Showing posts with label WFMF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WFMF. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Music in the ruins

Long ago and far away -- when I wasn't yet who I would become but sure that I was what I'd always be -- the soundtrack of my and my friends' lives was a three-track tape.




Two of these things were much like each other on the AM radio dial around Baton Rouge, La. --
WLCS and WIBR. They were the stations of our Top-40 selves. They played the hits; we tuned in; they fought like dogs to attract the bigger share of us.

WFMF was for our hippie selves. Sometimes, you feel like a freak . . . sometimes, you don't.

But it was
WLCS and WIBR which ruled the airwaves. On AM. One ruling from 910, high over downtown Baton Rouge; the other counterattacking at 1300, nestled amid the sugarcane fields of Port Allen, just across the Mississippi River.

It was kind of like the Cold War, only in a sleepy Southern capital and with burgeoning arsenals of records, T-shirts and bumper stickers instead of hydrogen bombs.

"We will bury you!" thundered Joe London and B.Z. "You'll never make it past the Prize Patrol," smirked Chucker and Scotty Drake.

AND THE YOUTH of Red Stick lined up behind their leaders, pledging allegiance to one radio ideology or another -- that of the Big Win 910 or its mortal enemy, Radio 13.

Some non-aligned parties looked on from afar, ganging a bong . . . er,
banging a gong over at 'FMF -- Loose Radio -- but they still had their Top-40 leanings, left and right side of the dial.

Mutually Assured Top-40 Destruction brought a certain stability to teen-age society. Had for decades. We thought it would last forever, and the biggest worry in the world would continue to be that your future children of the groove might someday defect to Them, whichever station was Them to your Us.

WE WERE wrong. Just like we were about being forever young, eternally slim and always having a full head of hair.

Today in Baton Rouge, the only thing to be heard at
AM 91 or Radio 13 is . . . nothing. Maybe some static. Maybe -- after the sun goes down and the tree frogs begin their bayou serenade -- you'll hear a station from far away riding in on the Ionosphere Trail.

High above downtown, somebody else inhabits Suite 2420 of One American Place, if that's still what they call that particular high-rise that once was the home of

Over in the Port Allen canefield, a ways down Lafton Lane, the old WIBR is a ghost studio with a busted satellite dish and dead towers. A vine runs across the peeling paint of a fading sign.

IT REMINDS me of a Walker Percy novel. Specifically, Love in the Ruins, the tale of a time near the end of the world. Well . . . at least our particular one.
At first glance all seems normal hereabouts. But a sharp eye might notice one or two things amiss. For one thing, the inner lanes of the interstate, the ones ordinarily used for passing, are in disrepair. The tar strips are broken. A lichen grows in the oil stain. Young mimosas sprout on the shoulders.

For another thing, there is something wrong with the motel. The roof tiles are broken. The swimming pool is an opaque jade green, a bad color for pools. A large turtle suns himself on the diving board, which is broken and slanted into the water. Two cars are parked in the near lot, a rusty Cadillac and an Impala convertible with vines sprouting through its rotting top.

The cars and the shopping center were burnt out during the Christmas riot five years ago. The motel, though not burned, was abandoned and its room inhabited first by lovers, then by bums, and finally by the native denizens of the swamp, dirt daubers, moccasins, screech owls, and raccoons.

n recent months the vines have begun to sprout in earnest. Possum grape festoons Rexall Drugs yonder in the plaza. Scuppernong all but conceals the A & P supermarket. Poison ivy has captured the speaker posts in the drive-in movie, making a perfect geometrical forest of short cylindrical trees.

Beyond the glass wall of the motel dining room still hangs the Rotary banner:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

But the banner is rent, top to bottom, like the temple veil.

The vines began to sprout in earnest a couple of months ago. People do not like to talk about it. For some reason they’d much rather talk about the atrocities that have been occurring ever more often: entire fam
ilies murdered in their beds for no good reason. “The work of a madman!” people exclaim.
PRETTY MUCH, that's radio today. Any kind of common culture today . . . ruins. Covered in vines, surrounded by weeds.

How did it get this way?

The work of a madman!

