This is a Special Edition of the Shaping Opinion Podcast called “13Q: A Top 40 Radio Story.” In this extended episode (90 minutes), we take you back to when it was all about the music, when radio was everywhere. A time when it was all about the culture, but mostly it was about having fun. In this episode, we talk to the people who were behind the mic and in front of it, telling at least a part of the story of one generation. We do it by telling the story of the last big Top 40 radio station in the form of 13Q, Pittsburgh. It was around for only a short time, but its impact would be felt for decades.
Cecil Heftel was born in Chicago on September 30th, 1924. He died at the ripe old age of 85 in 2010. later. He did many things in that time, but our focus here is on just one of those things.
Heftel is best remembered as a congressman from Hawaii, where he served from 1977 to 1986. But his story started long before that.
Heftel made a name for himself as an innovator in Top 30 radio when he bought a Denver station called KIMN. That station became #1 in its market and then he sold it in 1960 before moving to Hawaii.
In 1973, he got back in the radio game when he bought a Fort Lauderdale radio station on the FM dial – WHYI-FM and he re-named it Y-100. That same year, he bought an AM news/talk station in Pittsburgh called WJAS. That’s when things would change. Cecil Heftel was coming to Pittsburgh and winning was the only option.
On March 12th 1973, Heftel rocked the Pittsburgh radio world when he introduced Pittsburghers to something they had never heard before. A Top-40 rock station that didn’t go by call letters, but by a number and a letter. 13Q. And a kind of Top 40 sound…well…you just had to hear it.
This wasn’t your father’s Top 40 radio. Starting in 1973 and for just a short eight years, 1320 on the AM dial would be WKTQ – 13Q – and would leave its mark on the region’s baby boom generation that was still in school or just coming of age.
Heftel owned and operated his stations from Honolulu, Hawaii. At 13Q, he said he couldn’t find the local people he wanted, so he turned to out-of-towners. His initial line-up was:
- Sam Holman, who used to work for cross-town rival KQV. Holman came back to Pittsburgh from Chicago to man the mic for morning drive.
- Dennis Waters came to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C., to handle mid-days.
- Mark Driscoll was recruited from LA to handle the afternoon and evening drive.
- Jackson Armstrong, brought his one-man wrecking ball of a show into the studio at 6 p.m.
- And two guys came to Pittsburgh via Phoenix. Batt Johnson took to the mic from 10 p.m. – 2:00 a.m., and Dave Brooks held the fort overnight from 2-6 a.m.
The sound, the format, the call letters, the brand and the team were all the work of a radio legend who went by the name of Buzz Bennett. Cecil Heftel wanted a winner, so he hired a winner to put it all together.
Buzz Bennett was born for a life in radio. He was a Baltimore kid who at 13 years old, finagled his way onto Baltimore’s big TV dance show, The Buddy Deane Show. Before long, he was a dancer on the show and helping vet the show’s music.
He parlayed his success as a teenager to the point where he was a program director and a DJ at a radio station in Arkansas at the age of 16. The radio world took notice.
After such early success, he made stops back in Baltimore and then around the country, learning the ins and outs of radio from Top 40 pioneers and legendary programmers, until one day, he became a legend himself. He was an innovator in his own right.
Everywhere he went, his stations won, they won big, they dominated their markets.
13Q would take over the Pittsburgh Top 40 radio mark, knocking KQV Radio off of its perch. One of the notable DJs at KQV at the time was Jeff Christie, whose real name was Rush Limbaugh. In less than three years, KQV was forced to convert to all-news.
Meanwhile, 13Q became known as a hitmaker for musical artists around the county, all the while trying to fend off inevitable change. FM radio was making inroads. The teenage Baby Boom generation was aging into adulthood. 13Q had to navigate a sea change in technology and demographics.
But while it did, it created the color and excitement that only a world class Top 40 radio station could achieve. It was an innovator. It had energy. It was fun and exciting. It had personality.
- Ron “Buzz” Brindle
- Batt Johnson
- Dennis Waters
- Ray Zoller.
- Matt at BigAppleAirChecks.com who provide original 13Q airchecks.
- 13Q fans who were interviewed: Cheryl Cline, Craig Dye and JoAnne Mulé.
- Jim Stafford who provided permission to use his song, Spiders and Snakes.
- Philip Wright of Paper Lace, who provided permission to use his song, The Night Chicago Died.
- Eric O’Brien (no relation) of PBRTV.com for his research on the history of 13Q.
- Jeff Roteman, who runs a Facebook Group dedicated to 13Q, and a website dedicated to the station.
- Ben Fong who wrote the book on the history of Top 40 Radio (Amazon) – “The Hits Just Keep on Coming.”
- Special gratitude to Carmela (Carrie) Griffith for helping me get my first commercial radio job at WKTQ.
- 5 Late and Great Radio Stations, The Patch
- 40 Years Since 13Q, PBRTV.com
- Cecil Heftel, Wikipedia
- TV& Radio: Dial-a-Doctor (Buzz Bennett), Time Magazine, 1974
- Buzz Bennett, ReelRadio.com
- Batt Johnson, Website
- OTG Consulting, Ray Zoller
- Behavior and Culture in One Dimension, Dennis Waters
- KQV Jeff Christie Page, Rush Limbaugh’s Pittsburgh Stint
- Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City, by Stefan Lorant (Amazon) This is the book Ray Zoller mentions.
- (85) Cheech & Chong: Sister Mary Elephant – YouTube