Tuesday, February 06, 2024

The Soul Express

On a drive across New England I picked up a free issue of Neighbors magazine. In it I found a lengthy article by Dean Farrell aka Dean Fiora. He was singing the praises of some obscure soul 45s. You know I can't resist that. In his byline it revealed that he's also a a 35-year radio-man currently with shows on two different stations WECS, and WRTC.

Dean turned out to be an absolute renaissance man: a fiction writer, a music columnist, a musician, a performer, a soul-man, and a rockabilly fan among other things. He's even written for Mad Magazine. We've even met some of the same radio folks in our travels. It was an honor and a pleasure to interview him. It'll take a while, but I do plan to read all of his Kolchak stories. (For you kids under 40, that was the X-files before there was an X-files. Wildly under-rated show with a cult following)

 JF: By my count you've worked at at least ten radio stations: 89.3 WRTC, 88.1 WESU, 100.5 WRCH, 1350 WINY-AM, 104.1 WIOF, 1590 WQQW-AM , 91.7 WHUS, 910 WNEZ-AM,  1220 WATX-AM and 90.1 WECS. Did I even get all of them? 

DF: One more. When I lived in Florida from 1996-97, I was involved with the non-commercial WFIT from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. It was mainly a jazz station, so that's what I played too.

JF: Your commercial radio tenure seems to have been relatively short. Any advice for would-be commercial radio DJs?

DF: For my piece in the Neighbors paper, I simplified the timeline. I actually worked part-time and per diem in commercial radio for five years (1990-95).

As for advice to would-be commercial DJs: you're better off trying Internet or satellite radio than terrestrial. When I worked in commercial radio 30 years ago, they were already busy replacing on-air DJs with network feeds and automation. I got out because I was never able to make a full-time living at it. And it's only gotten worse. However, if you really want to be on the AM or FM band, you might give news, talk, or sports radio a try.

JF: I saw on Mixcloud that you have been building Soul Express playlists from old soul radio playlists: WMBM, WAWA, WABQ, KDIA, WBEE, KXLW, WGOK, XPRS, WCHB, KDKO etc.The list goes on. I really like this idea. Where did this come from?

DF: I've collected Classic Soul music for about 35 years. During that time, I've amassed tens of thousands of individual tracks. Yet, whenever I do an old radio station countdown, there's always something I've never heard before. That's why I do them. Well, that and I've always enjoyed the countdown format. Casey Kasem was one of my heroes! I found the playlists at the ARSA website: http://las-solanas.com/arsa/index.php

JF: Is the program name "Soul Express" named after anything in particular? The magazine "Soul Express" or the band "Raw Soul Express?" Maybe the 1968 song by Lonnie Mack?

DF: It was just a name I came up with when I first put the show on the air in 1994. It also rhymed with the station’s call letters: “You’re listening to The Soul Express on ‘HUS.” Or now, ‘ECS.

JF: You've had two different shows on WRTC; Soul Express and Roots Rock Radio. I think a third one named "Something Different." These are very different shows with different playlists. Can you tell me how they're different for you?

DF: Thanks to my involvement with college radio, I discovered a lot of artists and genres that I never heard on the commercial stations. As a result, my musical tastes went all over the map. At present, I own approximately 5,000 CDs and file them by genre. (My 45s and LPs, I simply file by the artists’ names.)

JF. I read that soul singer Betty Harris made her re-entry into the music biz after an appearance on your show at WHUS in 2004. Can you tell me how all that came to be?

DF: In June 2004, I received an email from Betty's son via my (now defunct) Soul Express website. He advised me that his mother lived in Hartford and, after 35 years out of the music business, was looking to get back in. So I had her on my show, making damned good and sure the Internet soul music community knew about it in advance. And things just took off from there.

JF: I read in your bio that you resigned from WHUS in 2010. Do you care to comment on that at all?

DF: In 2008, UConn audited WHUS and decided the station was insufficiently student focused. They then demanded (under threat of defunding) a series of changes that made us community members feel increasingly unwelcome. For example, we were no longer allowed to serve on the Operations Board or vote on station-related matters. They also canceled Radiothon, our annual pledge drive, and demanded the station no longer maintain a booth at Willimantic's monthly Third Thursday Street Festival. And that was just the beginning.

