THE BORDER 006
curated by Todd Berryman
pictured left to right: Program Director/Morning Show host Rich Anton, Your Humble Narrator, Music Director/Midday host Marie McCallister, Evening host Robin Mosora, Afternoon Drive host Jimi Hurley, 1999.
As we’re preparing to send 2013 out in a few weeks, I find myself getting a little sentimental about some old radio days. In particular, I’m thinking about the events that led me to do a decade-and-a-half of work in Bloomington and Indianapolis, starting in 1997.
I had been at a Columbus radio station for about three years at that point, having been tapped as a replacement host for a show called The Sunday Stretch, sort of a proving ground that eventually led to something similar later on (more about this coming up). It was a show that gave me singular joy, part new-music magazine, part mixtape, part history lesson. For me, it was tied to the art of finding ways to tie together new age, the Beatles, jazz, bluegrass, Americana, alternative rock and all the stops in between.
Due to one of those batshit-insane decisions that happens periodically in any business, the show was edited to the ground as part of a rebranding effort for the station, thanks to a not-entirely savvy collection of bad advice from some “radio consultants”…the consulting was a free perk, tied to a company that wanted to sell us their music service. I found myself, after years of building an audience and presenting some good radio as part of it, horribly adrift and without a sense of mission anymore, and I mourned the incredibly stupid loss of that show as hard as a passing of a real person.
This sense of pain and loss led me to do some work at an oldies station that was launching in Indianapolis, and to go back into the retail world again, but in Bloomington. However, it amounted to a lot of driving that I wasn’t sure about at the time, finding myself occasionally going a couple of days without sleep as a result. Ah! The caprice of youth, and supposed invulnerability!
I have my friend Angie Felix to thank for getting me into a better situation on radio. Long story much shorter, she midwifed getting my aircheck to the radio station where she worked, which happened to be WTTS, and I came aboard in fall 1997. Now, I had been a fan of the station for years, listening with a great deal of interest as they moved from a straightforward rock format in the early 1990s into what would be called Album Adult Alternative, or AAA. It was a world where you could hear a deep Van Morrison album track, followed by a relatively recent Grateful Dead song, or something new from Pearl Jam. The more I heard, the more I wanted to work for them.
I probably started listening more intently around 1994, about a year after their format made the flip. It wasn’t unknown for my friend TJ and I to listen to Jimi Hurley in the afternoons, on the way to a concert at (then) Deer Creek, hearing songs we’d never heard before, but were chomping to hear again as soon as possible. Or I could be listening to Robin Mosora at night, spinning an entire album by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Or it could be Rich Anton in the morning, spinning “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll as part of Rich’s Record Collection. Or Jason Bottom stretching out the form in the overnight, or Marie McCallister in the midday, or a Leo Kottke song being spun by Lisa or Bill on a Sunday morning. There was a wealth of good stuff, and always an element of surprise just around the corner. Of course, I had to find a way to be a part of this wonderful experiment.
As luck had it, Angie Felix (a recent hire I’d made in my retail universe) happened to do The Saturday Night Houseparty shift, and put the bug in my ear that there was an opening on-air, doing part-time weekends. She hand-carried my aircheck tape to Rich, who was the program director as well as morning show host, and he called me in for an interview. For me, this was like King Arthur on the verge of finding the Holy Grail.
A little back-and-forth later, and I was on the payroll, slated to do overnight weekends. It was great to run into these people I’d heard on-air for years, and I was fairly awestruck that I got to keep company with them. Having said that, my first occasion meeting Jimi Hurley felt like it was likely to be my last…I had unintentionally gotten on his bad side that first day while he was doing some production work, but we ended up burying that hatchet within a week of my starting the job. In short order we became good friends, and I got to hang out with him a fair bit. He was…GREAT to go to a concert with.
Within a couple of weeks of hiring on, Rich asked me to substitute in the occasional afternoon or evening, whenever Jimi had a concert to go to, or Robin was on vacation. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! Within a few months, Angie ended up moving on in 1998, and I was asked to take over The Saturday Night Houseparty, which was request-based and a lot of fun, and Rich gave me a lot of leeway to do the show, even encouraging me to do a night-of-the-living-dead edition on Halloween (the show consisting completely of musicians who were no longer of this world).
