Motown at 50

On January 12, 1959, Berry Gordy, Jr. decided to try his hand at making records. He borrowed 800 dollars from his family and started a business that would change the face of American music. Motown’s emergence was perfectly timed. Radio was evolving into a music-centered medium. Elvis Presley had opened the door to bring R&B into the mainstream. And in the industrial Midwest, where tens of thousands of African Americans had migrated to take advantage of auto industry jobs, there was a glut of talented young people with talent, dreams and tenacity.

When WKMH made the switch to WKNR on Halloween night in 1963, the first WKNR Music Guide featured Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness” at number 3. Even thought the station’s playlist still contained more conservative middle of the road artists like Lloyd Price, Vickie Carroll and Lenny Welsh, the fact that the Kingsmen held the number 1 spot made a statement to the audience that things were changing. A year later, four of the top 31 songs of the year were from the Motown family of artists (The Four Tops were at number 1 with “I Can’t Help Myself”). And by the time WKNR left the air in April of 1972, 258 Motown records had charted and nearly one out of every ten WKNR Music Guide artists were connected with the label.

Keener’s Scott Regen had a special relationship with Motown. Berry Gordy knew that Scott’s night time show was the place where new records could quickly break out into smash hits. The Tops, the Temptations, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder all made live appearances on Scott’s show, Edwin Starr cut a special version of S.O.S – Stop Her on Sight, entitled Scott’s On Swingers. Today the record is still a popular underground hit in Europe.

As the 60s came to a close and CKLW’s 50,000 watt signal beamed Detroits musical voice across the midwest, the station’s heavier R&B rotation maximized Motown’s visibility.

But Keener’s contribution to Berry Gordy’s success is un-deniable. Just about every Motown Artist from the late Levi Stubbs to Rare Earth credit WKNR as a key player chapter in the Motown story. And as Trella Hart sang, “Our world is empty without you. Keep hangin’ on to WKNR, Keener 13” in the PAMS jingle studios the soulful sound of Detroit became forever associated with a 5,000 watt radio station in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Motown family of labels included: Black Forum – Chisa – Golden World – Gull – Ju-Par – M.C. – Manticore- Motown – Rare Earth – Ric-Tic – Salvation – Soul – Tamla – Three Brothers – VIP – Wingate – Weed

LINKS:
Susan Whitall – Celebrating 50 Years of Motown
Motown 45 labels through the years
The Freep’s 50 Motown Videos
The Freep’s “where are they now” feature

The Keener13.com All Time Top 13 Motown Hits
13. War – Edwin Starr
12. My Guy – Mary Wells
11. Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor
10. Dancing in the Street – Martha and the Vandellas
9. I Want You Back – The Jackson 5
8. Reach Out – The Four Tops
7. I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Gladys Knight & The Pips / Marvin Gaye
6. Stop in the Name of Love – Supremes
5. I Can’t Help Myself – Four Tops
4. Sign, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder
3. Ball of Confusion – Temptations
2. Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
1. I Can’t Get Next to You – Temptations
(Based on chart position and number of weeks on the WKNR Music Guide)

Jan 11th, 2009 | Posted in Keener
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