jon_chaisson: (Mooch writing)
I've never been much of a crowd-based fan of things. Even with music, of which I can be a rabid fan about a song or an album or a band, you'll rarely if ever see me hanging out with thousands of other like minds going "OMG AMIRITE?" all over the place. I just feel a bit too self-conscious about it, I think. I like the idea of community, but I've never exactly felt completely connected to it, nor have I been compelled to be. I prefer to enjoy things at my own level and speed.

I think one of the reasons I've never quite been Part of the Crowd is that fandom can end up being somewhat of a cross between a hive-mind and a Purity Test. I've never understood the Secret Handshake School of Fandom. Every time I see evidence of that, I start remembering those days in high school when I hopelessly tried to fit in with the popular crowd, yet was judged by my dorkiness and acne instead. The Secret Handshake World came to me thirty years ago this month, when I discovered College Radio. It was precisely the same situation as that kid who discovered a hidden but proud gaming culture: a world he (invariably a male, let's face it) could claim as his own, to hell with those stupid popular kids who wouldn't let him into their world. I Hereby Claim This Alternate Universe In the Name of Geekdom and You Can't Come Because You're Ignorant Jerks. Unless You're One of Us. My own version: I'll wear that Smiths tee shirt and that tatty green trenchcoat forever and let my hair grow long and flaunt my creativity everywhere ("You don't like it? TOO BAD."), much to everyone's indifference and/or annoyance. Those who GET IT will be my allies.

Early 90s, when I'm in college. WFNX was the top Alternative Rock station in the Metro Boston area: a schism is created in the world of punks, nonconformists, alternageeks and loners, between those who are fascinated and excited by the fact that their favorite music is finally sweeping away the utter blandness of Top 40 Radio...and those who are horrified that their once-favorite bands and their beloved alternative scene is SELLING OUT. And that schism remains for years, as alt.rock is watered down and gets all the major airplay; and the "true" alternative goes off in its own several directions (math rock, alt-country, and so on) and championed by the hip indie scenesters like Pitchfork. The scenesters who mock great albums simply because they get commercial airplay and give ten stars to albums no one's ever heard of, merely on principle.

Fast-forward to the present, in which I find myself reading the latest news about the Naruto manga on Tumblr. In which I get to remember what rabid fandom tends to foment: another schism, in which there are those who enjoy the story universe and its storytelling, and there are those who are absolutely certain their version of the story universe is the RIGHT one. [And let me tell you, when Naruto ended, there were was quite the contingent who ragequit the fandom because they felt the ending didn't jive with their theories (translation: Naruto didn't end up with Sakura) and thus sucked ass.] In which I see uncensored namecalling being used because You're Not Doing It Right. In which potential fans are scared away because they don't quite fit the bill. [I mean, after all, girl geeks are really only cute popular chicks wearing black-rimmed glasses and calling themselves nerds, right? If I tried to ask them out, they'd laugh in my face. Might as well keep them out because they're fakers, right?] [What? I'm only trying to keep people from appropriating MY lifestyle! Isn't appropriation what all those feminazis and libtards go on about, anyway?] [HEY Don't tell me to shut up! I have every right to have an opinion! Screw you, asshole! Go fuck off and die!] [LOL, can't you take a fucking joke?]

Granted: not ALL of fandom is like this, and I know and appreciate that. This is only the noisier half. The ones who believe they're doing everyone a favor by being the gatekeepers, Keeping It Pure.

The quieter half, the ones who welcome you with open arms and don't care if you're not as excited as they are about something, they're the real fans, the ones who realize it's Not Just About Them. It's about everyone, and I mean everyone. Even that once-popular kid who gave you wedgies in the locker room in 8th grade who happens to like Star Trek as much as you do. Even that cute girl who agrees that the new Star Wars Rogue One trailer is freakin' AWESOME. Even that black kid who's gonna be camping overnight for tickets with you when it opens.

The downside of fandom is the vociferous, the gatekeepers, the purity testers. The ones who are evidently afraid that you're going to taint their pure fandom with something they don't like. The downside of fandom is that they will gladly ruin it for everyone, for fear that you'll ruin it for them. And some will go to any lengths to claim that right. And I mean ANY lengths, including illegal.

By all means: you have a right and a duty to put a stop to that.

This isn't about them. It's about EVERYONE.

And hey, if you want to like something and keep it to yourself, that's cool too. The rest of us are here for you if you ever want to hang out, no strings attached.


