Sunday, March 2, 2014

Did you have a spring break when you went to college?

It’s fundraising week at WUSC-FM the radio station where I do an oldies show every Monday. That means the DJs need to choose a special playlist for their shows. This year, the student leaders decided that everyone would do the same thing; the playlist should be a “Spring Break Mix Tape!” My first reaction was that was a cool idea. Then the horror of it all dawned on me. Back in my college days we had neither mix tapes nor spring break. Oh! What to do!

The first “mix tape” recordings I ever did were on reel to reel tapes for a couple of the local drive in theater. They asked the DJs at WCOS to record audio programs they could play before the movies and during the intermissions of the double features. They usually wanted them toned down a little from the top 40 songs we played on the air so we got to spread our wings a little. But there was no way we could drive around listening to reel to reel tapes so it wasn’t until 8 track tapes came along before I made my first true mix tapes. Finally 8 tracks gave way to cassette tapes, the medium most folks think about when they talk about mix tapes.

The academic calendar when I was in college was quite different than it is now. There was a semester break in January between the fall and spring semesters, other than that there was only three two day breaks; at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter every year. So there were no big gatherings of students “terrorizing” the beaches every year like today. Not to say that we didn’t have big beach parties back then, at least in high school. Living in a coastal community we often descended on the local beaches on Saturday afternoons after finishing our chores in the mornings. For my friends who went to high school in South Carolina there was “first week”; the traditional celebration of the arrival of summer and freedom from the confines of the classroom. “First week” meant drives to the beach for suntans, volleyball and bonfires as everyone relaxed before starting summer jobs.

For the college student today, summer jobs take on a much higher importance as they are the only way to counter the increasing cost of getting that degree and the burden of student loans. But spring break is just long enough for fun and not long enough to really make a difference in earnings and family time is handled during the short Easter break that occurs in the weeks before or after. So it’s party time.

The "Big Ape" WAPE Studios

Let me assure you that even without mix tapes, music was a really big part of our beach time back in the day. We blew out many a car radio speaker blasting our favorite tunes being played on the top 40 radio stations. For me, growing up in Jacksonville, Florida that meant WPDQ and of course the ubiquitous WAPE! When I came to South Carolina, I learned that “The Big Ape” was a common experience with my local brethren. WAPE, the 50,000 watt blowtorch of a radio station could be heard during the day as far north as the North Carolina / Virginia state line. The entire southeast coast rocked to music interspersed with the big ape call and the voices of Alan Sands, Dale Kirby and Dan “The Man” Brennan with “Dan’s Dusty Disks.” Whether you were in Cherry Grove, SC or South Ponte Vedra, FL, the experience was the same. And that was one of the ever so cool things about coming of age in the 60s.

Left: Dan "The Man" Brennan! Dan's Dusty Disks played on all the Brennan owned and operated stations in Florida, Alabama and Tennesee. Yes even back in the 60s, they had "Golden Oldies!"

So what do I do about the playlist of my WUSC show tomorrow? No spring break, no mix tape, no problem: I will just play the music that would have been on my spring break mix tape if I had one! Songs I heard on the beach from WAPE! Done! If you listen closely, you might even hear a “Big Ape Call” or two. Yes I have a copy of it and I know how to use it! Oh MY!

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