Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

Remembering and appreciating
July 31, 1923 – December 14, 2006
Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun
Ahmet Ertegun (photo by Timothy White)

When I was a kid listening to (and looking at) an Atlantic Records album or single, the words Ahmet Ertegun regularly appeared. To this Boomer, it was an odd set of words. A person? An expression? A technical term?

Little did I realize how much Ahmet Ertegun (a person!) shaped my sense of American pop music and how much I am indebted to him for being a beacon guiding me to great music.

Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

Ahmet Ertegun crosses Atlantic

Ahmet Ertegun was born in Istanbul, Turkey on July 31, 1923. With his family (his father was an ambassador) he would eventually emigrate to Washington, DC in  1935, but while living in Great Britain, Ahmet and his older brother Nesuhi had attended concerts by American musicians like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. They loved that sound.

In the United States, Ahmet and Nesuhi continued to search out such  music. Ahmet later said, “I began to discover a little bit about the situation of black people in America and experienced immediate empathy with the victims of such senseless discrimination, because, although Turks were never slaves, they were regarded as enemies within Europe because of their Muslim beliefs.” (from: Greenfield, Robert (January 25, 2007).

Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun signed everyone from Ray Charles to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin“. Rolling Stone.)

After an initial failed record label start in 1947, Ertegun began  Atlantic Records with Herb and Mariam Abramson. He signed Ruth Brown in 1949 and she had a hit in 1950 with “Teardrops From My Eyes.”

Success sparks bonfire

Ahmet Ertegun even wrote some songs. The Covers’ “Fool Fool Fool” was one of his hits.

Atlantic signed Ray Charles in 1952

Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

Wexler, Dowd, & the Drifters

While Herb Abramson served in the military, Ertegun  brought on Jerry Wexler,   and  audio engineer Tom Dowd recorded numerous hits including The Drifter’s “Save The Last Dance For Me.”

ATCO, a spin-off of Atlantic, began in 1955. It had the hit “Splish Splash” with Bobby Darin.

Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun
Jerry Wexler, Nesuhi Ertegun, Bobby Darin, and Ahmet Ertegun. [William “PoPsie” Randolph/ Atlantic Records Archives]
Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

Blues the base

Atlantic Records continued to produce the type of music that had attracted Ahmet Ertegun from the beginning: Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin. But the west coast music scene attracted him, too.

He signed Sonny and Cher and  Buffalo Springfield.

Though sold to Warner Brothers in 1970, Ertegun remained with the label and  signed The Rolling Stones to Atlantic Records, The  70’s also brought Led Zeppelin, Yes, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Cream, and Bad Company to Atlantic.

The 80s found Rush, Genesis, AC/ DC,Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Debbie Gibson, and Phil Collins on Atlantic.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 1983 with Jann Wenner, the founder and editor of Rolling Stone, Jerry Wexler, Seymour Stein, Allen Grubman, and Bob Krasnow, Ahmet Ertegun helped establish the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They approved the Hall’s construction plans in Cleveland, Ohio. Ahmet was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

On October 29, 2006, while attending a Rolling Stones benefit concert at the Beacon Theatre in NYC, Ertegun tripped and fell. He was brought to the hospital and though  initially in stable condition, he  took a turn for the worse and slipped into a coma.

Ahmet Ertegun died on December 14, 2006 ( NYT obit)

Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun

WOR-FM Rocks

WOR-FM Rocks

Sunday 31 July 1966
[The audio is NOT July 31, but Oct 8, 1966, the first day of DJs]

WOR-FM Rocks

WOR-FM Rocks

Federal intervention

In July 1964, the federal government, via the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), adopted a non-duplication rule prohibiting FM radio stations in cities of more than 100,000 people from merely running a simulcast of the programming from their AM counterparts. Stations fought the rule and delayed implementation.

WOR-FM Rocks

Writing on the wall

Station owners did not succeed in their fight and many decided to experiment with the still new but growing rock genre. Soon rock FM stations dotted the land.

On June 16, 1966  WOR-FM announced it would be first New York City FM station to play rock and roll music on a “regular basis.”

WOR-FM Rocks

Finally rocks

WOR-FM rocks

And so on July 31, 1966 New York City’s WOR-FM began running a freeform-based progressive rock format for most of its broadcast day. Management was unable to come to an agreement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (the union that represented on air talent). As a result, the DJ’s did not start until October 8.

WOR-FM Rocks

Not quite underground

Listening to the sample above from the first day of DJs playing (not particularly different from the previous months’ playlists), the listener will realize that the playlist was not particularly different from the AM pop radio playlists.

That difference would not happen until the FM DJs began to experiment play more album cuts of their own choice.

It was that difference, the question of choice versus the handing down from on high of a playlist, that soon separated FM “pop” stations using the Drake method of programming from the stations like WNEW-FM (also in NYC). WNEW-FM gave its DJs much more leeway when choosing what to play.

WOR-FM Rocks


After hardly more than a year of the new format with DJs, many of the original group left. Bill Mercer, or simply Rosko, was one of the more popular of WOR’s DJs. He brought a unique free style he brought to his shows. Fans loved him and it, but he realized that management did not want that style.

On October 2, 1967, less than a year after starting, Rosko announced his departure on the air. Click below to listen to a piece of it…

Rosko joined WNEW-FM shortly afterwards and the rest is another much more enjoyable history. NYT article

WOR-FM Rocks