Archive for December, 2008

Big Rig Tidings

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Ho ho and happy happy! It’s getting to be that time of year (if you know what I mean). While I don’t hate Christmas and all the accompanying festivities– the absurd shopping rituals, the ripe holiday cliches and all immature spirituality of the season have always been not just problematic, but almost tragic to me every year. Even after having a kid a few years ago it didn’t completely quell the queasy feelings of the season. The coming of the winter holidays still feels more like a saccharine onslaught every year rather than something… sublime (Okay, I kinda like the dead tree thing. And all the lights…) But what really gets my gut churning is ALL that old-fashioned Christmas music.

So, with this post I wrestle against my better judgment and go beyond my personal limits of good taste and present you– Christmas music. And before I say anything else– I am sorry. But I won’t apologize for great radio. And that’s what you always got when John Parker was bumping around in the dark.

One of the most popular posts here at the Radio Kitchen has been “Trucking Radio As It Used To Was,” which included a few hours of the great John Parker as the weekend host of the Road Gang on WWL. Just look at the comments on this post and feel the love. Not for me (of course), but for Mr. Parker. And that makes me happy. While getting a web obit on an obscure radio blog isn’t exactly a star on the walk of fame, it’s better than nothing. When I went to write the piece I was saddened (and almost shocked that) there was almost no web presence representing John Parker and his legacy of great overnight radio across America.

If you’re not familiar with John Parker or the Road Gang, let me briefly explain. From the 1970’s into the 1990’s or so, there were three or so all-night radio shows that ran on clear channel AM stations in the south, with programming that specifically catered to cross country truck drivers. And while advertising from obscure trucker gear and services made them exotic and fun for kooky night owls like me and others, what made these shows truly wonderful was the music– lots of classic country and western music. And plenty of songs about trucking life.

These days, what’s left of that trucking and country music radio legacy has been compressed into one XM (now Sirius-XM) satellite radio station, known as “Open Road.” But sadly, old John Parker didn’t make the move up to the new technology, and has since passed on. And if you want to read more, check out my original post on the man and his music (and especially the comments).

While I’ve planned to put together another post (or maybe more) of Parker’s airchecks, the other day I recalled that I probably still had these particular tapes at the bottom of a closet here at headquarters.– a couple of Road Gang programs hosted by Parker from the 1988 Christmas season. And now they’re yours too (If you want ‘em).

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-23-88 pt 1  47:14
(download)

This first tape is actually not so painful, as far as holiday nausea potential. It’s still a couple days before Christmas, so the seasonal stuff is just part of the mix anyway. In fact there’s some deliciously weird stuff that I’d forgotten, like a Red Sovine holiday melodrama I haven’t heard in years. And lots of trucker-style corn (And I do mean corn).

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-23-88 pt 2  45:34
(download)

However, tape number two is full pedal to the metal Christmas carol baby Jesus birthday from end to end. After all, it is Christmas Eve 1988. I think even I might have been a little less seasonally cynical way back then. Maybe.

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-25-88 pt 1  44:10
(download)

So, if you like your holiday sounds maudlin and religious and soupy, you’re gonna have a good time with this hour and a half of the Road Gang. However, this Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday night, when Honest John offered his weekly music history lesson (AKA “Country Music The Way It Used To Was”) for the last two hours of the Road Gang. So the tunes may be hard for a Christmas curmudgeon such as myself to bear, but the second part of this aircheck does offer some the rarities, as well as Parker’s insights and historical perspective.

Unlike just about any other audio I might post here, when I encoded this deep Christmas aircheck I had to turn down the volume. Sorry. I couldn’t do it. But I hope you enjoy it, if you’ve got the stomach (or the spirit) for a big dose of xmas audio, you’ll probably have a good time.

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-25-88 pt 2  46:49
(download)

Meanwhile, I’m off to finish up some preparations. And to gather a little fortitude. I do wish you well, and hope you get and give all the jolly and joy and jingle that you can handle during these trying times. And thanks again to John Parker, for plenty of inspired overnight radio, and for sharing the love and lore of country music. Which reminds me, I have a New Years Eve tape of Parker on the Road Gang around here somewhere. When I get a chance, I’ll root though those boxes in the closet again soon and see if I can dig it up.

I do hope you have fun, however you interact with the solstice and the coming new year. And good luck to you (and yours)!

Extravaganzo On The Hudson

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Almost exactly a year ago, I put together a post (The Hip Spot On Your Dial) about anachronistic wonders of WHVW in New York’s Hudson Valley. We have family up that way, so it’s always on mind (and on my radio) when we come to visit. And I always record a little.

Just a little AM station with a little signal, WHVW is the vision of Joe Ferraro (AKA Pirate Joe), a guy who likes his music musty– old, funky, swingin’, stompin, and rockin’. Music that makes you wanna beat on something. In a good way.

WHVW – 11-28-08 part one  58:24
(download)
You can certainly read more about who, what and where of WHVW in my earlier post, but suffice to say that other than weekday drive time and certain hours over the weekend, WHVW is an automated affair. Which doesn’t bother me. In fact, it’s just about the best radio automation I’ve ever heard. And that’s what you get in these two files from last week– “Murray the Machine.”

Last year after I wrote about WHVW, I stopped by the studio for a short visit. I met Pirate Joe, who was very gracious. And every bit the unique character I expected to meet. Boring people don’t create magical radio stations that shouldn’t exist.

