A bit late for me mornin’ post, but we had a revellin’ good time at Spillian last night, with a host of folks from WIOX, the esteemed Meg Griffin of Sirius XM, and couple dozen other emisaries from radio history and contemporary radio. (More on this event in a future post.)
I found this gem doing some research last week, and couldn’t get over how dismissive the editorial staff of Mother Jones was Mr. Pitale’s suggestions. I also encountered some lefties in my time who wanted revolution, but they didn’t want things to change.
Good morning, readers. I hope your Sunday’s shaping up well. If you’re on the US continent, east of the Rockies, and north of Louisiana, I imagine you too will have a snow shovel in your hands before too long.
Wednesday’s punk and post-punk gems will stay the same, but on Sundays I want to share a few more thoughts of themes from the book. For month two, then, I’m looking at chapter two, “From Sgt. Pepper’s to Born to Run: The Rise of Free-form FM Radio.” Through the 50s and into the 60s, the hysterical DJ dominated the AM airwaves, with promises of another “twin-spin sound sandwich” on a largely song-ad spot-song sequence. I couldn’t find an early aircheck for Murray the K. (also known as “the 5th Beatle”), but here’s one from 1966, just before Murray metamorphosed into a free-form DJ.
In the next year, though, the model has changed completely, and “Rosko” Mercer (not the UK’s Emperor Rosko), on WOR-FM, has turned things down, cadence-wise and volume-wise, and the corresponding change in music-as-pop to music-as-art leads to changes on the airwaves, too. Mercer, along with Scott Muni, led the charge at WNEW-FM into free-form FM radio, and he would segue from Coltrane to Shel Silverstein, and — as you can hear on this shorter segment — would improvise extended raps between songs and commercials, and share his own rather critical thoughts about the Vietnam War.
The 33 1/3 ethos, with minimal interference from commercials, made new demands on the listening audience, and upon advertisers to be more patient in terms of the frequency of their spots on the air. So, when Richard Neer at WNEW-FM raises the prospect of the live at the Bottom Line series to boss Mel Karmazin (now the head of Sirius XM), Karmazin couldn’t imagine how to make it happen — 90 minutes without commercials? It made little sense, but enough sense, and the Springsteen show ahead of the release of Born to Run sealed the deal. Four years later, The Clash were also included on the WNEW live series, now also at the Palladium, and we have the Guns of Brixton bootleg as a result. Thank you, Richard Neer, Rosko, and Muni!
For the rude boys and rude girls among you, check out Two Tone Britain. It’s not thorough by any stretch, but it does a solid job of unpacking the importance of the music and the politics of The Specials’ brigade against the backdrop of the rise of the National Front.
Yes, yes. I’m a wee bit behind, in part because I’m preparing for my gig on Thursday, which you can watch live streaming, apparently — http://rockhall.com/event/Doane/ . The event’s all ready fully booked, so I hope I respond well to the pressure. I’m sure it will be a gas. The talk is called, “Hitsville, USA: How The Clash Broke America and Gave Our Adolescence a Whole Lotta Love,” and will include a review of:
how I was inspired by the Boy Scouts of America to become an aficionado of punk
the audio territory staked out by WNEW-FM, WPLJ-FM, and WPIX-FM circa 1979
punk aesthetics, blackness, and whiteness, and why The Clash were so damned awesome.
I’ll also talk about some of the holdings at the rock hall archive, and reprise some of the book’s themes on analog and digital music fandom. Here’s a pic of me as a Boy Scout (as if Monday mornings weren’t plenty difficult already):
Also: I just found this great article on WBCN, who were big Clash advocates back in the day (Oedipus, especially). I can hardly wait to track that book down, too.
Greetings from radio K-SAT! I’m still waiting for a single hour in the 2-day forecast that doesn’t include a chance of rain, but in the meantime the tomato plants look awesome! (Speaking of tomatoes (and potatoes), does anyone else yearn for those bygone days when Dan Quayle was the most polarizing figure in US politics?)
As some of you know, Stealing All Transmissions tidies up a limited number of loose ends, and I figure it’s about time I apprise you of the whereabouts of a handful of the protagonists, aides, and abettors. Meg Griffin, of course, is still spinning discs for Sirius-XM Radio, and is also one of the key subjects of a new documentary, I Am What I Play. (Roger King is one of the masterminds of this project, and he’s a good guy, so do check this out when it arrives in your city.) Here she is with rock photographer extraordinaire (and insanely sweet guy) Bob Gruen, who still keeps busy on the other side of the camera. They’re pictured, of course, with Mr. G.’s book on John Lennon.
Joe Piasek, Meg’s partner-in-crime at WPIX, followed up their “Elvis-to-Elvis” experiment to work at Nickelodeon, where the management better understood the ethos he fomented at WPIX. As of August 2010, Piasek is behind the scenes (and occasionally on the air) at radio station WIOX-FM, out of Roxbury, New York. The station is this odd public-private partnership that broadcasts 24/7, with roughly 19 hours a day of live programming made possible by more than 80 volunteers. The facility is a former Masonic Lodge with plenty of space for in-studio performances, dances–the works. I had the chance to visit Joe there in 2012, and he’s still as properly restless as he was circa 1980 when it comes to business-as-usual. If you’re looking for a good cause to support, tune into WIOX, and consider joining their underwriting forces. (I’m presently tuned into Lizzie Douglas, who’s just schooled listeners that the inspiration for The Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning” was a Corn Flakes commercial in the UK–just the thing that US historians might miss.) The transmission is analog and digital, and you can download the WIOX App for free at the iTunes Store. Given the struggles of radio in general, watch for this model to spread–all it takes is a few more mavericks who are willing and able.
