You had to be there.
You had to be an avid listener of WLUP 97.9-FM, aka “The Loop,” in the late 1970s, through the 1980s and into the 1990s to understand the wave of nostalgic tributes that have swept over the Chicago area since it was announced the station had been sold and will become a contemporary Christian music station this weekend.
It’s Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye to The Loop and hello to, what are they calling it?
For millennials, the sale and format change of a “terrestrial” radio station probably didn’t merit a single tweet. If you told them there was a time when hosts on The Loop were rock stars, and the station had a Cool Factor that was off the charts, they’d look at you like you’d lost your mind.
Maybe so. As Johnny B. sang, “We’re All Crazy In Chicago.”
In 1986, Brandmeier sold out the venue known as Poplar Creek, with more than 20,000 fans turning out.
To see a radio guy and his band.
A few years later, Johnny B. was getting national TV opportunities (including talk shows and even a role in an NBC movie starring Mary Tyler Moore and Tony Curtis).
Not that Brandmeier was The Loop’s first breakout star. In 1979, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were hired by WLUP-FM after being fired by WDAI 94.7-FM when the latter station switched to a disco format.
Dahl’s anti-disco campaign (including the parody single “Do Ya Think I’m Disco?” that cracked Billboard’s Top 100) reached full-blown (so to speak) madness with the infamous “Disco Demolition” stunt at Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979.
The Sox were a mediocre team, averaging about 15,000 fans per game. They expected maybe an additional 5,000 to turn out that night.
Instead, an entire army of Steve and Garry fanatics showed up — 50,000 inside the stadium, thousands more outside.
Yep, I was there. In the right-field upper deck. When Dahl blew up the records and fans stormed the field, it never occurred to me for a second to do anything but stay where I was, watch the madness unfold, wait for order to be restored and make my way back the south suburbs.
A radio duo. Drawing the type of crowds you’d expect the Rolling Stones to attract.
Tens of thousands of WLUP-FM fans wore black T-shirts with the “Loop” logo. The first “Rock Girl” on The Loop, “Lorelei,” gained a measure of fame due to her ubiquitous presence on TV commercials.
Kevin Matthews came to the Loop and killed with his dead-on impersonations of Ronald Reagan and Pee-Wee Herman. Former child star and adult human train wreck Danny Bonaduce had a stint with the station. Even various news anchors and traffic reporters and programming executives became household names.
(At least in some households. Looking back on those glory days, I realize The Loop featured hosts who were white and usually male, playing music mostly by white musicians targeted to a mostly white audience. The comedy and the commentary no doubt appealed to that same demographic.)
The only radio gig I’ve ever had where I got to play music was on The Loop. I did some fill-in and weekend work at the station for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, at the tail end of the golden run.
Even though I was a deep bench player and even though The Loop was no longer quite THE LOOP, it was still a huge kick to be behind the mic at a station I’d been glued to as a listener since high school.
I was doing the 7-11 p.m. shift on a June night when the Bulls were playing in the NBA Finals.
Nobody was listening to me. If they weren’t in front of a TV, they were tuned in to the radio station carrying the game.
So I played music.
“Stairway to Heaven.” (Running time: 8 minutes and 2 seconds.)
“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” (11 minutes, 35 seconds.)
“I’m Your Captain.” (Nine minutes, 58 seconds.)
It wasn’t exactly a genius bit. Like everyone else, I just wanted to watch the Bulls game — and playing these marathon rock singles allowed me to do so.
And it felt like a Loop kind of thing to do.