While I don't think this is the ONLY reason why some fans lean towards bigotry, sexism and even violence when dealing with outsiders or those they don't want part of their fandom, I can't help but think this is one of the many possible ones. Being pushed towards anti-social behavior by your unaccepting peers does sometimes foment the 'oh yeah, well I'll show THEM' mentality. Speaking from personal experience here, though I was able to grow out of it.
jon_chaisson: (Mooch writing)

Elvis Hitler was a punk band from Detroit that didn't have a big following (they were more a cult band, given their goofy mix of rockabilly music and lowbrow humor), but they did have a minor hit on college radio in late 1988 with the above track. It's one of those "why didn't I think of that?" parody songs where you sing the lyrics of one song on top of another. In this case, Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" sets the perfect stage for the lyrics to the theme song to the TV show Green Acres.

Chris and Nathan and I pulled out this trick every now and again on our Flying Bohemians recordings, most memorably when we'd sing the words to The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" to U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The variant was the "Mr. Cleanhands" medley, in which we'd shoehorn as many songs with the repetitive I-V-VI melody line (think The English Beat's "Save It for Later") as we could and mix it up in our own song. I'm pretty sure "Green Haze" was partly the inspiration for us to do that.

Unlike a lot of kids in the 70s and 80s, I didn't get into punk via the scenes. When you live in a small town in central Massachusetts and you're under 18 for most of that era, you can't really go to any of those shows, let alone get to any of them unless you had an older sibling or older friend who could get you there and in the door. I was okay with that, really, because I've always been more of a listener than a scenester anyway. In fact, I really didn't get into punk rock until 1988 or so. Mind you, I was familiar with it--I recognized a lot of the band names from my forays into the record bins at Al Bum's and Main Street Music, as well as the songs they'd play on WMUA and WAMH back then--but I never got around to picking any of it up until I was in junior and senior year. I was just more into the moody sounds of post-punk.

I think that distancing made me appreciate the genre a little more, as I was able to take it for what it was--a musical (and often political and social) response to what was going on at the time. Reaganism and Thatcherism, living in economically weak cities and towns, extreme right wing craziness...that feeling of being stuck in a place you've grown to hate. I wasn't caught up in that, but I could understand it. I didn't experience that to such a degree that, say, DC, New York, LA and London did, but I understood where it was coming from. I'd outgrown my hometown and could not wait to get the hell out. That was the difference--I didn't hate living there and I didn't want to rebel...I'd just grown bored by it and wanted to expand my horizons, do my own thing without fear. Again, music was there as a way out, especially when I had one last year of high school to go. I knew I'd be stuck at home for a few more months, but I had the music (and my writing) to take me elsewhere for awhile.
jon_chaisson: (Mooch writing)

I was thinking of this track a few days ago, and it happened to pop up on VH1 Classic last weekend, so I thought it would go well here on the A to Z. This is a track I'd hear on WFNX in my early college days, knowing I'd heard it somewhere before but never remembering who it was, until I finally got around to downloading the album a few years back. I'm actually kind of surprised, given its catchy pop, that it didn't get airplay in the US when it came out in 1985.

Propaganda was a band under Trever Horn's ZZT label in the UK. But instead of being quirky and weird like labelmates Art of Noise, or flashy and over-the-top like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, they chose to go with a sleek, metropolitan sound, with a bit of Krautrock thrown in there for good measure. Their album A Secret Wish is considered a great piece of dancy synthpop that was unfortunately overshadowed (and delayed in release) by FGTH's ridiculously overblown Welcome to the Pleasuredome album. They had a few minor hits in the UK with the above track, as well as with "Dr. Mabuse" and "P:Machinery", released one further album (1234) in 1990), and pretty much dissolved. They've reunited here and there over the years, doing a few live shows and releasing a few compilations and reissues, but their discography is relatively small.

I think of radio shows whenever I hear this track. Aside from hearing it on WFNX (I believe it was one of Julie Kramer's favorites back in the day), I'd hear it now and again on WMDK in the afternoon, and I'd hear all kinds of stuff from the band on WAMH. During the 87-88 and 88-89 semesters they had an industrial show on Thursday nights. That's how I got to know all those bands like Ministry and Front 242, as well as the more leftfield EBM bands like A Split Second and Clock DVA. Propaganda fit somewhere in the middle there, based in electronic sound and quite danceable, but much less aggressive in their approach.

A lot of what I gravitated towards in those years between 1986-89 was from WAMH and WMDK, but there were definitely specific shows that grabbed my attention. I don't remember the deejay names on WMDK, but I know their morning show was quite excellent, as I would always listen to it while getting ready for school (I even remember it was the radio on my bureau that was tuned only to that station). In 1989 they would always play the Go-Betweens' "Streets of Your Town" every morning as a gentle wake-up tune.  They also had a great afternoon guy that loved to play Crowded House whenever he could.

