Express Yourself . . .

. . . or, “What You’re Doing When You’re Doing What it Sounds Like You’re Doing.”

Wednesday while I was on the air, I made notes after each break, whatever came to mind, to take you inside the mind of a DJ doing what he does. (I could have live-blogged the show, but I couldn’t imagine many people sitting out there feverishly hitting “refresh” to read it as it happened.) This post is a little long, but here we go:

1020a: ZZ Top’s “Got Me Under Pressure” wraps that set—we’re tracking a side of Eliminator tonight at 11, so it gave me an excuse to talk about the new 25th anniversary edition of the album. New stuff by our core artists and new editions of old stuff are good topics to yak about.

1040a: We have three talk breaks an hour, usually. Middays, nights, and weekends, the second one in the hour is in the middle of a music set, so I try to keep it short. It’s a good place to read a promo for something we’re doing. This one was for a VIP weekend giveaway at a sailing thing in Chicago. Nice prize, even if you don’t sail.

1050a: I like to do community-calendar type bits, especially if they’re unusual. The Monona Library is doing a reading assistance dog thing today. I had never heard of “reading assistance dogs” until yesterday, but apparently it can be good for elementary kids to read to dogs. They don’t judge, but they also don’t help if you get stuck. I don’t know if anybody’s going to drop what they’re doing and run their kid over there, but if I introduced some listener to something they didn’t know before, then pin a rose on me.

1120a: That set ends with “Fly Like an Eagle,” which I said was “on your radio this week in 1977.” Also in the set: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Stones, which is one of a handful of Motown covers that stomps the original. Of course, I had to follow it with “Highway to Hell.” It occurs to me that on the second verse, Bon Scott sounds like Donald Duck. I read the weather in this break, too. First of the year, we switched our weather source from NBC15 to News 3, which seems to be a wee bit better about updating its forecast. I can’t count how many times I’d see 15’s weather people extolling the weather feature of their website, only to go there myself and find a forecast that was 12 to 18 hours old. When I think of how we used to do the weather three times an hour back in the old days (late 70s/early 80s), I can hardly believe it. I try to do it once a shift, if that.

1135a: Whenever I play “Bungle in the Jungle,” as I did in that set, I always think of it as a “Madison song.” It was late in 1974 when I discovered an FM rock station from Madison, and switched my allegiance from Chicago radio, at least for some of my listening. There are lots of songs from late ’74 and early ’75 that I associate in the same way. In this break, it was time for another promo, this one for the Madison Marathon, which isn’t until Memorial Day weekend. It will be a challenge to find fresh ways to do this one before the day finally comes. This week I’ve been talking about great summer events, thinking about warmer days, etc. Not original, but adequate.

1150a: REO Speedwagon’s “Golden Country” was last in that set. It remains one of the band’s greatest songs. Playing it surely must take the curse off of playing “Take it on the Run” as much as we do.

12:00n: We do “perfect playlists” at noon each weekday. Listeners go to the website and submit lists of favorite songs. It’s interesting—for every one that contains some unusual choices, there will be several that are almost indistinguishable from our regular programming. Which tells us, I suppose, that we’re doing a good job at providing what our core listeners want to hear. Both of my lists today are pretty mainstream; “I’m a Loser” by the Beatles and “Five to One” by the Doors are the only halfway inventive choices.

1215p: First three songs in the first set belong to Peter Gabriel, the Beatles, and Queen—”Tie Your Mother Down,” which I did not say was on the radio this week in 1977, although I could have, because A Day at the Races was big then. “Somebody to Love” that was a Top 40 hit in January 1977.

1230p: Last two are by Toto and the Outlaws—when I was in college, the cops came to our house one night during a party while “Green Grass and High Tides” was playing. I always think of that whenever I hear it.

1235p: There are six talk breaks in the “perfect playlist” hour instead of three. Sometimes we do phoners with the people who submitted the lists. Today I don’t have any, which keeps the breaks short. I sometimes have trouble thinking of stuff to talk about in those breaks. Me, the ultimate gasbag.

