If you were tuned into New York’s WNEW-FM on the afternoon of September 28, 1974, you would’ve heard a whimsical take on the weather forecast, read by a familiar voice with a Liverpool accent.
“Mostly cloudy with periods,” John Lennon began, pausing a beat. “Of rain this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow. High times – oh no, wish it was. High this afternoon and tomorrow in the 70s, low tonight in the mid-60s. Monday’s outlook, fair and cool, man.”
For two hours, a relaxed and good-humoured Lennon engaged in what he called his “second favourite occupation,” manning the mic and turntable alongside the station’s music director, renowned DJ Dennis Elsas. For fans of Lennon and The Beatles, it was a rare treat and one that’s still talked about nearly fifty years later.
“I knew, as a Beatle fan, that it was extraordinary,” Elsas told me in 2014. “There was stuff there that had never happened before on the radio.”
Elsas first met Lennon at a recording session the month before, and through John’s then-girlfriend May Pang, extended an invitation to drop by the station to talk about his new album. But he was caught off guard when Pang called soon after to say, “John wants to come up. When would you like him?”
“She said, ‘Oh, and John wants to know if it would be okay if he brought some of his records too,’” Elsas continued. “She didn’t just mean his latest album, Walls And Bridges. He had some old 45s he wanted to play. He was coming up to be a disc jockey.”
Lennon’s visit was scheduled for a few days after the phone call. Amazingly, there was no promotion at WNEW. “First, I don’t think I ever believed he would come,” Elsas said. “And also, we were FM. We were much cooler, and didn’t promote things quite the way they did on AM.
“Imagine if I had a guarantee that John Lennon would be joining me, I would’ve promoted it. Remember too, in 1974, it’s a different world. There wasn’t a media machine as sophisticated as there is now. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and John just showed up.”
Over an entertaining two hours, Lennon spun obscure rock ‘n’ roll records like Watch Your Step by Bobby Parker along with newer tunes like ELO’s Showdown (in a bit of cosmic foreshadowing, he complimented Jeff Lynne’s band by saying, “I call them Son of Beatles”).
He talked about everything from hanging out with the Rolling Stones in the ‘60s and the infamous Beatles “Butcher sleeve” to his love of Burger King Whoppers and his ongoing immigration troubles. Along the way, he did station IDs and some funny commercial spots.
Elsas met Lennon several times in the following years, and the famous broadcast was rerun, most poignantly after Lennon’s death in 1980.
WNEW, a station that defined rock radio in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, struggled in the ‘90s, and in 1999, switched to an all-talk format. Elsas can currently be heard on WFUV in New York and Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s Classic Vinyl station.
In his storied four-decade career in radio, that rainy September afternoon remains a highlight. “I’m so happy that it literally has stood the test of time,” Elsas said. “It was totally unscripted and off the cuff. John was just a musician up to chat about his new album, very happy, and talking to a fan who just happened to be a disc jockey with a radio show. It captured a moment in time. I’m still so pleased that I got to do it.”