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Radio Waves, Lost Souls, Shadows from the Past, and some guy's Mist Tunnel...

This is something that has been working on me for the past few months, and I have not been able to put it into proper form. Hell, this is not going to be proper at all, and if you know me at all, you’d best send your kids away from the computer screen and put the shields up.

Because I am about to take you on a ride that goes back nearly all my life, and how I arrived at an industry that is collapsing around me, and the options that remain for its survival.

I have been in broadcast radio 32 years and 1 day, as I write. I’m surprised I’m still in this business, and still alive. Those are not completely separate from one another.

Let’s go back in time, shall we? And oh by the way? This is NOT going to be a nostalgic ride down the cosmic airwaves of the Good ‘Ol Days, or The Way it Was. Not completely.

I cannot find any old audio out there of either of the two radio stations that entered into my consciousness very early in life. I certainly didn’t know then what that was going to do to me…

There were two radio stations in particular that I remember hearing in the kitchen as I grew up in Vermont back in the late 60’s. In those days, think about it: no Internet, no Wifi, no cable. That part of NW VT didn’t get cable until the late 80’s.

TV? We had an antenna on the roof, one that was replaced when I was about nine. We got the CBS affiliate in Burlington, WCAX (Channel 3), CBMT (Channel 6), the CBC affiliate in Montreal…and everything else was fuzz.

The new antenna did give us a few more options. We could finally get Channel 22, which was WEZF (later WVNY), the ABC affiliate, and we got Channel 12 (CTV) out of Montreal. We also got the French equivalents, Channels 2 and 10.

Not much else. Oh, and the paper was the Burlington Free Press, or the Freeps, as one of my early mentors Peter Freyne used to call it.

Our adventures were very different growing up, but back to this radio thing…

WDEV Radio, at the time just 550 AM (more stations now) was and still is owned by the pioneer broadcast family, the Squier family. Name sound familiar? Yes, Ken Squier, the longtime NASCAR voice and face you used to see on TV is from the family and still guiding Radio Vermont to this day. One of my old friends growing up, Lee Kittell works for the man.

But I have to think back further…two familiar, authoritative, deep voices I used to hear in the morning. Their handoff to one another was as smooth as you could ever get:

“Good morning, Russ.”

“Good morning, Harold.”

The latter was Rusty Parker. There is a saying I’ve had applied to me many times: “You don’t look like you sound.”

It applied in some ways to Rusty. He just didn’t seem to look like that guy on the radio. But he was for me anyway, the voice, the one that started the whole thing, and I didn’t even know it.

For 40 years, Rusty had one radio job, I think the only one he probably ever wanted. From Waterbury emanated full-service radio: music, news, no-school announcements, updates of every kind, interesting interviews (not screaming, name-calling bullshit). It was always there.

Rusty lived it. And he went out that way. Read this:

“Don’t wanna die onstage with a (unintelligible) microphone in my hand…” – Garland Jeffreys, “Coney Island Winter”

I also recall something else. From out of Canada, pretty sure it was one of the stations up there. On Sunday mornings, we didn’t listening to religious stuff. There used to be a kid’s program I used to listen to, at least I think it was. I have no idea what station, but the sound was so different from the American, it had to be from up north.

I remember stories being told, interesting ones, fascinating ones. I remember child actors doing a space story, singing about building a rocketship.

Anyone from up there remember this? I’d love to know if you do.

I remember a commercial. 7-Up used to sponsor that show, and the announcer used to say this:

“24 bottles of 7-Up products…” will go to the winner of some such contest they did every week, I think it was a drawing of some kind.

You don’t do this on radio anymore. At least not on a national, regional or provincial platform. The weak attempts made at that over the years of my career were terrible in comparison. No effort, and too many people with an idea they were exceptional when they didn’t know what the fuck they were doing.

I also remember CJAD 800 out of Montreal. With the phasing out of AM up north, things are changing.

The world is changing. But some of us are not.

Now, music…a lot of that went by me, yet I well remember what my brothers listened to. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Doors, CCR. I remember them all well.

Mark and David could speak to the radio playings better than I could. FM was still new, and things were so progressive, different, and way out for its time.

Never knew much about this guy, but there was another of the people who opened doors.

I still didn’t have any idea of how important this would all become to me. Didn’t have much of a clue of any of it, really.

There are some occasional incidents in my growing-up life that I think may have encouraged some of this.

One in particular: early 80’s I think…like most kids, we don’t want to go to bed at night. Bored and wide awake one summer, I fooled around with the AM radio band on my old clock radio, and I caught something interesting. Again, I wish I could have taped this.

A DJ or someone on a radio station from the Midwest, Indiana possibly, talking about the flooding out there. On TV, I’d seen that the area was getting slammed by record flooding.

