February 1, 2010

John's Time Capsule Playlist

Last time I was home I came across a wonderful relic of my undergrad years: On an early spring morning, I set up my battered boombox (remember those?) in the record storage room next to the studio, and recorded of one of my radio shows onto a pair of 90-minute TDK cassette tapes. I was a DJ on our college radio station, WMEB 91.9 FM, "Radio Free Orono." It was the spring semester of my Sophomore year, and I had what would never be described as the ideal timeslot: Saturday morning, 6-9am.

Despite having to wake up at an ungodly hour, the advantage of that timeslot was the knowledge that virtually nobody was listening (except for Paul, the zany Quebecois who had the 9am show), which freed me up enormously. Although I had to play my required selections from the rotation bin (3 from heavy rotation, 2 from medium, and one from light) plus various promos, PSA's and station ID's, I could play anything I wanted, and could crank up the studio volume as loud as I could. I brought a hotpot and Earl Gray tea, a milk crate full of records (plus dozens that I'd pulled from the racks into my own stash on a particular shelf), and had a blast. My format was free-form, a rather unwieldy clash of progressive, punk and oldies in addition to the rotation items.

I was one of those dorks with a dog-eared copy of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, so my radio days gave me the opportunity to explore bands and artists that were highly rated in the book but were never played on my Classic Rock radio station back home. This was long before iTunes made virtually any song instantly accessible. Thus it was here that I discovered The Move, The Nice, Phil Ochs, Moby Grape, The Jam, The Fugs, Family, My Bloody Valentine, and a whole lotta college rock I liked that never broke beyond a small cult following: Monsterland (the first time I played them I got a call from an ecstatic co-ed whose brother was in the band), The Loud Family, Lyda Husik, etc.

The tapes are a very cool relic of a bygone era. 1991 was the point just before Nirvana came around and made alternative and grunge explode. I can claim that this was pretty much the zenith of College Rock Radio, when Alternative was a truly under-the-radar genre instead of a marketing tool. This was when we were pissed at REM for going mainstream, when it seemed U2's best days were behind them, when the vast majority of the playlist was on vinyl 7", when the transmitter sent our feeble signal about 10 miles, before streaming internet, before podcasts, before Napster. Contrast with the show I did in grad school in the mid-00's, where I IM'ed with a listener in Reykjavik.

I'm gonna ask my friend Dave if he can digitize this show and stream it, so you can experience it all in its entirety: the scratches and skips, the low quality signal, the Velvet Underground fixation, and me as a fresh-faced 19-yr old, nasal unsupported voice, incoherent rambling and all.

If I recall correctly, my favorite Station ID, featuring Monty Pythonian Graham Chapman shortly before he died, was pulled and deleted some time before this show. I was quite upset; I loved it and played it regularly, and since it's not on the tape it's lost forever. It went something like this:
"Hello, this is Graham Chapman, and whenever I'm in Orono I listen to WMEB, 91.9-FM, Radio Free Orono. Well, sometimes when I'm in Orono. I certainly listened to it once... um, look, quite frankly I've never listened to it, but I'm told that it's awfully good, so do give it a listen if you've got a moment."
The Playlist: April 20, 1991
(FCC-mandated opening when going on the air to start the broadcast day)
The I Love You Song - Blackgirls ... (iTunes)
Flying the Flannel - fIREHOSE ... (iTunes)
I Guess I'm Falling In Love (instrumental version) - Velvet Underground
Senses Working Overtime - XTC
(Station ID - Fred Schneider of the B-52's)
Outside of a Small Circle of Friends - Phil Ochs ... (Lala)
(Promo - Jazz show)
(Me, announcing a Billy Bragg concert over at Bowdoin College, and bemoaning missing two recent opportunites to see Neil Young)
Like A Hurricane - Neil Young
(Station ID - Bruce Watson, guitarist of Big Country)
Decide - The Feelies
The Last Days of Pompei - Nova Mob (featuring Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü)
Drive That Fast - Kitchens of Distinction
Lament (live) - King Crimson
(Station ID - How To Disco)
(Me displaying my ignorance at not knowing who Grant Hart was at the time)
The Trouble With Classicists - Lou Reed & John Cale
Chase - Moe Tucker ... (iTunes)
(Station ID - Not Quite Barbershop)
Love in a Burning Universe - The Darkside ... (iTunes)
Vote Elvis - Popinjays ... (iTunes)
Big Ass On Fire - Happy Family ... (Lala)
Strawman - Lou Reed
(promo, metal show)
(me, pushing a production of Lysistrata that my classmates were in)
Fishy Swa Ska - Fishbone
Farewell to John Denver - Monty Python
My Wife and My Dead Wife - Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians
The Gift - Velvet Underground
The Bottom Line - Big Audio Dynamite
(promo, classical music show)
(me, reading hockey scores and mentioning the new REM album I picked up, Out Of Time)
Public Image - Public Image Ltd.
(Station ID - Michael Hedges)
Pictures of Matchstick Men - Camper Van Beethoven
Hey Grandma - The Move
(Station ID - 2001)
Writing Wrongs - The Monkees
(Station ID - Mojo Nixon)
Radio Free Europe - R.E.M.
I've Changed My Address - The Jam
Lonesome Bulldog - Butthole Surfers
Unknown artist - the tape ran out before it finished, I think I went on the air here to do a backsell but it must have happened before I flipped the tape over. Thus I have no idea who this is.
Rock N Roll (live) - Lou Reed
(PSA - Marsha Warfield on getting tested for HIV)
Revolution Come and Gone - Beat Happening
(Station ID - Michael Hedges... again)
Hammerhead - Laughing Academy
(Promo - Radio Mental Health)
(me, rambling)
Sunless Saturday - Fishbone
Starless - King Crimson
Würm (from "Starship Trooper") - Yes (My closing credits)
(Station ID - 2001, then a few extra songs until Paul arrived)
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds - William Shatner
Hey Mersh - Moe Tucker