But it was WAMH, especially my junior and senior years, that grabbed my attention the most. The one show in particular that made the biggest impression on me was Haphazard Radio, which I believe was on Thursday afternoons. I wish I could remember the student's name, but he was one of the best college deejays out there in my opinion. He had this low, laid back voice, a natural for the airwaves. He was knowledgeable and fascinated by the stuff he played, and gave out all kinds of trivia and news. His in-between banter wasn't childish or vapid (the bane of many a student deejay), but he wasn't above joking around if need be. He played everything out there, from the obscure local indie bands to the major-label alternative bands.  I picked up a lot of new bands from his show; I also stole the show's name when I had my own show on WECB at Emerson.

There was also the countdown show, The Potted Plant Countdown, which they played on Sunday nights for years--I think this current semester is the first time in ages where they don't have it scheduled. The name originated from one of their local sponsors, a plant nursery who would donate a small plant that would be given away at the end of the show (usually given away to some student who called in and answered a trivia question correctly or some such). If I missed any of the other shows that week for one reason or another, I'd be sure to catch the countdown on Sunday while doing my homework, so I'd be caught up with the latest alternative music.

There were other shows on WAMH, many of them having all sorts of silly or creative names (The Sewers of Rangoon and Hey Look At All Those Psychos! come to mind). Even these names were an inspiration for many of my later compilations...something different and deliberately uncommercial, maybe ultimately harmless and pointless, but sounded cool at the same time. For that brief time, I listened to as many shows as I could, made sure I was in my room and the radio was on when it started, a blank tape at the ready in case I needed to tape something. And it was the best time ever.
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
I came to a sad realization yesterday--a lot of the old cassettes of stuff I've taped off the radio back in the early to mid 80s have started (or are well on their way to) demagnetizing and fading away into nothing. That's the one downside to magnetic tape, really...with age and repeated listening, the little magnetic bits that make up the surface of the tape start realigning themselves and the sound that's been recorded on it starts getting cloudier and fainter, until it becomes nothing but faded white noise. Some of the tapes are just fine, however, and that's most likely due to the fact that these were higher-end tapes. Most of the earlier ones were cheap knock-off tapes bought at a stationery store or elsewhere that didn't even have a Norelco box (its case) packaged with it. You get what you pay for when you buy the good stuff at Radio Shack for $2.99 a tape versus $1.99 for a pack of three no-name brand wrapped in plastic.

I suppose the worst part of this, which really isn't all that bad, is that I won't ever be able to listen to the jabber of the deejays in between songs, or the random commercials that I so rarely taped alongside. The good thing is that, even at a young age, I was enough of a completist/collector that I wrote down the track listing. I now have a binder that has nearly all my compilations and radio tapes from over the years, so if I so desire, I can recreate the playlist as an mp3 compilation on my computer.

This, in fact, is what I've been doing for some time now. I just recently finished recreating the compilations from 1988 to the present (and created a few new compilations just this year). Now I'm working my way backwards, recreating the playlists from 1987 back to 1983--the earliest of the compilations that I made myself that I can find.

In preparing myself for this yesterday, I surprised myself by noting just how many radio tapes I'd made between 1985 and 1987. I'd always thought the highest was 1989, which included many college radio tapes (nearly all on mp3 now) and compilations I'd made and those Chris had made at the same time...but 1985-1987 makes sense, because that was the Era of Listening to Commercial Radio for me. I'd started taping off the radio regularly in 1984, but it really picked up the next year.

Another thing that I find interesting is that, nearly all my mp3s are date-tagged down to the month and day of release, I can further narrow down when these tapes might have been made. For instance, I'd created a tape that I thought had been made during late summer, but was actually more like mid-October due to a few songs that hadn't been released until then.

This, in particular, I find fascinating because it further puts my memories into some semblance of order, and it also helps me figure out more of what I want to write about for Walk in Silence. It's quite interesting to see things in chronological order and compare what else was going on and what else had been released at the time. I came to the realization that I'd finished my John Hughes knockoff screenplay One Step Closer to You just a few weeks before Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses came out, even though the music I shoehorned into the screenplay was dated somewhat earlier.

So I'm not entirely sad that some of these tapes are slowly disintegrating with time. It's sad that I won't ever be able to listen to them again, but thanks to my ever-present nerdiness in creating music lists, I can still recreate them digitally, minus the deejay chat.
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
So my friend [ profile] head58 emailed me this morning with sad news: WFNX 101.7 out of Lynn MA has laid off nearly all its staff, pending a sale to Evil Radio Conglomerate Clear Channel. It saddens me that this has happened so suddenly, and my everpresent hate for Clear Channel's practices only magnifies these emotions. Realistically, it probably would have happened sooner or later as the radio universe is evolving and changing rapidly and unexpectedly, but it still bothers the hell out of me that it happened at all.

