Monday, January 11, 2021

DJ Yu Miri

The story varies somewhat by source. Things do not always translate well. Time Magazine refers to Yu Miri's  work as a "radio host."  Her authors biography on Barnes & Noble's website agrees, describing her as "hosting a radio show."  But the New York times adds nuance describing her radio work as "a series of 600 conversations that Miri conducted for a local radio program."  That would intimate that it was not her own program, but a segment or series on some other ongoing program. The former is more accurate. Her show was titled "Yu Miri no Futari to Hitori" and it ran from March 16th, 2012 to March 23rd, 2018. Zoom Japan interviewed Yu Miri and got a somewhat better description or her work in broadcasting.

"I am currently living in Minami Soma, in Fukushima prefecture and working on the radio, doing some slightly special broadcasts for the temporary emergency radio station. It is a radio station that broadcasts when there are major disasters that cut of regular communications channels..."

She goes on to describe the 30-minute program called as sets of conversations between connected people: husbands and wives, pairs of friends, students and teachers, work colleagues, siblings, even shopkeepers and their customers. Miri based parts of her book “Tokyo Ueno Station,” on some of those radio conversations. Her website lists 296 episodes, that's almost 600 interviewees. In one same interview she also mused about writing a radio play. As with Chinua Achebe we can see the affect of radio on the authors writing.

Miri wasn't chosen at random to do these interviews. She's written over 20 books but all in Japanese. Only two have been translated into English, Gold Rush in 2002, and in November 2020 Tokyo Ueno Station.  After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, she began to visit the affected area, hosting a radio show to listen to survivors' stories. Fukushima Prefecture had seven radio stations (below).  I had believed it is the 100 watt community Fukushima City station, FM Poco where Yu Miri broadcast her program. This is incorrect. It was actually the temporary emergency station Minamisoma Hibari FM.

Sea Wave FM
96.2 MHz
Iwaki City
FM Poco
76.2 MHz Fukushim
FM Kitakata 78.2 MHz Kitakata
76.2 MHz  Aizuwakamatsu
FM Mot.Com 77.7 MHz Motomiy
Koko Radio
79.1 MHz Kooriyam
Hibari FM
87.0 MHz Minamisoma

For historical reasons, Japan has a mixed relationship with nuclear power. They have long been a leader in civilian nuclear power. But these were a series of accidents in the 1990s and the subsequent cover ups eroded public trust and changed public perception. The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Ōkuma was the most severe in the world since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. It led the country to revisit some of those issues replete with public protests. That cultural context is important to understanding Miri's work.

The scale of the nuclear disaster often overshadows the rest of the infrastructure damage caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Nomenclature causes confusion. So just as in the US, where the Great San Francisco Fire obscures the earthquake that caused it, the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) includes the nuclear disaster that it caused. The IAEA report on the disaster described the efforts to bridge the loss of communication infrastructure. That damage was to a much wider area than just Fukushima.

"Relevant information was also broadcast periodically via local radio stations, since  television  reception  and  internet  connections  were  unavailable  in  some  areas  owing  to  the  disruptions in power supplies. Five newsletters and 62 radio broadcasts had been issued by May 2011."

This Kansai University presentation maps the locations at which 17 temporary radio stations were set up. Of those temporary stations, 15 were still broadcasting a year later. They also converted 10 existing community stations to emergency use, and issued 2 other special licenses for a total of 29. In an unusual implementation, all of these stations were allowed to broadcast advertisements to help subsidize the cost of the operation.  The Nippon Foundation coordinated substantial funding toward the effort and distributed 45,000 radios as well. The MIC distributed another 10,000. You can see a more complete list of those temporary emergency radio stations here.

