Thursday, July 28, 2011
Todd Storz was born May 8, 1929 in Omaha,Nebraska , the grandson of beer brewing legend Gottlieb Storz. As a young man he became greatly interested in the medium of radio, becoming a ham radio enthusiast. He knew by then that radio was the business he wanted to be a part of. His father Robert, a man of considerable wealth, helped Todd buy a local radio station, KOWH in Omaha. Todd became the general manager and began his foray into the radio business. (Bear with me now, it gets there, trust me.)
Now at the time, radio programming consisted of live music, dramatic series, and variety shows. Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, The Lone Ranger,Superman and so on were brought to America's homes via the radio. However, by the mid 1940s a little invention called television began to take hold with more and more families buying up tv sets. Inevitably, the personalities and programs left radio and migrated in short order to the video screen. Sponsors all but abandoned radio in the process.
Todd Storz, for his part was not about to have his radio career end before it had barely begun, and was determined to find a way to make radio viable again. Todd, a man who appreciated a good brew, frequently found himself in bars and restaurants. He noticed one day that customers would listen to the same song over and over. Let's say the song was "Pennies From Heaven". One after another a different patron would drop in their coin and select "Pennies From Heaven". Then at closing time while cleaning up The waitress would go to the jukebox after listening to "Pennies From Heaven" all shift, drop in her coin and select..."Pennies From friggin' Heaven!
Seeing this ritual play itself out day after day, Todd realized that people liked to hear familiar songs over and over again. Maybe they would listen to the radio to hear their favorites repeated throughout the day! Todd immediately dumped the remaining programming from his station, researched by poll what songs people liked best, changed the station's format to all music with the occasional local news and weather and instructed his announcers to rotate a list of 40 songs compiled from his research throughout the day. This list was called....The Top 40. By the end of 1951, KOWH's share of Omaha listeners went from 4 percent to 45 percent! While the rest of the industry dismissed this strange new programming initially, KOWH radio's continued success could finally no longer be ignored as stations across the country one by one adopted Todd Storz' music and news format.
Storz expanded his business into a stable of radio stations featuring his Top 40 format. His theory was not a new one. A half century earlier none other than Sigmund Freud put forth a "repetition compulsion" theory stating that it was human nature to try to repeat childhood experiences in order to work through adult problems. Psychologist John Mendelsohn postulated that the pleasure we get from entertainment comes in a large part from simple repetition of things that gave us pleasure in the past.
So a debt of gratitude is owed by Billboard, The Grammys, MTV, any artist who ever depended on airplay to sell records ,you and me to Todd Storz, the inventor, originator, the Father Of Top 40 Radio!
Todd Storz died at the height of his success April 13, 1964 of a stroke. He was 39.
An excellent book on radio as an enertainment medium is Something In The Air by Marc Fisher. It has the full story on Todd Storz and much more.