Saturday, July 08, 2023

Secrets from My Radio Days

 Recently listening to a song - shown below - reminded me of some very secret joys of my work in radio over the years, doing things most folks never realized or some did realize here and there and I met some truly fascinating and disturbing people. While pondering those events I decided to tell some secrets.

Let's start with this 11 minute song which prompted the memories, let it play as background as you read. 

During one of my stints behind the microphone, this time at a tiny but adorable AM station, I would arrive at work about 5:30 in the morning toting a 32 oz jug of coffee. This was back when I could smoke in the booth (well, got away with smoking, bad for the electronics ya know). A computer program was running overnight and I would log in and begin changing the programmed music selections. It had taken some weeks to scour the entire database of songs, but there were some gems in there, such as the song above. 

Noooobody was playing those long tracks anywhere anymore. But my old hippie heart smiled hearing it. I'd stack all the commercials up just before the half hour, so starting at 6 am I'd get about 25 mins of uninterrupted music for the listeners (and myself). A typical set would include the album cut of the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations", or a double-take of the theme from "Superfly" followed by "Freddy's Dead" from that album, "Spirit In The Sky", most of the Beatles "Abbey Road", most of Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", "or "Season of the Witch" by Donovan, the long versions of "Riders on the Storm" and even played the full version of "The End" by the Doors, but only a few times - it was a little too dark for wake and bake music.

There were also two turntables I could use, 8-track cart machines, cassette players, and CD players too. (And yes, I snuck in Beck's "Where's It At".)

I did everything I could to make it the most groovy hour of music on the radio. Beginning at 7am while doing my version of a live-call in radio show (more on that later) (maybe) - I would usually draw from my own music, which could be rap, jazz, big band, whatever I wanted. Unfettered and free to do as I wanted was an amazing feeling.

What I noticed pretty quickly was that huge numbers of listeners were tuned it. They didn't call in making requests or anything, but by 7 am I had full lines waiting to come on the air for the impending my-version-of-a-live-call-in radio show - and every one would start by saying "Great music this morning".

Yes, it was. And we never once spoke to that hour of music on the call-in show. I think we all just enjoyed the hell out of it.

One other secret I will share in this post - there was a time when a small AM station signed off at midnight and on at 6. The programmed announcement that played automatically was, I found out, some 15 years old and the person speaking was long dead. So I made a new one.

I thought long on that one, and picked an instrumental song that sounded at first like generic background music as I recorded my voice saying "We've reached the end of our broadcast day ... " I let the whole song play, and it got way more intense. The instruments get weird, the guitar weaves into a frenzy, and it seems off or something. The song is Frank Zappa's signature piece, "Peaches En Regalia". Good times.