Thursday, October 8, 2015

Radio Daze - Part Two

There was a time when Dave-El communicated with the world not through words typed in the cold light of a computer screen  but through the sound of his voice spoken through the warm glow of radio.  


This is his story.  


And why the hell am I still doing that 3rd person opening for? Cut that out!  


Today I look back at my time in college radio.  

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When I was a young li’l Dave-El, one of the reasons I wanted to be a radio disc jockey was I would get to play music I liked all day. Of course, as one gets older, that becomes a less appealing prospect. Back in my youth, I didn't mind hearing my favorite song played over and over and over. Today, I think song repetition is acceptable ground to commit murder. 

And the homogenization of modern pop music and the corporate mandated play lists of modern radio definitely excises any joy from the job. And that’s assuming you get work at a radio station that plays music you like. When I was at WTAB/WKSM, I spent a lot of time playing country music (and that, I just realized might be a post all in and of itself) with a lot of acts I had little or no prior exposure to. And in college radio, I was even more clueless. 
 

The station was WUAG, the Music 103! Someone was really proud of that. Hey, it rhymes! Before I graduated from college, WUAG got moved up the dial a bit and became WUAG, the Music 106! How were we supposed to cope with that? It didn’t rhyme! And trying to sneak in the occasional “The Music One-Oh-Sex” wasn’t quite the thrill you would think it would be.   


What exactly was "the music” we played? We played alternative music. What does that mean? To be blunt, some of it sounded to my hears like alternative TO music. "Hey, is that a song or a cat caught in a garbage disposal?"  

Still, there was some good stuff with some up and coming bands like REM and U2 and holdovers from the 70’s still making their mark outside of the normal parameters of music, Talking Heads, B-52s. We would reach back into the past for stuff from Genesis when Peter Gabriel still fronted the band and Traffic long before Steve Winwood dominated Top 40 charts with Roll With It and Back In the High Life Again. Also in the mix was The Clash, The Church, The English Beat and The The. (No, I’m not making that last one up at all.)  And there was Big Country, Echo and the Bunnymen, Souxie and the Banshees. It was quite the heady time to be on the cutting edge of music in the early 1980’s.


It’s distressing to realize that these young performers are AARP eligible. It’s numbing to realize that these performers on the edge can have their music heard in dentist offices. It’s disheartening to realize we’ve all gotten old.   


But back then, we were young and the music was new, even the stuff from 10 or more years back. We did have a playlist of sorts at WUAG although it was more of a guideline than anything locked in stone. There were certain key points where new albums had to be played and the program director would put stickers on those albums to denote their age, determining where we could play them in the rotation. But beyond that, we pretty much had our choice of whatever song we wanted to play from those albums.   


Typically, track one of any given record was the go-to for most of us. At WTAB/WKSM, I mostly worked with 45s, one song per record. At WUAG, we worked with LPs which meant any song that was track 2 or further down the side required a very precise placement of the needle in the correct groove. Thankfully there were a lot of really good songs on track one. Two of my favorites were More Than This by Roxy Music from their Avalon album and the live version of Gloria by U2 from their Live at Red Rocks record.  


For whatever reason (even then, as now, I had no idea how my mind worked) I went by the name of Michael O’Shaunnessey. I didn’t remotely sound Irish, I just liked the name ever since I discovered O’Shaunnessey was a pseudonym occasionally used by comics writing legend Denny O’Neil. It was a silly idea and after a year, I out grew it.  


I changed my radio name to Jim Harkness 


I have even less of an idea about that one. 


My time at WUAG was a mostly pleasant one. No, I didn’t get paid but it was a great way to get practice for being on the air and I did discover a lot of great music that informs my tastes even today. 

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Next week in Radio Daze....my next paying gig in radio was a station with a mission to put the listeners in a coma. More on that in this space in 7 days. 

Another post on some damn thing or another will be here tomorrow. Until then, be good to one another.

Dave-El
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