WFNX went on the air on April 11, 1983, just shy of thirty years ago. That item by itself might not be all that important. Besides, WBCN--its main rival in listenership--had been on the air since 1968. It was just one more rock station in the growing Metro Boston area. But that's the thing--these stations were all competing for the same demographic: the prized 18-34 year olds. And given Boston, there are a LOT of them--the Boston area has a ridiculously large amount of colleges, and where there are colleges, there are young, impressionable radio listeners. So how does a station differentiate itself from the other stations grabbing for the same brass ring? Well, in the late 70s and early 80s, that often meant hiring a big name deejay, or at least hire talent that makes you unique.

The other, far riskier way for a station to differentiate itself is to make its programming unique. For every adventurous deejay or music director who wants to change things up and be creative, there's going to be the station manager (and in some cases, the FCC) who is going to keep such creativity from going overboard. It's riskier in that it's not tried-and-true; you have no idea if it's going to work or fall flat. As a disk jockey and a music lover, you might love the music you're about to play, but you might have maybe three listeners tops who agree with you. And if you only have three listeners, you don't have much station presence; no presence, no advertisement; no advertisement, no money; no money, no station. Simple as that.

WFNX came into being as WLYN in the 40s and went through all kinds of programming until it was bought out by Phoenix Media--the company that puts out the Boston Phoenix alternative weekly paper--in 1983. This underground weekly was known for keeping tabs on what was going on in the area, what shows were being played, and what was upcoming. It's also known for its coverage of alternative lifestyles, sexual and otherwise; it favored the goings-on of the bar scenes, the LGBT community, the local blue-collar jobs, and everything in between.

Owner and Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich wanted to bring new music to the Boston area, and obviously he knew that it wouldn't be the same rock being played at WBCN and WCOZ. He saw that there was a small but rabid following for the punk/post-punk/new wave sounds that were evolving out on the fringes, and he must have known that the college kids would love it. With his knowledge of what was going on in town, he chose that second, riskier way of being a unique station, and became the Boston area's first commercial station for underground/alternative music. It might not have been the cash cow one would expect, but it certainly didn't lose its direction, in the grander scheme of things. The sounds may have changed with the times--which is normal for any given station, regardless of its format--but it never gave up being the area's main alternative network.

I started listening to WFNX in the autumn of 1989, when I started my freshman year at Emerson College. Before that time, I only knew alternative rock through the college radio stations out of the Pioneer Valley. Living in a small town, anything out of the ordinary was pretty fucking awesome and radical to me, and I fell in love HARD with college rock. Finding out that the Boston area had a commercial station that played this kind of stuff 24/7 was absolute bliss. Despite my roommate deeming WFNX to be "a sellout" (he was part of the small but annoying hipster contingent who felt that any alt.rock on a commercial station, even if they had cred, had sold out), I listened to the station religiously. My ever-growing collection grew exponentially in the early 90s because of this station.

It was WFNX who introduced me to a metric cubic crapload ton of great bands that I love.

They introduced me to Britpop and shoegaze. In the few years before grunge became ubiquitous, WFNX prided itself on playing the latest and greatest from the UK, from Happy Mondays to Ride to Pop Will Eat Itself to Chapterhouse to The Charlatans UK to the Stone Roses. As a large number of 80s post-punk bands had come from overseas, they never forgot their roots. Even when the Seattle scene took over, they didn't oversaturate the scene. You'd hear Nirvana and Soundgarden and Tad, but you'd also hear Gang of Four and Depeche Mode and The Cure. You'd hear all kinds of subgenres from different years at any time of the day. Many of these are long-forgotten, but some of them have become significant bands in alt.rock history, and they played them all.

They also introduced me to the local scene--something WFNX excelled at for years. Their music rotation always featured the best regional bands, from Tribe to Buffalo Tom to Human Sexual Response to Mission of Burma to Think Tree to Pixies to Throwing Muses and beyond. In a true Boston fashion, they took care of their own, and took care of them well.

They introduced me--physically--to musicians via their Best Music Poll concerts, including one fateful time in 1993 when I got to go to a station-sponsored meet-and-greet at Boston Beer Works and met one of my alt.rock heroes, Robyn Hitchcock. I might not have gone to all their concerts, but I went to as many as I could. They would also host concerts on the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, and I saw as many of those as I could as well.

They introduced me to a hell of a lot of bands, most of which I still have in my collection. They were my sound salvation, to borrow Elvis Costello's phrase. I listened to the station daily nearly all the time I was living in Boston, all the way up to when I moved back home in 1995. When they took over the old signal of WMDK in Peterborough NH (92.1) in 1999, I was even more ecstatic--I still had that connection to alternative radio, even out in the sticks. I listened to them while writing my novels and while driving to and from my jobs. Now that I'm out on the other coast, I haven't listened to the station that much, but I've listened to them streaming online every now and again, so they never quite went away for me.

It's a pity to see them go, and I'm hoping that they decide to resurrect themselves online as WBCN did a few years back, but no one really knows what's going to happen at this point. I only wish they'd have stayed longer. Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, Angie C., Juanita the Scene Queen, Joanne Doody, Morning Guy Tai, Boy Troy, Nik Carter, Duane Bruce, Kurt St. Thomas, Neal Robert, Adam 12...thanks to all of you.

Thanks, WFNX. You inspired me, influenced me, and gave me life more times than you know.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Yesterday while I was perusing the web for research info on my Walk in Silence project, I found an interesting tidbit that took me back: the music magazine Star Hits premiered in the US in February of 1984. It was the American offshoot of the UK teen magazine Smash Hits which started in November 1978 (the US version would briefly change its name to that near the end of its run), and looked like any other teen magazine: thin glossy pages filled with color photos, lyrics to the latest hit songs, a penpal page, and short and lightweight (and often snarky) articles about your favorite musicians. I started reading it around 1985 or 1986 when I found it at Norm's Smoker across from the YMCA downtown...I was fishing around for magazines to read at the time and that one caught my eye, since it was heavily music-oriented. I most likely stopped reading it around 1988 or so when I lost interest in it, and it folded around 1990.

It got me thinking about how I learned about new music back in the 1980s, compared to how easy it is to find new things in the age of internet and satellite radio and other places. Now I can go to any college radio station that's streaming, log onto Save Alternative, sample songs from Amazon and eMusic, read the various and sundry music blogs that clutter up the internet, and listen to whatever the Sirius XM stations are playing. Even the bands themselves will let you know via an emailing list or their website when they have something new in the works.

Back in the 80s, my primary reference for new releases was the music magazine. For the most part it was Rolling Stone. My family briefly had a subscription to that magazine, and later I would read the latest issue at the local library. For the most part I flipped past the political commentary and the non-music sections as they didn't excite me all that much, and went straight for the music reviews. I found a lot of really interesting releases that way, and I wouldn't have heard of the Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father compilation if I hadn't seen the article about it in a December 1987 issue.

By the mid-80s a few other magazines such as Spin had arrived to let readers know what was new and who was in the studio or on tour. Most of these were major publications that catered the largest amount of people possible, so of course the reviews and listings would be in the Top 40, rock, or classic rock/reissue category. While that covered a lot of ground, they still passed up many other titles in smaller subgenres, which of course gave rise to the DIY zines of the early 80s such as Cometbus and Maximum Rock & Roll, both created here in the Bay Area and covering the local punk scenes. There was also College Media Journal (aka CMJ New Music Report) which started sometime in 1978 and was mainly sent to college radio stations, and later had a public run in the 90s and 00s, which offered a music compilation with every issue.

Growing up in midwestern Massachusetts, though, I didn't have access to those (let alone heard of them), so I had to make do with whatever was available. For me, that was Star Hits, which being under a UK umbrella actually gave me information on imports and new wave stuff. There were a few others out there--there's one whose name I can't remember (I seem to remember it being called One or something like that) that was a semi-pro magazine focusing on college rock, and that one introduced me to The The, Minutemen, and New Order.

When I started listening to college radio in the mid-80s and couldn't find information, I was lucky to find a copy of Ira Robbins' Trouser Press Record Guide at the library and later bought my own copy. This is where I found out about older releases from The Cure, Depeche Mode, and other college rock bands I was into at the time. Parallel to that, I was lucky to find various college and commercial stations that would announce new releases every now and again. That's about the same time I started to carry a small pad in my back pocket (still do to this day!) and write down all the releases I was interested in so I knew what to look for when my family and I headed down to the mall.

As I'd said earlier, in the age of the internets, it's pretty quick and easy to look up new release info. My main reference is the All Music Guide and the Newbury Comics new release newsletter, but I've found info on . It's even easier nowadays to buy them online rather than tempting fate and hoping they had it at the record store (or more to the point, knowing which record stores would carry it or at least order it for you), especially when it may not be a popular title. It seems that the supposed exclusivity of the indie scene of today is much different in that it's much easier to access, and that made a lot of hipsters angry back in the day, and in a way, the Indie Rock Pete character in Diesel Sweeties captures that 'so-underground-it-hurts' attempt at being as alternative as possible.

