Radio, Radio: The WFAL Years

How do I even begin to sum up my many years at WFAL? I dunno, but here goes.

As a Freshman at Bowling Green State University in the Fall of 1992 I saw a flyer about the campus radio station, then WFAL 680AM. I was intrigued, as I liked music and spent time as a kid taping songs off the radio and then dubbing my own voice in between tracks, playing pretend Kasey Kasem and Rick Dees.

WFAL Years, Pt.1 – Flying Burrito Show, talking with Laura and Todd, murder press release, talking, Late Night Lingerie promo, talking, WFAL promo, concert talk

I remember the orientation meeting being in West Hall, and attending a few music department meetings, who were the group of volunteers tasked with taking home a handful of cd’s each week and coming up with recommendations on what to and not to play. But I didn’t last, I felt out of place and didn’t go back after the first one. Maybe this just wasn’t for me, it was I probably thought at the time. I was comfortable with Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Guns ‘n Roses and Public Enemy at the time. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had yet to make any impact on me. Yet.

WFAL Years, Pt.2 – Flying Burrito Show, talking, weather, talking, talking with Laura, upcoming album release talk, weather

Over the years that followed, my musical catalog expanded as the MTV and commercial radio landscape shifted towards atlernative and grunge. Upon returning for my Junior year in the Fall I decided to take another shot, but this time not only in the music department but also as a DJ. I went through the DJ training and started working a weekday midnight to 6am shift. For the Fall of ’94 that was my time, and while some like my roommate thought it sucked, I kind of enjoyed the freedom of an empty building that produced weird call-ins and opportunities to embelish the playlist. I also had my first, and quite possibly only groupie, thanks to this time slot. But that is an entirely different story for a completely different time.

WFAL Years, Pt.3 – Flying Burrito Show, talking, local concerts, weather, Heavy Metal Blitz promo, concert talk, talking

I should mention at this point there was a format to what and when we played music. There were three categories – A, B and C. A cuts were heavy rotation, B medium and C light. This was determined by the Music Director, who made decisions based on our format, what he liked and what was charting well/hot in college radio magazines like CMJ and MMQB. We also had a few open slots that in two different categories. One was called “Currents” (I think) that was about 30 or 40 albums not worth rotation but recent/interesting enough to get played. The other was simply an open spot a few times an hour that allowed us to pull from the vast stacks of CDs in the archive.

WFAL Years, Pt.4 – Flying Burrito Show, talking, WFAL sound system promo, talking, concert talk, talking weather, talking with Keith, album release talk

In addition to the CD archive there was still a vinyl archive that was soon sold off and converted into a broadcast room for the News Department, but I never played vinyl so it was of little interest. Anyway, that first semester of DJ’ing was interesting in that I was terrible but nobody heard it because it was the middle of the night, which allowed me to get slightly better than terrible. I did take advantage of the time by either having my roommate Charlie accompany me, grab a bunch of CDs we both liked, take them back to our nearby dorm and burn them, returning them before my shift ended, or simply putting on a long song and running back and forth between the studio and dorm myself. What can I say, I was a college kid who suddenly had an addiction to music, and when I wasn’t picking through the new and used bins at Finders and Madhatter in downtown Bowling Green, I had to fulfill my music fix. I had been strictly a tape purchaser up until this point, and it was around this time I bought my first cd – The Tragically Hip’s ‘Fully Completely’ from Finders, which I still own.

WFAL Years, Pt.5 – Flying Burrito Show, talking with Susan, WFAL promo, talking, Toledo Asylum promo, Trainspotting promo, Halloween Haunted House promo, talking, weather

After that Fall ’94 orientation meeting we headed back to the WFAL offices and I made a comment to then music director John Riccardi about liking all kinds of music and wanting to rejoin music department I had quit two years earlier. Well, as I would later learn was just John being John, he responded to my “liking all kinds of music” comment with a short, sharp, “a lot of people think they do.” Ouch. So, digging Public Enemy and Led Zeppelin wasn’t gonna cut it in his eyes. To be fair, it shouldn’t have. Even though I started expanding my horizons, I knew nothing about alternative/underground music that wasn’t being offered on MTV, so my knowledge was, in fact, limited.

