Radio DaZe : The early years.

Radio DaZe : The early years.

It was my first radio job. 10 watts. So low on the dial most radios couldn’t receive it. Listenership? Probably me and my dog.

WRUV-FM was student run by the University of Vermont. I worked for the campus bookstore and in the summer of ’69 I was drafted to play DJ weeknights, 8pm to midnight. I was enthralled.

I had less than no experience. That’s not quite true. A buddy and I built a sort of radio station in his basement. A mad scientist neighbor provided an actual transmitter that allowed us to broadcast to the neighborhood. Our on-air schedule was limited. After school. Some Saturdays. But it was a training ground.

WRUV-FM (Radio University Vermont) had two formats. Up until 8pm it played classical music. At night it was turned over to the music that we called at the time “progressive” – a mix of rock, folk and really almost anything except classical.

There was no supervision. After I was shown how to operate the control board and the transmitter – which was up three flights of rickety stairs tucked away in a closet – I was left alone.

Often the preceding announcer had missed the timing on his last concerto so that it ended after my start time of 8pm. For a few nights I waited out the strains of Bach or Debussy to begin spinning the Doors or the Yardbirds. Then I became rebellious and creative. I began mixing odd sound effects and weird swatches of dialogue from an immense spoken word collection the college harbored into the symphonies. I wish I had tapes of those early sound collages. Even more I wish I could have seen the faces of whomever was listening, never expecting Beethoven to meld with the Mothers of Invention.

I had no clue about what I was doing. I barely understood the mechanics of it. I was flying without instruments, landing gear or fear. The library available to me was so wide and varied that I doubt I played the same song twice in three months. I learned what segues worked and with some train wrecks, what didn’t. I stubbed my toes over the concepts of key, timbre, content and theme but couldn’t have named them if you put a gun to my head.

Four hours went by in what felt like moments. I cued up my first song, put my head down and all of a sudden it was midnight. I rarely talked on the microphone. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I was still timid, in the throes of adolescent voice changes. I was afraid my acne-ravaged face would come across the airwaves and I already had enough problems with mirrors.

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About James Rising

A recovering radio addict wrestles with the written word.
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