Among other groups, the World bank studied the incident. In their 2014 report "Learning From Mega Disasters" they described the deployment of temporary emergency radio stations in detail:

"Emergency FM radio also played a crucial role in the aftermath of the GEJE. When the emergency communication systems in many cities broke down because of power failures and lack of  emergency backup power, community radio stations were able to send useful information out to residents. In fact, about 25 emergency broadcasting  stations dedicated to disseminating disaster information were set up in the Tohoku area. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, these community radio stations began to provide information about times and locations for the distribution of emergency food, water, and goods. In the following months they gradually shifted to providing other information to help victims in their daily lives or to raise the spirits of people in local communities. Radio was particularly appreciated by the elderly, who were less likely than younger people to have access to Internet information."
That's a long quote but it's worth taking it in. This transition in the function of the service is where Yu Miri came in. Interviewing disaster victims is not a literal emergency information service. But it absolutely serves the affected community. It's a program format we do not typically see in the US after disasters, but it's one we'd be well served by.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Radio Toronto Star

CFCA has unfortunately become a notably over-used acronym. It's the Communications Fraud Control Association, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, the the Community Fisheries Control Agency, the Central Florida Christian Academy and the Chicago Film Critics Association to name a few. It's a wonder that search engines can unearth anything about the former radio station of the Toronto Star at all. More here.

The Toronto Star is still published today. But their radio station CFCA-AM only existed for 11 years; from 1922 to 1933. It has no connection to the modern FM station 105.3 CFCA, branded as "Kool FM." The two stations are actually are separated by a 16 year gap, and about 68 miles. Waterloo is a Toronto suburb, but only in the way that New Haven, CT is part of the New York City MSA. One of them is the clear center of gravity so to speak.

The first broadcast of CFCA was on June 22, 1922. They were the first, and only radio station in Toronto at that time. CFRB is sometimes inaccurately cited as first. This is inaccurate, though they are certainly the city's oldest continually operating broadcaster. CFRB didn't sign on until 1927.  Just within Toronto proper, they were preceded by CKCE, CKNC, CKCL, CFCT, CJCD, CHCB to name a few. More here and here. Below is a table of the early licensed radio stations in the Toronto area from 1922 through 1928.

Toronto Star Newspaper
CKCE 450
1922 Canada Independent Telephone
CJCD 410
1922 T. Eaton Company
CHCB 440
1922 Guglielmo Marconi
CHCZ 420
1922 Globe Printing Co.
CJCN 410
1922 Simons and Agnew & Co.
Evening Telegram
CHVC 410 1923 Metropolitan Motors
CHNC 840 1924
Toronto Radio Research Society
CKCL 840
Dominion Battery
1926 Canadian National Railways
CJBC 840
Jarvis St. baptist Church
CHIC 840
1926 Northern Electric Co.
CKNC 580
Canadian National Carbon
CKOW 840
1928 Nestle's Food Co

In Canada the Department of Naval Service regulated broadcasting until July 1st, 1922 when it was transferred to civilian control under the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Only a handful of stations predate CFCA, including the experimental XWA in Montreal and the first batch of 23 license approvals by in April of that year.

So for CFCA most of their competition on the radio band came from the Unites States. Early stations like KYW, WBZ, WJZ, WHK, WTAM, WJY, WLW, KMOX, and WNYC and others were all audible in Canada.  While some of those became official clear channel stations, the reason at the time was the dearth of signal in the radio band, not the relative power of the transmitters. Aristotle was right, Nature abhors a vacuum, or as restated by Rabelais"Natura abhorret vacuum".

It was the owner of the Toronto Daily Star, Joseph E. Atkinson, who was interested in the promotional value of founding CFCA. It would be both the first local station in Toronto, and would make the Star the first newspaper in Canada to found a radio station. More here.

He made arrangements with the Canadian Independent Telephone Company to broadcast a Star sponsored concert over the experimental station 9AH. The Star had been presenting free live concerts for the public. The first broadcast was on on March 28th, 1922 at 8:30 PM. The star coordinated public radio-listening events at the Masonic Temple and at the Christie Street Military Hospital  More here.

In Canada, much like in some Caribbean countries radio ownership rates were low in the early 1920s. In 1928, only 52,500 radio sets were sold in all of Canada. But the explosion in the number of available stations corresponded with an increase in sales.  By 1931, that number had jumped to 173,200 despite the Great Depression. So to bridge that gap,  The Star used a Radio Car which began driving around the city of Toronto in the summer of 1922. They used a PA system to blast CFCA programming from the vehicle. This is eerily similar to Sound System cars in Jamaica starting around 1940 and continuing into the 1970s. More here.

