Truth be told, WBAB wasn’t much of a radio presence throughout the 1970s. They were a modest rock and roll station struggling to find a voice. They might have remained mired in said obscurity were it not for a significant change in the decade’s final year. That’s when Bob Buchmann arrived, a voice who would help WBAB spread its wings and soar straight to the top.
WBAB first went on the air in 1958. At the time it was a 200 Watt station owned by Babylon Bayshore Broadcasting that resided at 103.1 on the radio dial. The station experimented with a number of formats over the next twenty years with varying success before switching to Album Oriented Rock in 1973 (and relocating to 102.3 on the dial). Unfortunately, there were bigger fish in the surrounding sea at that time, most notably WPLJ and WLIR. Those were lean times for the struggling radio station, but all of that would change in 1979.
That was the year that WBAB hired a new VP of Programming and engaging morning personality named Bob Buchmann. A Long Island native, having spent his childhood in Bayshore and Dix Hills, Buchmann instinctively understood what the locals wanted in a rock and roll station, and boy did he deliver.
Seemingly from the moment he signed on, the ratings started to climb. Consider that, prior to his arrival, WBAB was the fourth-ranked rock station in the area, with a meager 1.1 ratings share. Remarkably, by the end of that first year alone, WBAB became the #1 rock station on Long Island, a position they would hold undisputed for the next twenty years.
To understand the success of WBAB under Bob Buchmann, one only needs to look at his philosophy. As quoted in The New York Times, Bob remarked, “It’s the listeners that makes the radio station, and that’s our formula for success.” And that’s exactly where WBAB targeted their efforts.
Live on-air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the station played far more listener-requested material per hour than any of the competition, offering a steady stream of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton and every other major rock artist of the day. As a result, WBAB was the station of choice among rock fans at the beach, in the parks, at home or at work, and especially while making that dreaded morning drive on the Long Island Expressway.
The station also supported the local music scene like no other, promoting such up-and-coming bands as Zebra, Twisted Sister and The Good Rats. And if any of those bands were appearing at the popular local venues such as Hammerheads and The Mad Hatter, you could guarantee that the trusty WBAB van, and probably Bob Buchmann, would be on-scene to promote the show and interact with their enthusiastic listeners.
An orange and black WBAB bumper sticker soon became a must-have item for local music fans, and the WBAB van gave thousands of them away. WBAB took that van all over Long Island, in fact, for various concerts and promotional events such as the popular “WBAB Fun In The Sun” days.
In 1981, WBAB would release a notable collection of music featuring the best local talent Long Island had to offer called the WBAB Homegrown Album. Featuring the station’s staff on the cover, the record was an offshoot of the popular “Homegrown” show that spotlighted the Island’s up-and-coming artists. Destined to become a classic, the record has since become a sought-after collectable among local music fans. It also played a role, along with Buchmann’s persistence, in getting Zebra signed to a major label in 1982.
Bob Buchmann would leave WBAB in 1999, almost 20 years to the day of his hiring. He next became the program director for rival Q104.3 out of New York City. Perhaps not surprisingly, that station’s ratings soon started to rise, making them one of the most formidable competitors that WBAB would ever face. And, after 10 years in that role, Buchmann packed up and relocated across the country, landing a coveted job at the iconic KLOS-FM in Los Angeles for the next three years. Today, his illustrious career continues at the equally-respectable KGB-FM in San Diego.
Meanwhile, WBAB retains its enviable position as the most listened to radio station on Long Island, a place where one can hear a rousing mixture of classic rock and newer artists. And, let’s face it, while WBAB may not have exactly been a favorite among Long Island 70s Kids, most of them DID grow up to be Long Island 80s teens and adults, and WBAB was there every step of the way, provided the hard-driving soundtrack to that decade unlike any other.
And all of it thanks to a man with a vision of what rock and roll radio could accomplish if you understood and respected your audience. What a concept, eh?
If you have fond memories of listening to WBAB and Bob Buchmann during those transitory years, I hope you’ll share all of your recollections with all of us in the comments section below, as I tip my hat to this iconic radio station from the days of our collective youth.
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