Pieces of rock 'n' roll radio history with Cleveland ties are being auctioned off
If you've ever wanted a Beach Boys frisbee from their 1975 stop at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium or an autographed Guns N' Roses jacket, there's an online auction that wraps up Saturday, November 6. It also provides a window into Cleveland’s role in music history.
John Gorman ran WMMS radio during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. The station was so prominent back then, record companies routinely sent gold records and promotional items as a “thank you” for breaking new acts. Now, Gorman says it’s time to let others enjoy his collection, and he hopes the pieces either stay in the area or go to expatriates who remember the station known as “The Buzzard.”
“I was told that people have traveled overseas and they’ve seen WMMS gold and platinum albums hanging up in restaurants in Abu Dhabi. I really don’t want to see these end up in a restaurant or a club somewhere overseas," Gorman said.
“I've had [these items] in three states, probably 10 homes, three or four different offices, and I realized at this time, I'm not getting younger. I’ve enjoyed it, and I've treasured everything that I have. But I started thinking of, ‘You go on social media, and people are talking about the past and nostalgia and Cleveland has such a rich rock history.’ And my wife said, ‘You see these things every day. You've been seeing them for years. Why not give somebody else a chance to?’"
“In the ‘70s and ‘80s and then even into the ‘90s, Cleveland was really a breakout market for new music," Gorman said. "So, I got an awful lot of awards, and what they would do is, they would make one for WMMS. And sometimes they would make one for you, personally. In the heyday of WMMS, believe me, every square inch of the wall was filled with these awards.”
One of the pieces is an award for Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" LP, which has numerous connections to Northeast Ohio.
“Steve Popovich, who owned Cleveland International Records, signed Meatloaf. And he signed an act that every other label turned down. Nobody understood the Meat Loaf album. They couldn't understand the concept. They didn't think it would be a hit, even though Todd Rundgren produced it. And Steve really took a chance putting that out," Gorman said.
"Well, we listened to it actually before it came out [and said], ‘This is fantastic. There's nothing else in the world that sounds like this.’ So, we started playing it and immediately got the response. A few weeks later, a few other stations picked it up and then it became a national hit. Then it became an international hit. And that's pretty much what Cleveland was back then; we were a barometer for rock and roll. If it's happening in Cleveland, there's a chance this is an act you should be playing on the air.”
Buckingham Nicks take flight
Another time the station was a barometer was with Fleetwood Mac, with the "Buckingham/Nicks" album, which was released before the two of them joined the group. The station had promotional items from this unknown duo with an album that hadn't done well in most of the country, expect for Cleveland and Birmingham, Ala.
"Those were the two markets that the ‘Buckingham Nicks’ album did very well," Gorman said. "It was just something that came in the mail. We listened to it and said, ‘This is pretty good.’ We played it. It started getting reaction and started selling copies in town, and there was a club at the time called the Smiling Dog. And the club booked [Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks], but the problem was, the label cut off support because nobody else in the country was playing it. And that was one of those cases where it was the best kept secret in Cleveland.
“When the Fleetwood Mac ‘White’ album [from 1975] came out—the first one that had Buckingham and Nicks joining the band—we were like, ‘Hey, those are the same people we used to play way back when.’ So, we really jumped on that Fleetwood Mac album. Everybody else was kind of ignoring it when it first came out because it didn't sound like the old British blues band. But it took off very rapidly in this town.”
Now, gold and platinum albums are pretty durable, physically. But Gorman saved a lot of posters, which aren't. One that he saved was for the Bruce Springsteen 10th anniversary concert at the Agora.
“Cleveland was originally not planned to be part of that Springsteen tour in 1978. And once again, Steve Popovich from Cleveland International was a heavyweight at Columbia Records at the time," Gorman said. "We called him and said, ‘This is a big market for Springsteen. ‘Born to Run’ broke out of here.’ And he said, ‘That's the reason why Columbia doesn't want to do a Springsteen concert. You guys are still playing [him]. The rest of the country stopped playing him [between albums]. He fought very hard to make Cleveland the city which would do a Midwest [radio] feed of the Springsteen concert. And that ended up being one of the most bootlegged concerts in history until it finally came out, legally.”
Some of the other Northeast Ohio-specific pieces in the auction include a poster for Queen’s 1978 appearance at the Richfield Coliseum, WMMS belt buckles, and a special hardhat from the ground breaking ceremony for the Rock Hall in 1993.