We had a parade of additional part-timers who worked for us, all great talents and reliable pals, including Ben Skirvin, Ian Shane and Brad Jackson, the latter of which I worked with in Columbus and Indianapolis. We also were blessed with a charismatic promotions guy, Marty Posch, and a production director and aspiring filmmaker, Jeff Dellinger. In addition to our work at WTTS, we were also doing some work on our AM sister station, producing an afternoon talk show and running the board for sports broadcasts.
In 1999, Rich asked me to substitute host on the mornings when he would be out, and also to fill in occasionally for Lisa on the OverEasy program on Sundays. I was that utility guy who would pop up all over the place, with Saturday night being my home court. Later in the spring of that year, Jason turned in his notice, followed shortly after by the program director of our AM side, and we found ourselves scrambling to fill a couple of vacancies. In the interim, Ian and I found that we were giving each other a crash course in How to Program Computers for AM Talk Radio Stations, and working insane hours…I think my busiest week had me clocked in for 90 hours, and I know Ian had to be in a similar ballpark. Diane Daily, who handled the news (and who shares an appreciation of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with me, even now), found herself thrust into cohosting the AM Morning Show with me on the sister station for a few days, in what I billed, tongue-in-cheek, as the Dave and Sugar version. (It was a reference to a country trio, probably best known from the mid-70s.) Busy as hell, but fun times, and I always regret that Diane and I never got to explore cohosting more, because she was a BLAST.
When the dust had settled, I ended up, about three months later, as the new overnight guy, with Ian picking up a fair number of my former duties to keep us all afloat.
These were the early building blocks of my time at WTTS. The stage was set for eventually taking over as the host of OverEasy, two weeks after the events of September 11, 2001, and actively programming the show five months later.
I look back on those early days with a great deal of fondness, remembering my radio pals and how we really had it great for a while. All of us in that lineup have now been flung into different winds. A few examples: Rich is now back in his home region in Pennsylvania, doing good work as a PD and morning show host. Robin and Diane are pals on Facebook I see once in a while.
Ian is in Colorado working in public radio, and as a published author. He and I have been bosom buddies for 16 years, coworkers for only maybe six of those. (Go online and search for his book Radio Radio, and know that a few of these people, including yours truly, are hiding out in his fictional characters.)
Jimi, my concert and occasional beer pal, left this world this past April. I miss his great, crotchety sense of humor every day, and his sense of the telling quote, the latter of which he would often pass along over the air, just before 7pm weeknights.
Brad Jackson and I are still in radio, working together again Columbus now, 21 years into a long friendship.
STACK ONE: WHAT BROUGHT ME THERE.
One of the things I loved about WTTS was hearing previews of new albums before they would surface, radio features with artist interviews and new songs you couldn’t get in stores just yet. My friend Bill was enough of a fan to tape a special about the upcoming Dave Matthews Band album, Crash, which he passed over to me. Probably wore it out, this little cassette made on a battered jambox, complete with radio static, before the album surfaced a few days later. That radio special, and resultant tape, got to the heart of why I was such a fan of WTTS in its dawning days: you felt like you were a member of a secret club, but everyone was welcome, and the music was what pulled us all together. “Drive In Drive Out” was a standout moment for me on the album when I got it, and it’s still a favorite song all these years later. To this day, drummer Carter Beauford’s closing line, heard low at the very end of the track, sums it up: “THAT…is BAD as SHIT!”
Credit where credit is due on this one: my friend TJ and I were in Greenwood looking for a used CD store, killing time before heading up to Deer Creek for a show. (Can’t recall, but I think it was the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, featuring Blues Traveler and the Black Crowes that year, 1995.) While driving around searching, Jimi Hurley spun this track from John Mayall’s album The Turning Point. Having never heard it before, we were trying to lock onto whether it might be Dave Matthews, but we were stumped, as the vocal style didn’t sound quite like him, unless he had a cold. Wrote it down frantically when Jimi backsold it, but I never came back to it again until a couple of years later, when I hired on at WTTS and had the chance to hear more of The Turning Point. Part of it was fear that I might have imagined the awesomeness, and that I’d be horribly let down when I bought the album. Needless to say, I wasn’t.
Jam bands were tricky sledding for me in my early listening days. I had a copy of American Beauty, sure, but hadn’t seen Phish or Widespread Panic, and wasn’t sure I’d care for the experience. This was the song that helped break the dam open for me.
One of the things I enjoyed immensely about the young WTTS-as-I-knew-it was a certain fearlessness of music, especially a lean towards good country rock I could never get over. The album Southside of the Sky by Swinging Steaks featured production by Gary Katz, the guy who produced Steely Dan’s albums up to Gaucho…and that was reason enough for me to explore it a bit further. This song is still a favorite.
