TEN YEARS AGO ... 11 September 1997.
Back when September 11th was just another day on the calendar. Back when gasoline was only flirting with three digits (in parts of Georgia it was still in the low 90s).
Back when ol' "Tally-Poo" had a lot on his mind (impending divorce), a wonderful thing happened this evening, one decade's time ago.
This "wonderful thing" was prefaced about two months earlier, when a friend of mine was doing one of the evening shifts at the local commercial station in Troy, Alabama. The show was called Night Flight -- it long predated the '80s all-nighter weekend show on USA by that name. It dated back to the early '70s, when WTBF began 'hipping up' its nighttime 6-10 p.m. rock music show ('TBF was always country and/or adult middle-of-the-road by day, but switched to basic top-40 at night). There was a cool ID sweeper, too. It was voiced circa 1973 by a young Rick Dees, over the theme to A Clockwork Orange. Very cool stuff.
It lasted well into the 1980s. And after a period of hiatus, Night Flight returned in the mid '90s, with a different 'format' each week. 'Old school R&B' on Mondays, '70s hits on Tuesdays, current-day CHR on Wednesday, Friday -- when not preempted by high school sports -- was freeform ("Free Fall Friday"), and Sunday was called "Sunday Night Power", a well-put-together program of 'contemporary Christian' music.
Then there was Thursday. Classic rock filled the AM airwaves (yes, AM), and the program was given the name Thursday on the Rocks. And one hot July night I 'guest hosted' an hour of the program, bringing in some cool, esoteric tracks -- forgotten stuff by well-known names in the rock genre.
The calls didn't exactly come pouring in, but it did attract the attention of one person. And he was important enough to matter: the station's Program Director! Doc asked me if I'd be willing to moonlight once a week at 'TBF doing the classic rock show. Well, being that I was now facing life as a single person, financial uncertainties, and all that went with it, I promptly said yes.
Of course I did. He didn't exactly have to twist my arm!
What Doc later told me was he'd been frustrated by a couple of the TSU students who worked TOTR over the last two years (my friend Dennis was doing it that Summer only, and was unable to host it that Fall). I have an aircheck of one of 'em, and among the "classic rock" she plays is the hard-rocking 1984 hit by that metal maven herself, Cyndi Lauper. Yup, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" (a/k/a FUH-un) I'll never forget what Doc said to me that day: "I wanted someone who knew what classic rock was."
The program ran from 6:05 p.m. (after Mutual news) until 11:00. Nearly five (5) hours of empty airtime that I was able to fill with whatever I wanted to play. Well, within the parameters of that night's 'format' ... and within the parameters of reason. Had I played Steppenwolf's "The Pusher", I'd have been pushed into the middle of Three Notch Street to meet the treads of a Wiley Sanders semi.
Whatever I wanted. Damn.
It was a risky proposition to give college students. On the other hand, I was 32 years old. And someone into their adult years is often a better steward of loosely-restricted airtime than someone barely 19, and working Thursday night when they'd much rather be at "The Front Porch" with their fake ID putting away dozens of Old Milwaukee's Best longnecks.
And my first night was September 11th of '97. At 6:05 I read the weather forecast and gave the weather radar report ('TBF had an in-studio color radar sponsored by a local bank -- we always called it "SouthTrust Color Weather Radar"). And then played my first record. Chosen very carefully, and served as a very appropriate song for what my life was like at that moment: David Bowie's rock workhorse "Changes" [add stutter beforehand].
I had a blast with it, my friends. My "programmer" ego kept the id in check, and I structured the show very nicely -- The first two hours were largely what I called "Rock-40" .... done in a top-40 frame (in loving homage to the original Night Flight I remembered from visits with Gran Lera), basically the hits run through a strainer, trapping all the pop, bubblegum and R&B, keeping just the rock. I pulled out some of the old 'TBF jingles to add that element of campy cheese. Jingles on a classic rock show? You betcha.
By 8:00 I was toward a regular classic rock presentation ... mostly '60s standards, '70s and '80s stuff, a lot of them stuff you don't hear very much on CR stations today (if you're familiar with Sirius, my playlist was a lot like Channel 16, "The Vault"). And the final hour, 10:05-11:00, was always 'underground' flavored. As a paean to one of the best radio programs in the world, Arkansas' Beaker Street, I used its music bed under my breaks during that hour.
Each hour kicked off with a 'three-fer', and I began using the fanfare from Rocky Horror Picture Show as the program's theme. "Embryonic Journey" by Jefferson Airplane was the closing music bed I'd use for goodbyes, final weather and sign-off legal station ID.
Few people in Pike County listened. Hell, few could even freakin' HEAR the bloody thing -- 500 nighttime watts with a crazy directional pattern (on one break I said "broadcasting with 500 watts instead of the usual 5,000 -- because 500 is all the management will trust me with!")
But, damn, it was the most fun I've ever had on radio.
My last song that first show 10 years ago was The Moody Blues' "Watching and Waiting" - an aching song of longing. "Watching ... and waiting ... for someone to understand me ... I hope it won't be ... very long ...." I sat back as that line played, the clock getting close to 11:00, and I felt rays of sun hitting me. It was then I remembered that I have something really cool to look forward to doing now. And, after all the stormy waters are over, I'll have peace. And will finally be able to seek that "someone." I think Seraphim's soul was speaking to me that night. I just know it was.
My last TOTR program was July 13, 2000. The very last song I played? Semisonic's "Closing Time." It fit. "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Ain't that the truth.
More than seven years later, I miss doing that show. I miss it terribly. However, I wouldn't return to my old life in Troy just to get it back.
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "From the little radio station around the corner and on the square" Gleck
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