Catching up with WYBR’s David Potter
By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
Rockford Rocked Interview: You spent some time with the Rockford radio station WYBR back in the 1980s. What was your role at the station. Were you spinning discs?
David Potter: My time at the original Oscar’s downtown (Remember Bad Brad Hefton’s exhibition fight there?) had me running the bar, and on the weekends; DJing with a fella who happen to be the Program Director at WYBR – who had broken away from the Yellow Brick Road persona and was now trying its hand at AOR (Adult Oriented Rock) – we spent many weekends perusing the Rockford/Chicago record bins for cool stuff to accompany the incoming new stuff. That got my foot in the door at WYBR. Turns out two factors were happening at the same time; the station owners in Texas were filing to sell the station, and they also wanted my DJ buddy and the Music Director outta there. I was standing there to pick up the pieces with Tim Crull and Sky Drysdale.
RRI: So this wasn’t during the time the “yellow brick road” was at the Cherryvale mall?
DP: Absolutely not, this iteration of WYBR (its last before the X) had its studios along the golf course on Sandy Hollow (less mall patrons staring into the windows).
RRI: Even for hardcore music fans, being around any kind of music day and night could get rather daunting. If you had to pick a song to never hear again in your lifetime what would it be?
DP: Okay, this is tough, because I really believe even the worst songs can inspire the best ones to be written – but with all the great songs they produced – did Starship really need We Built this City? And I’m a big hair band fan as well, but Europe’s The Final Countdown?
RRI: You eventually left radio to go to work for and manage some popular Rockford area clubs. Tell us about Channels on State and Madison. I remember national acts like Black Flag playing there. Was it a punk club?
DP: I had the bar stuff mixed with the music stuff, so there was no order to my chaos (seriously, no order, just chaos) I kind of fell into every situation: Channels was a friend of mine’s passion, and he did it really well. I happened to be working with Robin and Mike at the State and Madison conglomerate of nightclubs and bars – this is before social media — I mean actually, it could’ve been the model for how social media works, friends share with friends, share with other friends. That’s how everyone was, constantly moving around in packs, even though they were claiming independence from the “norm”. Anyway, John (Soroka) brought in all kinds of great alternative acts, including Black Flag, the Cure, etc. At the same time, all the way upstairs in the same building, Bruce Hammond (and WYBR most of the time) was bringing in Warrant, Saraya, Alannah Myles, etc. That area of downtown truly was a mecca for a time.
RRI: Cubby O’Brien’s was hopping around Rockford in the late ’80s and ’90s with four or five locations. They just sort of disappeared overnight. What the hell happened there?
DP: You know, my stint with Cubby’s was in the kitchen. Yup, that’s right. But it was early on, before the original owner sold the franchise… and around the time they folded. I think I was trying to escape the area, so not sure what happened. They had a great thing going though.
RRI: You eventually ended up at the old Shakey’s location at a blues club called Rush St. I can recall seeing some great blues acts there including Buddy Miles, Lonnie Brooks and Duke Tumatoe. Were you involved with booking the bands?
DP: I was not, again – right place, right time – the owner knew me from around town/bars/music, etc. and so I fit right in behind the bar, patrons knew me and so on. The after show partying with the acts was always the draw for me, the ideology of the rock ‘n’ roll party lifestyle was true at that point anyway. Great shows, greater times after-wards. And also, the Blues Whores (this was a group of folks that gathered at the same places to catch great blues music) were prominent at that point, they were always organizing music road trips and seeing great acts. It was awesome to witness this passion for music.
RRI: Being around the bar area on a regular basis you must have overheard some of the world’s cheesiest “pickup” lines. What was the worst that you can recall hearing?
DP: Oh man, I don’t want to ruin any poor sap’s chances now. After all, those lines are working again, right? Honesty, I think that the reason I stayed in bar/restaurant’s that long was because I muted that stuff.
RRI: Any cool bar brawl stories?
DP: Brawls happened, but luckily, not with any of my closer friends, so yeah, there were brawls, but why and who, couldn’t tell ya. Sometimes alcohol brings on the idiots.
RRI: One last question. In the ’80s and early ’90s there seemed to be no shortage of places to go around Rockford to see live music. Do you think we will ever see another music scene like we did in the ’70s and ’80s?
DP: I truly believe it can, there are folks still trying to see it happen. We try at the local event level to create more draw and atmosphere for the folks of Rockford, but man they’re hard to keep focused. I hope more area bars and restaurants see what live music can bring and realize that it’s good for the community and their profits. This year, we’re trying to make sure that Greenwich Village Art Fair, on September 17 and 18, gets the draw it deserves. For years they’ve had live music, and this year is no exception. The fair is the longest running juried fair in the Midwest (since 1948). So for a paltry $5, you get art, food, beverages and live music all day long! Come on Rockford, get out there.