Cleveland was a blip on the dial when John Gorman arrived at WMMS in 1973. “It was not an exciting market to the rest of the country,” says Gorman, who wrote The Buzzard: Inside The Glory Days of WMMS and Cleveland Rock Radio about his 13 years running the station. “But we were looking at it through different eyes.” By devoting airtime to previously unknown acts such as David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, the Boston native and some talented misfits created the hippest station in the nation. As WMMS celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, the man who brought Denny Sanders, Kid Leo and Matt the Cat to town shares some of Buzzard radio’s lasting legacies.
The Buzzard logo David Helton’s Buzzard illustration replaced the station’s outdated mushroom insignia in 1974. “We put it on everything: hats, jeans, belt buckles,” says Gorman. “We even did a Buzzard cereal.” A year later, Gorman says, a local study found the Buzzard was the city’s most recognizable image — more popular than Chief Wahoo.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Legendary concert promoter Bill Graham planned to build a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in San Francisco or New York City — until Gorman got the ear of record exec Ahmet Ertegun. “If you build this in New York, it’s just another building,” Gorman said. “If you build it in Cleveland, it’s the centerpiece of the city.”
Radio’s next wave By legitimizing album-oriented rock, a once-underground format, WMMS moved the dial on American radio. “There wasn’t a station in the country that was able to duplicate our ratings,” Gorman says. “We were getting 15 percent of the total market. And this was a station that was originally ignored by its own company.”