Madmen, actually. Perfectly sensible-looking, upper-crust ladies and gentlemen in board rooms across the land -- cultured folk prone to fits of business-school jargon about reimbursement packages, shareholder value, efficiencies of scale and "right-sizing." All of them bat-s*** crazy. All of them weapons of mass unemployment.

They are veritable neutron bombs that eliminate the heart and soul and local voices of broadcasting while leaving bricks and mortar relatively intact, ruins to be consumed by flora as tempis fugits and young people grow into old ones.

My memories remain young. Sometimes, 30-something years ago seems like 30-something minutes ago.

I drive north on La. 1. I turn left at a red light. I drive down the road, between the sweet fields of south Louisiana, thinking sweet thoughts about lost youth. I hang another left, a
sharp left, into the gravel parking lot.

And step into the ruins of Radio 13.

Of me.

Of us.

I step into silence where once there was music, and I cannot go home anymore.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Needle Drop Top-40 Record Shop

No, there's no real point to this.

It's just a photo essay, born of fooling around yesterday afternoon and reflecting on my misspent youth. Which, alas, went out about the time turntables did.

Turntables are making a small comeback, though. I suspect radio has a better chance of following in vinyl records' -- and record players' -- footsteps than my lost youth does. And radio's chances lie somewhere between slim and none.

Still, it's nice to remember old friends and good times.

And remember, boys and girls, the only two numbers that matter in life are 33 1/3 and 45.

For true.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Simply '70s: Stick it and win

If you grew up in Baton Rouge, La., in the 1970s, you just got goose bumps.

And, irrationally, you're hoping the guy from the radio station will see the bumper stickers on your computer screen, stop you and give you a prize.

WIBR (Radio 13), WFMF (Why, oh, why didn't they stick with progressive rock?) and WLCS (the
Big Win 910) . . . we got 'em all covered. For we of a certain age, these stations -- with able assists from WAIL and WBRH (starting in '77) -- provided the soundtrack of our youth.

It was a time when school shootings were unheard of and teenagers did not live by the calendar on their smart phones, which blessedly did not yet exist. I miss those days, and I miss these radio stations.

Even the post-Loose Radio incarnation of 'FMF. But don't tell my friends; that would be so not cool.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A terrible day in the life

I always heard these things in my bedroom in Baton Rouge -- news of shocking deaths in the dark of the night.

In 1978, I was in high school, up late and listening to the radio when I heard the pope was dead. A month and a half later, I was up late working on homework and listening to the radio --
WFMF -- when I heard a report that the pope was dead. I thought somebody had screwed up and put on an old newscast.

In 1980, I was a sophomore in college. The night of Dec. 8, I was up cramming for finals, listening to the radio. The DJ came on with the shocking bulletin -- John Lennon was dead, shot outside his apartment building in New York.
He read the news today . . . oh boy.

Oh, God, no.

Please, God, no.

The death
of the pope was big (as was the death of the other pope), but I wasn't Catholic then. The murder of John Lennon was shattering.

The pope was an old man in Rome. He was the vicar of Christ, but he was a distant one back then -- a guy you read about in the papers, or perhaps saw on the TV news once in a while.

John Lennon . . .
the Beatles . . . they had been a daily presence in my life -- a pervasive part of the culture in which I had marinated since the age of 3. John, Paul, George and Ringo were the soundtrack of my earthly existence.

IN 1964,
my Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy gave me a copy of Meet the Beatles. I had me some Beatles singles, too.

In 1966, John told an interviewer the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, which arguably was true. Truth, however, is no defense against public indignation when veracity meets unpopularity -- people like funhouse-mirror images of themselves a lot better when everybody knows the mirror is all screwy and not him.

Then, John Lennon suddenly was a communist or something, and Mama busted up all my Beatles records. That's how we showed our esteem for the second person of the Holy Trinity back then, as opposed to going to church.

WHEN I was old enough to think for myself -- and to buy my own damned record albums -- the Beatles were back. Big time.

John was always the challenging Beatle. The one most likely to piss you off -- and to make you think. I rather like how he'd sometimes mess with your head, and it was funniest when people didn't get how funny it all was.

Like "Imagine." It's funny to see religious Republicans enthusiastically singing along with "Imagine," a song Lennon once described as "virtually the Communist Manifesto." (Well, OK. Not every Republican.)