I put up with the university's crap for two years before I walked away in September 2010. A year later, they fired John Murphy, who had been the GM for 33 years. The reason they gave was "organizational restructuring." At that point, I knew once and for all that WHUS was a lost cause. I haven't so much as tuned into the station since then, and neither has anyone else that I know--including people who had been devoted 'HUS listeners for decades.

UConn is hellbent on isolating itself from the surrounding community and demanded the same of its radio station. Never mind that WHUS has a 4,400-watt signal that reaches 60 miles in all directions. Those bureaucrats transformed WHUS from an award-winning non-commercial station into a desiccated husk of its former self. And they're damned glad of it. To this day, I can't help but feel disgusted.

Hardly anyone asks me about the station anymore; but if they do, I tell them, "I had sixteen good years at WHUS. Problem is, I was there for eighteen."

JF: How did you get started at WECS? Did you know someone there or did you just fill out an application?

DF: The general manager of WECS is also the chief operator at WHUS. I’ve known JZ [John Zatowski] for 30+ years. When I decided in 2016 that I wanted to return to radio after six years away, I contacted JZ and that was that.

I find it especially convenient to do radio at WECS because it’s only a five-minute drive from my house. Plus, there’s usually nobody on after me. So if I want to stay on the air late, I can do so.

JF: You've put out a few singles, even two with Bloodshot Bill. How did all that come about?  Covid-era side project?

DF:  One of the musical styles I love is rockabilly, for which there is an international underground scene. From 2013-2018, and then again in 2022, Beck Rustic put on the New England Shake-Up, a weekend-long rockabilly festival, in Sturbridge, MA, a mere one-hour drive for me. I befriended a lot of the performers and attendees, some of whom flew in from as far away as Australia and Japan!

After the 2017 Shake-Up, I spent two weeks deathly ill with a respiratory infection (as did a number of other attendees). That inspired me, at age 51, to write a song for the first time in my life. Since I don’t play an instrument, all I had was lyrics. However, Bloodshot Bill, a rockabilly performer from Montreal, took an interest in the song and set it to music. We recorded “Bop Flu” together at his home studio in April 2019. (He played all the instruments himself via overdubbing.) The following year, Bill got the Sleazy label inSpain to include “Bop Flu” on a 4-track various-artists EP titled, “Bloodshot Bill Present Rare Gems from Sin Studio.” (That’s what he calls his home set-up. It’s a goof on the iconic Sun Studio in Memphis.) Alas, it came out at the height of Covid, so there was no way to really promote the record. Consequently, most rockabilly fans still don’t know about the vinyl release.

To date, I’ve recorded five of my songs with musician pals, but only “Bop Flu” has been commercially released. You can hear them all at https://bopflu.bandcamp.com/

Alas, the New England Shake-Up ended in 2022 as it got to be a financial drain on the promoter. I still miss it, and so do thousands of other rockabilly fans worldwide.

JF: Would you also be the same Dean Fiora who wrote the story Kolchak: the NightStalker? 

DF: Yeah, that's me too. "Fiora" is my real surname. I Americanized it to "Farrell" when I got into commercial radio. Those Kolchak stories are my sole descent into fandom. I wrote eight of them in total. You can read them all at https://adventures-in-night-stalking.site123.me/


  1. I had to pass this on to you:
    A 200-ft radio tower just got stolen in Alabama.
    The entire tower and the contents of the small building beneath it was cleaned out. No one noticed until the landscaping crew went out. I can't imagine that being an overnight job.
    Considering previous topics you've posted, I can't imagine you not wanting to follow this one. All details are in the article, and it's an ongoing investigation:

  2. Anonymous9:15 AM

    I've been following that story. It appears they've been dark for quite a while, and have been only broadcasting on their FM translator. Because the tower was unused, they didn't notice the theft for some period of time... months to years.

  3. Thanks for the details.
    There was no background in the article on the disuse of the tower, but that definitely makes sense. The article made it sound like the tower had disappeared overnight.

  4. Anonymous9:51 AM

    But if you look at it on a map... actually stealing it presents a serious logistical challenge. It's still incredible.

  5. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Loved being reminded of Kolchak. It was one of my favourite shows in it's time. I was crushed when it ended