But over time Atkinson failed to invest in new equipment. The station remained at 100 watts while other local station stations surpassed 10,000 watts. It was the height of the depression and Atkinson was reluctant to make that kind of investment. In 1932 the Canadian government passed a law limiting the power of privately owned stations to 100 watts. These conflicts culminated in 1933 and CFCA signed off on September 1st, 1933.

Monday, December 28, 2020

A Student Radio History of Australia


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow radio researcher, Rafal Alumairy.  She is the author of the first Student Radio History of Australia. The book is forthcoming and I am eagerly looking forward to reading it. We talked about research, politics, radio and the very nature of perception itself. She is one of those insightful and vibrant, young people that could well be running the world some day.

I have changed some spellings, punctuation and formatting ever so slightly to placate my American spell-checker. Other than that, the below is almost a verbatim transcript of our emails. Read on, and then read her book.


1. Can you tell me about the genesis of your book? When did you first think you'd write about this and why?

I became involved in Radio Monash sort of accidentally when I was at uni, first as a News Presenter, then as News Editor, then as Vice-President. During that time I was heavily involved in all things Radio Monash, and I became curious about the history of the station. The official biography on the website said that we originated with a pirate radio called 3DR Draft Resistance Radio, how cool is that, so I went away to do my own research out of curiosity.

Looking up history of student radio – nothing. History of pirate radio? Nothing. There were a few hits on 3DR, but not substantial or consistent. Eventually I went to the State Library to have a look at some of the newspapers from the 3DR incident, since I was able to pick up the dates from the bits online. I found lots of news articles on the pirate radio incident, but many of the contemporary articles contradicted existing accounts, so I ended up with more questions than answers.

Eventually this curiosity morphed into a wider project, and on a personal note in 2017 I decided I had to pick one writing project and see it all the way through if I wanted to be a Writer writer. For the fusion of my personal interest, the fact that there was a clear objective value in producing this work, and the positive career implications of publishing something so substantial, I decided to write the first history of student radio in Australia.

2. How far back have you traced the history of student radio in Australia?

The oldest records of importance are from 1936, where the University of Sydney engaged in “radio for students, of students, for students”. This began with “The Broadcast”, a part of an annual festival of sports and other recreational activities, where students would produce programs and music to be broadcast on cooperating commercial stations. Coral Lansbury, a student actress, was one of the first women on student radio during these broadcasts, as part of a student theater production on air – Coral Lansbury later went on to marry Bruce Turnbull and give birth to baby Malcolm!

In the 1940s, there was (probably) the first push for an actual operating campus radio station in Australia, which they already had in the US. The effort was very organized, and reflected almost eerily the efforts by the successfully established campus stations from the 1970s. The effort included students covering the radio tech, broadcasting, involved student clubs producing shows, and a concerted effort from the student union itself.

This station might have changed everything; the Australian media landscape may be completely different today if it had been allowed to continue without interference. But of course, the old must hold back the young; the University of Sydney admin said that they doubted the students could run as much as a PA system, let alone a radio station, and they doubted the quality of the programs that might be put to air.

Hundreds of successful youth-run shows around Australia on commercial radio and on youth community radio like SYN and FBi prove them wrong, but there was nothing the students could do at the time. The community radio license did not exist and they were not allowed within the existing structures of the university and the union to proceed without the permission of the elderly admin and their lack of imagination.

This is the beginning of the book, and the beginning of the story of young people with spirit, imagination, passion and vitality trying to start new things; being squashed down by members of the older generations, because of prejudice against the youth and little else.

3. You were interviewed on the program Art Smitten on SYN last year. How has the work on the book progressed since then?

My goodness! Since the interview a significant amount of work has been done in consolidating the information collected on research trips, and the wider image of “student radio in Australia” as a whole has emerged. There is also a clear distinction between student radio eras; the 1970s and the beginning of community radio, the 1980s where student radio really built on its foundations and became influential in many places, especially in the alternative and local music scenes; the 1990s and the push for a real “Youth” community station, which was strongly related to the dance music movement, and the consequent smackdown of those young people by commercial interests; the 2000s where alternative was Queen and student radio embraced its independent spirit; the 2010s where most stations had settled into internet broadcasting and a focus on podcasts.

