It was a hot, muggy night and summer lightning lit up the sky. Fans slept on the sidewalk in front of Cleveland’s legendary Agora to get inside the general admission show. WMMS had been giving out free tickets and 1,200 people crammed into the venue, making it one of the biggest crowds ever.
Those who didn’t get tickets could listen to the broadcast on WMMS. It would be the first time the station would simulcast an entire concert and it did so as part of its ten year anniversary. The broadcast was sent to six other stations in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Detroit and St. Louis. It’s estimated 3 million people tuned in to hear the show.
It was August 9, 1978 and it was meant to be the re-boot of Springsteen’s career but it almost didn’t happen.
John Gorman was program director at WMMS at the time. He explained that after Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ album dropped in 1975 Springsteen became an instant hit. But then Springsteen got into a legal battle with his management team and it would be nearly three years before fans would see him again.
Being away for that long in the music business can cause a star to fade, so his record label, Columbia, knew a re-launch was essential. The idea was a live show tour broadcast on radio but Cleveland wasn’t on the list.
“We don't need Cleveland because Springsteen never stopped being big in Cleveland,” Gorman says was the mindset of Columbia executives. But one of them was Steve Popovich, a Clevelander, who insisted the Boss play his hometown.
Gorman told Columbia, “The Cleveland audience will respond like no other audience in the country.”
He was right.
The energy Cleveland fans brought to Springsteen’s show powered the artist for more than four hours.
“I had never seen a performance like that. He really gave it, there's a reason why that's considered one of the best all time rock and roll concerts,” Gorman said.
Gorman says there were three recordings made, one at the recording studio inside the Agora, one by WMMS and one by Springsteen’s team. It didn’t take long for bootleg copies to appear.
“The Springsteen concert was so huge it was sold all over the world. It remains as the most bootlegged and downloaded concert in history,” Gorman said.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Cleveland was about to become the first city since the Great Depression to default on its financial obligations.
“1978 was a rough year for Cleveland, it (Springsteen) was a crowning achievement and put Cleveland on the map for something positive for a change,” Gorman said.
These days John Gorman owns and operates oWOW Cleveland internet radio. www.Owownow.com
The station promotes local talent, indie music and classic rock. WKYC’s Monica Robins hosts the Sunday Naked Brunch oWOW radio show 10am-noon and an encore 6pm-8pm. The show consists of low-tech, acoustic and demo music from classic artists to today’s talent.
Bruce Springsteen released a remastered version of the 1978 Cleveland Agora concert on his archive website. You can listen HERE http://bit.ly/2KH2zSP