WFAL Years, Pt.6 – Flying Burrito Show, talking, concert talk, talking, BGNews promo, Toledo Asylum promo, The Connells ticket giveaway promo, talking, Halloween Haunted House promo, Late Night Lingerie promo, Trainspotting promo, talking

Charlie also assisted me in reviewing my music department selections, and to be honest the first couple of albums I reviewed sort of get blurred now, but two stand out from the first semester back: Zumpano’s “Look What the Rookie Did,” which was reviewed on the first season of my Dig Me Out Podcast, and Catherine’s “Sorry,” which I’m sure we’ll get to at some point. I remember really liking the Catherine album, probably because the guitars were reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins wall ‘o guitar sound that I gravitated toward. I also remember that Charlie and I really disliked the Zumpano record, which I wouldn’t say I’ve warmed to, but I have more understanding of the influences. I much prefer lead singer A.C. Newman’s later band, The New Pornographers.

WFAL Years, Pt.7 – Flying Burrito Show, talking, weather, talking with Laura, Monday Morning Wakeup promo, talking, Spoons promo, March of Dimes promo, NARCANON promo, talking with Shiv, talking, weather

I don’t recall what I named my show during the ’94/’95 year, but when I returned in the Fall of ’95 I came up with the name “The Flying Burrito Show,” in honor of a band I just discovered, The Flying Burrito Brothers. This would remain my show name until my last year when I changed it to “Gun For Hire.” Naming shows was a time honored tradition at WFAL, and if you flip through the pictures you’ll find the schedule that lists all of the shows from Spring ’97.

WFAL Years, Pt.8 – Gun For Hire, talking, Entertainment Book promo, Ohio BWC promo, talking, Newport Music Hall tickets giveaway, talking, American Lung Association promo, talking, Book Scavenger Hunt call-in giveaway promo, Bob Latta promo, talking

Over the years, many of the people I started out with as fellow rookie DJ’s actually started running the whole thing, and for a brief time I was kinda sorta in charge as well. In the Fall of ’96 I went from being a staff member to the assistant music director under the tutelage of MD Riccardi, who took me to the CMJ Music Festival in New York City that September where I got to see artists and bands like Helmet, Sebadoh, Pusherman, Wilco, Emmett Swimming, Low, Vernon Reid, Wesley Willis and Johnny Cash. I went to Roxy and listened to Orbital DJ. I went listening party and heard the Tool ‘Aenima’ album a month before it came out, which for a big Tool fan at the time was a huge deal. I watched Gibby Haynes from Butthole Surfers smoke a pipe (weed? crack? who knows?) at an art space in one of the burroughs. I ate White Castles and waited for Iggy Pop to show up at some bar (he did, after we had already left. It was three days of chaos, frenzy and fun. It may have been the only time I drank a Pellagrino, and was where I discovered roast beef on an onion bagel with russian dressing, still a favorite of mine. The best story is that John and I split up for some of the shows, as there were things he really wanted to see and things I really wanted to see. One of the days, he said he was heading out, and I asked where. He named the bar (which I’ve forgotten) and said, “There some unsigned chick there playing piano. I think her name’s Fiona Apple.” Yeah, I missed that one.