4. In your 2019 Art Smitten interview you expressed a strong, political definition of student radio. You said "Any time a young person expresses themselves, even if the content is not political, it's always a political act." Can you tell me more about that idea?

Picking up on that idea is insightful; it is the basis of the book, the foundation of youth media itself, and why I would bother with it at all. I believe this is a fact of life. Older people are imbued with the benefits of experience, the wisdom that comes along with it, the benefit of having time to think about stuff. But for exactly the same reason, they are also hampered with all the prejudices of their age, their generation, their understanding of a world that have left the building 20 years ago. Young people are an inversion of this; we may not have all that experience, and I think we definitely benefit from listening to the older people with that experience, but we are naturally more open to new ideas; we are naturally more able to understand the world around us because we are native to it; technology is the obvious example of this, but from my perspective this is about social progress. 

How can a 76-year-old understand the idea of "gender is a construct" when their entire lives have been built on a gender binary, when they automatically regard a person as "young man" or "that woman"? We can do our best to educate, and that 76-year-old may even be willing to learn and listen, but it's fundamentally more difficult for them. Therefore, it obvious to me that young people ought to be the leaders of social progress, and they are. When we are discussing let's say the running of a particular company, and someone is on the panel who has been with that company for 40 years with various success, they are most likely an expert and they will be the best person to listen to. When we are discussing social progress, the voices of the youth should be elevated among anyone else, because WE ARE THE EXPERTS. We are not hampered with the same prejudices, we are the perfect fusion of rationality and open mindedness. Of course that won't last; we'll get older too, and our own prejudices will be become more and more clear, and that's why we need to be sharp and pay attention to what the young people tell us, not only when we agree, but ESPECIALLY when we realize we're starting to disagree. 

Raising up the voices of the youth means raising up the voices for social progress, for innovation, for new ideas, new perspectives, change, experiments, moving forward for the better!

5. There are already numerous Australian radio history books by authors like Lesley Johnson, David Dufty, Albert Mora, Bruce Carty, and Bridget Griffen-Foley to name a few.  Why do you think no one before you has attempted to write a book focused on student radio?

There are a few reasons, most based on the fact that virtually every single person involved in youth radio throughout the years has been a volunteer and the stations have run on a shoestrings and bits of old rubber. The fact that these shows went to air was a miracle; the idea that they would’ve been recorded, or archived, or memorialized in anyway may be asking too much of history.

Plus, it’s unlikely there is as strange as I am would have bothered with the massive hassle. I work three days a week as a Receptionist and I’ve funded my travels around Australia myself, which is an enormous endeavor. I’m not doing too bad but also not exactly flush either, not something everyone would choose! Fingers crossed I will make some money back on the book to at least break even, so buy the book when it comes out!

6. Have you found any good reference material to help the work along? It sounds like you are doing a tremendous amount of original research.

Haha, tell me about it! There are some bits and pieces scattered all over, which are so much fun to find, and are usually from blogs like yours; independent, done for the love. Some notable more-or-less comprehensive histories that have been written include:

  • Ryan Egan put together a brief history of RMIT student radio which is still online
  • 4ZZZ History book
  • Radical Radio Celebrating 40 Years of 3CR
  • Radio City the first 30 years of 3RRR
  • 40 years of PBS Radio
  • Territory FM history book
  • 4TTT history book

The books generally don’t discuss youth or students specifically, with the notable exception of the 4ZZZ which can’t really avoid it. Often the writers of these books may not even be aware of the relationship. Remember that these books are based heavily on memories of the surviving members of the station rather than on primary research like my book, and they are more for posterity than for scholarly consideration.

For example, while Radio City the first 30 years of 3RRR is a really awesome book and I’m so glad it was written, there are several clear and glaring errors in the early chapters when Mark Phillips is documenting the early days of 3RRR and its conflict with the existing student station at RMIT, called 3ST. They are also present when he discusses the pirate radio experiments of the 1970s, for the same reasons I described earlier. This is hardly Mark’s fault as he can only work with the information he has. Hopefully once my book is published histories like this can be clarified for the better of all histories.

