Milwaukee's Hit Records of the '60s

Local music historians chart the ups and downs

Feb. 22, 2017
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It was a labor of decades. Working with Joel “JK the DJ” Kiedrowski, Ken Freck compiled an exhaustive look at Milwaukee’s top selling records during the 1960s and early ‘70s based on weekly surveys by a local radio station. Their book, Milwaukee Radio Chart Hits: WRIT Radio Surveys 1960-1974, is drawn from flyers published by one of the area’s leading Top-40 AM stations, WRIT, and distributed each week to record stores and other retailers.

Why did it take so long? The station has gone through many hands since then and left behind no archive. Apparently, no one was collecting their flyers. “I couldn’t find the stuff,” Freck says. “One guy would have a small pile of this, another guy had a few of these.” Estate sales and rummage sales were combed year by year to accumulate flyers. Newspaper ads yielded a few items. Craigslist was useless.

The inspiration came from Menomonee Falls native Joel Whitburn’s series of books that mined the Billboard charts for analysis on the history of recorded sound. “I realized how inaccurate the Billboard charts were for this region—they didn’t mirror Milwaukee very well,” Freck explains.

Of course, it’s hard to validate the accuracy of WRIT’s rankings from an age before scanners. It seems as though they were compiled from sales reported from several local stores combined with tallying phone-in requests plus some wishful thinking. Payola? No one can say what went on the smoke-filled backrooms of long ago.

includes full-color pages displaying samples of WRIT’s flyers along with picture sleeves of some of the singles (local and national) mentioned in the book. The bulk of Milwaukee Radio Chart Hits is comprised of an alphabetized roster of artists and data on which of their recordings made the local charts.

The book is on sale at Freck’s vinyl-crammed store, Musical Memories, 833 E. Kilbourn Ave.

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