Sunday, April 2, 2017

Taking requests and kicking a little wax!

Yesterday dawned clear and cool after a rainy Friday. I had packed my speakers, amplifier and all the cables I would need into my car the evening before, so all I needed to do was to grab the backpack with my computer and head out into the early morning crispness. With a song in my heart and an Oldie on the radio, I was headed out to the Old Columbia Speedway to MC and DJ the British Car Show that is held annually in conjunction with the Tartan Day South Festival.

On the way over I thought about the historic speedway which served the Capitol City area with top-level NASCAR and other racing excitement from the 1940s through the middle of the 1970s. The speedway thrived as a dirt track until NASCAR moved from dirt racing venues to all-asphalt track in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact the granddaddy of all NASCAR drivers, Richard Petty, ran his first race at Columbia Speedway in 1958 and returned in 1959 to capture his first win. Of course, I had my wraparound sunglasses on as I made my way through the grass parking lot, across the banked track and into the infield where the tents were being erected for the show. No, I did not wear a cowboy hat like Richard but if I owned one I might have.

You can see the banked track past the bagpipes and drums. After unloading my gear, I drove over to the north turn of the oval track to park my car. It was the first time that I had parked on that part of the track and I was surprised by the amount of bank on that turn on the asphalt track as I got out of the car. The parts of the track that I had parked on in the past were much flatter. I made my way across the sun drenched field back to the DJ tent I was surprised to pass a Quidditch field marked out between the last row of the classic cars and the edge of the infield. Soon young men and women would be running around with sticks between their legs (in place of Harry Potter’s brooms) trying to stuff balls into the three circular goals at each end of the contest field. Later from my vantage point in the tent, it was entertaining to watch, even if there was no flying involved.

My setup in the DJ Tent! As I approached the now fully erected tent, I realized that it was approximately the same size as the old radio booth I spun the 45’s while doing the Nightbeat Show in at Doug Broome’s restaurant during my WCOS days. True, that old booth was made of concrete cinder blocks with three 4’ x 8’ glass windows and a back door where I would meet the listeners who would come by with their requests and dedications written on napkins, notebook paper or whatever was handy. I would carefully stack those pieces of paper on the edge of the table that held the console by placing the latest request on the bottom of the pile. That way I would be playing them in the order I received them. I must admit that I occasionally played a non requested song between two requests that clashed with each other musically. When that happened we called those clashes “train wrecks.” These days with automated stations we hear more “train wrecks” than we did back in the age of live DJs. No one has been able to program a computer automation system to avoid them. I’ve seen many a operations manager pull up a listing of the songs that were scheduled to play that day and move individual songs around to avoid the clashes.

I really love doing the car show for two reasons. First, this group wants to hear oldies, my sweet spot, more than any other group for which I play music. The second reason is that this event puts me in the same setting as doing the Nightbeat show; taking requests and dedications. This is what makes me happy! And it makes my job easier too. One of the things I like the most is playing requests is that they ask for a song I may not have played on any of my radio shows in so long that I have almost forgotten it. A couple of those came up yesterday, “I Am The Walrus” by the Beatles and Theresa Brewer’s "Let Me Go, Lover!." Fortunately they did not come at the same time because there is a classic “train wreck” if there is ever one.

Not having cinderblock walls also affords one of my favorite pleasures, that of seeing my audience face to face to kibitz about the music, the cars and the beautiful weather. I was especially pleased at the number of my WUSC-FM listeners who came by to introduce themselves and talk about our favorite music. Yesterday was exhausting, long hours and lugging 100 pounds of equipment from home to the car to the booth and back. At the end of the day, I sank into my easy chair physically worn out, but at an emotional high. This is why I still do radio long after most people have retired and hung up their headphones. The listener is King or Queen and the 55+ crowd is growing and they are fiercely loyal to their music. There are a growing number of advertisers who want to market to them as well. They are relevant! Note: an increasing number of AM stations are switching back to oldies all over the country. I think they have figured this out. Oh MY!

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