14 December 2003
A Number One idea
Longtime readers (both of you) will have noted the name of Todd Storz over in the "Inspirations" section, and whether or not you chose to click on the proffered link, it's probably time I came up with an explanation.
While all sorts of music get played in my house I spent part of yesterday afternoon sorting through classical LPs, in fact what dominated my formative years (up until 1969 or so) was the radio format known as Top 40, a concept which was essentially invented by Todd Storz.
Storz based his idea on two observations: first, that radio listeners really did like music on the air, at least as much as they did the dramas and comedy shows of the day, and that in eateries, a handful of songs got the majority of jukebox spins.
With this in mind, Storz, then in his early twenties, bought a daytimer in Omaha and built it into the top-rated non-network station in the entire country, by focusing on music programs and a local Top Ten list. (This is not to be confused with the Top Ten lists from the Home Office in Wahoo, Nebraska.) The Top Ten became the Top 40 in 1953 when Storz acquired a New Orleans station and counterprogrammed against a rival who had a weekly Top 20 show with a program twice as big and twice as long.
Storz went on to acquire other stations, in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Miami, St Louis and (yes!) Oklahoma City, and fine-tuned his format, which by then had spread to other group owners, most notably Gordon McLendon, who operated the fabled KLIF in Dallas. Storz died of a stroke in 1964, only thirty-nine years old; his father, who had been running the business side of the station group, took over the operation and continued to run it for the next twenty years, when the stations were finally sold.
Forty years after his death, Top 40 has mutated into something called Contemporary (often "Contemptible") Hit Radio, and it's time, I think, to give Todd Storz his due. Radio historian Richard Fatherley, who worked at the two Storz stations in Missouri, has proposed that the United States Postal Service honor Storz with a postage stamp. What denomination? Why, 40 cents, of course.