John McGhan, program director of WDVE, dared to play the music of Pittsburgh rockers. At a time when only the most well known super groups were heard on the major FM stations, John boldly stepped forward and played the music of Pittsburgh area bands. He launched the Granati Brothers and the Iron City Houserockers on WDVE. Given major exposure with resulting strong record sales in the Pittsburgh market the Houserockers and the Granati Brothers won airplay on major stations in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and other cities. John McGhan gave them their start nationally. He was the key person in launching the national success of Pittsburgh 1980s rock bands. He paved the way for his successor at WDVE, PD Dave Lange, who broke the records of the Silencers, B.E. Taylor, and Donnie Iris. John's mix of music and information established WDVE as the dominant rock station in the Pittsburgh market and the number two station overall.
John went on to be a national radio and television producer. He was a founder and producer of the NBC Source Network. He was the director of programming for Rolling Stone Productions. Working with Dick Ebersol he co-created and co-produced the NBC Friday Night Videos. McGhan launched Ted Turner's Cable Music Channel which became VH1. Founding his own firm McGhan Productions he produced live satellite interviews of celebrity rockers.
Upstate New Yorker
John MGahan, was a native of the town of Victor near Rochester New York. He began as a radio DJ and rose to become one of the best program directors in radio. He started his radio career as a disk jockey on a small station in Rochester.
WPHD become Buffalo's first progressive free form rock station in 1969. It grew to be a money maker with strong ratings but was beginning to stagnate with an unpolished staff and little promotion. John McGhan joined WPHD in 1972 doing the early after noon shift. He was quickly promoted to program director. He rallied the on air staff saying "We've Got to Be Fabulous". He loved radio. A master of promotion he went to every concert in Buffalo to promote the station. John was well known by thousands of Buffalo area concert goers as he was the emcee who introduced the bands at major rock shows.
Going into 1974 WPHD was a very successful progressive rock station. That all changed In 1974 when Bob Howard purchased WPHD. Bob ditched the progressive rock format. He changed the call letters to WYSL. John McGhan left and most of the jocks either quit or were fired.
Buffalo station WGRQ-FM hired McGhan as program director in early 1975. John hired most of the jocks who had worked for him at WPHD. He told them that WGRQ was going to be fresher, tighter, and better than WPHD. Working with radio consultant Lee Abrams he instituted a Top 40 album rock format. WGRQ, marketed as 97 Rock, became Buffalo's top rated album-rock station.
Making WDVE Pittsburgh No 1 Rock Station
With the help of radio consultant Lee Abrams, John McGhan came to Pittsburgh in 1977 to become the program director of WDVE-FM. While at DVE John increased the station's ratings making it number 1 in its target age demographic and number 2 overall in the market behind KDKA. He did it by offering a strong playlist that included Pittsburgh musicians, entertaining spots like Marcy’s Psychedelic Lunch, Dan Formento's daily “Today In Rock History” and the 60 second interviews series, and with great DJs like Jimmy Roach, Herschel, Terry Caywood, and Marcy.
NBC Source Network
With his success in increasing WDVE’s popularity and ratings John’s reputation in the radio industry grew quickly. NBC hired John to create and produce the new national Source Radio Network in 1980. The Source was a syndicated radio network of 76 FM rock music stations. WDVE was one of the subscribing stations. John moved to 30 Rockefeller Center in New York to run the Source. He worked down the hall from the David Letterman Show and Saturday Night Live.
The Source provided newscasts and features to the stations in the network, Don Pardo was the staff announcer for the Source and Saturday Night Live. Newscasts were tailored for rock music stations. Its goal was to reach a million young adults nationally in each quarter hour. The Source offered 436 hours of programming a week. The comedy team of Ron Stevens and Joy Grdnic performed 30 to 90 second satirical comedy bits.It also featured a weekly half-hour magazine titled "The Source Report".
Rolling Stone Productions
NBC Friday Night Videos
While at NBC John played a lead role in developing the NBC-TV series “The Friday Night Videos” that aired from 1983 to 2000. The Source Network was sold to Westwood One in 1987.
Cable Music Channel
John McGhan made the front page of Billboard Magazine on Oct 24, 1994 to announce the launch the Cable Music Channel (CMC) to on the Turner Broadcasting System. In his role of Vice President of Programming John described the new channel that was going to compete with MTV. CMC offered a mix of soft rock, crossover country, and urban hits. Live DJs appearing off camera gave news, sports, and weather reports. John it would be radio coming to TV. To compete against MTV which charged a fee to cable systems, Turner offered the channel for free.
CMC launched on October 26, 1994 from its LA studios. The first video aired was Randy Newmans’s “I Love L.A.”. Within a month it had a national audience of 2,5 million viewers, but was unable to sign up many cable systems as they did not have room to add another channel. It was rumored that MTV was putting pressure on artists and labels to deny airplay rights to CMC. Turner was losing money on CMC and became impatient. He sold CMC and its space on the Satcom satellite to MTV on November 29, 1994 to MTV for $1 million. The Cable Music Channel signed off before midnight on November 30, 1984 to the tune of I Love L.A”; MTV used the CMC satellite channel on New Year’s Day 1985 to launch VH1.
