My first exposure to college radio came in the late 70’s back in the days when Jeff and I were riding our bikes down to the UW Michigan campus area to frequent our 3 favorite places; the comic book store (The Eye of Agamotto), the arcade (Mickey Rat’s) and the sub shop (can’t remember the name) that was on the corner.
The Eye of Agamotto was just a recessed steel gate covered door on the block with a faded super hero sign outside. Remember this Jeff?
We often got there way early and waited outside for the guy who ran the place, Norm, to arrive. When he got there and unlocked, a dauntingly long set of creaking wooden stairs to the upper level of the building awaited. At the top was a short hallway and the door to the shop. It was a quirky shop and I always loved going there. I was just starting to collect comics so everything was new and awesome as I wandered around. Comic racks everywhere, and toys and things hanging from the ceiling and of course superhero decorations on every wall. There were new comics in the main room with the register counter and a back room with older back issues and collectibles. I recall there was a speaker almost directly over the new comics rack, so you really noticed it. Norm was super cool.
Norm played the radio in the shop. It was like no radio I had ever heard before. I was used to Top 40 style stations and whatever he was playing, undoubtedly from the U of M was so so different. They played long songs, comedy tracks, interviews, live broadcasts from local shows… different stuff all the time. That is what I listened to as I perused “Master Of Kung Fu”, “Kamandi”, “The Micronauts” and “Howard The Duck”. I always thought the music and the store were a perfect combination. It seemed slightly underground, both the store and the music.
As I think back on “The Eye” as we called it, I think about the music I heard in there, none that I could name now or even then, as much as I think about the comics. It was a mysterious and magical place.
Just for fun I Googled The Eye of Agamotto to see if I could find a pic of the weird stairs or the sign and I was surprised to find several sites that mention the shop. Cool! I’m not the only one that remembers that place.
Jeff! Check this one out: http://devnet.aadl.org/city/The_Eye_of_Agamotto
This one too! OMG I love the internet. http://golddiggr.aadl.org/city/Mickey_Rat’s
In the 80’s, when I was going to school at UW Milwaukee there was a radio station that was broadcast from the Milwaukee School of Engineering by students. This was WMSE. I listened to the stations that everyone else listened to… they were pumping Talking Heads and Planet P Project and all the hits of the day, but when I was up late I turned on WMSE. They played anything/everything and I got turned on to a lot of bands listening to the “Monk of Punk” show. I taped a bunch of these shows and made my own compilation tapes (check out my post about Ronnie James Dio).This was the first time I had heard Depeche Mode and X and they played a lot of older U2, which I found I really liked. I also discovered some really obscure stuff like “Big Daddy Sun and The Outer Planets” and “Lois Lane and The Lame Flames”. They had different formats for different hours. One hour would be screaming metal, the next folk and then reggae and then punk and on and on. It was always something crazy. It occurred to me that I would NEVER hear this kind of stuff on the Top 40, or even the Rock stations. This stuff was great. The DJ’s also talked about the music and told stories about what they were playing and really seemed to have a connection to what they were playing. They weren’t just playing what the listener was calling the station and requesting, or what was on the nightly countdown. These were DJ’s playing what they loved to play and we were getting to listen in on it.
I loved it.
When I moved to Sun Prairie Wisconsin in the late 80’s I was faced with the usual stations. There was Top 40 (Z104) and Rock (WIBA) and a few variations in between. No way can I stand Top 40 anymore and WIBA was great for about an hour and a half and then you started hearing the same thing over and over. I mean in a 2 hour span you would hear .38 Special for sure. Ugh.
It took a while to discover WORT on the low end of the dial, it may have been Dalton that turned me on to it, but once I discovered that they had a Friday and Saturday night Blues show I was in. WORT
is community sponsored public radio and like college radio they have a whole array of different types of music scheduled in different time slots throughout the day and night. Again, this was DJ’s playing what they loved and what first lured me to the station was the Friday and Saturday night Blues shows. I was DEEP into a blues phase and this was a great way to hear the old and the new and lots of bands and artists that I hadn’t heard before. The gal that did the Saturday night show “Two For the Blues” Bonnie Kalmbach had a very distinctive molasses voice that I thought was great and she played older stuff and talked about the Blues Fests both local and in the South and you could hear the love of the music in her voice. The Friday night and Saturday night shows are still on!
Dalton also tipped me to a couple shows that he was digging.
Mr. Hell: This show played crazy stuff. The weirder the better. I still have a compilation tape that he made for Dalton and I. We drove into Madison and the WORT studio to leave blanks for him and he later sent them to us by mail. A prized tape still.
Mr. Hell’s thing was that he used something to distort his voice into a deep low gravely throaty sound that made the show seem dark and disturbing. He was funny though. He played stuff a lot of local stuff and you would hear Poopshovel and Killdozer on his show frequently.
The Cruelest Cuts: This show was DJ’d by Tanya Hyde and she played things that were only playable in the late hours of night. Not for the squeamish or easy to offend. I’m pretty sure that is where I heard the song “One Down Three To Go” a song about John Lennon. This was pre George Harrison’s death of course. The Cruelest Cuts was a big Dalton favorite and he taped the show all the time, amassing a huge collection of cassettes. Still got these Dalton?
There were also lots of WORT “Live in The Studio” shows that featured local bands. I still have the tape of “The United Mind Workers” live on WORT show. They were an awesome local blues band that I wish I could have gone to see. When I heard they were going to be doing a studio session I camped that night in front of the stereo and recorded part of the show prior to get levels set and make any necessary adjustments like a professional recording engineer. It paid off. I got a great recording of a great show.
I couldn’t leave any blank space on the tape. It’s a sickness. The best of Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick Of Time” album. It seemed to fit. No judging.
These days as I drive to and from work, and sometimes streaming AT work I listen to a college radio station out of UW Madison. The Snake On The Lake: WSUM.
I’m not sure when I started tuning to WSUM, but somehow it became almost exclusively what I listen to in the car. The morning shows are fantastic. You never really know what to expect and that appeals to me. One minute you could be listening to power pop from Europe and the next Hank Williams and then Animal Collective or Dum Dum Girls… it’s all over the board and that is just what I am after these days. It doesn’t need to be the same old thing, just something good. I don’t like it all, but I like the chance to hear it all.
The Tuesday morning show is my favorite: “Pattern Recognition”.
DJ Wiki Ben from “Pattern Recognition” and DJ Renton from the Thursday morning show “The Sum Of All Parts” have been on for a long time and I’ve gotten to know their shows pretty well. They have both turned me on to some fantastic music, and music that I am 100% sure I would not have heard anywhere else on the dial. My only complaint was that due to my morning schedule I couldn’t really catch the whole show. Usually just the last 30 minutes as I was driving Joey to school and then myself to work. Sigh. However, one day DJ Wiki Ben talked about something he was going to have posted on his website which you can get to from the link above I had to fire up the laptop . I couldn’t believe my eyes. He podcasts!
I love that I can listen to it when I have time to absorb it and investigate things he plays. His site also has the full track list and listings of upcoming shows. Nice!
I also love the pictures of the vinyl he plays that he has posted on his site.
I highly recommend this show. You can do the podcast if the timing doesn’t work for you. Download the schedule sheet and check out some oher WSUM shows too. There is bound to be something you will dig.
College Radio Rules!