Madonna annoyed Z100 into making her a star

Madonna annoyed Z100 into making her a star


In 1983, Madonna was just a girl knocking on doors and trying to get her song “Holiday” played on the radio. She was so desperate, she’d even make the trip out to Secaucus, NJ, where the new radio station Z100 had just elbowed its way to No. 1 in a crowded Big Apple market.

“One day our music director came in and said, ‘There’s a lady out front who won’t go away. She comes every Tuesday and she insists we have to play her record,’ ” recalls Scott Shannon in the new documentary “Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York.”

Shannon, who was the program director and host of the “Morning Zoo” show, said the track was popular in the clubs but hadn’t yet hit the airwaves. Still, he said he’d play it if she stopped calling on them.

Madonna at the “Who’s That Girl” premiere in Times Square
Getty Images

“It became a pretty big hit for us. We were one of the first Top 40 stations to play her song. She was so appreciative she said when she got big, she’d pay us back. Well, we never thought she was going to be that big,” Shannon, who now helms the morning slot at WCBS-FM, told The Post.

But the Material Girl stayed true to her word.

After making the movie “Who’s That Girl” in 1987, she struck a deal to allow Z100 to broadcast from the world premiere. “We had a stage built in the middle of Times Square, and she came out in this beautiful white gown and greeted the crowd. There must have been 10,000 people,” he said.

Scott Shannon was the program director and helmed the morning show.
Scott Shannon was the program director and helmed the morning show.
Photo Credit: Gunpowder & Sky

It was a testament to the power of Z100, which became a juggernaut and full-fledged anointer of pop and rock stars like Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and Debbie Gibson.

“We were one of the first to play Debbie. Her mother was a great promoter. She drove me crazy,” Shannon said of Gibson’s late mother Diane, who was relentless about making her daughter a star.

The ultimate underdog

But when the station launched in August 1983, it was the ultimate underdog. Led by Shannon — an interloper out of the Tampa, Florida, market — it was dead last in the Arbitron ratings. Initially, musicians wouldn’t venture out to its less-than-glamorous NJ location. Neither would the record companies, so DJs had to buy their own music.

Z100 launched in 1983 in Secaucus, New Jersey
Z100 launched in 1983 in Secaucus, New Jersey
Photo Credit: Gunpowder & Sky

But in only 74 days, the station went from worst to first.

The film (now streaming on Apple and Amazon) explores how Shannon built a loyal audience using guerrilla marketing; a zany cast of characters on its morning show complete with pranks and celebrity impersonators; and smoke-and-mirror tactics like boasting that they broadcasted from the top of the Empire State building.

The truth was all the radio stations did. “But nobody says it,” he quipped.

Z100 had no marketing budget, so Shannon asked his listeners to make their own bumper stickers and hang sheets with Z100 scrawled on it. And they did it in droves. In essence, he created a viral moment before the concept existed.

“We invited our listeners to be a part of our quest . . . It was a very casual and personal approach. It touched people. We admitted we don’t have AccuWeather, so if you need to know the weather, look out the window in the morning. The other radio stations, pundits and experts didn’t get it. It started out as a secret society,” said Shannon.

Pranks with The Boss

On the station’s morning show, the crew concocted outlandish stories. One whopper was that Bruce Springsteen, who was wrapping up a tour at the Meadowlands, was still playing at 7 a.m. from the night before.

“We said the band was sleeping onstage, and Bruce was playing his guitar. The folks at the Meadowlands called and told us to stop because people were returning with their ticket stubs from the night before,” said Shannon.

When they did the improbable and hit No. 1, the story was splashed across the media. Shannon did the rounds with Regis and Oprah, and even landed on the cover of New York Magazine.

Debbie Gibson got her trademark black hat from Michael Damian during a visit to the Z100 morning show.
Debbie Gibson got her trademark black hat from Michael Damian during a visit to the Z100 morning show.
picture alliance via Getty Image

Soon, the morning show became a destination for artists trying to break through. It was also where Gibson got her trademark black felt hat — a gift from fellow guest and “Rock On” singer Michael Damian after she complimented him and tried it on.

“Once we got established, we became the dominant force in record sales in the tri-state area,” said Shannon.

And they haven’t looked back. Z100 remains wildly popular and influential and produces the Jingle Ball concert every year. For Shannon, who steered the pirate ship, its earliest days were a whirlwind.

“It happened so fast, I didn’t have a chance to enjoy it.”

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.