Remembering The Midnight Special

The Midnight Special began its series run on February 2, 1973 as a 90-minute program that followed The Tonight Show on Friday nights. It began as a one-off special on August 19, 1972, with the final episode running on May 1, 1981.

Created and produced by Burt Sugarman, it was a cousin of the syndicated Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and featured musical acts performing live, a departure from the typical practice of the time, where artists lip-synced their stuff. In addition to current musical groups, The Midnight Special also featured comedians like Richard PryorAndy Kaufman, and George Carlin, and footage of vintage acts, like Bill Haley & His Comets.

Despite having no other network competition at that time of night. NBC balked at first, when Sugarman proposed a late night program to capitalize on Johnny Carson’s huge lead-in. He bought airtime on the network for the premiere, selling Chevrolet on a sponsorship.

The ratings provided proof of concept and NBC picked up The Midnight Special for a February 2 launch the next year. A unique dimension of the show was having artists as guest hosts. Later in the series Wolfman Jack became a key anchor. Over 90 acts performed on the show during its run.

Dick Ebersol asked NBC to cancel The Midnight Special when he took over a struggling Saturday Night Live.  SCTV replaced it. The Canadian improv comedy series was then replaced with another music program, Friday Night Videos.

The Midnight Special lives on, on DVD. An 11-DVD collection of the program is available at Amazon and a number of episodes can be found on YouTube.


Conan’s special relationship with Larry King: The legendary talk show host was a regular guest on Conan O’Brien‘s show. Here’s Conan’s tribute with a compilation of Larry’s best bits. CNN’s Chris Cuomo also paid an emotional tribute to the longtime host.

Those of us who have felt the sting of current trends in political correctness were among the mourners for Walter Bernstein, the scriptwriter who was blacklisted for Communist sympathies and two decades later wrote The Front, a stinging reminder of the impact of the McCarthy era. Bernstein died at age 101 on Jan. 23 at his home in Manhattan. Here’s his Washington Post obit.

Shop Talk: Programmer Gary Berkowitz lists the top traits of successful adult contemporary radio stations. They have value, whatever business you’re in.

If you dig Sixties instrumentals, you’ll probably recognize some of the tunes on this list from Best Classic Bands.

Today in History:

1956: The Coasters sign with Atlantic Records.
1957: Fats Domino sings “Blueberry Hill” and “Blue Monday” on the “Perry Como Show” on television.
1959: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper all appeared at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. This was all three acts last ever gig before being killed in a plane crash the following day.
1962: The Beatles played their first professionally organised gig outside of Liverpool at The Oasis Club, Manchester. The groups set started with their version of ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’.
1964: GI Joe, debuts as a popular American boy’s toy.
1967: The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared at the Blue Pad Club in Darlington, England which was part of the Imperial Hotel Complex on Grange Road.
1969: Yoko Ono divorced her husband Tony Cox, Yoko was granted custody of their daughter Kyoko. John Lennon married Yoko the following month on 30th March.
1973: Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer injured his hands when his piano rigged to explode as a stunt, detonated prematurely during a concert in San Francisco.
1973-: NBC debuts The Midnight Special.
1974: The Carpenters started a four week run at No.1 on the UK album chart with ‘The Singles 1969-73’, featuring 12 hits and the US No.1 ‘Top Of The World’ it went back to the top of the charts on three other occasions.
1976: Genesis released ‘A Trick Of The Tail’, their seventh studio album and the first to feature drummer Phil Collins as full-time lead vocalist following the departure of original vocalist Peter Gabriel. After auditioning over 400 vocalists, which saw Collins teaching the potential lead singers the songs, the band decided that Collins should be the new vocalist.
1976: ‘Honeymooners Second Honeymoon’ airs on TV.
1981: Late Night with David Letterman premiers
1991: US postage is raised from 25 cents to 29 cents.
2020: Palindrome Day: the date 02022020 reads the same forward and backward including in the US and China (last one like this 11 November 1111).

Today’s Birthdays:

1897 Howard Johnson, American hotelier (d. 1972)
1937 Tommy Smothers is born on Governors Island, New York.
1940 Alan Caddy, guitarist with The Tornadoes, who had a 1962 UK & US No.1 single with ?Telstar?. This was the first major hit from a UK act on the American chart. (d. 2000)
1942 British-American singer-songwriter Graham Nash, known for his light tenor voice and for his songwriting contributions as a member of The Hollies and supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash initially met both David Crosby and Stephen Stills in 1966 during a
1943 Peter Macbeth from The Foundations who had the 1967 UK No.1 single ‘Baby Now That I’ve Found You’ and the 1969 US No.3 single ‘Build Me Up A Buttercup’.
1945 Ronnie Goodson, from John Fred and His Playboy Band who had the 1968 US No.1 & UK No.3 single ‘Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)’ which was a parodic play on the title of The Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.
1946 Howard Bellamy from the Bellamy Brothers who had the 1976 US No.1 single ‘Let Your Love Flow’, and the 1979 UK No.3 single ‘If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me’.
1947 Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels, The Burning Bed) (d. 2009)
1948 Alan Mckay, guitarist with Earth, Wind & Fire, who had the 1975 US No.1 single ‘Shining Star’, and the 1981 UK No.3 single ‘Let’s Groove’. The band has received 20 Grammy nominations and were the first African-American act to sell out Madison Square Garde
1949 American musician Ross Valory, best known as the bass player for the rock band Journey.
1951 American jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson who was a member of the influential jazz fusion group Weather Report from 1973 to 1975.
1952 Rick Dufay American guitarist who played in Aerosmith in the period after Brad Whitford left the band in 1980 up to his return in 1984.
1963 Eva Cassidy, US singer. She is the only artist to score three posthumous UK No.1 albums: 2001?s ‘Songbird’; 2002?s ‘Imagine’ and 2003?s ‘American Tune’. (d. 1996)
1971 Ben Mize, drummer from American rock band Counting Crows, who had the 1994 UK hit single ‘Mr Jones’, and the 1996 US No.1 album Recovering The Satellites.
1977 Shakira, (Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll), singer who had the 2002 UK No.2 single ‘Whenever Wherever’ and the 2006 world-wide No.1 single ‘Hips Don’t Lie’. She is the highest selling Colombian artist of all time, having sold over forty million albums.

Number one today in 1975, Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain”, his first chart topper in 14 years.

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit