Remembrance of radio DJs past

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?

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  • bootsycolumbia

    Honestly? I hated radio when I was a kid. I grew up in the interior of British Columbia, where the only decent radio station was a country station. I didn’t like country music as a kid, so I never listened to it. That meant I was stuck listening to one of the two crappy AM stations in my hometown, both of which played the same playlist, heavy on the Canadian cheese (i.e. Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun) and non-existent on the music I really wanted to hear (i.e. R&B, funk or punk). When I was eighteen, I got a summer job and my boss was a die-hard country music fan, so I had to listened to that aforementioned country station eight hours a day, five days a week. There was a program on the station everyday at 2 pm that profiled a country group or artist in detail for an hour, so I learned to appreciate the artistry of some really great people, like George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and the like. Go figure, I became a die-hard country music fan and remain one today. But I still love R&B, funk and punk, as well as hip-hop and rap. So I guess I have radio to thank for turning me onto a genre of music I might otherwise have been ignorant of.

  • Danielle

    When I was a kid, I used to put on my dad’s old headphones & plug into the stereo to listen to John Garabedian and the Open House Party. I had no idea it was still around, but after a quick Googling, lo and behold it still broadcasts; it just doesn’t broadcast in Cleveland anymore apparently. If I wasn’t plugged into the stereo, I was using my Walkman to sneak-listen at night when I should have been sleeping. Oh the good ol’ days.

  • Ep Sato

    I miss me some Wolfman Jack, and still dig Russ Parr’s radio show. Radio had a big impact on my younger days (pre-middle school), but not as much as the tv station called the “Jukebox Channel” (later “the Box”), which exposed my midwestern azz to a lot more diverse music than empty-v ever did. Controversial bands like BDP, NWA, 2 live crew and Public Enemy didn’t get much radio play on the radio in Wisconsin, so that channel provided me with an outlet for a different kind of schooling.

  • Bill

    So many voices, so little space:
    Afternoons growing up were filled with the little joys of the radio. There was Jim Healy with his afternoon sports show, talking about the sports news of the day with sound bites and funny clips through the years. His most played and revered clip was Tommy Lasorda’s opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance the day he beat the Dodgers by himself.
    Then there was the afternoon “Yuk-Yuk of the Day” with a DJ I don’t remember the name of. He’d play classic and new comedy recordings. I heard my first bits of Cosby on that show.
    And then there were the Saturday night shows, huddled in bed, listening to KROQ original Frazer Smith doing his show on KLSX. Many years later now, and I met Frazer at the comedy clubs my wife was performing at, and he’s still as funny and charming in person.
    As I grew up, and had to wake up in the mornings, I listened for a while to Rick Dees here in LA. It’s a shame that he was booted out for Ryan Seacrest (who, I understand, has stolen a few of the signature bits from the show). Glad to know that Rick has landed on a new station out here.

  • Martha

    There’s a special place in my Virginia-bred heart for the now-defunct WHFS, 99.1 FM. When I was a kid it was out of Annapolis and hard to get on the radio dial, wedged between easy listening (eek!) and country music (ook). I particularly remember night DJ Damien, and a segment he and a woman DJ did called “10 O’Clock News,” the opening of which they sang to the 20th Century Fox theme music. To this day I sing “10 O’Clock News” when watching a Fox movie. Apparently WHFS is gone and 99.1 is now a Latin music channel. Miss you HFSters!

  • Cat

    Anyone who grew up in LA in the 70s will remember:
    “Little bit of heaven 94.7, KMET – Tweedle-Dee!”
    The mighty met, home of Jim Ladd, Paraquat Kelley and the 3 hour Dr. Demento show on Sunday night. AOR at its best.

  • Lauren

    Any alternative rock fan from Philly feels the death of Y100. The resurgence of this station on 88.5 WXPN on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights takes some of the sting away, but I miss having access to great rock music 24/7. And I want to give a shot out to my favorite morning show Preston & Steve. They make my drive to work that much better!

  • Beachie841

    In response to Cat – a few lines below….
    In my understanding, Damian was booted from WHFS after an accident left him with a speech impediment and WHFS was sold to some big corporation in the early 90s. In the mid-’90s, he was back on the air at WRNR 103.1, broadcasting live from the City Dock in Annapolis. He is still on the air and has a great blues radio show. Even if you can’t get the radio signal over the air (doubtful in VA), then check out the website and listen live. He still brings a great mix and debuts new, local artists. You’ll probably recognize some other voices from the old WHFS, who are now on WRNR. ALSO – WHFS is now broadcasting out of Baltimore 105.7 with a bit of a format change – talk in the AM (Sports Junkies – remember them?) and music in the PM.

  • vandiel

    i love rap music

  • Erin

    I am searching for Dr. Dimento’s skit of “…cheeseburger and a large orange drink”. Can this be emailed to my address? Thanks, Erin

  • Erin

    I am searching for Dr. Dimento’s skit of “…cheeseburger and a large orange drink”. Can this be emailed to my address? Thanks, Erin

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  • Lisa

    I am looking for a copy of the Neil Frank haircut song…He is retiring this week, and I thought it would be nice to send to the TV station. If anyone knows where I can get it, that would be great!

  • Philip LeAnza

    Growing up in Cleveland in the 70’s was tough, but the DJ’s at WMMS were the best I have ever heard. From the morning zoo with Jeff & Flash to Kid Leo to Denny Sanders to Matt the Cat to BFL Bash to Betty Korvan, they were the best radio on-air staff in the nation at that time.

  • Nutmeg

    OMG.. yes. I was looking online to find out who sung the Neal Frank Haircut song. Did you record them – I would love to hear them again. I lOVED 93Q.. it was the most awesome-est radio staion ever!

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