Two more items of note: check out this lovely Clash fan site, which hosts over 3000 photos of the lads and descriptions in French.
Toronto, of course, played a big role in Clash history. As the tour bus readied in September 1979 to return to the US, Mick staged a sit-down strike until someone secured some marijuana. Luckily, some fan procured the necessary goods, and I’d like to offer my thanks to that person, as the legendary shows at the Palladium a few nights later might have otherwise never commenced. In case there’s interest: I am making a quick visit to Toronto on Thursday, 18 July, and while I wasn’t diligent enough to arrange a reading/signing that evening, I’d be delighted to meet folks for lunch and a chat about The Clash, the book, aging with punk and dignity, etc. If you’re interested (or know someone who’s interested), please e-mail me by 12 July, so we can make arrangements at a downtown eatery. Cheers!
Happy Mother’s Day all, and thanks for checking out my blog once again–or, if you’re a first-timer, welcome! My book’s been out for two whole days now in the UK, so it’s too early to report whether it’s got much traction with the home team fans just yet.
There isn’t much in the book that’s maternal-themed, but I’ve got to work a tie-in, so here goes. When putting the book together, I was under such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to pursue permissions for the photo below of two of the key protagonists. In the book’s section on WPIX-FM, the NYC radio station that was brilliant, hilarious and all-too-short-lived with Joe Piasek and Meg Griffin at the helm, I describe the photo below from New York magazine. (Here’s the link to “Is Real-Rock Radio Normal?,” which appeared in the same issue as “How Politicians Stay Out of Jail”–if only “abnormal” radio were still with us, and the most nefarious politicians were locked up, I wonder if we’d have this global warming problem solved by now.
(The thematic aside: I cannot, alas, find the actual audio footage, but Griffin reported in our interview that, in an early in-studio interview with Tom Petty, each of them exited their respective booths, and when Petty looked aghast in Griffin’s direction, she asked what was wrong. “Well, Meg,” Petty drawled, “I guess I’ve never seen a pregnant deejay before.” And, for the Clash-o-philes among you, here’s a clip from that interview of Griffin talking about the gracious Mick Jones.)
Piasek and co.’s WPIX station was amazing, and here’s one of the playlists from August 1979, kindly provided by Will Keller, a PIX-o-phile who–when we were last in touch–was working on his own version of the brief-and-boisterous history of that moment in New York radio history.
Is it possible? Charlie Daniels, Wings, Nick Lowe, and Lena Lovich, along with The Clash, ELO, Ellen Foley, and Supertramp, all on the same playlist? For a fleeting moment, the “From Elvis to Elvis” format worked brilliantly, with live broadcasts of shows from CBGB and a host of fun radio stunts. But the bean counters at WPIX couldn’t sit still long enough for the public to catch on–and for their own good, too, as the station showed a financial turn-around just before they decided, once again, to modify “the format to improve the product to make it more mass acceptable,” according to the New York Times (Rockwell, “Pop Life,” March 21, 1980).
Following the format change (and mass firing), Piasek bailed from radio, worked for Nickelodeon for a spell, and currently staffs the helm at WIOX-FM, in Roxbury, New York, a distinctive model for private-public partnerships in community radio. I met Joe for lunch and conversation last summer, and he’s still as lively as ever, and remains excited about the possibilities of radio, music that matters, and a community of engaged listeners.
Meg Griffin, of course, still spins discs for Sirius XM Radio, and is one of the subjects featured in a new documentary: I Am What I Play, “a feature length documentary about the heyday of rock radio.” I’m certainly sympathetic with folks trying to balance the day job and the after-hours project, and wish them all the best putting the final edit together.
On the potpourri tip: this morning I encountered crossword puzzle query about Lloyd Price’s hit from 1959 (answer below), and on wikipedia a featured article drew my attention to Danie Mellor, a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of no relation to another Mellor we know, I figure.
Oh, Stagger! What would your mother have made of this mess?
Here’s a couple bonus tracks for your Friday — I was a big Bongos’ fan back in the day, but couldn’t find anything beyond their EP cassette at my local shop. YouTube, apparently, has got it all, including a host of tracks by bands that have yet to be captured on the equally voracious wikipedia.
The Bongos hailed from Hoboken, NJ, caught some interest in the UK, signed to Fetish Records, and released the track above backed with the track below.
Once again, I’m relying on memory for inspiration and George Gimarc’s Punk Diary for the facts: Trouser Press regarded The Bongos as “Paul Revere and the Raiders crossed with Television and a dash of Merseybeat.” Well said — and well played, Bongos!
Hey hey! It’s hump day, and I hope you’re doing fine.
I had The Bongos on my mind recently, as I was in NYC, and the lovely Meg Griffin helped break The Bongos in the US by featuring them in a series at The Bottom Line back in the day. I’ll do another post on The B.’s soon, and wanted to toss another music video your way I just found a couple days back. I figure if Paul Simonon can keep up with Stevie Wonder’s rhythm section, he was more than a capable bassist.