WLIR Screamer of the Week
As I work on my next podcast, I’m listening to what must be the most nostalgic playlist ever. At least if you were a young adult in the NYC area during the 1980s.
The playlist is comprised of all the Screamer of the Week winners form WLIR FM. Back in the 1980s, THE place for new music in the metro NYC area was WLIR. Every week, the radio station would play something new. They would then ask listeners to phone in and vote on the best song, the Screamer of the Week. After being declared the Screamer of the Week, the song would end up in heavy rotation on the station and, invariably, was played at all the new wave, punk, and techno dance clubs.
WLIR started the Screamer of the Week in the fall of 1980 when the format was new rock and dance music. Subsequently, early Screamers were songs like “Rock Hard” by Suzi Quatro (an awesome hard rock song bordering on punk) and “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen. Even so, much of the music that made it to Screamer status was new wave or songs from the emerging techno dance music scene.
In the summer of 1982, WLIR saw where the music scene was going in the metro NYC area and switched to “new wave” music. By that time, new wave was an amorphous category that included punk, traditional new wave such as the Talking Heads, techno dance music, new romantics, and many more genres. What was excluded was all that hard rock that became the basis for classic rock today. Also excluded from the format was the emerging hair metal bands.
The transition made sense at the time given that WLIR’s heavy rotation was becoming more informed by new wave. A quick look at the Screamers from 1980 and 1981 show new wave and punk bands such as The Clash, Missing Persons, Split Enz, The Police, The Waitresses, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. By 1982, bands such as the A Flock of Seagulls, Kim Wilde, and and the Human League, classics of 1980s new wave, were making the Screamer list. The change in format was inevitable.
Browsing through the Screamers is like looking into a time capsule of 80’s music. MTV darlings such as the Flirts, Talk Talk, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, and Thomas Dolby are all over the Screamer list. Some of my personal favorites from the 1980s are also on this list including “New Year’s Day” by U2, Naked Eye’s “Always Something There To Remind Me”, “So Afraid Of The Russians” by Made For TV, and, of course, “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats”. WLIR was also the only place you could hear the eventual Screamer, the original version of “Obsession” by Michael DesBarres & Holly Knight.
The Screamer was more influential on what I bought or club plays than even MTV was. Listening to the playlist, it’s hard not to go back in time a little, in my mind at least, to the days when my friends and I were going to clubs around Long Island and sometimes NYC in search of the best dance mix. Looking back at my 1980’s mix tapes, I find them littered with Screamers.
The Screamer of the Week represented the epitome of 80s music. These are the songs of the 80s, especially club culture. This is why the 80s were so awesome.
You can find this playlist on Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6FbJEQuS88hTZykT4FYVgP?si=c8GOFjRkQA-C4wvKSYjY5w. There are some Screamers missing from the playlist but only a few. Also, check out the Screamers list at WDARE, the successor to WLIR at https://wdarefm.com/playlists/screamers-1980-87. Just be ready to step back, musically speaking, into the early and mid 1980s. It’s all here.