The Education of Dick Asher
Pink Floyd booked five concert dates at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in February 1980 and sold them out. The Sports Arena was one of the largest indoor theatres in the nation, with a seating capacity of sixteen thousand. Pink Floyd, a psychedelic rock group from England, had just come out with a new album, The Wall. It was the band's first release in two years, and an instant smash. The Wall had climbed to the number one spot on Billboard's album chart in January, and would not yield until May. This was a feat for any album, let alone a two-record set of unrelenting gloom. 'This is very tough stuff, and hardly the hallmark of a hit album,' wrote one rock critic. Yet The Wall was more than a hit; in record industry lingo, it was a 'monster.'
The band's contract with CBS Records called for a tour after each new release. The Wall tour, which required a stage crew of eighty and cost nearly $1 million in props, set a new standard for sheer spectacle. Each night a Spitfire aircraft dive-bombed the length of the concert hall and a forty-foot inflated pink pig danced in the air. The arena shook with quadraphonic sound. During the first half, the crew lugged four hundred man-sized bricks on stage and built a wall. By intermission it was four stories high and hid the band. The bricks, made of white polystyrene, formed a movie screen for surreal animated cartoons. At the show's end, the wall came crashing down.
Pink Floyd's concert was too elaborate to take on the road, so the tour was limited to four cities: Los Angeles, New York, London, and Cologne. As the first stop, Los Angeles became gripped by Floydmania. The Wall concert was instantly the hottest ticket in town.
Pink Floyd belonged to an elite category: the cult band. Its albums were not mere song anthologies but mini-operas. Most rock acts that make it big in the United States do so with a run of hit singles. For them, the object is to be heard on Top 40 radio. These stations have the most listeners nationwide, and play what they consider the forty most popular singles of the week, some-times fewer. It's no exaggeration to define Top 40 radio as the fount of rock superstardom. Pink Floyd was a special case. Top 40 mostly ignored the band, which had built a vast following on album-oriented radio, stations that played album cuts instead of 45s.
Now and then, however, Pink Floyd recorded a song Top 40 could not ignore. Listeners would light up radio station switch-boards with requests. It happened in 1973 with the song 'Money' from the album The Dark Side of the Moon. It would happen again with 'Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two,' a cut from the Wall album.
CBS Records' Columbia label, the home of Pink Floyd, knew immediately that the song was a classic. Columbia released it as a single in late 1979, the first Pink Floyd 45 in years. It wasn't long before 'Another Brick in the Wall' became a Top 40 favourite. By the week of February 8, 1980, Radio & Records, the leading indus-try tipsheet, calculated that 80 percent of the stations in its coast--to-coast survey were playing the song. At major Top 40 stations in every region of the country, 'Another Brick' had risen to number one, getting the most airplay of any record that week. Out West, it was number one at big stations in Phoenix, Seattle, and Spo-kane.
The same week, Pink Floyd opened the Wall tour in Los Angeles. Given the mad scramble for concert tickets, the barrage of media attention, and the undiminished sales strength of the Wall album, one might have expected Los Angeles stations to flood the airwaves with 'Another Brick in the Wall.' But for some mysterious reason, L.A.'s four big Top 40 stations, which collec-tively had over 3 million listeners, refused to play the song at all. It was nothing less than a blackout.
Dick Asher knew why. At least he thought he knew. If he was right, the implications were terrible.