WAKY 103.5 And The Beleagured Battle For Radio
I'll preface this article by saying it was written years ago and I was a bit more, ah, passionate? I wouldn't use some of the language I used here now, at least not in public. Hopefully it just serves to get my point across. I apologize in advance if it offends your sensibilities, and if you're prone to that type of thing, you might sit this one out.
It's also worth noting that it's been over 3 years and WAKY 103.5 is still swinging.
Every so often someone at the store will ask me why radio sucks. They’ll usually be checking out something they read about in Mojo or one of those, or grooving on something I laid on them. I always point out that WKRP in Cincinnati was a show about the impending end of real radio and it was 1978 (The year of my birth) so we’re way past the good ol’ days by now. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap played the records they wanted to play, and the voice on the radio was the voice of the cat who was sent by what’s sending you. And it was that simple concept, of a disc jockey playing what he wants, that brought us Rock’n’Roll in the first place. Now there’s this robot playlist approved by Clear Channel or whatever and the voice you hear is most likely that of a yappy lackey who knows 2 kinds of music. Jack and Shit.
In today’s climate, we never would’ve gotten Rock’n’Roll to begin with. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, in the first place the term "Rock’n’Roll" was a Blues song euphemism for sex. Nothing else. In another world, Rock’n’Roll could’ve been called Bonin’n’Crackin, Fuckin’n’Suckin, Slappin’n’Ticklin’. You can make up your own. That’s Blues. If you think "one eyed cat peepin’ in a sea food store" is about an injured kitty cat poking his head inside the door of a Captain D’s, you are square as a box full of Rubix Cubes. Blues is code. Which means Rock’n’Roll is code, which means you need to get hip.
Alan Freed was hip. It was he who coined the term as a genre to get the good shit on the air and in the ears of white kids in the newly formed suburbs in and around Cleveland, which spread from there to the rest of the planet, and it’s been Buck Wild ever since. Try that shit now. The Man had to stick some stupid rap on him to get him down. "Payola." As in "Hey my man, we can shoot this record straight to the top of the pops tout suite if you make with the bread, dad. Put a little Payola in my pocket and we’ll talk mano y mano." Then the squares in short sleeved white dress shirts and black ties decipher that code I was talking about and figure "Payola" is grounds for a bust. Pay for play. Routine today. You think you’d know who the fuck Britney Spears is if not for some serious money changing hands well before the recording process even began? Of course you don’t, because you’re smart. Just like how Ice Ice Baby was a ripoff of Under Pressure and 5 years later I’ll Be Missing You is a remix of Every Breath You Take. This is what we call evolution. To quote Rick James talking about Can’t Touch This ganking Superfreak: "I’m not impressed with that bullshit."
I had a friend who worked in radio back in the day, he was a disciple of the same Church I go to. I’m not talking about any praying or mumbling on your knees in a man made building, I’m talking about hooting and hollering and the raw Pentecost of real music burning it’s name on your brain. Front on that shit. When he died after that long fistfight with mortality you can only lose, the man at his memorial said the best thing anyone could say about anybody: He fought the Good Fight.
I wake up at around 2 PM most days to the alarm clock, and after I woke up to the Johnny Rivers version of Tears of a Clown one too many times on WRKA I strolled down the aisle a little bit and landed on Be Bop A Lula on a station out of Radcliff. You have WRKA wherever you live. The letters might be different, but you have the exact same format and the exact same playlist wherever you are in the US of A. It’s only the Motown songs as heard on the Big Chill soundtrack, only pre rubber Soul Beatles, lots of Johnny Rivers, and it’s been the same 100 or so songs every day like that since at least 198fuckin7, since I started tuning in from the back seat of my mom and dad’s Saturn. Only minus all 50s tracks as of about 2000. I had to find Gene Vincent on my own circa mid-90s. So to actually hear Gene Vincent on the radio was like a minor miracle.
Imagine my chagrin when this station I’d found, the call letters I could never quite recall, was threatening to change to an all Country format on a certain date. New, watered down, sanitized, lame Country radio. Which didn’t play award winning new records from the likes of Johnny Cash and George Jones. What a kick in the mouth. So as I wrapped up a shower and heard clips of Kenny Chesney trumpeted as the coming storm in ads bumped between Eddie Cochran and the prophet Chuck Berry, I was glad I at least have a shitload of records and CDs and run a music store and kinda grew up in a couple.
But suddenly, instead, there was this thing called WAKY. Not only were they playing gems from the 50s that the comparatively lame programmed channels never touched even when they played the real Rock’n’Roll, they were playing the good shit from farther up the timestream. Hearing Johnny B. Goode followed by Immigrant Song followed by Otis Redding’s original Respect followed by the Temptations Wish It Would Rain (the author of which I recently read in Mojo offed himself the week after the record hit) solid sent me.
I started talking about WAKY to people I knew would appreciate it, and I was met by broad smiles and teary eyes. Turns out, WAKY used to kick Louisville’s ass. They came on the air somewhere in the 60s playing Purple People Eater for 12 hours and then got crackin’ jamming out Top 40 back when that meant shit, and the DJs knew what was up with what could make you get down. And now today, they’ve brought it back, playing a mean trick on all of us who can appreciate that which is slipping away. Pulling a quarter away and giving us a dollar bill. They’ve got the old DJs back in, one of which does his act on the phone from a nursing home. sometimes they play stuff I don’t even know. Slugging it out against the Big Giant Programming Head that wants to cram Billy Joe Royal’s fucking Down In The Boondocks straight in your ear all day every day when what you really need is Maybelline. Can you dig it?
Of course, it’s a losing battle. WAKY will go away again. The cup’s 7/8ths empty, it’s a minute to midnight, and those of us who really give a shit are in the minority. But if that stops you, you’re a fucking pussy and you need to get your balls out of your mom’s purse. I’ll be dead a whole lot longer than I’ll be alive, but as long as Rocko lives, so shall Rock’n’Roll.
Into this climate, we hear more and more gloom and doom about flagging CD sales. It’s nothing I didn’t do. I run the place every night like I started the joint. My own CD on sale at the counter, Sam Cooke and David Ruffin thick in the Soul spot, the Twilight Singers complete discography, a mandated "Oldies" section rechristened as "Rock’n’Roll" (what else?) and fully represented by all the names you Need To Know, all big ass sellers on the daily under my watch. All this technology bullshit of sitting in your room staring at a glowing screen and file sharing or whatever the fuck you do instead of shagging your ass out to where the shit is sold in a form you can touch and hold in your hand and talking to someone who knows what the fuck is going on. And yeah, I mean me. Evolution. To quote Rick James: "I’m not impressed with that bullshit."
So my mantra tonight is Fight the Good Fight.
Posted by Rocko Jerome at 4/15/2011