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What’s Up at the Loop (Part 2)

Dave Logan helped put WLUP FM on the air: Back in 1979, as an afternoon jock and production manager, he created the new aural logo when WSDM (“smack dab in the middle”) became a new beast called the Loop. Logan was with the station through its early 80s heyday, when its “kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll” format rolled up some of the highest ratings ever achieved by a rock radio station. Then the two went their separate ways: the Loop wound up reinventing itself as a powerful, personality-driven “album-oriented” rocker–one that seemed unassailable ratingswise as recently as last year–while Logan hooked up with radio consultant Lee Abrams, progenitor of the rigid but extraordinarily successful “Superstars” AOR format. (The basic idea: play Boston, Journey, and Huey Lewis records until entire communities committed mass suicide. Even Abrams now concedes he was just about single-handedly responsible for just about ruining American rock ‘n’ roll radio in the 1980s.) Now, ironically enough, Logan’s back at the Loop–brought in to rescue the station’s sagging Arbitrons.

As we noted last week, the Loop has lost its control of rock radio listeners in Chicago; indeed, caught in the pincerlike grip of the Blaze’s appeal to hard-rock hellions and WXRT’s wholesale pillaging of the more sophisticated adult demographic, the Loop is running a poor third. What’s Dave Logan going to do?

“If I had a crystal ball I’d look at it,” he says. “The only thing I’m sure of is that the Loop is going to have higher ratings and become a leader in this market again.” Logan’s been in town since July, and was officially installed as the new program director October 1. His first order of business has been loosening up the station’s notoriously tight playlist with some of the sharper, newer sounds. “Before,” Logan concedes, “the station’s management was more interested in overall sound and texture. They wanted to stay away from those sorts of sounds. While we’re still going to play a lot of the classics, we’re going to be a bit more aggressive.” Accordingly, you can now hear acts like Michael Penn, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam on the station. The jagged sounds of the latter two, particularly, would have been unthinkable on the Loop before.

The station has some things going for it: with classic rock WCKG basically driven out of the race, Logan has a little bit of room to breathe. The undemanding listeners pining for “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Roundabout” can be kept in line with an occasional fix, and in the meantime the station can concentrate on stealing back some listeners from WXRT. What Chicago may end up with, ironically enough, is a true mainstream AOR station, something the old Loop’s constipated approach never allowed.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to think that the Loop will actually become a good radio station, and lacking that it might be tough to pull away listeners won over by ‘XRT’s superior programming and DJs and remarkably sophisticated promotional campaign. WXRT has its problems, but when you tune from it to the Loop and the first thing you hear is a commercial like, “Guys, if you’re searching for the best-looking ladies in the Chicagoland area, you’ll find them at Bogey’s, 555 E. Dundee Road in Palatine,” well, it’s enough to make you tune right back. The Loop isn’t in trouble, of course: with Steve Dahl in the mornings, and draws like Jonathon Brandmeier and Howard Stern at its AM sister, the company’s going to make money for the foreseeable future, and given enough promotional support Logan may be able to boost the ratings a few notches no matter what. But to get back on top, Logan has to answer one big question: Why should people who care about music listen to a station that’s never cared about them?

Southwestward Ho!

Registration deadlines are approaching for SXSW, the South by Southwest conference and music festival, March 17 to 21 in Austin. Bands interested in a showcase slot must have entries postmarked by November 16; you need $5, some sort of recording, and a photo and press kit to enter. For bands, is SXSW worth the trip? Yes and no. If you’re convinced your band is going to change the world, by all means give it a shot. The worst that can happen is you’ll be given an inconvenient time at an out-of-the-way club. For fans, the festival is a blast: the music (high quality), atmosphere (very friendly), and weather (warm) far outweigh the slightly negative aspects of being in a small city with a couple thousand record-industry people. Full conference registration, which gets you into all the industry seminars and panels and whatnot, is $135 before November 16. Most folks will be better off just making hotel reservations now and picking up a $25 club pass–good to see 300 or so bands over five nights–on arrival. For details call SXSW at 512-467-7979.

Imponderables of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Question 1

Some weeks ago Hitsville presented three lyrical questions. The first was what in the heck does Chrissie Hynde sing in “Brass in Pocket” after the words “Gonna use my arms / Gonna use my legs / Gonna use my style / Gonna use my ______”? This question produced a variety of guesses, including the words “sassy,” “sexy,” and of course “senses,” which is what Hitsville would have said. Turns out we were all wrong. Here’s testimony from Pat Daly, capo of the local fanzine Empire Monthly. The setting is Hartford, circa spring 1984, backstage at Agora, a hep club, with Daly, Hynde, and the Clash’s Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon sitting around a table.

Question: “Hey, Chrissie: what are you saying in ‘Brass in Pocket,’ after ‘Gonna use my style’?”

Answer: “‘Gonna use my sidestep.'”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark Luthringer.