“We’re gonna need 20-thousand sandbags,” this fellow said, and was talking about where volunteers could go, and what they needed.

I’d never heard a radio station so far away. I knew nothing about skywaves or DX’ing, as radio geeks are wont to still do. I was taken out there, to the situation. I listened for two or three nights to this station, still not knowing which one it was, or who any of those people were, but it stayed with me.

There were some others, sure, but this is what I remember.

I also grew up with country music. I remember WLFE 102-something out of St. Albans, being piped into my high school’s system, for whatever reason one particular year.

It was the first time I’d understood a format, and the repetitive plays, and what good (and bad) that did to music. I remember this fellow’s hit in particular:

So fast forward to college. As I have said in the past, I was not a disciplined student. Emotionally, I am now aware that I was about one year behind my peers, and probably should not have been pushed into school at the age of four. I know why, and it’s over and done with but I wasn’t ready.

So in college…I had no idea what I would do. None, really. I thought I would be journalist, or a writer, or something. I ended up in the small but fast-growing communications program at what is now known as Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

Our FM station did not get on the air till April 1, 1984. I had no idea that in the next four years my musical boundaries would be blown away.

The 80’s, holy shit.

MTV, glamour, Madonna, Prince, hip hop, so much music, some of it great, and a lot of it not so much. Back then, we didn’t know how the business ran, how it worked.

We were learning our craft, and in a lot of cases doing it badly. Learning by losing, by doing shifts in the middle of the night, or when the entire campus was crashed out from last night’s drunk.

I got into the real business pretty quickly, and also I being just dumb enough to believe I was good enough. Well, I wasn’t, but thankfully someone recognized that I could be useful, and maybe even learn something.

I hosted various shows, and I drew on my growing up roots to turn a redneck country music program with limited resources into something people might give a chance at listening to. I dug whatever music I could find out of that old record library (remember those, kids?), plus what I could buy, beg, borrow and steal.

I hit on an old concept without knowing. Alternative, or Progressive Country music had been around since who knew when…I just did my own version of it.

There was one guy who was the lesser-known compadre of the legendery Outlaws…this guy.

DAC did some pretty raunchy, nasty and out there songs (many of which he only did in biker bars), but the edge was what Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., Jessi Colter and so many more practiced.

I also had a honor of watching and interviewing this gentleman not that long ago. Didn’t really know enough about him then, but he deserves his place.

I found I leaned more toward the grittier stuff, but you also had to do what was being played, and the pop-country stuff in the 80’s opened the doors to great musicians who grew as artists. Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and so many more…

And then…what was always there…here’s one person’s guitar style that leaped out…one of many who picked up tradition, tore it up, and handed it along…

There’s so many in one spot, you can’t look away, and you can’t stop listening, can you?

So how does this all fit?

As I grew older, I moved between formats, and I went where the jobs were. I admit, I went with the business, because that’s what you did.

More and more, I began to see what was going wrong. In the early 90’s, I was ready to quit, but I didn’t know what else I’d do. I had still too many ideas that didn’t amount to making a living.

You pay your dues in this business, like any other. You work for little money, and you fight like hell to keep a job. I never worked in the big-time pressure cookers of going by a ratings book. One bad one, you could be gone. I don’t think I’d ever want to go through that, anyway.

I found my spots. I also learned how to remake myself. I did so by necessity, and moving back into how I started. I produced other people’s shows, produced sports events, did the menial jobs, and eventually found my way into other places, other areas, other jobs.

You just keep moving. Keep doing. You do it, because this is what you do.

I found myself back in the news business, then out of it, then back in it, and then out of nowhere came the promised land of Satellite Radio.

Well, kind of. I had an amazing run of nearly five years at XM. More than the money, I met people who were like me. Veterans of this business, grizzled old crazed characters, and a new breed of kids that we could help out.

I’ve never been really impressed by a lot of the youngsters who have been weaned on cable news, what MTV mutated into (not what it was good for), reality shows and other bullshit. But you get to ‘em quick enough, give them the bitch slap upside their head that you got (if you were lucky) early in your career, and you could help them. Every now and then, you find a good one, one you know learned to be inquisitive, to be tough on themselves, but also objective.


Hard to make that stick, but there were places that did.

Somehow I carried on, began writing seriously, and found myself always sort of leaning on the edge of nothing. We’re in the business, but we’re not.

Guess you have seen where we are now. iHeartRadio, where I do work part-time is 21 BILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT.

Cumulus is 2 billion, and has been, like every place else, wiping out air staffs. For years, they bought up stations, gutted air staffs, streamlined programming, and cut costs.

The days of the local stations are going by the way, and there are very few left. Lack of talent is not the issue, lack of imagination is not the issue.

The one issue:


Now, this is the one thing people need to be fair about and understand. You need money to run things. You need money to pay your bills, keep the lights on, keep your phone working, all that shit, right?

