There's a Radio in my Head

Monday, January 30, 2006

WTJU 91.1 FM - the Sound Choice in Central Virginia

Sometimes in my spare time I play on the real radio. WTJU in Charlottesville, VA is my musical playground. I sit in from time to time on Nothing But The Blues on Fridays from 9-11 PM, and will soon be one of the rotating hosts of Sunshine Daydream, a show that features the music of the Grateful Dead and all those musical entities within their orbit (and it's a fairly crowded orbit).

WTJU is a truly great radio station - definitely one of a dying breed. There is no management oversight of playlists, and the guidelines are quite reasonable: stay mostly within each show's general theme, no obscenity allowed, recognize the underwriters, tend to FCC-mandated reporting, and have fun.

Unlike most radio stations, TJU plays a wide variety of genres - everything from college rock to chamber music. I'm in the Jazz Department, and I suppose I'm now affiliated with the Folkies (the Dead are kind of hard to pigeonhole, and WTJU has pigenholed them as "Folk"). Most of the Jazz slots are in the morning and late evening, and listenership seems to be fairly robust. You can tell how many people are tuned in by the number of calls you receive during your show.

This past Friday I sat in for Peter Welch, the regular host of NBTB, and played 2 hours of music by Kings (and a Queen - Aretha). There are A LOT of Kings in the Blues - B.B., Albert, Freddie, Earl, Little Jimmy, Willie, and on and on. I was very disappointed not to find any King Curtis in the station's MASSIVE library - I would have really liked to lay a little of that on the listeners.

I've seen people approach their shows in a variety of ways. I've seen playlists printed on spreadsheets, and I've seen people do shows literally by the seat of their pants. I prefer the seat of the pants approach.

The best shows I have done have been totally seat-of-the-pants productions. Typically, I'll start thinking of general themes, and sometimes I'll stick to them. Sometimes I'll think of something completely different during the ride in and will start the show with one or two songs in mind. Shows I've done that way that worked well were an all-vinyl show, an all-instrumental show (the special Karaoke Edition of Nothing But The Blues), and last Friday's Kings show. Listeners seem to like these shows as well, if the volume of calls is any indication.

I usually try to play at least 25-50% new music. We receive a lot of releases, and I figure it's important to give new music (from new and established artists) some airplay. It's hard for blues artists to get any airplay, so I believe in doing my part when I can.

And there's some really sweet new blues music out there. More on this later.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

There's always been a radio in my head

Sometimes I have to concentrate on something really hard to make the music stop playing. I don't know if that's normal or not, and don't care either way. I love music - always have - and I think it's healthy to have a song in my heart during most of my waking hours.

So it's time to blog about the radio in my head, and about some of the things that often pop in there and displace the music.

Inspiration for this comes from Sally, better known to some as fixpert, who posted an entry on her blog recently about the insidious trend of TV commercials featuring actual songs (or worse, actual songs with new commercial lyrics):

I think Motown was particularly hard-hit by this phenomenon, and lately it seems that classic rock has invaded the American car commercials.

It's just as bad at the movies. It's getting more and more common for popular movies to have soundtracks almost entirely populated by popular songs - not actual unique composed soundtracks. Shouldn't the commercial jingle and soundtrack composer's union be up in arms about this?

I've always loved radio. When I was very young, I had an old AM table radio - it was kind of clunky, made of brown Bake-lite (the super-hard plastic they used to make phones out of) and had a woven-insulation cord. I used to put it next to my pillow, and usually fell asleep while listening to WEAM or WPGC in suburban D.C.. I would say that's the radio in my head, but the radio in my head is certainly full-bodied perfect-soundstage stereophonic (and it's DEFINITELY analog, not digital).

What plays in the radio in my head?

Rock, Chicago blues, Delta blues, West coast blues, British blues, soul (Memphis, Philly, Muscle Shoals, and everything Motown prior to that unconscionable move to LA), salsa, pop, Beatles (they really are their own genre, don't you think?), jazz, gospel, doo wop, New Wave, big bands, jam bands, standards, country, reggae, spacy rock, show tunes, both Elvises, and almost anything else - but never rap. I'm just not a rap kind of guy. I just don't get it, I suppose.

Currently, the song inhabiting my head is "Tumblin' Dice," by the Rolling Stones. Only it's not the Exile on Main Street version, it's a live version from Brussels in 1973. There's no telling how long it will be playing.

Yes, the radio in my head does indeed play bootlegs. Doesn't yours?