One thing that puzzles me. I recall taking a few pictures while I was there, and I haven’t been able to locate them on any of my stray hard drives here at headquarters. It’s too bad. Because I got a look at Murray, the “machine” that fills most of the hours of programming on WHVW. It’s a set up that would make a lot of sense, if it was 1992 (when Pirate Joe bought the station). In a small hot little closet at WHVW there are three 100 CD changers all hard-wired into a vintage late 1980’s computer running some DOS based radio automation program. And I asked Joe about it, wondering in particular about the hard drive in that thing. And you guessed it, the tiny old thing is just about as old as the computer itself. Of course it could blow any day and as I recall I think he said he doesn’t have a back up. Ouch.

WHVW – 11-28-08 part two  62:01
(download)

I remember a friend of mine had a pirate radio station for a while in the mid-90’s and he filled all the hours without DJ’s with a 100 CD machine, and I thought it was quite an amazing device. Then again, nowadays you could fit over 100 albums on a micro memory card as big as a fingernail. That is, if you compressed them as MP3’s. I happened to mention to Pirate Joe that he might wanna get that library converted to MP3’s and run it all off of a more contemporary machine (with back-ups of course). But he would have none of it. He said MP3’s just sounded horrible.

Now I know a thing or two about MP3’s and I’ve done quite a bit of encoding and listening, as well as reading a thing or two about MP3 compression. I’m no scientist, but I can tell you that if WHVW switched to MP3 music tomorrow, as long as they were encoded at appropriate bitrate (I’d say at least 96K mono, w-high quality set) that no one could ever tell the difference (even Joe). Specifically after going through the WHVW audio chain and the AM transmitter, nothing would ever be missed. In fact, I’m sure you probably encode much lower and most ears would never notice. However, as an opinionated curmudgeon myself, I knew better than to question Pirate Joe’s ears or expertise. Not a chance in hell I could change his mind, and that’s okay. He runs a wonderful radio station– creaky old DOS box and all.

The studios are in a small office in the center of Poughkeepsie. While downtown Poughkeepsie isn’t all that appealing, the WHVW studio and office were quite fine. I guess they’re in newer digs since the New York Time’s article a few years back. Although small, it was quite a modern little two or three room affair Pirate Joe has for his radio nest.

And I asked him about his great show (AKA: “Pirate Joe’s Country Music Show and Blues and R&B Extravaganzo”), which has been on hiatus for a few years. A damn good show. Heavy on the 78RPM. Anyway, he had some convoluted technical reason he couldn’t do the show. Problem with playing the 78’s he said. Something about the needles or cartridges or something. Seems to me that it wouldn’t be all that hard to fix or figure out. But who am I to question Pirate Joe…

In my intermittent recording of WHVW I did catch most of one particular Extravanzo broadcast, which I offer you here. And it’s one long piece of radio, over an hour and a half in one file.

WHVW – Pirate Joe Show 12-03-03  102:48
(download)

What a great meandering prosaic style Joe has on the mic. And the music is top notch. Rhythmic and raw. And as it comes from almost exactly five years ago, the seasonal topics are appropriate to the time this post is planted atop the blog. And as far as Joe’s Christmas music phobia… Can I hear an amen? It’s already driving me insane. Nothing chases me out a store faster than some holly and jolly shit spewing from the speakers.

It’s funny. Joe’s patter reminds me more than a little bit of WBCQ’s Allan Weiner. Which makes sense, because they were friends at one time– fellow radio pirates in fact. Sadly, they had a falling out, which I once heard Allan mention in passion on his show. Apparently money was a problem and maybe some broken promises too. I don’t know the details. But it occurred to me as I was listening to Joe’s show, that if you could somehow combine WBCQ and WHVW into one radio station, it could be a killer combination. Then again, they already kinda did that, as two kids sharing an illegal frequency back in the 1970’s.

Maybe someday Pirate Joe will once again air his 78’s in the afternoon. Meanwhile he continues to host a classical music show each weeknight, which doesn’t do much for me. But I’m sure it makes someone happy.

But other than Curt Roberts excellent morning drive rock and roll show, most of the great human (as opposed to automated) programming happens on the weekends. Like Dungeon’s Serenade. A Sunday afternoon offering, and I think it’s a relatively new arrival on the WHVW roster. This recording is from March of last year.

WHVW – Dungeon Serenade 03-25-07  66:47
(download)

I’m a sucker for a good doo-wop show, and this is the real thing. Tony O has this old school nasal edge to his voice, a warm kinda crooked sound. It’s a quirky announcer vibe that goes perfect with all the boom-boom-pa-boom shoo-wah stuff.

Then right when I getting into that 1959 Buick feeling Tony kinda blew it by talking about his new friends on his MySpace page. But that’s okay. He’s on a real radio station in the 21st century playing some awesome aching harmonies from someone else’s youth. And not only is that all right with me, it’s also not WCBS-FM. If you know what I mean.

What you get with Tony O is lots of passion for the records. His playlists are well-crafted, and it’s not the standard oldies fare to be sure. I haven’t listened to the whole thing again, but I do remember an amazing old Miracles song in there somewhere. And this clip is over an hour as well. And if you’re like me, you might find that these airchecks stand up to repeated listening. Which (if you happen to like WXHD) is a good thing. Especially considering that won’t be streaming the station online anytime soon.

I recall Pirate Joe had all sorts of reasons why he was holding off on putting WHVW on the web. And you know, even though the cost to do so would be infinitesimal compared to running that megawatt sucking AM transmitter, and there’s probably quite a few people who don’t happen to within a tight radius of Poughkeepsie, New York who might wanna tune in to the hip spot now and then…

But hey, I’m not gonna argue with Pirate Joe. It can’t be easy keeping an eccentric little radio station on the air these days. And he’s doing a pretty damn good job. I do wish we could all hear it at home, live. But I have my recordings, and when I cruise up the Taconic Parkway, it’s always there waiting. And you have over four hours of WHVW. Right here. And don’t forget, there’s more WHVW archives back here.

Have fun. And thanks Joe! Keep up the good work.