1982 - Randy Travis
Up until late 1985 what I knew about Country Music you could put in a thimble. That changed when I took my first full time radio job as a disc jockey at KWRT/KDBX in Boonville, MO. It was an AM/FM Combo that simulcast that was on the air from 6 AM until 10 PM that played Country, Farm Reports and that mainstay of small town radio, The Party Line. A half hour call in show where people would call for goods, services and things they were looking for. KDBX is no longer part of the station, nor do I believe they have an FM Station any longer.
The owners were on their way to going bankrupt by being pushy city folk who “knew” best how to run other people’s business. It was a perfect storm of knowing what you’re doing but not knowing the people or way they work. The GM ran sales, his wife and daughter ran the office (okay, they were the office staff). He’d been a big wheel in St. Louis radio, who took his know-how and sunk his money into a small town radio station. Like me when I was there, he made a lot of mistakes.
Record companies get their records played on radio by sending promo copies to radio stations. There is a position called the music director who makes the decision on what to play or not to play. It’s not usually done this way at the station level anymore with the expansion of corporate radio ownership, but 25 years ago it’s the way things were. Small town radio stations didn’t get the attention larger city stations did for reasons that are probably obvious. Sometimes, a record wouldn’t get sent and it would surprise people and start getting airplay elsewhere and you’d need to scrounge a copy. This became a memorable issue for me when the song “1982” started to break big.
Long story short, after the song had climbed up the charts and we still didn’t have a copy to play, I ended up buying a copy of the 45. You have to understand, Randy Travis exploded onto the scene like hyperbole on cable news channels. The station didn’t get many requests but this record got more than any I could remember. It sort of became a big deal to have the song to play only the station owner didn’t see it that way. He wasn’t in the business of selling music, he was selling advertising. Which is hard to do when you don’t have listeners to hear the advertising.
This is why the song is memorable to me, but it’s also a great Country record. It’s catchy, has lyrics that are easily identify with, and captures a moment in time quite well. Travis delivered the song with conviction and he ended up being one the Big Deals in Country for the next few years.