A local record store chain had a deal with WTTS to plug and feature full-length albums in the mid-1990s, and my first album-length exposure to Big Head Todd and the Monsters was hearing Robin Mosora spin Stratagem in its entirety one night. Just when I thought the album couldn’t get better, then it would. I ended up sitting out in the car, listening to her spin it, unable to move. This is another longtime favorite, and a great headphone song, right out of the box.
Jimi Hurley did more than a few interviews that stick out in my head. Sam Phillips and her then-husband T-Bone Burnett showed up one afternoon to chat about her new album Martinis and Bikinis, and Jimi pointed out that he was in the unusual position of producing one of music’s great producers. Burnett was fairly amused, as I recall. For obvious reasons, I can’t really include the audio of Jimi’s session, so, the next best thing, then. One of the songs Sam and T-Bone played live in the studio was “Baby, I Can’t Please You” – and if you can imagine this performance with just a couple of acoustic guitars and vocals, you might have a sense of the magic that went down at the radio station that day. (The bass player on the album version here is Colin Moulding, on loan from another favorite band of mine, XTC.)
Oh, and if Sam looks familiar to you, yes…she WAS in one of the Die Hard movies.
STACK TWO: WHAT KEPT ME THERE.
Okay, well, the title of this stack is a bit of a misnomer, since the song that starts it off was the one that found me falling afoul of Jimi Hurley in those first days in the building. One of the songs that WTTS was playing when I joined the staff was “Silver Springs” from The Dance, the concert reunion album by Fleetwood Mac issued earlier in 1997. I had mentioned to Rich Anton that the Rumours-era b-side version was even more awesome than the live cut, and he mentioned that the station didn’t have it. I said I’d seen it in the rack, as part of a sampler from the box set The Chain, and asked if he wanted to have a listen in one of the production rooms. He said sure, so I found what appeared to be an open studio and loaded the disc up.
OOPS. Ends up that Jimi was actually working in the room, which I figured out when he walked in, a bit perturbed at having a studio commandeered by some upstart part-timer. I still have a soft spot for this song, though.
I would eventually learn of Jimi’s great devotion to All Things Grateful Dead. He spun this track on the air the day after a concert by The Other Ones, an offshoot band of the Dead post-Jerry Garcia’s passing. I still remember him using the countertop by the mixing board at the station as a percussion rig, pounding out the outro with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. It is a fond memory of Jimi, and I realize one of too few, even if I had an encyclopedia’s worth of them to carry with me…
When I’d get up in the morning, there would be Rich’s Record Collection with Rich Anton, and it was always good to hear from a few old friends in that early morning feature. This was one that could never come up often enough, by Jim Carroll (he of The Basketball Diaries fame; Leonardo Dicaprio played Jim Carroll in the movie).
When I first got to know Angie Felix, my pal who helped me get the gig at WTTS, this Huffamoose album was new, and “James” was a favorite, sweet little song.
One of the first shows I saw with Jimi Hurley was by Taj Mahal. The Bluebird was MAGNIFICIENTLY full that night, a tribute to a masterful musician, and a true king of the blues.
And a fare-thee-well on this stack. Rich Anton had mentioned in our interview that Led Zeppelin’s double album Physical Graffiti was a favorite of his. (I also noticed it in the passenger seat of his car, a couple days later, so yeah, true.) Coulda picked anything from the album, and “Ten Years Gone” might have been more poetic, or “Sick Again” for that matter, but I’ve always liked the opening moments of this one, with the conversation between the engineer and Robert Plant before the song proper begins.
STACK THREE: A LITTLE MORE THANKSGIVING.
A few songs for the upcoming holiday to close. We’ll start with Poi Dog Ponedering, from the album Wishing Like a Mountain, Thinking Like the Sea.
And Ray Davies, away from the Kinks, with a live version of the title track of his EP Thanksgiving Day.
A brace of songs with Paul Simon appropriate to the holiday now – listen for the Mayflower namecheck in this live performance with Art Garfunkel from 1981’s Central Park concert.
And from a decade later, another Central Park show, Paul Simon doing a solo version of a Simon and Garfunkel classic.
Not to overplay the hand, but another one, this time with George Harrison from a 1976 episode of Saturday Night Live.
We’ll close with a favorite about a dinner that couldn’t be beat.
And a coda. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And THANK YOU for supporting THE BORDER.
As always, enjoy, explore and keep your earspace open! -tb.