1245p: The first three in this set are by Mountain, Joe Walsh and the Doobie Brothers—a late 90s/early 2000s live version of “China Grove.” It’s got the same boogie piano as the original, but the lead guitar lacks the fuzz and dirt that made the original so great. And the smooth jazz bit that opens it, before the guitar kicks in, is, let’s say, an ill-considered idea.

1255p: With the Doors and Pink Floyd, that’s all for the perfect playlists. As long as there are teenage boys, the Doors will always be cool, although that also means “Five to One, ” which we’d consider lame if it were by some band we’d never heard of, will live on far longer than it should. As for Floyd, my bit was this: Roger Waters will be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on February 2, and there’s a rumor that because of the writers’ strike, he will perform all of Dark Side of the Moon. I don’t believe that last part, and I said so when I did the bit. [Late update: apparently none of this is going to happen. SNL will be a repeat on February 2.]

115p: Things I have noticed, either today or over time: I have noticed that I am not comfortable doing a break unless I am holding a pen in my right hand. I never had this habit until I started working here. I have noticed that there are more former plastic-surgery patients on The Bold and the Beautiful than on any other TV show. (There’s a TV set up in the corner and I usually turn it off, but the remote batteries are dead and now I have to walk over there, so I’ve been leaving it on this week.) I have noticed that although the heat came up for a couple of minutes just before 1:00, the HVAC system is blowing frigid air again. I’m already wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and a quilted flannel shirt, but I want to put my sweatshirt on. I mentioned none of this on the air—just Ringo Starr’s set-to yesterday with the producers of Regis and Kelly.

135p: Nothing special in this break, just a promo. Some breaks are like that.

150p: For a wrinkle, that set included “Synchronicity I” by the Police rather than “Synchronicity II.” My bit this time was about the new U2 movie, U2-3D, of which Bono says he “had a panic attack at the thought of a 3-D 40-foot ass”—his own, appearing on the big screen. Except I didn’t say “ass.” I’m old-school, I guess, when it comes to certain language on the radio.

215p: Some fine folks in that set: Jackson Browne, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Molly Hatchet—”Flirtin’ with Disaster” always sounds great on the radio. The Harrison tune was “What Is Life,” which I bought on a 45 in the spring of 1971, and which was this afternoon’s featured tune on Today in Rock History, which we do three times a day. Rock history bits are a big part of my shows generally, and I’ve written some of the Today in Rock History features over the last couple of months.

235p: In the old days, we had to pull records or CDs and stack commercial carts an hour or two at a time, then ready and play each element individually. No more. The music and commercials are digitally sequenced, so all I have to do is interrupt the flow, do my bit, and start the flow again. We used to have to read transmitter meters every two hours, but we don’t anymore. My friend the former broadcast engineer tells me that the FCC doesn’t even require first-class licenses for engineers anymore. Cripes, any idiot can do this now.

250p: Steely Dan’s “Do it Again” is not a bad way to wrap up the show. The next jock up is Sly, with whom I went to college, briefly. I did everything you’re supposed to do, graduated, and worked for small-market stations in the middle of nowhere that paid nothing; he broke every rule he could find, never did graduate, and ended up famous and presumably rich in this, his hometown. So it goes. I don’t begrudge it—he’s worked hard to get where he is and stay there. As for me, I’m outta here.

“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (alternate mix)/Rolling Stones (from the bootleg It’s Only Goat’s Head Soup, But We Like It!)

4 thoughts on “Express Yourself . . .

  1. Doesn’t the Stones’ version abandon the throat-tightening vocal jump in the chorus? That’s the main hook in the song, IMO, which by itself keeps the Stones’ version from stomping the original.

  2. Um…Can I come and work for your station? :-) You guys play a lot of stuff that they don’t even touch on the classic rock station in San Francisco (107.7 The Bone).

    Also, I saw U2 3D yesterday and thought it was great!

  3. A fascinating insight. As someone who’s worked in radio for nearly 20 years myself (although most of it has been away from the mic, and at a completely different style station, in a whole other country!) I enjoyed this post a lot. I’d love to work at a station that had a playlist like yours – but they’re pretty thin on the ground in the UK.

    All the best,

    Rol.

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