radio.

As a kid in the mid-’70s, I was a casual AM radio listener, with my dial tuned mostly to WABC AM in New York. Discovering Kiss and then, courtesy of Brian Fleury (the older kid who lived across the street) Rush, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and UFO, I one day flipped the switch to FM and never was the same.

Initially I listened to WPLJ in New York, with its classic DJ lineup that included many people who are still staples of New York commercial radio today. Carol Miller, Tony Pigg, Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, and Mark Coppola (I always disliked Vin Scelsa, I know, that’s blasphemy) woke me up in the morning, got me ready for school, and put me to sleep at night (when the Yankees weren’t on, that is).

I arranged my room so that my stereo was right next to the bed, and I would keep a blank tape in the tape deck, “record,” “play,” and “pause” depressed. Upon hearing the first note of a song I liked, I’d hit the “pause” button and start recording – I taped countless songs off the radio that way, and got to be an expert at identifying songs by their first note. In some cases I could even identify a song by the silence that immediately preceded the opening notes; as ridiculous as it sounds, I’m sure if you’re a music fan you could do it too – some songs have a little hint of a hum or a certain vibration or something, and, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, when radio stations were still spinning records (or carts that were made from records), you could sometimes tell which song was coming by the pops in the vinyl, after you’d heard it enough.

On WABC, 10CC’s “The Things You Do For Love” always skipped at the end and stuck; the DJs played the song almost hourly and it stuck at the end every time. On WPLJ, they played all three parts of “Another Brick In The Wall” in a row, all spliced together. And every morning on PLJ, Shelli Sonnstein would tell the Dirty Joke of the Day – as an adolescent boy, that was the hit of the day, every single day.

Eventually, other radio stations started popping up, though, and I soon discovered 102 WPIX in New York, which played more offbeat music like the B52s, Devo, and The Clash, as well as the irreverent DJ Mark Simone.  And then in the summer of 1982, 7th grade for me, New York had the commercial-free debut of 103.5, WAPP – an entire summer of commercial-free guitar rock. Less “classic rock” than PLJ or its competitor WNEW, I liked the loudness of WAPP.

Soon after that I discovered New Jersey’s rock station, WDHA (105.5). On Friday nights on DHA, Cheryl “The Mother” Richard played nothing but metal. This is where I first heard Anthrax and Metallica.

All this radio listening was addictive to me; I found myself hanging long wires out the window and hooking them up to my antenna in hopes of picking up Long Island’s WBAB or Connecticut’s I-95 from my suburban New Jersey bedroom, trying to pick up that elusive station that nobody else knew about – so it was only a matter of time before I discovered college radio.

It was WRPR, the station at Ramapo College in Mahwah, where I first heard Motorhead’s No Sleep Til Hammersmith record. That hooked me on fast, aggressive music, and it was soon after that when I discovered WFDU, the “radio voice of Fairleigh Dickinson University.”

My freshman and sophomore year in high school, on Sunday nights I would hole up in my room and do my homework, listening to WFDU. Right after dinner, a DJ named Alex Dukeler (sp?) would play a variety of more obscure metal bands – this is where I first heard “new” bands like Queensryche and Zebra, and NWOBHM bands like Saxon, but it’s also where I heard more classic bands like Budgie, Mahogany Rush, and Montrose. Dukeler really rounded out my musical knowledge as a 14 and 15-year-old kid.

Immediately after Dukeler came Jerry Rubino. Jerry would play more modern music, stuff they called “alternative,” mixed in with some of the punk music that I was beginning to discover. I cannot count the number of bands I heard on Jerry’s show for the first time. He was really the first DJ I identified with; the first time I got that feeling everyone talks about where the DJ feels like your friend.

Listening to Jerry’s WFDU show helped inspire me to get into radio myself, and while I was Music Director at WSAM, Jerry was doing radio promo for Rough Trade Records (and still spinning records on WFDU). I finally met Jerry at a Too Much Joy show through a mutual acquaintance in 1990 or so, and got to sit with him and have a few beers, which was a trip for me.

In September of 1994, I had released three 7″s and a compilation CD, and still had never heard any of Dromedary’s songs on the radio. I had even tried cheating a few times, calling DJs and requesting Melting Hopefuls, or Footstone, or whatever – not once did they get played.

In the movies, the band is in a store, or a huddled around the radio, when they hear their song on the radio for the first time. They get giddy with excitement, jumping up and down and screaming, running around in circles like idiots.

It’s really like that.

It was a Sunday night and Sandy and I had just finished up dinner, and were sitting in the living room having a beer, and listening to Jerry Rubino’s show on WFDU. And suddenly, “bottlerocket” came on.

It took a second for it to register with me. Sandy didn’t even notice it – we had heard “bottlerocket” a thousand times by then, between the busy work e.p. and now nurture. Since music was always on in the apartment, and since that song was constantly being played, it was easy to overlook the fact that it was being played on the radio.

When it finally registered with me, I interrupted Sandy and shouted “Holy shit – this is cuppa joe!”

Sandy just sort of looked at me.

It’s on the radio!!” I shouted.

She shrieked. I jumped out of my chair. We hugged each other and spun around in the middle of the living room. The dog began barking.  Then, we sat back down and listened quietly, with big smiles on our faces.

After “bottlerocket” he played another song or two, then back-announced the sequence. He said “cuppa joe, with ‘bottlerocket’ from the nurture LP on Dromedary Records.”

“You’ve got to understand,” I explained to Sandy, “This is my favorite DJ. I’ve been listening to him since I was fifteen years old.”

Of course she knew that. We had been married for three years at that point.

I called Rich. He was decidedly unimpressed. “I’ve heard Dromedary stuff on the radio,” he said.

“You jaded, indie fuck,” I laughed.

Our record was on the radio. On my favorite station, from my favorite DJ. There was not much that could be cooler than that, in my eyes.

~ by Al on May 18, 2009.

3 Responses to “radio.”

  1. nerd alert. i used to listen to American Top 40 every Sunday morning. I kept a handwritten journal of the songs as they counted down to number one for the week. this was when i was in grade school mind you… so Donna Summer’s cover of Macarther Park had a long stay in the top 5. i also kept the taperecorder in record/pause next to by bed. the slurred/cut-short startup sound to every song on my “mixtapes” is burned in my memory.

  2. Wow, I wish I could have been there – I think I remember Doug saying casually at one point, “Al and Sandy heard us on the radio,” but I might have even though it wasn’t real – that you were just trying to make us feel good. I heard it once on WPRB, when I was driving around alone. I wish I could have been in an appliance store in a small town, like the gang in “That Thing You Do”.

    Nice memory.

  3. Whenever I see that film (which is frequently, since it’s on TV all the time), I have to stop and watch that scene – it makes me smile, because that’s exactly what I felt like when I heard it that day. It was awesome. And it is also the ONLY time I heard any of our songs on the radio.

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