Every now and again I get nostalgic about radio. As a medium, certainly, but especially about the disc jockeys, DJs, who populate the ether.
There’s that terrible, cheesy, 1979 song, “Pilot of the Airwaves,” that’s better forgotten. Substitute Van Morrison’s 1978 “Wavelength” album, if only to assuage the feeling that much of the 70s was an exercise in bad taste. Which, most likely, it was.
Typically, I’m prompted to think nostalgically about radio when I listen to local broadcasters and their on-air “personalities.” Describing them as “bland” insults the expression and doesn’t begin to describe them. Though I’m certain my parents had precisely the same complaint about the announcers I’ll mention momentarily. Even worse are the hosts of syndicated radio shows with no sense of localism.
Murrow, Sevareid and Cronkite were my parents’ radio heroes. Never mind that each was a newscaster and journalist, not record spinners. There was a war going on, after all.
I was too young and too distant for, respectively, Alan Freed (originally in Ohio, later at “Ten-ten WINS in New York”) and Wolfman Jack (XERB, Rosarito Beach, Mexico: “aah-right, bay-hay-be!”). The former I would later read about and the latter was immortalized by (essentially) playing himself in American Graffiti and, later, impersonated by Don Imus (“Sixty-six, double-you en bee see”).
The best AM radio DJ was, I’m certain, Dan Ingram. Infectious and irreverent, I recall him making an audacious tape loop of the chorus to the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun.” The repeating chorus must have lasted five minutes. Unheard of on tightly formatted AM Top-40 radio. It produced, he deadpanned, a bad case of splicer’s thumb. I once copied him, using the refrain in the Carpenters version of “Superstar:” baby, baby, baby, oh baby. Wikipedia’s entry for him recounts other examples of doctored songs.
Musicians were fans of radio and DJs, too. As well they should. The medium and its personalities had power to “break” a record – across formats, in fact.
Singers and their songs memorialized the medium, particular radio stations and called out specific DJs. Not unaware, some DJs sought to exploit their radio fame by making questionable associations with artists. Murray the K (“Aaah-vey!”), for instance; he, among many others, labeling himself as “the fifth Beatle.”
Sly Stone, of course, transitioned from DJ (KSOL, San Francisco) to recording artist.
And, in another medium, Clint Eastwood starred as a disc jockey in Play Misty for Me.
One might develop a long, long playlist of songs that in some form are an homage to radio and its announcers. Maybe some already has.
You say it, we play it. We spin ‘em, you win ’em.
“Video Killed the Radio Star”? Rock on.
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