As part of a series entitled “The Future of Music Radio”, CNN recently proffered a list of the eleven (not ten, not 100, eleven, because…who knows? Did they decide 56 was too random?) best disk jockeys.
It’s a list which has, as these things are wont to do, sparked debate; online critics have suggested repeatedly that the list focuses far too intensely on Eastern cities, and that it really should contain female DJs, such as New York’s legendary jock Alison “The Nightbird” Steele. One definitely surprising thing about the list–other than its unfathomably random length–is that it only contains one DJ with any connection to Nashville, a city that has contributed a lot to radio history and popular culture, Opry and otherwise.
Of the eleven DJs profiled, only the tenth, Scott Shannon, was ever on the air here, as a morning jock at 1300 WMAK-AM, one of the city’s last great music-based AM Top 40 stations. (A few seconds of Shannon’s work on WMAK can be heard here, among many other jocks of yore.)
The jocks on the list are, it must be said, undeniably relevant (to say the least). Topping the list is Alan Freed, the jock who is generally credited for calling the music he played “Rock & Roll” before anyone else. Also on the list are jocks like Robert Smith, or, as he is better known, Wolfman Jack, who cut his teeth on high-wattage border radio from Mexico, and parlayed his iconic status into a role in George Lucas’s “American Graffiti”, and Casey Kasem, who hosted “American Top 40” for decades, and was also, of course, Shaggy. Also on the list, and the subject of spirited online debate, is the jock who considers himself the “King Of All Media”, Howard Stern; the debate about his presence on the list focuses on two main points–he’s on satellite radio now, in lieu of terrestrial, and his notoriety only developed after he regularly played music–de rigeur for an “According to Hoyle” disk jockey.
As for Nashville DJs who qualified to appear on the list, the first name to come to mind for most critics (this Examiner included) has been John Richbourg, or John R., who broadcast on WLAC-AM in the 1950s and 60s. Because his show, broadcast overnight (and thus able to be heard throughout most of America), was sponsored by a record store that sold R&B and Blues records, John R. was often the first jock to give national exposure to artists who would later become household names. David Letterman (himself a former DJ) once described John’s show as “like nothin’ else you were gonna hear, anywhere else”; Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack–who are on the list–considered John R. a mentor. Wonder what John R. sounded like? Wonder no more.
Other Nashville jocks who likely should have been on the list include John R.’s colleague “Hoss Man” Allen, who also spun R&B overnight on WLAC; “Coyote” McCloud, paragon of the “Morning Zoo” style of broadcasting in the 1980s; and, if Howard Stern can be on the list despite being better known for comedy, perhaps Gerry House should be on the list as well. What other Nashville DJs could qualify for the list? Suggestions are welcome in the Comments section below; more importantly, they should be shared with CNN.