Still, now that the sounds have morphed and grown older to the point that retro is hip again, and that the avalanche of hip indie bands has subsided somewhat, it seems we've come full circle. We may not be searching for new sounds in music magazines as much as we have been, but it's gotten to the point again where we look for music on our own rather than sampling everything from everyone all at once.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Please talk me out of this, because I'm this close to buying this radio off eBay today. The price is a tad bit high ($110 plus S&H), but it's probably about the same amount it was sold for back in the day, and it's in good condition.

This is actually a half-step up from the Jonzbox model I posted previously. It's exactly the same except that the radio has SW1 and SW2 (shortwave 1 and 2) in addition to AM and FM. Everything else is the same, right down to that little funky square orange mute button on top.

Not that I'd ever get rid of the Jonzbox...just that I'd have a better-working version if I bought it.

What say you, dear LJ-ers and others?
jon_chaisson: (Default)
I somehow found this fascinating documentary on YouTube the other day, and it ties in quite nicely with my previous post about Richard Neer's book as well as my Walk in Silence project. It focuses on a typical broadcast day at the famous progressive radio station WNEW in New York City in the early 80s, when it was pretty much at the end of its peak but still going relatively strong. You'll see famous faces voices like Scott Muni and Dave Herman popping up.

I had no idea this existed until just a day or so's not even listed on IMDb. It's in two parts, check it out, it's pretty cool:

Part I

Part II
jon_chaisson: (Default)

The Old Reliable, the Weatherbeaten, the one and only 'Jonzbox'.

I'm pretty sure this was acquired around 1984--I know I had it at least at that point, as I'd started making radio tapes (that is, mixtapes of stuff taped off the radio) around that time. This wasn't the radio that helped me discover college radio (that was a Walkman I'd gotten for Christmas later that year), but it was the radio used when I started taping things from college radio. It was the radio that taped many end-of-year countdowns. It recorded silly sounds made by friends and family. It recorded nearly the entire Flying Bohemians catalog from 1988 onwards. It recorded nearly all the jeb! jams as well. It played tapes in the side yard while we played volleyball or badminton, or washed the car in the summer, or shoveled the driveway in the winter. It had its original three-foot antenna, graduated to a Radio Shack-bought six-footer that made all the stations come in beautifully, and gone back to another three-footer. If you notice, there's a bit of Scotch tape near 88.1 on the radio dial--at one point I'd taped a strip of paper, where I'd marked where all the good stations were, and the ones I listened to most. WAMH, WMUA, WMDK, WAQY, WRSI, WAAF, and so on. Its spot had started at my desk, and graduated to the top of my bookcase (where my books had been moved, replaced by my burgeoning cassette collection) until I moved out to college. I graduated to a few other boomboxes later on, but this one remained with me for the longest time, until I moved west. It finally came out with me to stay late last year.

It's now in Spare Oom, not currently plugged in but ready to fulfill its duty whenever I wish it. It's still in working condition, even if the cassette door hinge no longer springs open (I have to lean it forward and let gravity do its thing), and the left speaker is iffy. When I used it last, about six years ago, it still played tapes and recorded pretty damn decent lo-fi sound with surprisingly little hiss. I've never had another boombox like it, or one that worked as awesomely as this one.
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
Save Alternative tweeted a shoutout to this here LJ yesterday after I'd commented on their playing Daft Punk's "Around the World" (yes, the song is still in my head)--so one thumbs-up deserves another.

Go check out the site--if you're a big nerdy fan of alt.rock (as I so obviously am) and miss the creative and unexpected playlists of yore, and want a hell of a lot more range than just the heavy rotation you hear on commercial stations, it's well worth streaming.

Like I've said in the past, it's like listening to progressive/freeform radio all over again, and I really love that idea.

[/end of Shameless Plug]
jon_chaisson: (Default)

(Or if you're curious about the real band, another video here.)

KFOG has been playing this quite a bit lately...the album's a few years old, but they've been pushing One eskimO since they're currently on tour. All the tracks on the album are also part of a cute animated mini-movie as well. Well worth checking out.

(And yes, that is the old Candi Staton song they're borrowing. :) )
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
On this date in 1961, WGFM in Schenectady, NY went on the air in true FM stereo...the first radio station in the country to do so.

jon_chaisson: (Default)
That's a phrase you don't hear much anymore, do you?

