This article by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press on September 4, 2008.
Clark Weber has a million stories: He kicked the Monkees out of a radio station when they tore up some drapes. He saw Phil Spector carrying a .38 revolver. He had lunch with the Beatles. And an 8-year-old kid named Michael Jackson sang in his office one day.
Those are just a few of the amazing but true anecdotes Weber accumulated during his career as a disc jockey and program director at WLS AM and other stations in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. So why has this Wilmette resident waited until now to write a book about his life? Actually, he tried three times to write a memoir, but he just couldn’t get the hang of how to tell the stories on the page.
“It just didn’t capture it,” he says. “It wasn’t me.”
And then Neal Samors, the Buffalo Grove resident who has written and published several books about Chicago, interviewed Weber for the 2006 book Chicago in the Sixties. Samors told Weber he should write a book.
“Clark was a legend to me,” Samors says. “I’d grown up listening to WLS. He had a great collection of photos and memorabilia. And he’s a great storyteller.”
This time, Samors helped Weber get started by interviewing him and transcribing the tapes. But after a while, Weber started writing chapters and turning them over to Samors to edit. The result is Clark Weber’s Rock and Roll Radio: The Fun Years: 1955-1975, which Samors published through his company, Chicago’s Books Press.
Lavishly illustrated with pictures from Weber’s collection, the book comes with a CD featuring old WLS jingles and DJ banter.
“I wanted people to have a good time when they read this,” Weber says. “This was their life; this was their prom, this was their ’57 Chevy.”
Weber looks back with pride on his days as WLS program director in the ’60s. It was an era before corporate mergers homogenized the radio business. A station with a powerful signal like WLS could choose to play records by local bands and turn them into regional or even national hits.
“There were a number of very talented garage bands that did as good a good, or an even better job, than the national groups,” Weber says, referring to Chicago bands such as the New Colony Six and the Buckinghams. “And if we out them on the air, they would tell their fans. You would give a boost to some kids who never would have a shot at stardom.”
Weber proved over time that he had a good ear for which records would be popular. On one occasion, a young singer named Neil Diamond nervously waited outside the WLS studios to see what Weber thought of his record. Other stations didn’t understand what Diamond was trying to do with his folk rock, but Weber spotted a star in the making. Still, he admits he wasn’t always right. He initially dismissed “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and Papas.
“I thought that was a West Coast record, appealing to only people on the coast,” he says.
Weber once sparked controversy by predicting that the Dave Clark Five would become more popular than the Beatles. He says now he didn’t really believe that.
“I knew of course how big the Beatles were,” he says, explaining that he made the remark to get Beatles fans riled up. “I would cause the girls to sit up and say, ‘How dare he!’”
The Beatles made a good impression on Weber when he had lunch with them, although he found John Lennon to be a little surly.
“They were clearly overwhelmed by their fame,” he says.
As for the Monkees, Weber thinks they just got a little carried away with their antics when they trashed the WLS lobby. “They thought they could do the same thing they could do in the movies,” Weber says.
Weber kicked them out, but they came back the next day to apologize. “They were very contrite,” he says.
Losing interest in rock music as it changed in the early ’70s, Weber went into talk radio. For the past 15 years, he has run an advertising agency, Clark Weber Associates. He also records a one-minute commentary called “A Senior Moment,” which airs on 28 radio stations.
Weber is not thrilled with today’s radio industry, however, criticizing the lack of variety and the excessive number of commercials. “I give music radio about five more years,” he says. “If they don’t change music radio as we know it, it will be dead.”