We didn't always agree with this presence in our lives -- hell, we didn't always understand this musical fixture of ours -- but we always had to give him credit for honesty, just like we always had to give him credit for amazing songs. We couldn't not give him his due for the music of of our lives.

And now, Dec. 8, 1980, at about 10 o'clock at night. . . .

Suddenly, it was like the soundtrack of my life had been left sitting in the rear window of my '76 Vega. It had warped. It didn't sound right.

A constant presence wasn't, not anymore.

I heard the news 30 years ago today. Oh boy, nothing has been the same since. And it hurts.

Still, it hurts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The '70s that I miss

When I think of the 1970s, this is the '70s in my mind and of blessed memory.

The '70s I miss is, to be sure, the bubblegum, rock and soul-flavored fun of Top-40 AM radio, but even more, it is the thoughtful and horizon-expanding world of FM radio . . . the freeform, AOR, laid-back funkiness of that cultural space between 88 and 108 megacycles.

That brief moment in broadcasting and pop-culture history when FM was a statement, not the next place to be assimilated by the forces of homogeneity.

WHEN I think of Jimmie Spheeris, the name is inseparable from "Loose Radio" in Baton Rouge, WJBO-FM, later to become WFMF.

That's the 1970s to which I sometimes desperately wish I could return. But I can't, and neither can any of us.

Dem things happen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

'Sweet' sign at the supermarket

Here's the deal. It's always yesterday somewhere.

And in the parking lot of the Peony Park Hy-Vee in Omaha, you still can party like it's 1999 -- at least judging by the vintage Sweet 98 radio station and "Gary Coleman Has a Posse" stickers on the back of a sign there.

If you've been in Omaha a while, you certainly remember Sweet 98, which reigned as the undisputed champion of FM radio here for a couple of decades.

NOW, IF YOU'RE new to town or happen to be under 20, you would be one of the few people who don't still call KQKQ radio "Sweet 98," even though it changed format and name six years ago. For your edification, that previous incarnation of Q 98 Five played all the hits, had all the great contests and enjoyed the undying loyalty of every teenybopper in eastern Nebraska (and some of their parents, too).

It goes without saying that -- like the vintage bumper sticker there in the Hy-Vee parking lot -- was back when teenyboppers still listened to the radio. Which, of course, was back when radio was the picture of health and the iPod hadn't come out yet.

Back in the day, however, Sweet 98 was a hell of a station . . . if Top-40 was your thing. It inherited the mantle of "king of the teen-age hipsters" from the previous Omaha Top-40 powerhouse, "the Mighty 1290" KOIL (always said as "coil").


KOIL reigned from the late '50s through most of the '70s, but difficulties with the Federal Communications Commission knocked it down -- even off the air for about six months -- and then when "Sweet" came along in 1980, that was that, forever and amen.

I'm not from here, and my glory days were in the '70s, not the '80s, but I understand how it is. Sweet 98 was to KOIL here what KOIL was to WLCS, which wasn't in Omaha, but instead in Baton Rouge, La., where I grew up. Are you following me here?

IN OTHER WORDS, when I was a kid,
"the Big Win 910", was like KOIL, which was like Sweet 98, except that 'LCS got knocked off by WFMF, not KQKQ. Get it?

Whatever. If you're from my neck of the woods, and you still miss WLCS, go to the Big Win 910 CafePress shop and buy one of my shirts. Poppa needs a MacBook, OK?

They call this "full disclosure," I think.

But what we're really talking about here is sainted memory, isn't it? The little things long gone and -- objectively -- of little import, but which mean the world to me. And you. And everybody.

Usually, these things live on only in our hearts and minds. But sometimes . . . sometimes . . . they hang on and hold out -- kind of like those long-ago Japanese soldiers deep in the jungle on an island somewhere in the South Pacific, still fighting a war that ended long before, fighting on simply because no one told them it was over.

Obviously, not many people -- OK . . . no one, actually -- would mistake the parking lot at 78th and Cass for deepest, darkest New Guinea. But there, Sweet 98 holds out, ambushing unsuspecting grocery shoppers with promises of "Today's Hit Music."

Trying to win a brutal Top-40 ratings war that, for the rest of the world, is nothing more than a distant memory. A "sweet" memory of a time when radio mattered, and kids still listened.