As the bulk of ?oldies? stations begin to drop ?50s music in favor of ?60s and ?70s sides, thousands of group harmony and 1950s fans are paying for satellite radio ? maybe just to listen to one or two stations. Not long ago, on a lark, I tuned into XM radio?s ?50s on 5 station and was amazed to hear the Cardinals, Everly Brothers, Checkers, Ron Holden, and the Flamingos in rapid succession. As one of the previously uninitiated, I suddenly understood the attraction: Commercial-free stations, all tailored by genre. The free trial that came with my new car soon became permanent. I became a subscriber. But what of the rest of the ?50s era listening public?
Despite the fervor surrounding Sirius and XM, there are millions of other listeners hitting the tune button in search of their music on traditional radio. In cities across America, interest remains high in specialty shows that feature vintage R&B and group harmony. Some are archived on the Web or available in ?listen live? formats, allowing people to tune into programs from anywhere in the world.
The pioneering station in the genre, WFUV 90.7 FM, located at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, has hosted a group harmony program for nearly 44 years. The spirit of the original ?Time Capsule Show,? begun by Joe Marchesani and Tom Luciani in 1963, is carried on today by Dan Romanello, who hosts ?Group Harmony Review? on the station every Saturday night for two hours, beginning at midnight.
The mission of the show, according to Romanello, who?s been at the helm for nearly 24 years, is ?to preserve the 1950s R&B vocal group sound, including its roots in the 1940s, and its transition into the 1960s.? Periodically, he welcomes the artists themselves for interviews and an occasional live performance, and guest collectors, who spin rarities from their own collections.
?I started out listening to the Time Capsule Show,? Romanello explains, ?and it opened my eyes to some of the more obscure records I had never heard of. I began collecting those songs, like ?Tony My Darling? by the Charmers, for example, and other 45s, 78s and LPs. It was an amazing show and, for the most part, I always listened to it.?
Romanello was eventually invited to appear as a guest collector on several similarly themed shows in the New York area before being invited to join ?Group Harmony Review? in 1983.?What an unbelievable thrill it was for me to be able to play this music on the station I listened to back in the early and mid ?60s,? he says.
Romanello, who is quick to give credit to the various hosts who have worked with him through the years, admits he still gets excited before a show.?I rarely have a play list,? he says. ?We fill requests and mix some of the more common records with rarer sides.The guest collectors help me maintain the interest, too, because they play material I may not have.?
The host is especially grateful to the listener-supported WFUV, a public station that is heard throughout the Tri-State area, for their long-standing support.?I?ve had an incredible opportunity to play the music and meet and interview my heroes.There was a time when this music was heard over the airways of every station in New York. Now, it?s so hard to find. It?s important to keep this music on the air in New York, and I have no plans to stop. I just love it too much.?
Every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Bill Clark spins vintage R&B and vocal harmony on 95.9 FM WATD in Marshfield, Mass., just south of Boston. Clark?s ?Music Heaven,? now in its 11th year, features nearly 80 songs per show, a whopping two-thirds of which come from requests. ?To me, that?s mind-boggling,? the Boston-area native and lifelong fan of the music admits. Like Romanello, Clark began appearing on shows as a guest collector before being offered his own program.
Clark?s popularity and charm undeniably stems from his simple, direct appr