had formed. Pop radio.

WIBG Philadelphia 1957 - Joe Niagara