Business? Same thing. You need money to keep the stick operating.

The business has changed. It’s not just TV, radio, and a newspaper anymore. It’s the Internet, and so many ways to get information now. You don’t own it anymore. You don’t print money anymore.

So what do you do?

Unfortunately, certain people went the wrong way. This is not meant to be a rant toward the powers that be, but we’ve seen it in so many industries.

The corporate owners make billions, keep raking it in, and rewarding themselves with even more. Instead of spreading it around, paying to keep things fixed, investing in the future, and making those “valued employees” feel like you gave a shit about them (beyond just remember their names), and all that?

Nah. Just get rid of ‘em. Who needs DJ’s who might not play Taylor Fucking Swift like we tell ‘em to? Who might play some weirdo band we have never heard of? Can’t have that!

Can’t have people expressing opinions or “showing feelings…this will not do.”

That’s why you have empty radio station buildings, with automated, free or cheap syndicated programming. You have programmed, consultantized dreck which is considered by the companies of which all are now connected.

Listen to this man…he’ll tell you everything.

So what is left?

I’ve been lucky. I hang on in this business because it is what we do. There are stations proving that it can still be done, because it needs to be done.

Radio still has its place, and people are in denial of what it can and still does.

When there was no Wifi, what did you do? When there was no Internet, what did you do?

Radio. TV. Immediacy. Real immediacy.

“How you gonna find your way, when the lights go out?” – James Blundell, “When The Lights Go Out”

Now, do not think that if iHeart or Cumulus or Locutus or any of the other big media companies suddenly go bankrupt, we’re suddenly going to all walk away from the buildings as they explode behind us in a ball of fire like some action movie. I know, some of us would love to do that, but it’s not happening.

My point is this…there will have to be sell outs. CBS is getting rid of its radio stations, a huge piece of broadcast history dying.

Does it have to?

I don’t think so, but we have to be more accepting that things will not be what they once were, or what they are now. We have to find middle ground.

Independent broadcasters, those of us with experience will tell you that it may not be pretty, but you can still provide a service that makes a fucking difference. You do that with people who are not out to make fast buck, or who are going to enrich themselves.

You do it by offering what the area needs, and doing it straight-up. Thinking a little, expanding your brain a little, trying some different things. Having some fun, for fuck’s sake.

The stations I grew up with will never come back, and it would foolish to try and pretend that’s coming back.

I am not a fan of podcasting. I am a fan of the live, real-deal thing, whether it is on the public airwaves or the ‘net. Immediacy. We can get that again.

People need to figure out this…if radio is to serve the public the way it is supposed to do, you need to pull back the expectations, but not pull back on the dreams.

Now, the money thing…yes, you have to still figure that out. With so many stations, especially AM ones going dark, are we now having to consider a new way of funding them?

I’m thinking about public funding. NPR-style funding, underwriting, a different type of ad. And getting a bit of help from you know who, if we could stop finding more wars to fight and start thinking about the infrastructure of this land.

Radio, TV, our communication is part of that. It should be seen as such.

What that means is…providing real content. Real news, not fake news, real music, not prepackaged, Autotuned music. Real everything.

This is all crazy, but aren’t just a bit? I’m still in broadcasting, I must be.

These are the things I think about. There is great possibility in these sell-offs, but there needs to be a guide, enough of a recollection of what worked on a smaller scale, to make the whole thing go.

The big companies. Sorry, but YOU FUCKED IT UP.


There was enough to go around, AND YOU FUCKED IT UP.

A certain iHeart executive…enjoying that $21 million dollar mist tunnel, are you? Enjoying giving clients the WWE experience, are you?

How are you going to explain the mess you and your colleagues made to the creditors?

I think blaming everyone else, taking your golden parachute and jumping out of the plane is no longer an option.

You should stay and help clean up the mess, gang.

Of fall on your swords. (Can you smell the sarcasm cooking?)

Anyway…I am pretty happy to still find my way in those little places, those small spots where the magic (just a bit) still remains. We are not done yet.

When you listen to NPR, you still hear something. Long-form stuff, a bit mind-bending, but there is something there. Locally, we’re still doing it. We’re still bringing it to the people.

Certain places still bring proper stories, unspun, unfiltered and without all the bullshit. We can make it work, we’ve made it work, you’re just not going to be famous, and quite likely not rich.

But you’ll feel something. You’ll feel what I felt from Rusty Parker, and all those people from way back. They got their message to me, and I hope I did to someone as years went on.

It’s not over. Time will tell, and then…do we act when we get a chance to remind the others that it’s still got a place, and it’s meaningful.

Let’s hope so…there’s still a lot of fun to be had, I just hope we can get your attention for it.

Peace, Out.

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