And so it began. Surprisingly I do not remember the exact date but one night at Midnight the transmitter stayed on for the FMfor the first time ever and from Midnight until 6 AM, I was on my own. In complete control of what I played. The year was 1984 so everything was still on vinyl only and I would bring anywhere from 3 to 5 large milk crates stuffed with albums, 12” singles, EP’s and a separate box for 7” singles. It was very important to us that we do something different. First song played on the first overnight show was, what else… “Peaches En Regalia” by Frank Zappa. All the stations we had grown up with and admired were no longer keeping up with what was happening musically. They were more and more reliant on research, consultants and appealing to the lowest common denominator. With very few exceptions they didn’t allow the DJ to pick what they played, the most libral might give them a DJ choice slot but no more than 1 an hour. We had no interest in that. Corporate Radio had taken over and if you wanted to keep your gig you followed the playlist handed to you by the letter. The once groundbreaking stations that put together thoughtful, flowing and enlightening sets of music, kept the audience informed of new artists before anyone else, had slid very comfortably into reading liner cards and playing the same stuff ad infinitum. We had basically stopped listening to them, except for Vin Scelsa there was nothing playing we didn’t already hear too much. By 1984 there was quite a large body of great music that commercial radio wouldn’t touch. It was left to College Radio and Noncom signals to play, as well as clubs with more and more branching out from Disco by playing Rock stuff people could dance to.
As already covered, we did not have very good equipment and a sub par signal. To give locals an example, the studio was on Hope Road in Tinton Falls, as was the antenna. I lived in Old Bridge, 23 miles away and could not pick up the station. But due to our location, when it was dark and there were less leaves on the trees I would sometimes get it but usually in Mono. However, once the signal hit the water and skipped it would come in crystal clear in places like Short Hills, Staten Island, the southern part of Long Island and even places like The Village or parts of Manhattan. It was very weird. But we couldn’t concern ourselves with what was wrong, we had too much work to do building our sound and stationality. Endless suggestions and discussions abounded but Rich and I made a pact that we had the final word regardless. He knew a lot more about how radio works but when it came to music he agreed that more often than not would be my purview. Having lived in the area and worked in record stores and clubs we both knew the market and the taste of the population. WNEW was the station of choice in Asbury Park with their “Bruce Juice,”interestingly coined by Morning DJ Dave Herman at WNEW who actually started his radio career playing “Beautiful Music” right here at WHTG. WNEW had yearly concerts on the beach and a partner relationship with The Stone Pony. We made the decision to go another way.
We could feel a change in the air and it wasn’t happening on the Commercial dial. We would cue and fire up “Lust For Life” by Iggy and the dance floor would fill in clubs that even a year earlier wouldn’t even think of altering the incessant 120 BPM of Disco for a second. MTV and Cable TV were in their infancy and bands like The Cure, R.E.M., U2, The Smiths, Generation X, New Order and many more could only be heard on College Radio or in small clubs. There were hundreds of songs, maybe thousands that were connecting with not just a new generation, but the fringes of our own. We would use them in combination with artists abandoned and/or ignored by rock radio like The Tubes, Garland Jeffreys, The Talking Heads, Devo, Mink DeVille, The Ramones, Television, The Stooges, T. Rex, David Bowie and when the weather warmed add in great beach “singles” like The Grass Roots, Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Beach Boys, The Monkees, Tommy James, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Rascals, even Buddy Holly, early Who and great tunes like ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night,” “The Letter” or “Mendocino” and make it flow. It was all about what was next and making sure you didn’t get too far from something familiar so there was an easy point of entry. Our goal was to answer questions like, “Hey what was that song you played after ‘Sail On Sailor’?”
The other key for us was if you called the station you actually spoke to the person on the air, who not only answered the call but also engineered their own show. Sure we only had a 1955 rotary dial phone in the studio, but it worked. It would blow people’s minds when we would answer, give them the info they were looking for and actually played their request, most of the time. I used to enjoy getting calls for the Grateful Dead, who were gods in the area. I would say, “sorry man, don’t have any.” Invariably they would say “Tuna?” and sometimes I would play a track from Hot Tuna’s first album. But usually I would play Pop O’Pies version of “Truckin’” laughing my ass off and waiting for the usual call saying that was a really “harsh thing to do, man.” Imagine my surprise when one night around 2 AM the call came from Joe Pop O’Pie himself, who was now living about 2 miles from our studio. He headed right over and hung out with me until 6AM.
Who knows, this might just work…(more to come)
“The writer's role is to menace the public's conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time.”
― Rod Serling
“Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete”
― Rod Serling
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Dad, Husband, Radio Programmer/DJ, Music Enthusiast, Drummer, Baseball Fan and Retired American.
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