7. Are you planning to self-publish or do you have any publishers engaged with the project yet?

Self publish baby! In the spirit of independence that guides student radio, I am going all out independent, self-publishing. This aligns with my personal values about writing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold out forever; in practicality I will probably need to sign up with a publisher sometime if I want to be a full time writer. But right now I’m young – if not this project, then which? If not now, then when?

8. You seem to have taken a break from your Student Radio History Wordpress blog. Do you have further plans for that?

The blog will return very shortly! I just did not have the funds readily available when the renewal time came up (I recently bought a car, which I will be taking on my Australia-wide trip to promote the book). The website will be up and running hopefully by next week if not sooner.

9. You were a member of the Student radio station Radio Monash, What can you tell me about your time there?

I would describe my time at Radio Monash as a perfect stereotypical experience of student radio; awesome, formative, incredibly dramatic.

10. I understand you did a radio program for young Muslim women on 3CR. Can you tell me about that show?

That was a training course rather than a radio program, and it was awesome. We covered the basics of radio training like cuing up tracks, microphones, media law, which I’ve covered extensively in my other radio gigs; but the program was run by some very clever women of color from 3CR and from the Muslim Women Association who really opened my mind up to interesting social and political issues.

11. How has your personal experience in student radio influenced your work on the book?

Mainly in that I realize that many of the scenes from student radio history repeat themselves over and over, whether it’s 1938 or 2014. This offers a really positive perspective I think on some of the stressful social interactions that occur within student radio, just like they occur with all student groups, or all groups of any kind I suppose. That is, personality clashes happen, and people shouldn’t carry the world on their shoulders when they do happen. We need to learn how to heal those wounds, how to swallow our pride, and work together for the good of the station, and for the good of youth media. Knowing how student radio actually functions on the ground level will allow me to write the advice section of the book – how to avoid the pitfalls of student radio and make your station prosper!

It also means that this is the coolest type of history, community history. This book is not being written in retrospect or by a middle aged person speculating about the behavior of “the youth”, it’s being written by an actual young person who is part of the student radio scene they are writing about.

It’ll be electric and groundbreaking, I can’t wait for you to read it!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

News and Reviews 2020

We are now in year 15, and I stand by my statement from 5 years ago... "it seems both impossible and inadvisable to have gone so far down the rabbit-hole." This blog began in April of 2005. As of this date, that works out to more than 2,885 posts, a decade-and-a-half in the making. Clearly I still have too much free time. But it's the end of the year, and a fine time to take a look back at 2020.  In a word... #FU2020

Links to all 15 years of News & Reviews:
2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015  2014 2013
2012 2011 2010 2009
2008 2007 2006 2005

Best Posts:
I'm very pleased with the series I've been doing on LGBT radio. There are a some white papers out there, and literally two text books.  So my articles therefore become some of the only solid source material available on this topic on the free internet. I have more planned, and that project will continue into next year. I was also very pleased with my dive into the Black Panthers radio program, The People's Information Slot on WLIB. I only wish I could find more source information. Back in March I was able to contact and interview Elliot Swanson, the former host of the John Fahey Half-Hour back in 1971. That was the most fun I had with an interview in a long time. It reminded me that interviews sometimes produce raw, original research; the building blocks that radio history needs. So I did a few more interviews this year, including the ones with with Kait Moon, Rafal Alumairy (coming soon), and Frank Boscoe.

Most Popular Posts:
My most popular posts haven't changed in years.  Since 2009 the most traffic has gone to a post about Peter Tripp.  This is what I call the post that Reddit built. It remains an aberration in my web-traffic with 96k+ hits. I did eventually collate a list of all Radio Wake-a-thon records here. My 2007 post on the Career Academy of Famous Broadcasters continues to get comments from it's legion of former students. It remains a top hit on Google. But this will probably be the last year that I can track this. Blogger has forced me to move to google analytics and removed it's native metrics. Google analytics is wholly devoted to ad revenue, which is not the data I was looking for. Simple questions like "What sites are referring my readers?" are now buried under an absurd stack of obtuse metrics and square miles of white-space. Sometimes less is more.

