When you turn on your radio, what do you hear? There is a good chance you’ll happen upon a top 40 hit station, where they play the most popular songs in the country.
As Marshall Bandy Jr. told the Civitan Club, this kind of station happened by accident. According to the Georgia attorney and co-founder of the National Top 40 Hall of Fame and Radio Museum, Todd Storz was in charge of a floundering radio station when he decided to hit up the local bar.
While sipping on his beverage, the man noticed the main attraction of the establishment, a jukebox loaded with songs. However, Storz realized people only seemed to play a small selection of the most popular tunes, over and over and over again, rather than take advantage of the wide selection of songs available.
That gave Storz a revolutionary idea—instead of wowing listeners with variety, why not just play only the most popular songs on his station? And so, the Top 40 station format was soon born, and the struggling station was soon popular and viable.
When asked why the Top 40 format developed in the United States, Bandy Jr. attributed it to several reasons, one of those being “freedom.”
“It has to do with freedom. You have to remember, it came a few years after the 2nd world war,” he said, “and a top 40 radio format would’ve never developed in Soviet Russia or Communist china. And I doubt it would develop in North Korea today.”
Because of the influence Top 40 stations have had on the United States and Chattanooga, one group of Chattanoogans decided to turn an old station into a museum and hall of fame, located in WFLI’s old station in Lookout Valley.
“The thing I want to point out is for you to think about what it means for the city of Chattanooga. I mean, the city of Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It commemorates artists,” said Mr. Bandy Jr., “But there would’ve been no artists if there was no AM radio, like WFLI. So having an international top 40 hall of fame promotes radio, the personalities, and the technology behind those artists.”
The museum has four tours planned on Saturday, each taking about two hours. The museum can also host different kinds of events and parties, if booked in advance.
The museum will be funded through a combination of ticket sales, those events, and a nationally syndicated radio show. The show will play once a week on stations throughout the nation, and will play top 40 hits from decades gone by.
The Civitans were entertained by a short video presentation, which showed the history of the Top 40 format, and gave a spotlight to some of the more popular hosts from around the country. An old WLS jingle brought a few smiles to the room, as several members hummed along to the classic tune. One of the Civitans remarked “It was one of the few radio stations I could hear out in the country.”
The speaker believed that radio will never die, but that it will change in the future. While people will continue to listen to it even during the advent of streaming services, there will always be a place for the classic medium.
“Top 40 stations are over. I think the future of radio is going to be education. Not like public broadcasting, but all sorts of education,” Mr. Bandy Jr. said, although he made sure to say this change would not be sudden. He said “the next 10 to 15 to 20 years will be the same, but they (the listening public) will want more than just music. Music will be the thing they play between the education. ”