Stranded in L.A. by CMC John decided to take acting lessons and pursue acting roles. McGhan appeared on an episode of the hit televsion show "L.A. Law" in 1987. In the episode titled "Sparky Brackman RIP" he played a court clerk. .
In addition to acting, John McGhan founded McGhan Radio Productions in Los Angeles. His company produced live remote interviews of celebrities that were broadcast via lstellite. Through the network DJs from hundreds of station we able to interview celebrities directly from London, New York, Nashville and Los Angeles.
John McGhan died on April 3, 1990 in Los Angeles after a long illness.
The Granati Brothers, the Iron City Houserockers and the fans of Pittsburgh music are very grateful to John McGhan for his leadership, support, and friendship.
Breaking the Rules of Radio
To appreciate the boldness of John McGhan one has to understand the state of the radio industry in the late 1970s. The days of DJs breaking new songs by new artists were over. Radio stations instituted strict single genre formats with a limited number of top songs that were repeated 6 or 7 times daily. Local station program directors were given the sole responsibility for selecting all of the songs on the play list, along with determining the number of times to repeat each song. The job of a program director (PD) was to maintain or increase the listener ratings that drive advertising sales. If the listener ratings go down, advertising sales go down and the program director is fired. The first rule of radio in the late 1970’s was “You don’t play good songs that you like….you play familiar hit songs from familiar artists that you know for certain that the audience likes”.
To keep his/her job a PD played top selling favorite hits songs by well known superstar recording artists. No PDs were fired for playing Led Zeppelin and Journey in the late 1970s. Program directors believed that they put their jobs at risk if they played new songs by unproven new artists without a history of record sales. They took no chances with new artists. It was a no win “Catch 22” situation for new bands. They had to have record sales to prove their popularity to qualify for airplay, but they had to have airplay to get record sales.
WDVE instituted the rock “Superstars” format developed by radio consultant Lee Abrams. The WDVE playlist was restricted to 100 top selling songs from the proven most popular groups like Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, and Journey. Lee Abrams sent John McGhan a weekly memo of recommended new super group songs to add to the playlist, along with a list of older songs to drop.
Taking It To the Streets
Rather than just sitting in his office reading consultant memos and Arbitron rating books, John went out into Pittsburgh to talk to listeners and to hear Pittsburgh bands. He manned the WDVE booth at the Shadyside Arts Festival and other events around the area talking to listeners. He went to the local clubs to see local bands. He went to Morry’s Speakeasy to hear the Granati Brothers and to the Decade to see the Iron City Houserockers. He saw first hand the packed clubs and the excited fans of both bands.
John added the song “What in the World” to the DVE playlist. from the Granati Brothers A&M Records release ‘G-Force” in April of 1979. A week later he added “Pumpin Iron & Sweatin Steel” from the Houserocker’s “Love So Tough” MCA release. John broadcast hour long record premiere specials for both groups and played other cuts from their releases on the station. He also featured their music in the nightly listener song polls. With DVE’s support the Granati Brothers sold 20,000 records in Pittsburgh. The Houserocker also had great success in Pittsburgh. After giving airtime to the Houserockers and the G-Brothers WDVE ratings increased! John risked his job by playing local music, but he won.
KDKA "Someplace Special" (Except for Musicians)
In contrast to John McGahan other Pittsburgh area program directors refused to support Pittsburgh’s rock scene. A representative of the Granati Brothers, called KDKA radio’s program director, Randy Flick, asking if his station would consider playing songs from the band’s A&M Records release. At the time KDKA’s slogan was “Pittsburgh is Someplace Special”. The G-Bros rep asked if KDKA would consider playing music from Pittsburgh to show another reason that Pittsburgh is special. Randy replied that’s just an advertising slogan…we don’t really believe that.” He refused to even listen to the Granati Brothers album. KDKA radio, which for decades had been a strong supporter of Pittsburgh music, refused to play the music of the G-Brothers, the Houserockers and other Pittsburgh area groups. Since the 1980’s KDKA radio’s share of the radio market has fallen to second place behind WDVE.
Besides promoting Pittsburgh’s groups in Pittsburgh, John McGahan went to bat for them nationally. He touted the bands to other FM program directors around the country, helping them to get more airplay. John flew out to LA and introduced the Granati Brothers at the Whiskey A Go Go showcase for their first performance outside of the Pittsburgh area. John brought radio consultant Lee Abrams to Pittsburgh to hear and meet the Granati Brothers. Lee, who later became the chief programmer of XM radio’s 200 channels, became a friend of the Granati Brothers and aired their 2002 release on XM Radio.