Best Radio Station:
I have been listening to as little news as possible, so no NPR lately. As neofascist toadies take over our government I have found the news too grim for regular consumption. Then my car CD player jammed. Anyway, because of those events I spent a few months listening to a few CDs on infinite repeat:

  • Jackie MacLean - Right Now!
  • Human Impact - Human Impact
  • Officer May - Smoking in A Minor 
  • Glassjaw -  Coloringbook

I waited for months and got a new car radio, a Pioneer DEH-S1200UB. It was only $70. Strategic error. The screen is dim, and genuinely difficult to read in the daylight. It actually makes the radio hard to operate. I fiddled with it for months before surrendering and watching an instructional video to figure out how to flip it over to the AM band.

Best Radio Show:
I'm breaking my own rules and picking a show I only discovered this year, but aired 40 years ago. "Hard Implosion" on WGBT which last aired in 1978. I spent hours listening and re-listening to a few tapes of that show to research the playlist of a proto-metal radio program and I really got into it. I never thought I'd enjoy listening to Budgie, Hawkwind, and Black Sabbath again. 

Top 10 Records of 2020
Generally the top 10 full-length albums, is format agnostic unless your format prevents me from hearing it. The definition of "full-length" is totally at my discretion as to number of tracks, or album length in minutes. But generally EPs, Singles, Re-releases, and demos get sifted down the the notable list. Aside from all that preface, our slow descent into dystopia has made for a good year in music. This could have been a top 20 this year.

  1. Human Impact - (self titled) [LINK]
  2. Uniform - Shame [LINK]
  3. Idles - Ultra Mono
  4. Algiers - There is no Year
  5. Reptoid - Worship False Gods [LINK]
  6. Accacia Strain - ...And Life Is Very Long
  7. USA Nails- Character Stop [LINK]
  8. Struggles with Syntax - UK Garage Floor Fillers Vol. 4 [LINK]
  9. Heads - Push [LINK]
  10. Bitter Branches - This May Hurt a Bit [LINK]

Also Notable...  Human Impact - Contact (single) & Human Impact - Transit Subversion (single) [LINK] (single); Thelonious Monk - Palo Alto (live); Pile - 10 Yr;  Jars - Self-Isolation Demos; Johnny Hobo & The Freight Trains - Live at Double​-​A's [LINK]; Teeth - Writhe (single) [LINK]; Kryptograf - Kryptograf; Scarlxrd - Fantasy Vxid;  Deftones - Ohms; Kids - Suh'm [LINK]; Belk - Belk [LINK]; Easy Prey – Relentless Struggle [LINK]; Lié  - You Want It Real [LINK]; Taiwan Housing Project - Sub​-​Language Trustees [LINK]; Days N Daze - Show Me The Blueprints. [LINK]; Loathe - I Let it in and It Took Everything [LINK]; Igorrr - Spirituality and Distortion [LINK]; Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today; Help- 2053 [LINK]; Eye Flys - Tub of Lard [LINK]

Monday, December 14, 2020

INTERVIEW: Frank Boscoe

Frank Boscoe has done everything. Back in the 1980s he was helping to cook up a indie-rock renaissance in Pittsburgh. He was a DJ on WKPS, and WLVR. He was the Music Director at WRCT, and founded and/or co-founded the zines Pushcart War and  Cubist Pop Manifesto. He was also in the band Wimp Factor 14. But he also landed at WRCT at a special time.  In 1983 WRCT had received it's construction permit to increase power from 10 to 100 watts. Engineer Dom Burman's transmitter and the engineering students home-made equipment was long gone. The station had become a 100 watt station audible in Pittsburgh proper. Punk rock had exploded into a thousand sub-genres and the music landscape was changing. This week he gave me a little of his time to tell me what was happening at WRCT in Pittsburgh back then. 