With the large number of terrestrial stations picking up satellite feeds or having overnight shows (pre-recorded or otherwise), and all the internet and satellite stations (at least the ones not run out of someone's basement) running twenty-four seven, it's kind of strange in this day and age to hear a station read out the end-of-day legal sign-off. You know, the one that says the above phrase, followed by the technical jargon of where the station is broadcast from, where their tower is, and what frequency they're at.

Even rarer nowadays is hearing the station go off the air, followed by the hiss of static.

I've been listening via internet to WAMH, Amherst College's radio station and the one I've been listening to since 1987, especially on the weekends with their Potted Plant countdown. I could be listening to any other station here in the Bay Area, or even Save Alternative (which in my opinion is doing a great job of resurrecting the freeform radio format), but you all know my love for college radio, so I try to listen to it as much as I can while it's on the air. Since WAMH usually goes off the air about 10 or 11pm Eastern time, I get to hear the sign-off at 8pm out here on the west coast.

The funny thing is that I remember as a kid hearing the sign-off all the time, and for a brief stretch I knew WCAT's by heart when I worked there in 1987-88 and again in 1995-96. I was hired for weekends back in the 80s (I thank [ profile] head58 for that position), back when it was only an AM station that went off the air at sundown. I had to play a prerecorded cart of the owner reading off the same legal sign-off, played exactly fifteen seconds before shutting down, so that I could power down right on time. I had to do the same thing as well at my college radio station, when I had a late night show on WECB, and again at the other college station when I had the alternative show on WERS. By the time I returned back to WCAT in my last radio gig, that station was broadcasting on both AM and FM frequencies, but I only had to play it for the AM station.

There's something melancholic about hearing a radio station sign-off, at least for me. When I was a kid--and even as a teenager--radio was my link to the real outside world, past my family and past the small town I lived in. I think that, more than anything else, was what pulled me towards radio in the first place, even more so than the idea of playing all my favorite songs and sharing them with other listeners. I liked the community aspect to it, a sort of etheric connection that kept everyone informed and entertained. Of course, the internet is a hyped-up, jacked-in, overloaded version of that idea, but somehow it isn't the same...where the internet is aural and visual, terrestrial radio is only aural and therefore more personal--the deejay is talking to you, informing you, playing you music for your enjoyment. The internet, while it can also do that, sadly also has the effect of turning you into a five year-old with a sweet tooth let loose in Wonka's Chocolate Factory--if you have no self-control, you end up overindulging.

Hearing that sign-off always leaves me with a sense of sadness, that I've reached the end of a performance, leaving me to make my way back to the real world again. I've been entertained by the deejays and the music, I may have even learned a few things, but their job is over for the day. Hearing it today reminded me that the school year is almost over, and this station will soon be off the air for the summer, leaving me to my own devices. It also reminded me that today is Sunday, and my relaxing weekend is almost over. This time, instead of needing to go back to school the next day, I have to go to work.

Still...I'm glad radio is still out there, whether it's online or terrestrial. Even if it is a fleeting entertainment, it's a sound salvation (as Elvis Costello sang), and still my favorite way of relaxing. Even when it's the end of the broadcast day.
jon_chaisson: (Smiths William)
[NOTE: This is the first of many rambling posts as I put together some information and plan out my mode of attack on writing Walk In Silence. These posts may be a bit disjointed and lack cohesiveness, but at this point I'm just throwing ideas out there. I'm posting these for your enjoyment and any feedback you'd like to give.]

I have a theory.

It may be totally wrong, like Miss Anne Elke's theory about dinosaurs, but it's mine and what it is. My theory is that American college radio in the 80s--that is, the college radio we oldsters came to know and love before it sold out in the 90s--came about through a convergence of a number of things in the early 80s, most likely peaking around 1983-84:

--College radio, in general, has always been about experimentation, for the most part. A goodly amount of them were run by the students themselves and overseen by a faculty member acting as an advisor. Said students, more often than not into the 'alternative' scene themselves (and given that they had somewhat free rein to play whatever they wanted, and ultimately at the discretion of the music director), were often the ones to search out and play the non-Top 40, scene-specific music (read: punk, goth, UK rock, etc.).

--To a lesser extent, the FM radio band--a relatively newer idea in radio history, and growing in size throughout the 70s--became less experimental and freeform as it became the stronger radio band in terms of popularity. Freeform started moving towards the college radio stations, where for the most part it's been ever since (with some exceptions, with some college stations either becoming NPR affiliates, or at least NPR clones).

