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The Birth of Top 40 Radio...

The term "Top 40" for a radio format first appeared in 1960.

At his radio station KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska. Todd Storz invented the format by using what he saw from the repetition of plays on the jukebox to develop his platform.

The format was commercially successful, and Storz and his father Robert, under the name of the Storz Broadcasting Company, subsequently acquired other stations to use the new Top 40.

The Top 40 became a survey of the popularity of 45 rpm singles and their airplay on the radio. Some nationally syndicated radio shows featured a countdown of the 40 highest ranked songs on a particular music or entertainment publication.

Although such publications often listed more than 40 charted hits, such as the Billboard Hot 100, time constraints allowed for the airing of only 40 songs, hence, the term "top 40" gradually became part of the vernacular associated with popular music. And it remains in play today.

   A N D  R E C E N T L Y  A D D E D:

Johnny Canton

Born October 4th, 1941, in Kansas City, Kansas, Johnny Canton was one of the indisputably most popular disk jockeys of the 1960s at WDGY in the Twin Cities. Johnny claimed that the first "rock and roll" record he ever heard over the radio was either by Chuck Berry or Little Richard, on a late night 15-minute program aired on a station in Shreveport, Louisiana.

At age 16 Johnny made his on air debut as a DJ on May 8, 1958. The first record he played on the show was “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters. Johnny was the host of a one hour Saturday afternoon show that featured rock’n’roll music (sponsored by a local record store), the only time slot for rock music amidst the radio station’s softer Hit Parade programming. Johnny worked the weekend shift at KLEX and worked Saturdays from 1:00 PM until sign-off and Sundays from Noon until sign-off.

Canton's broadcasting journey took him to stations in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Rochester, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and the Twin Cities, in Minnesota. In addition to being an on-air personality he has been a Program Director, News Director and Music Director at various stations.

As a kid with his wooden microphone.
Beginning in June of 1959 at KOKO, Johnny hosted a Saturday evening Top-40 show from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.

The stations mainstays were The Four Freshmen, Peggy Lee, Perry Como and similar artists. Johnny was on the air weekdays from 7:00 AM until 12:30 PM, then went to classes at Central Missouri State College from 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM and then it was back to KOKO for a second shift from 4:30 to 6:00 PM. At college, Johnny took taking classes in theater, speech, and drama and also helped put the college radio station on the air.

In late 1960 at KZIX Johnny is once again at a new radio station, this time with no air time allotted for rock’n’roll music. The station played the Kingston Trio, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, and similar artists. Johnny became the news director and then program director, as well as being an on air personality.

In the WDGY studio circa July 1970.
In 1961 Johnny landed a gig at WNOW in York, Pennsylvania - his first job at a radio station with a Top-40 format - and also became the program director as well as being an on air personality.

In August, 1961 WRAW was a newly purchased radio station by Bill Rust (who also owned WNOW) and was in third place in the local radio stations when Canton came to work for them as a DJ and as program director. He switched the format to Top-40 with all on air personalities and in 90 days the station moved from third place to first place in the local ratings.

Between 1963 and 1966 Johnny worked as an on air personality and program director at both KUDL in Kansas City, Missouri and WIXY in Cleveland Ohio. Sandwiched between was a stint at WHAM in Rochester NY between June, 1964 and December, 1965.

At WIXY with the Beatles in 1966.
During the height of Beatlemania at WIXY the station was playing one song by The Beatles for every three songs played. On August 14, 1966, Johnny added his name to a very small and very elite group of people who had the once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce The Beatles at one of their concerts in the United States.

The show was held at the Cleveland Stadium and including opening acts: The Remains; The Cyrkle; The Ronettes; and Bobby Hebb. A local businessman provided a custom made mobile home that was set up right behind the stage near second base as a “holding room” for The Beatles. In the mobile home, Johnny got to visit with The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, prior to the concert.

While working at WIXY, Johnny received a phone call from George “Bud” Armstrong, Executive Vice President of Broadcasting for Storz Broadcasting. George advised Johnny to contact WDGY Radio in Minneapolis where there was going to be an opening. Johnny called WDGY and talked to Phil Trammel, the GM, and was offered a job over the phone. He accepted, and soon after departed Cleveland, Ohio and relocated to Minnesota.

Johnny started out as music director and on air personality and took over the Noon to 3:00 PM afternoon shift (formerly occupied by Johnny Dollar).

With John Denver (& wife Annie) in '71.
Canton also appeared as the M.C. in the Joe Cocker film, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” also partially filmed in the Twin Cities.

In 1968, Johnny received a Radio-TV Mirror Magazine Award for radio Personality of the month. Johnny Canton, along with other DJ’s at the station supported the local rock bands, a tradition that went back to DJ Bill Diehl during his tenure at the station.

Johnny played the records of the local bands on the air and worked as an emcee at local band jobs including shows at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the PromCenter, the Bel Rae Ballroom, and numerous other venues including events for the Minneapolis Aquatennial.