 1. I think you started at WRCT around 1986. Can you tell me when and how you got involved with the station?

As a 17 year old, I was arguably more interested in college radio than college itself. Carnegie Mellon was the first college I visited, and when I passed through the Squirrel Hill tunnel on the way into Pittsburgh I was able to tune in to 88.3 for the first time. Even though I had been an obsessive college radio listener all through high school, nearly everything I heard on WRCT was unfamiliar. Later I visited the studio and got a paper copy of a recent playlist. I recognized maybe 10% of it. I was hooked. The academic reputation of the school and its cross-country team, undefeated for something like 13 straight years, also helped me make my decision. I applied early decision and was all set before any of my high school classmates. I only ended up running cross-country for one season, but I stuck with radio for all four years. 

2. Did you do anything in radio before that?

I was a DJ on the Lehigh [University] radio station, WLVR, the summer before college. In the summer the station was run by community volunteers, and as a first-time DJ aged 17, I got the not-so-great time slot of 6:00-8:30 am on Wednesdays. Of course, in terms of radio that was quite a good time slot. I delivered newspapers at the time — I would hustle to get everything delivered from 4:30-5:30 am then speed down to the station to get the transmitter turned on by 6:00. I'm sure I was a few minutes late a couple of times. Since I started doing this show in May, and high school didn't finish until late June, there were 6 or 7 days when I missed first period. I don't remember what course I had then, but I feel like it was something important like chemistry. I thank the principal at the time, Victor Lesky, for not objecting.

3. The station only converted from carrier current to a real FM station at 10 watts in 1974, and increased to 100 watts in the 1980s. What were the facilities like at the time for you?  Was it old equipment from the 1970s or was the station modernizing at that point?

It was already 100 watts when I got there, but 10 watts was within recent historical memory. We had pretty good equipment. There was always a dedicated engineering staff who liked nothing more than to tinker, and they kept everything in good working order. I was not a tinkerer, so I cannot tell you much about what we had and when. I know when I arrived there was a CD player, with a grand total of five CDs that were kept under lock and key. One was a Psychedelic Furs album, as I recall. CDs were still a very high-end novelty at that point.

4. You were both a music director and a DJ. Can you tell me if you preferred one role or the other?

Not only was I the music director (my sophomore year), I was the station manager (my junior year). Even though it seemed like a natural evolution, I much preferred being the music director. In 1987/88 it is safe to say that I listened to a pretty high percentage of all music that was released in the English-speaking world, which was a pretty remarkable experience. I can't say that I enjoyed talking to the label representatives all that much, the folks who were paid to call snobs like me and try to encourage us to play Tracy Chapman or whatever. Snobbishness aside, it was more of a time management issue. I got dozens of calls every day, and I was a full-time student in a hard program (engineering). There was no way I could return all those calls even if I wanted to. In retrospect, during those years I erred much too far in the direction of abrasiveness and obscurity. Already my 25-year old self would not have been overly interested in listening to the radio show of my 20-year old self, I don't think.

5. How much do you think fellow WRCT DJs or music promoters shaped your musical tastes at all? 

Hugely from 1986 until about 1988. Not so much after that.

6. How much did your time at WRCT overlap with the time you were in the band Wimp Factor 14?

A tiny bit. Once I discovered I could sing and play songs, college radio took lower priority. I continued doing a radio show my senior year, but I don't remember much about it. I was probably content with a 9 am-noon slot by then.

7. Can you tell me how your zine the Cubist Pop Manifesto Came to be?

I was a co-founder of the fanzine Cubist Pop Manifesto with Brian Welcker at the beginning of my junior year, when we became roommates. I was very enamored of cut-and-paste British fanzines at the time that revolved around bands like 14 Iced Bears and the Dog Faced Hermans. In one of our first weekends we threw together the first issue in a few hours, pricing it at 25 cents. The name, of course, was the name of a single by Big Flame, a single that even to this day I have not seen, let alone own. (Hold on while I go look it up on Discogs. Under $5! Ok, I will make a point of buying it. I do have a CD which I believe compiles everything Big Flame ever did, which ironically I now find unlistenable).

We put out 6 issues during our junior year, so roughly one a month. As we went along we started
writing actual articles and printing more copies, so the time and money invested went up a bit. Maybe by number 6 the cover price was up to 60 cents or even 75. Tom Hoffman, who replaced me as music director at WRCT and later would play drums in Wimp Factor 14, the Karl Hendricks Trio, and a few others, also became a contributor (and eventually, a roommate).

