All hits, all the time: Vintage Musicradio 77 WABC mural rocks on in upper Manhattan
Musicradio 77 WABC: All hits — all the time!
If you’ve lived in New York long enough, or have at least an awareness of 20th century radio history, then this brand means something to you.
You can hear that PAM jingle — 77 WABC! — that is a delightful little earworm. It’s part of the culture, obligatory background noise in a movie set in New York in the 1960s or 1970s.
Indeed, even movies that were filmed in that era knew the value of the jingle: You can hear it in a scene from “Midnight Cowboy,” that 1969 flick that captures New York on the cusp of that decade that so fascinates us, that seems so remote to today’s New York: the 1970s.
So it is extraordinary when we find something from that era that somehow has escaped New York’s relentless instinct to erase the old, erect the new — rinse and repeat.
I point this out with some reluctance actually, because attention paid to that which is vulnerable often ensures its destruction.
I refer to the beautiful image above — this massive mural in Hamilton Heights that to this day still promotes Musicradio 77 WABC, which seems to date to some point in the 1970s.
Now, the station still exists — except for the Musicradio part of course. Way back in 1982, executives made the fateful if prescient decision to switch formats to all talk, after 22 years as a music station.
That day is remembered bitterly by many New Yorkers who grew up with AM popular music as the “Day the Music Died.” This was the station of Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram and other golden voices, of the Beatles and the great pantheon of 1960s and 70s pop music. It was the antithesis of an iPod playlist, of recommendations on Songza and Pandora, of the way so many of us consume music today.
It’s certainly unusual for an advertising space in so prominent a location (just south of West 145th Street, on St. Nicholas Avenue) to remain frozen in time, not collecting a dime as it promotes a defunct product — for decades.
There are several reasons for that I’m sure. As the neighborhood around it continues to transform, perhaps advertising gold will be seen in those fading bricks — but I should hope this relic gets a pass from the Manhattan gentrification machine.
This ghost sign has lingered so long — it’s been up longer than Musicradio 77 was even on the air — that it deserves some sort of protection. It is sort of a museum exhibit on permanent loan from curators unknown, an important relic of a time and place not only in New York, but in the story of how we listen to popular music.