Thursday, April 25, 2013

No. 406 – Wait Until the Summer’s Gone

Performer: Zebra
Songwriter: Randy Jackson
Original Release: No Tellin’ Lies
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: none

After my sophomore-year experience of calling Wabash basketball and then the Caveman bouts, which were a series of amateur boxing matches for charity, I was emeshed in the WNDY experience.

I was named sports director, so I was in charge of all sports programming—football and basketball games, of course, but also any pregame shows. The first week of the 1984 football season, I interviewed Steve Hoffman, who was the starting quarterback, at the radio station studio.

Let me back up a bit. WNDY had four rooms: the booth, the transmitter room beside it, the “office,” which consisted of one desk, one chair, a few filing cabinets and a phone, and then the recording studio beside that. The recording studio is where the music was put on carts (tapes like 8-tracks), the commercials were recorded and where I would record my personal audio tapes. (Come on, this was professional gear. I wasn’t going to use my cheapy stereo at home.)

As is my wont, I learned how to run everything—just in case I ever needed to—so putting together a cassette of my interview with Hoffman was easy. Before the game, the guy who ran the soundboard and played the commercials could pop in the tape, press play and let it roll.

I turned over the pregame player interviews to my color guy, which turned out to not be the best idea, because he was fairly lazy. Coach Carlson’s interview was given to Steve, who did a solid job as a freshman and the color man in waiting.

I also got more involved with the station beyond sports. In addition to doing the regular Wednesday early-shift show, as mentioned, I filled in regularly during the week and particularly during the Saturday night request show. I had a steady girlfriend at home, so I didn’t need to hit up campus parties like the other guys, so I was available.

The cool thing about doing the request show was that it was the only show that was free form, aside from the necessary commercials and public-service announcements, of course. If people called in requests, I’d play those songs. If they didn’t, I played whatever I wanted, including records I brought from home, like The Who, Led Zeppelin and my favorite new band, Genesis, which weren’t part of the station’s format.

My freshman year, when I barely knew Wabash had a radio station let alone had anything to do with it, WNDY was free form. In other words, each DJ played whatever he wanted. My sophomore year, it was decided to go top 40. This was done because WNDY wasn’t just a student-run station; it was a commercial enterprise, and it was assumed that a single format that was top 40 would be profitable in Crawfordsville, Ind. Records started to disappear, and carts became more in vogue, because they were easier to play, they were pre-cued and you could control the music.

The next year, my junior year, a new PD took it a step further. He got it into his mind to program the entire day. He created a computer program that more or less picked the songs in order, along with all other drop-ins.

Songs were divided in three groups by color-coded carts. Red was for the hottest hits, yellow were lesser hits—coming or fading—and green was stuff that fit the format to break up the monotony a bit. We’d play X number of red tunes per hour, far fewer yellow and maybe one or two greenies. The only leeway Js had was to pick the actual song and make sure not to repeat anything to often.

When this song made its debut on MTV, I dug it the most, and I told Joe, the WNDY PD, that we should put it in the rotation. He thought it was a little too harsh for the format, but I insisted. Come on, man: MTV of all things has it in heavy rotation, so he relented and carted it up yellow. It was the only musical contribution I made to WNDY.

What’s interesting about all of this in retrospect is that this whole experience gave me an unwitting glimpse of the (bleak) future of radio.

Today, music radio is dominated by computerized stations that play the same 1,200 songs ad infinitum. It’s cheap: You don’t have to pay for personalities to talk up records or even to talk at all. It’s nonthreatening to people who still listen to music radio and just want to hear the same stuff over and over, so it registers with the People Meters that have destroyed radio in Chicago if not everywhere else.

We didn’t go that far at WNDY, but we used the same road map.

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