WFAL Years, Pt.9 – Gun For Hire, National Electrical Safety Foundation promo, Resource Center promo, talking, Swingers promo, Sports, WFAL promo, Gun For Hire promo, talking, Job Fair promo, talking, weather, talking, WFAL promo

At the start of the Spring ’97 semester, we had a shake-up in management as the Operations Manager quit school. Titles were shuffled around and I ended up being promoted to Programming Director along with Mike Novotny, which meant I had to run the once-in-awhile DJ meetings and help put together the Spring schedule of shows. It only lasted a semester, but for awhile I was in charge with the people who I had come up with through the ranks. Keith Jenkins was the Operations Manager (and the next year General Manager), Matt “Shiv” Shiverdecker was the Music Director, Billy Peake moved into my old position as assistant M.D., John “Fat Spank” Finley the Production Director among many others. I remember one evening fondly when Keith, Billy and myself parked our asses in stools at Uptown, a bar in downtown BG. It was a Wednesday night after a jock meeting and we proceeded to consume multiple happy-hour pitchers of ale while discussing music, the station and everything else under the collegiate sun, to the point where at least one of us fell off a stool from laughing too hard. I don’t know if Billy or Keith remember that night as fondly as I do, but it’s etched permanently in my brain as a highlight of WFAL.

WFAL Years, Pt.10 – Ohio Special Olympics promo, talking, Dennis and Amy Show promo, American Lung Association promo, Toledo Jazz show promo, talking, Heavy Metal Blitz promo, Kappa Delta Jail ‘n Bail promo, Job Fair promo, talking, WFAL Sound System promo

I cannot begin to explain what went on when we were off the air, as that is blurry thanks to both age and alcohol, but I will say that one advantage of working at a radio station that maintained a mobile DJ’ing service for campus events was that wherever there was an off-campus party, the WFAL Sound System was a part of it. That meant whatever party we were having would undoubtedly have the best and loudest music on the block. As I was a fervent G.D.I. (God Damn Independent) and about as anti-Greek as one could get, I always felt like these WFAL parties were the coming together of the uncool kids. There was a certain solidarity in everyone hating Hootie & The Blowfish and whatever generic mainstream rock the Greek kids were listening to that was getting pushed by the record labels (in fact, we made a promo expressing our hatred for Hootie that aired often), and we were more than happy to make up some jello shots, get a keg and dance around a cramped living room listening to Shiv transition from a Sarah McLachlan dance remix of ‘Possession’ to a Weezer b-side to Soul Coughing.

And that’s the stuff I can talk about with incriminating myself or others.

WFAL Years, Pt.11 – talking, weather, talking, weather, talking, weather, Free Form Finals, talking, WFAL promo, Presbyterian Church promo, talking

There were several opportunities to set outside the studio and do fun and exciting things that only the experience at WFAL afforded. We managed to get an advanced screening of Trainspotting at the Clazel theatre in BG and do ticket, cd and posters giveaways. The place was packed both nights, something I never saw at the Clazel except for when the Rocky Horror Picture Show would play at midnights on Saturday (yes, I went to one). We worked with the University Activities Board to bring the Violent Femmes to campus to play the (now replaced) Anderson Arena. There was a screening of Swingers on campus when that was still a relatively unknown indie film, and I think we managed to get Wally Pleasant to play the cafeteria at Founders.

WFAL Years, Pt.12 – talking, Free Form Finals, talking, weather, talking, weather, WFAL promo

It was during the Spring of ’97 that I decided to pursue being a Resident Advisor. That meant when I returned in the Fall of ’97 I would be going back to only being a DJ. I knew I couldn’t be commited to the full-time job of an R.A. and also help manage the station. From what I can tell, the station that started out as a pirate radio signal in a ’70s dorm playing classic rock has morphed into something much more mainstream these days. My nostalgic self, of course, mourns the loss of the anti-mainstream but not quite underground format that found a comfortable niche somewhere in between, but hey, I ain’t complaining. I’m sure the folks that were at WFAL the decade before us who listened to Zep and the Eagles hated what we did to the format. Not everything we liked were gems, but at least we were right about Hootie, that shit is absolutely unlistenable.

P.S. – There used to be a blog called The Unheard Music that posted some stories and had an audio file of promos. That blog is no longer, but you can check out the Google cache and download the files here.

P.S.S. – My WFAL shirt? Still got it, still wear it.

 

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