ZQ The Lost Tracks of Rock and Roll is dedicated to playing those gems from the glory days of classic rock and roll as well as today. Sure you've heard the favorites, but don't forget the other tracks! It's a musical adventure that will leave you amazed and craving for more!
ZQ The Lost Tracks of Rock and Roll owes its inspiration to one of the most influential album rock stations in the nation, WZZQ in Jackson, Mississippi. Though the original WZZQ no longer exists (off the air in 1981), it's memory lives on in the thousands of listeners who remember its playlist. It's free form format was a steady diet of Lou Reed, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Marshall Tucker, David Bowie, Queen, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Allman Brothers, Elton John, Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix and many many more. WZZQ excelled in the days before the music industry became such a corporate giant. ZQ The Lost Tracks of Rock and Roll can not repeat listening to WZZQ, but through a diverse current playlist and a little imagination, it can come pretty close. Rock On!
"WZZQ 102.9 FM in Jackson Mississippi in the 1970s was at the vanguard of the movement towards Album Oriented Rock radio -- they basically invented the format. I feel extremely lucky that i got to experience WZZQ.
Back in the 1960s, AM radio was king. Because no one listened to FM, no one had receivers. Because no one had receivers, Arbitron didn't do books (ratings) on FM stations. Because there were no Arbitron books, there were no commercials. Because there was no income from commercials the owners really didn't pay any attention to the FM side of the hall. This was the case across the country, but eventually out in the little building on Watkins & Beasley in Jackson Miss, the AM program director started letting the hippie kids working as janitors do air shifts on the FM side. Really. Those kids started playing some interesting things. They played what they liked, they played the underground music of the era. And this was 1967, we know what the MAINSTREAM music was like then! And after a year or two of that people started to notice. So in 1968, a format change was made. WJDX-FM became officially 'underground' rather than 'beautiful music'. One story says that Bob McRaney, the AM Program Director, was inspired by a station he heard in Memphis. Another story talks about a jock traveling to San Francisco and being impressed with the radio format he heard there (on KFOG i assume). Other jocks i worked with told me that the kids at JDX-FM came up with the idea on their own. (And some claimed the Memphis & SF stations were actually, fact, inspired by JDX-FM!)
However there were a couple of catches with this format change. Number one, they didn't really create an independent station on the FM side, it still didn't have a program director, it was still run by the PD on the AM side. Number two, they had a rule that the jocks still had to play one 'beautiful music' song every hour!! So you'd have the Stones and Jefferson Airplane followed by Andy Williams. Some accounts suggest that this restriction only lasted a few weeks, but i don't think that was the case. For one thing, i'm pretty sure i have a memory of actually HEARING this bizarre format, and i didn't move to Mississippi until 2 years after the format change. And secondly several people, including the legendary Wayne Harrison, told me that part of the way that they developed the thematic set philosophy which so defined WZZQ in it's glory years, was by finding more and more interesting ways to integrate those 'beautiful music' songs in with the rock.
Strangely they went through program directors even more quickly than is typical in radio! Wayne Harrison was PD for a short while in the late 1970s. Wayne was instrumental in creating what was, perhaps, the signature of WZZQ, and that was the sets. WZZQ All day long music was carefully selected (rarely in advance, usually on the run) by the jock. Songs were chosen that sounded good together, that segued well into each other and, most legendarily, that had a similar theme or made a statement when placed together. Some sets had a lyrical theme in common, some had a musical connection, some sets were more complex. Almost every song played related in some way to the previous song, and to the rest of the songs in the set between breaks. It was fun as a listener picking out those themes. Sometimes they were obvious, a 'car set' or a 'dog set', sometimes incredibly obscure, but always very thoughtful. There were lots of inside jokes. I'm told that many sets could only be understood by insiders, the people actually in the control room.
1970 through 74 were the true glory years of WZZQ. Completely freeform sets, no playlist, lots of support of local music, great jocks, 100% in house production (ads), a passionate following, great stickers: the whole thing. The ratings were not bad. 5th, 6th, 7th in the market was common. Always top 10. ZZQ was doing something truly special and, unusually, everyone realized it at the time. We knew we had something very special. It is not exaggerating to say that it was the most important thing in our lives. It was wonderful, innovative, creative, and it connected. It connected with a huge segment of the population from age 15 to 40. It was more than just music. More than just radio. It was important!
