Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back to College Radio

Most of you know that for the past couple of years I have been filling in during semester breaks at the college radio station where I first spun a record and turned on a microphone to speak on the air.

The periods where I was filling in were times when there were few students around, so I was able to interact with a only small number of them, mostly the elected officers of the station. As we approached the end of the summer, I was approached by a couple of the old hands about doing a regular schedule show during the semester. Up until now, I had been hesitant to do that, feeling the station was there for the students. But the folks who approached me convinced me that because of my history with the station, the university and my broadcast experiences I had something to offer to the students that was worth more than the two hours a week of schedule time I would be occupying. I think they also were digging the blues and soul and the on air antics of the "old school DJ, in EVERY sense of the word," and wanted it to continue year round. I decided to go for it, and my show moved from its old home on Wednesday mornings to a new spot on Monday Mornings.

Left: First Show at WUSC-FM on the new day.

I have always had a fire in the belly for the old top 40 rock and roll that I was a part of when AM radio ruled! Radio was FUN back then! We were a bunch of young men and women determined to take the enthusiasm we had for rock and roll and deliver it to the audiences out there who were eager to hear the latest song from The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Four Seasons or The Beatles. They turned out in droves for the WUSC Patio Parties we had every spring and fall afternoon on the patio below the studio at the Russell House Student Union building. I can tell you there was a lot of impromptu dancing in the streets as we drove the heartbeat of our fellow students to the backbeat of rock and roll. That experience followed me when I left college life and began my broadcast career at WCOS. The Patio Party gave way to the Nightbeat show at Doug Broome's drive in restaurant. There the kids cruised by in cars, pulling into the restaurant ordered hamburgers, fries and shakes, then knocked on the back door of the cinder block studio we had right there in the parking lot. With songs in their hearts and smiles on their faces, they handed me their requests and dedications on napkins, receipts and almost any other form of paper that they could find. It was a thrill for me to look over at their cars when I read their heart's desires on the air. "This is to Johnny from Mary, You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin." I could see Mary scream with delight as her heart went out to Johnny on the wings of the song. I tell you, those were great days indeed. The world was a happy place and I was where I was meant to be. But it wasn't to last; Top 40 AM was beginning to die out, to be replaced by tightly formatted FM and Corporate Rock. I would leave top 40 radio, feeling that nevermore would I see youthful faces filled with creativity and a desire to make their audiences happy through the medium of feel good music.

That all changed for me this week when I attended my first WUSC - FM staff meeting in over 40 years. I walked into a room filled with students and a smattering of Alumni DJs. But more importantly, I walked into a room filled with faces that were full of fire, that spark I thought I would never see again. They welcomed me with open arms, the old rock and roll warrior from the past. They had a million questions; "What was it like?" "How did you handle 45 RPM records?" "How could you keep it going when the songs were so short?" I left the meeting feeling that the music may be very different from what I remembered from back in the day, but the camaraderie, the desire to bring the best to their audiences, to make life better was definitely still there. I expected to find myself enjoying the experience of having a "regular" slot on the air, but I never expected to see that creative spark again. That makes this old rock and roller's heart feel good. Oh MY!

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