I'm probably younger than the average reader of this site, and I'd never heard CFNY until I downloaded the airchecks. I love this station and this type of music. However, this story is about the station I grew up with. Hopefully, this post is not an intrusion and will show how good radio can be an inspiration. I count KSPI, the station I grew up with, and CFNY as two of the major inspirations in my life.
Where is the Spirit of Radio?
use of this article is welcome in any forum, web site, or e-mail, as long as attribution is given along with my e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Something is undeniably wrong with radio. I know, it’s been said before, the complaints of people who’ve never worked in broadcasting complaining about the depth of a playlist or stations they don’t like. Yet undeniably, there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. What can we in the radio business do? I’ve worked in radio. My dream is to own or at least program a progressive, deep, creative radio station that a broad range of music fans can enjoy and that will benefit the community and the music scene both locally and internationally. I have no schemes to become the next Rick Dees, Casey Kasem, or Scott Shannon, although I respect and admire their talents. I’m in radio because I love it. Yet I have serious questions about the future of those of us who believe radio can be more than narrow playlists in between ten minute stopsets and voice tracked wacky DJs. Those of us who love the music, and see how it impacts people far beyond the simple playing of the top 40 every week.
First of all, let’s clarify what I’m not proposing. I’m not proposing that every station double the size of its playlist, hire a 24/7 air staff, and become wildly eclectic. Nor am I proposing that the major groups change the way they do business, or change formats on successful signals. What am I proposing? Well, please indulge me for a moment, as I tell you my story.
I’ve been a radio enthusiast since age 11, when I brought my dad’s old short-wave radio from the attic. Placed on a table in the garage with a long wire antenna strung in the attic, I’d spend hours listening to not only short-wave, but talk shows on the famous clear channel AM stations, like WWL in New Orleans, WGN and WLS in Chicago, and WLW in Cincinnati. I’d stay awake hour after hour, engaged by discussions on late night shows. My favorite personalities were Ed Curran on WGN, and Jay Marvin of WLS. Ed was warm, relatable, and the nicest guy you could imagine. Jay was witty, biting, controversial, and liberal. A total contrast, but two of the voices that captured my imagination. From that point on, I knew there was nothing I could do except go into radio.
My dial-surfing led to FM where I discovered oldies, country, AC, and CHR. I listened to all kinds of music. When I’d travel, I could be found in the back seat of the family car, walkman in hand, checking out the stations in every town on the way. Seemed to me as if most of the stations back then sounded different. Sure, they had similarities, but each station reflected the sound of its market. SL-100 was Hattiesburg, B 98.5 was Little Rock, and Power 105.7 was Northwest Arkansas’ Number One Hit Music Station.
When I was 16, I lived in a small town in rural Oklahoma. Most of my time was spent writing, volunteering, and DXing. One Labor Day, I had my tuner out in the garage, punching around for some new catches, and I hit 93.7 FM. Normally this would be KISR, a CHR station from Fort Smith. Coming out of my headphones this time though was a crunchy guitar-driven song that sounded like the modern return of the Beatles. Followed by a sort of world-beat song with foreign language lyrics, and then an acoustic sounding singer songwriter? What was this? “The Spy??” was this a pirate?
Turned out KSPI “The Spy” was a licensed station, broadcasting from Stillwater, home of the OSU Cowboys. Every time the weather was right, I’d be listening to 93.7 The Spy, to hear and discover the range of music that I wasn’t hearing anywhere else. Bjork, Radiohead, Morrissey, The Smithereens, Tori Amos, DJ Keoki, Morcheeba, Portishead, The Rolling Stones, Beck, Garbage, and more obscure but awesome music like Lunar Drive, The Bottle Rockets, Jai, Pop Will Eat Itself, and James Iha’s solo disc. This is just what I can remember. The Spy playlist was accessible to many people, students, professors, locals, out-of-towners, you name it. Local bands and imports, along with album tracks, made it into the format of KSPI. However, listening to KSPI wasn’t hard. It wasn’t “too complex” or “obscure” sounding. The Spy just played good music. Sure, most of it never hit the top 40. But you came away from listening to the Spy with a knowledge of good music, and the hunger to hear more, buy a great new release , or see that local band with that great song. A song does not have to be a hit to be worthy of airplay, nor does it being a hit exclude it from being good music. KSPI ignored these boundaries and put good music front and center, with no predjudice as to where it was from or how many units it sold. Music was music, and Spy music was great.
Hugh, Jim, April, and “little Buddha” were some of the DJs at KSPI. When you called them, they answered. When you had a request that fit, they played it. None of them were trying to be major market CHR jocks, they were your friends. You knew they loved the music they played, and you could tell they loved what they did. They related to their audience, brought them the music they wanted to hear, and told us about what was going on that we’d care about. It was then I knew what I wanted to do in radio. I was going to graduate and become a member of the KSPI air staff.