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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:

Joe Niagara

Joe Niagara was born on July 4, 1927 as Joseph Nigro, Jr. Joe took the name Niagara from Niagara Falls, because it was recognizable and non-ethnic sounding.
As a kid Joe listened to the radio and thought broadcasting was exciting. He knew then it was something he wanted to be connected with. At the early age of 13, Niagara visited WFIL radio personality Leroy Miller who inspired Niagara to be persistent. Miller told him to keep knocking on doors, and eventually one would open. At age 18, Niagara served in the U.S. Army, based for one year in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone.
Joe Niagara got his start in radio a couple of months before his 20th birthday on Easter Monday April 7, 1947 at WDAS in his hometown of Philadelphia. At that time, disc jockeys played 78 rpm records and one of the first artists that 19 year-old Joe Niagara spun was Doris Day. (Niagara and Day would become close, personal friends a decade later). Seemed that Joe had a crush on Doris ever since first saw her perform at the Earle Theater in Center City Philly. At that time, she was a big band singer with Pennsylvania's own Les Brown.

In 1949, Niagara moved to WIBG (taking over the previous shift held by Roy Neal who went to Channel 3 and later to NBC-TV). It was at Wibbageland in 1957 where he would get his handle "The Rockin' Bird" from WIBG’s Station Manager. The name came from a 1957 single by Peggy Lee, "Listen to the Rockin' Bird."
WIBG Philadelphia
[ LISTEN ] (40:41)
Joe Niagara married his childhood sweetheart, Evelyn Vignola, in 1952.
Joe Niagara’s evening broadcasts became the hit of the city. The next year, WIBG went all Rock & Roll (except for Doug Arthur's program featuring pop and big band standards). In 1958, Arthur left the station and for the first time in history, Philadelphia had a 24 hours a day Rock & Roll station.
Niagara's Rock & roll started as an experiment on WIBG because of the success of disc jockeys (in other cities) like Alan Freed.
November 1960
Success meant spot sales and that created a better bottom line. In 1956, Joe was playing the standard fare heard over WIBG like Perry Como and Doris Day. However, he segued in some Elvis Presley, the Platters, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley. As the program gained in popularity, there was more rock & roll and less pop standards.
A young Joe Niagara is playing records at WIBG on June 2, 1957.
[ LISTEN ] (29:10)
Bobby Darin's Million Dollar Baby kicks this aircheck off, then for an Earning Power In Diesel free book offer, call MA7-0334, Four Walls by Jim Reeves, The Six Teens with Was It A Dream Of Mine, and all you pay is $2391 for a new Dodge station wagon from the Thornton Fuller showroom, and much more.
Niagara got caught up in the payola scandals of 1959 & 1960 and was forced off WIBG's air. While Niagara was never the target of any payola investigation, WIBG wanted new faces. In 1960, he went to KBIG (Los Angeles) where he stayed for two years before returning to WIBG where he remained until 1970.

Joe Niagara had a small bit role in “Blue Hawaii,” the Elvis Presley smash motion picture, and a voice-over for the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” both released in 1961.

During the mid-sixties when Channels 17, 29, and 48 all came on the air within 6 months of each other, Philadelphia telecasting found itself searching for programming. Early on, Joe found himself hosting a one-hour daily afternoon dance show on WIBF-TV, Channel 29. The show originated live from the basement studios of WIBF-TV, located in the Benson East Apartments in Jenkintown, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Joe was back at WDAS (this time WDAS-FM) doing an oldies format in 1971. This format was the successor to Hyski's Underground. The oldies jock lineup was amazing. The station had Joe Niagara, Hy Lit, Harvey Holiday and also from WIBG, Rod Carson. WDAS-FM sounded great, but owner Max M. Leon thought the format was too limiting. It was replaced with a forerunner of today's urban contemporary format.

It's April of 1983 and Joe is working behind the mic at WPEN. [ LISTEN ] (4:04)
Joe piches an upcoming 950 Club, Washington state apples commercial, a George Washington quiz question, and more tidbits (scoped).
In 1980, while at WPEN, Joe got into the Guinness Book of World Records for playing more than 500 different versions of "Stardust." Each day for two years, he played a different rendition.

Hy Lit and The Rockin’ Bird
While Joe is probably best known for his WIBG days and secondly for WPEN (back to playing the pop standards), he also worked at Famous 56, WFIL while the station was at its peak. He filled in for months while Dr. Don Rose recovered from an illness. Some industry leaders believe that Niagara never sounded better than during his WFIL days.

Niagara also worked for WIFI-FM, WCAU AM & FM (all in Philly). He retired from WPEN on July 30, 1999 but continued doing fill-in work for the station until 2002.
In 1998, Joe Niagara was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers' Hall of Fame. Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Museum and the National Association of Broadcasters, also saluted him. Joe has a star on Philadelphia's Walk of Fame on Broad Street.

Joe Niagara was a true professional in every sense of the word. No matter what anyone asked of him, he would deliver 110%. Joe was one of a rare breed.
The Rockin' Bird passed away at the age of 76 on June 4, 2004 following surgery at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, PA. Joe had suffered from bladder cancer for several years and died of heart failure. Joe and his wife Evelyn had one child, Joe the III. The couple had three grandchildren, one was grandson Joe the IV.

Some materials found on this page were originally published by the following: Broadcast Pioneers, Internet Archive, Penn Live Patriot News, Rock Radio Scrapbook.
[ READ ]

...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.”