--A second wave of punk emerging, coming after the rise and crash-and-burn of the 1977 scene (Clash, Sex Pistols, numerous NYC bands, etc), more politically active and more adventurous/emotion-laden/reactive to the events of the time. Experimental post-punk (Wire, The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, etc.), politically charged punk (San Francisco/Texas/DC scenes), creative and melodic punk (Minneapolis/Boston scenes), and so on. Additionally and to a somewhat lesser extent, younger siblings of those who lived/listened to that '77 wave start picking up on the same music and grasp onto their own version with this second wave. The "old" progressive scene (that is, old-school prog-rock like Rush, King Crimson, etc) morphs into the "new" progressive scene (that is, early to mid-80s album-oriented bands with their own following but not exactly chartbound).

--Newer and different UK pop starting to reach shorts via independent record stores mostly in college towns. Brit-centric bands with a large following in the UK start getting airplay on US college stations (Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division/New Order, Depeche Mode, etc.).

--Non-"pop" music emerging--deliberately not chartworthy yet aquiring a sizable following--a good amount of it coming from the UK. Goth and proto-shoegaze (The Cure, Siouxsie, Bauhaus, 4AD bands, etc.). These styles of music are less about dancing and background noise and more about introspection, or at least more cerebral and less disposable. At the same time, American bands utilizing the same ideals start their own genres/scenes (Violent Femmes, REM, etc.) that branch off from there.

--Emergence of late night music shows on then-new cable stations (Night Flight on USA, etc, IRS Presents the Cutting Edge and later 120 Minutes on MTV) playing this "new" kind of music. Early MTV features a handful of these bands due to demand for any kind of playlist at that point.

All these things converging in the mid-80s gave American college radio the impetus to be even more creative and experimental, thus moving towards the more "nonconformist" types of music. While the music selection is still primarily album-oriented (or at least single-oriented but not exactly with the sole objective of selling units), it is less about straight-ahead popular rock (which at this point, had grown almost into "product" proportions) and more about the musicianship or at least the creativity behind it.

Again, with the advent of 120 Minutes in 1986 and up until 1989, "college rock" (soon to be renamed "modern"/"alternative"/etc.) reached a kind of renaissance where the genre was not exactly popular and rarely hit the US charts, but achieved a loyal following from high schoolers and college students reaching out for a new style of music that was different from the Top 40 and straight rock stations. [More on the mindset behind this in a later post.]

By 1989, with the advent of MTV's Alternative Nation, relentless pushing of new music, and a small but impressive number of chart hits ("Under the Milky Way" at #17, "So Alive" at #1, etc.), added to new music scenes emerging (grunge in Seattle, Britpop and Madchester in the UK), college radio was at an impasse--some stations that had been playing the above mentioned alternative suddenly found themselves competing with commercial stations starting to play the same thing [More on this mindset in a later post as well.]. Some college stations go with the flow, while others reach out even further into eclecticism and experimentalism.

jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
Today's awesome track for 92.3's "What the...?" song of the day:

Brilliant video directed by Michel Gondry, I should add!
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
So Channel 92.3, as stated here before, has a thing called "What the...?" just before 9:30, where they play a song that totally doesn't fit the format of the rest of the station.

Today's song?

"Jungle Love" by the Time.

I am commencing with the dancing now. :D
jon_chaisson: (Blur Milk carton)
YAY! Something I've been wanting to do for YEARS is finally coming to light. I just purchased tickets to A Prairie Home Companion here in town on January 9! :D

I know, silly of me to be all excited, but I've been listening to Garrison Keillor for years now and always wanted to sit in on one of his shows.

woohoo!! :)
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
On Friday they're doing an all-day show called "Black Friday."

Yes, they're playing retro and current GOTH all day.

jon_chaisson: (Daffy Duck scream)

A little Halloween treat from 71 years ago today... :)

Thanks to Daily Kos' Bill in Portland ME for reminding me of this, and the Internet Archive (who, as fate would have it, have their offices here in my new neighborhood!) for having this available here for embedding as well as download.

This is one of the most brilliant events in radio history, IMO--if anything, listen between 15:00 and 20:00 for my favorite and creepiest parts...damn fine creative directing there!
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
With my current obsession with the station Channel 92.3 (which I have to say is bordering on my past obsession with WAMH), I have to say I'm kind of surprised by some of their light rotation songs...I understand they're going all retro by throwing older songs (read: alt.rock songs from my high school years) into the mix like "Love Will Tear Us Apart", "Inbetween Days" and the like, but it kind of surprises me that lately they've been playing "Crash" by the Primitives! It's the '95 remix version from the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack and has some goofy half-assed guitar licks thrown on it, but still...pleasantly surprised that they're playing a great song from back in the day that is criminally forgotten now! :)


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