AIRCHECK: May 11, 1969
Johnny is behind the mic at WDGY. [ LISTEN ] (31:24)
The broadcast includes a 20/20 news, weather, and sports report.

In addition to working with the local bands, Johnny also brought in national talent and emceed their shows. Among the national acts that Johnny brought to the Twin Cities were Aretha Franklin, Tiny Tim, Dionne Warwick, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Sonny Bono, and for Christmas shows, Andy Williams and Roger Miller.

Also during his years at WDGY, Johnny was known for interviewing many famous musicians, in person and over the “Hit Line” including: Andy Williams, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Helen Reddy, Tony Orlando, Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, and Bette Midler.

Here is Johnny interviewing John Lennon on October 8, 1974 [ LISTEN ] (15:14)
Lennon discusses his new album along with singing background for Ringo and Elton John. Black recording artists have always influenced John's music. He blames the break up of the Beatles on - boredom and lack of musical creativity - more than anything else. But it's quite possible that they could record together again. In closing John records two WDGY promos.

In 1969, Johnny was selected to play a minor role of a ticket agent in the Ross Hunter/Universal Film “Airport” which was partially filmed in Minneapolis.

In early 1977, WDGY hired a new program director and General Manager Dale Weber decided to switch the Top-40 format to country music. In December of 1977 the Top-40 format came to an end and all of the employees were let go. Johnny was offered a job as Executive Vice President for Metropolitan Advertising which worked in print and broadcasting. This job led to the formation of Canton Communications, Inc. in 1978, an ad agency and radio-TV production firm, still operating in the Twin Cities.

Sadly, Johnny passed away on December 31, 2016, after suffering a severe stroke. Johnny Canton was a Twin Cities icon and a genuinely nice guy.

Some materials used on this page were originally published by the following: MinniePaulMusic, Radio Tapes, Vintage Pics, Twin Cities Radio Airchecks.
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...and In Rode the Disc Jockeys

“DJs” have had a key role in shaping radio listener's musical tastes since the 1950s. They reflected national and local musical trends, exposed audiences to new music, and in some cases produced records and managed artists. Many DJs became celebrities, actively engaged and influential in the national music scene.

DJs came into being as a result of changes in the radio industry after the advent of television in the 1950s. In the earlier years of radio broadcasting, programming featured mainly live entertainment such as dramas, comedy acts, and studio orchestras and singers. When television came into widespread use, the audience for this type of programming largely abandoned radio for the new medium. In response, radio stations began offering a new type of entertainment by having their announcers play records on the air.

Thus was born the “disc jockey” or “DJ.”

The Summer of 1967

AM radio still reigns supreme. But the songs are suddenly longer, and edgier. No way of getting around the fact that The Doors’ Light My Fire is a huge hit; so huge in fact, that Elektra records made a special cut-down version to fit the two-minute Top-40 formula, but a lot of stations played the long version anyway. FM is just starting to get noticed – with more stations dropping the automated elevator music in favor of eclectic mixtures of Rock, Jazz and Folk – they can play entire sides of albums, and people like that. Besides, everyone who owns a Volkswagen or Volvo has a Blaupunkt FM radio installed in their cars.

Summer 1967 was definitely different. The Love-ins are a Sunday event every week at the Griffith Park Merry-go-round; the Bongo Kings hold court and the free peanut-butter-honey and Wonderbread sandwiches are everywhere, even though the sandwiches are mostly bread and a hint of the other stuff – Friday and Saturday night concerts at the Shrine Expo Hall, where there are no seats, $2.50 to get in and three bands, usually on rotation from The Fillmore up north – grab an orange from the 50 gallon drums dotting the auditorium and breathe in clouds of Acapulco Gold, wafting everywhere – and get stoned by just walking around. Or there was the Sunset Strip, and what was left of Pandora’s Box before the bulldozers came in August. But The Whiskey A go-go was open, and so was Dave Hull‘s Hulballoo further east on Sunset and the club scene was still thriving.

In short, that was Summer 1967 – despite the much-publicized Summer Of Love, it really wasn’t so much. Century City was just getting over being the site of billyclubs and teargas; where demonstrators against the Vietnam War clashed with police outside the Century Plaza hotel, during a visit by President Johnson. Protests to the Vietnam War were getting more frequent and more vocal, and even though there was a lot of love in the air, there was also a lot of uncertainty over the future.

And maybe the music reflected that – it was becoming more sophisticated and complex and somehow less innocent. But we still had B. Mitchel Reed – and for at least the next several months, it was three powerhouse Radio Stations, blasting out new and interesting music – and music was the most important thing.

Here’s a 45 minute extract featuring KFWB, along with KHJ’s Humble Harve and The Real Don Steele, along with ads for upcoming shows and a few eery slices of history. A sample from a period of time and a glimpse into an average day around July 1967. [ LISTEN ] (46:38)

Unfortunately the daily news in 1967 was far from average. More was going on than most care to remember. Here's how October 7th rolled as reported over ABC Radio’s News Around The World. [ LISTEN ] (15:04)