So I’m my usual 3 weeks behind on the New Yorker, but last night I read the most amazing article by Marc Fisher about a radio DJ named Bob Fass, who has an all-night show, “Radio Unnameable,” on New York’s WBAI. In its heyday – the 60’s and 70’s – Fass’ show was a collage of music, talk, and whatever the hell he wanted to play; that meant the music of Phil Ochs would rub up against “How To Teach Your Parakeet To Talk,” and people like Abbie Hoffman and Bob Dylan would call in and chat for hours. The broadcast thrived on the sort of freedom that only being on the radio at 3am can give you, and eventually it came to serve as a sort of commune for hippies to express themselves, plan sit-ins, and come down from acid trips. Now, it’s on just once a week, and all but forgotten.
(You can listen to Fisher and Fass talk about the show here; there’s also an entire broadcast available for download, with Dylan as guest.)
The story – which really is good, PopWatchers, you should track down the Dec. 4 New Yorker and read it for yourselves – got me to thinking about the radio DJs of my past, those disembodied voices I came to rely on at one time or another to get me through my morning, noon, and night.
Growing up in Houston, for example, I was a devotee of the Q MorningZoo on 93Q (which, by the way, meant more money and more music); I’d wake upsuper-early to listen to John Lander and Jackie Robbins do… whateverit is they did to kill all that time. I’d record the stupid parodysongs they’d play (“Neil Frank Haircut,” about a local weatherman’sbuzzcut) and memorize the dumb skits (Dr. Demento’s “Cheeseburger,onion rings, and a large orange drink”) and every once in a while, I’dwin something. Like Milli Vanilli tickets. And then that whole day, I’dbe a celebrity at school, because everyone else had been listening, too.
But I grew up, and moved on, and except for that freaky day when Iturned on my radio in New York to find John Lander hosting the Z100morning show (my head nearly exploded), I left the Q Morning Zoobehind. It was replaced, in time: by Will Pendarvis on New York’sdearly departed K-Rock, who once gave me tickets to see U2 at IrvingPlaza just because I sent him a nice fax; by Steve Jones and “Jonesy’sJukebox” on Indie 103.1, whom I’d listen to while driving around L.A.this summer; and by the poor DJ who handled the night shift on the onepop radio station I could pick up in my trailer when I lived inArkansas. I have blocked out his name. It may have been Tom Cruise,although that seems odd.
What about you, PopWatchers? What kind of effect did radio have onyour life? Are there voices out there that take you back? Do you yearnfor those long Sundays spent waiting to find out what Casey Kasem wasgoing to play at #1, or if you were getting a long-distance dedication?Did you live someplace where you could only get one station, and so itburned itself into your brain? And most of all: Does anyone else everlook at their iPod and miss those simpler times, when if you wanted tohear “The Reflex” you had to wait? You had to EARN IT?