In the spring of 1989 our ambitions grew to releasing records by bands we liked, starting a band, and, specifically in Brian's case, opening a live venue. The venue was the Sonic Temple, a natural name for something occupying a former Masonic Temple. I can't speak for Brian, but I think it was way too much. Keep in mind we were also juniors in a tough engineering program, his (computer) harder than mine (civil). Brian also took my place as station manager of WRCT around that time. Wow.

The band comprising myself, Brian and Tom we called Hat and our first show was at the Sonic Temple opening for Galaxie 500. It was a weeknight and it was their first tour; I think they only had one 7-inch out at the time (Tugboat). There were about 10 people in attendance. Dean Wareham later described this event in his memoir Black Postcards and Cubist Pop Manifesto got a mention. Page 32, you can look it up.

8. Can you tell me about the records you released?

I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but somewhere around this time we agreed to release records by a couple of our favorite Pittsburgh bands: the Crow Flies and Special Ed. The first was a 7-inch with a simple photocopied sleeve and a run of 500 copies that sold well,. The second was a full-color album with shrink wrap and a sticker with a promotional quote and a lyric sheet insert and a run of 1,000 copies that hardly sold at all. Between that and the Sonic Temple, the fanzine suffered and after a few months I got impatient one weekend and threw together issue 7 with whatever was in the folder at the moment. That didn't go over well with Brian and before I knew it we weren't speaking. It seems weird in retrospect, but like so many creative breakups, lack of sleep was probably a primary cause. Issue 8 was kind of the flip side of issue 7 -- Brian threw it together one weekend without my involvement. Actually, "threw together" is not the right phrase because as I recall it had the best production quality of any of them.

I moved out (to a house a block away) right around the time the Special Ed bill came due. Money was definitely another part of the problem. Brian seemed to have the resources to fund these endeavors, but I did not. As I recall I had $500 to my name and I gave Brian $400 of it for Special Ed. The total cost was something like $2,800, so it was nowhere near a 50-50 split.

(As I'm writing this, I'm playing that album, for maybe the first time in 30 years. Few seemed to like it at the time, but I still think it's pretty good. It's not like anything else I ever listened to, really, so it's hard to classify. Like a more thoughtful version of the Butthole Surfers, maybe? The record cover is even like a more thoughtful version of Hairway to Steven. I don't know what became of them. Having a record that sold very few copies must have been discouraging, but they didn't bear any financial risk beyond what it cost them to record it. A rapper named Special Ed came on the scene at the exact same time, which didn't help). I pretty much stopped going to the Sonic Temple by the summer, which means I missed Nirvana on their first tour, as much as I wish I could claim otherwise.

9. You also wrote a column "Music Talk" for The Pushcart War. Have you ever considered scanning and archiving or otherwise making those available?

Brian and I each started making our own fanzines, mine called The Pushcart War and his Rear Window. We stuck with the same size (5 ½ by 8 ½) and each lasted three issues. I haven't looked at The Pushcart War in about thirty years now, so I don't know what I'd think of it. Scanning and posting them seems like a good idea, though.

Karl Hendricks died of cancer in 2017 and Brian, Tom and I were among the hundreds that attended his wake from all over the country. Among other artifacts, Brian brought the original master copies of the Cubist Pop Manifesto issues with him all the way from Seattle and we looked through them together. Even though it was something we did fairly hastily back when we were 20 or 21, I thought they weren't too bad.

10. Did you do anything else in broadcasting again after WRCT?

For two years while in graduate school at Penn State, I did a show on the student station, WKPS. I took the perennially unpopular late-morning time slot. That's been all.

11. You later wrote for the website, 2010 - 2018, are you still writing anywhere? Or doing anything else creative you want to talk about?

Right now I have a blog inspired by postcards from the 1920s-1950s called Place Stamp Here ( I also wrote a novel in 2020, a story of three strangers who find themselves competing as teammates in an adventure race. I haven't been in a band since about 2006, which I am beginning to regret. I haven't made things easy for myself along those lines as I now live on a small island off the coast of Maine that has about 50 year-round residents.