Most good radio stations develop a club-like fan base in their city, (stations strive for that!) but the camaraderie and patriotic devotion of ZZQ fans in the seventies was truly astonishing. It connected people across generations! And... how do you say this... Jackson Mississippi in the 60's and 70's was a turbulent and difficult place. Let's just say there was lots of suspicion. But if you saw someone in the car next to you rocking to the same song you were listening to, you knew they were a WZZQ fan, you considered them a friend automaticaly. A WZZQ shirt or sticker wasn’t just an emblem of a clan, it was an essential identifying feature. Starting to listen to WZZQ became a rite of passage for kids growing up. It's hard to describe how important the station was, and how extensive it's reach.
By my junior year in high school (September of 1980) things had changed somewhat. There was a quickly aborted attempt at a shock jock type morning show with a guy (who i think was also PD) using the name Gary Phillips. Pretty much everyone hated that. WZZQ was a mellow friend, a conduit of excellent music, a community connector. That in your face thing just didn't fly. They dropped it quickly. They were still a great station, but much more strictly formatted. They still had no competition and the following was as passionate as ever, but now there were people who were upset. It was one of the most frequent topics of discussion. No one, i mean no one, that i knew, or that my parents knew, actually turned WZZQ off.
Some people saw all these changes as a bad sign, and sure enough in early 1981 rumors started that they might be changing formats. People were horrified. People who were complaining a few months earlier were now shocked and furious at the thought of losing WZZQ entirely. I have to say none of us could actually imagine WZZQ being gone. It was like suggesting the sun was going to go away. By the spring the rumors were confirmed and i remember fury in the newspaper, petitions in record stores and letter writing campaigns. There were frustrated, sad and angry discussions. There was no other topic of conversation. It seemed impossible: we knew we'd had something very, very special, in a very dark place, and we really depended on it. We couldn't imagine life without it. "
On the evening of the second of July, 1981 they played a disturbing series of songs, a death set, ending with Todd Rundgren's Death of Rock N Roll and the Door's The End. They signed off at midnight with the horrible last words: "This was WZZQ Jackson", and then dropped the signal, just static.
I cried. Lots of people did. I get goose bumps just writing about it. I was 18. It was in every way, a loss of innocence, a loss of youth. Nothing has ever been the same. I know at least one person who claims to this day that he has never recovered. People were hurt and angry. I knew someone who photocopied vicious letters of complaint and anonymously sent them to the station repeatedly for almost 10 years! I knew of someone who made a point of driving past the studio on the outskirts of town in the middle of the night and breaking a bottle in the middle of the driveway once or twice a month for years and years.
We had lost a family member, a mentor, a connection, a strong friend who was always there. The emptiness was amazing. It is still known in Jackson as the Day The Music Died. No one has to ask what day or what music. For those of my generation in Jackson, this was the summer that the spirit of the 60s died. It was shocking to tune to 102.9 and hear country music the next morning. For weeks, even months, we would accidentally find radios still tuned to 102.9. Always shocking. Some people really didn't believe it would actually happen and when they heard the country twang, it was horrible. It made many of us really hate country music, which wasn't fair, but it did. And there was no alternative, it wasn't a matter of changing the dial, there was nothing. Silence.
We had lost much more than just a friend, much more than just a radio format. We'd lost what connected people throughout the city. Those connections, between different high schools and neighborhoods disappeared. We also lost our identity. As rockin' teenagers we lost the focus of our identity but let's face it, Jackson was not a national leader, in well, anything. We had had something very special, something unique, something groundbreaking, something widely copied. We had had something that made us special and it was gone. We had been proud of it. Now we struggled with inferiority. We felt this deeply. From the best imaginable to nothing. It was quite a shock. There is a full page in my high school yearbook dedicated to the end of WZZQ, and this was a yearbook that was published a MORE THAN A YEAR later!! Everyone in the school considered it the most important event of the school year -- despite it happening before the year even started. And it was a profoundly emotional experience for a high school kid who planned to grow up to work in radio.
ZZQ is gone. But we remember.
Two antenna cables,
knobs & dials,
in a nifty blue case!