In the '70s, radio disc jockeys had a great deal of influence over the music they played, and could help out artists they liked by playing their songs. Very often DJs would have to work for many different stations throughout their careers as stations would change format or "direction" and let them go. These guys would often trade a stable family life for the excitement of being on the air, which could be more difficult as they got older.
Chapin was constantly promoting himself, and made sure to visit radio stations as he traveled across the United States. The song is a composite of the disc jockeys he got to know, including Jim Connors, who was an air personality at a radio station in Erie, Pennsylvania, and in 1973, became the morning man on WYSL in Buffalo - he had something of a freeform style which endeared him to many listeners.
Chapin was very astute from a marketing perspective (he went to Cornell, you know), and figured out that if you were trying to get disc jockeys to play your song, it would be a good idea to write a song about a disc jockey.
WOLD is a real radio station in southwest Virginia, which went on the air in 1968. It was not the inspiration for the song: more likely, Chapin was going for a universal feel, and chose the letters as a play on "World." (Thanks to Sandy Chapin for telling us about this song. For much more on Harry's songwriting and clever marketing tricks, check out her Songfacts interview.)
Susan from Atlanta, GaWOLD is indeed a radio station in southwest Virginia. It is in Marion, Virginia, and when I was visiting family there not long after this song came on, I encountered the owner of the station. When I mentioned the song, she became infuriated, saying how much she hated that he used their call letters. I thought, "What, are you nuts, lady? This is free publicity for your station every time it's played." I never did understand her objection to it.
I had the great fortune of seeing Harry Chapin in concert in 1979 and later meeting him. What a talented singer/songwriter and wonderful person, and what a shame his life came to such a tragic ending.
Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI first fell in love with it at work.
Garry from Wrexham, United Kingdomgreat insight to harry and his music and lyrics
John from Lakeland, FlI loved how Harry would change the last radio station call letters to one of the popular local stations where he was playing at the time.
Bob from Farmington Hills, MiIt's W-OLD. It's not about the "world", it's about a 45 year old DJ feeling OLD, past his prime, nothing to offer his ex-wife, not much to really offer anyone other than serving up the hits. It's beyond bittersweet.
Dave from Liverpool, United KingdomIndeed!
Check out Alan Partridge on
Graveyard shift DJ on local radio
Jeff from Liverpool, Englandgreat song from a very underrated story singer,whose career was tragically cut short in a car crash in 1981
Mark from Lancaster, OhThis song had a great deal of radio play for one that only achieved #36 on the charts. But because it was about radio, and because elements of its story are distressingly common in radio, it was immensely popular with radio DJ's. Radio stations can be lonely places, and it seemed that almost every station at that time had an old, veteran morning man with a long, long history.