Dear readers and listeners, the weekend of July 8th brought with it the 4th annual WLHA Resurrection /Reunion event as broadcasted upon the beautiful student and community radio station, WSUM-FM, located in the heart of, yet blissfully high above, the University Of Wisconsin-Madison campus. When I first participated in these events four years ago, it was purely accidental as a chance hearing of a promotional advertisement for the first event as I drove around the city listening to 'SUM was the moment that felt like a lightning strike.
What if I had never heard that promo? To think of all that I would have missed within my life at this stage. I would have missed out of discovering a newfound understanding of the radio station's history and the connective tissue that exists between WLHA and WSUM, as well as my small place within that space and time. I would have completely missed out upon a way to have a creative outlet that has always meant the world to me by returning to a cherished period of my past but now armed with a much deeper appreciation and gratitude that extends itself not only to these reunions but to my weekly place on WVMO-FM. I would have missed out on gaining a larger and broader significance and understanding of my connection within my specialized "tribe" of passionate music and radio lovers and devotees. But most importantly, I would have missed out upon reuniting with dear friends and within the very context of where we first met.
This time last year at the 3rd annual WLHA Resurrection/Reunion event, I found myself almost ruining my own time at WSUM by self-consciously and sadly musing over audio mistakes and kicking myself over a wrongheaded sense of perfectionism for myself, instead of just being deliriously happy to be in the studio at all, and with my friends to boot. Perhaps I was fearing that since there are no guarantees that WSUM would allow these events to occur year after year, I was feeling hypersensitive to the idea that it could all end at any time, meaning that my radio days could also be silenced very quickly as well. And so, with that, I just felt "off" the entire time, again not realizing that just being within the moment itself was the most important thing. I was among friends and on the radio, what's better than that?
Interestingly enough, life or fate or coincidence revealed itself months afterwards. Since that time, I have been so thankful to have been invited to join the ranks of WVMO and add my voice to an exciting new community radio station on a weekly basis. Having the opportunity to return to something so wonderful has not only provided goodwill for my spirit as it is truly one of the highest highlights of my week, I also found myself feeling so relaxed when Casey Peckham once again placed the call out to all former WLHA DJs for this year's event. Even with WVMO now in my life, there was no conceivable way that I would miss out on the reunion weekend, because, quite simply, whatever my life with radio has been or would ever become, it ALL began with WLHA and I am blissfully obligated to pay homage and participate.
I explored the extremely well deserved collection of awards WSUM has received over the years...
...and I also found myself perusing the copious signage that marks the walls of the studios...
...and what I possibly enjoyed the most at this stage was seeing the wall of Polaroid photographs of WSUM DJs, all so young, so vibrant and so thrillingly excited to be apart of something I feel to be just rapturous at its finest.
I smiled to myself, and broadly so, because even though I knew none of these people and they certainly did not know of me whatsoever, we all belonged to the same "tribe" and in doing so, we all stood upon the shoulders of each other, ensuring the existence and longevity of this radio station, regardless of the call letters. If anything, this moment, looking at all of those faces, instilled within myself the proper spirit in which to engage during this event...just be happy that you are, and continue to be, a part of something so pure and true and filled with tremendous connections and community. Just have fun and translate that fun to the audience and we can all have a wonderful experience together each and every time.
And then, it was almost 9 a.m. and it was time to get myself on the air once again...
Getting behind the boards at WSUM (and also at WVMO) is very much like I would imagine what sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise might feel like--an old joke of mine but quite apt considering the level of technology at one's fingertips compared to the WLHA days back in the late 1980's/early 1990's, where we only worked with (and to quote Beck) two turntables and a microphone (you can thank Kelly & Sue for that great one)!
Even with state of the art technology, there are kinks to be hand. Last year, the CD players caused a slew of issues and both have been replaced with spanking new ones but the board itself, with all of its beautiful bright lights, is now of a slightly older variety than it was when I first saw it for a WSUM radio interview I gave back in 2002. Lights don't shine as brightly and that is what caused me some problems this time around as I was unsure as to how the board and CD players "spoke" to each other regarding when songs were cued and ready to be played on-air. Yes, I had a few moments of surprising dead air and impromptu ad-libs while things were sorted out properly but this year, it all just rolled off of my back and I found myself reveling in the unpredictability of live radio--again, remembering to make it fun and then, listeners will play along, be more than forgiving and have fun as well.
Before I knew it, Lisa Grueneberg, who performs on-air under her alias of "The Grue," arrived with her trademark smile and sweetly crinkled eyes and gave me a wonderfully warm embrace. Very quickly, she set a pair of headphones upon herself and as the second hour of my DJ shift began, she and I went about a 20 minute plus on-air dialogue about our past radio adventures from creating radio show program names to piggy-backing upon a live caller from the night before, as we also spoke at length about what student radio meant to us at the time, what it means now and even diving into the art of designing what a radio show could possibly be.
It was also during this part of the day where we were excitedly pleased to meet a current member of the WSUM staff, Assistant Technical Director Rolands Lauzums, who is also the DJ/host of not one but two 'SUM programs, "The Space Age Bachelor Pad" (which airs each Wednesday at 4 p.m.) and "Moral Panic!" (which airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m.). In addition to providing us with tremendous assistance throughout our time on air, we also invited him to join us on the mic as he spoke of both of his programs, his life at a student DJ and he even gave us some 21st century insight into the current status of that symbol of musical affection between friends, soul mates and hopeful romantic partners: the mixtape.
To me, this whole section of my particular shift felt to be so free flowing, easy going and wholly natural that not playing music for such a stretch did not feel self-indulgent. I certainly hope that for the listener, it was a section that was entertaining to hear because I can easily tell you that it was great fun for me. Perhaps, I should try to do radio interviews or group sessions like this again one day, huh?
Essentially, I was feeling what I know that Casey Peckham hopes for with every annual event: that the time feels like a party. Not one that excludes the audience but one that is of equal benefit for the audience and the DJs themselves. All morning long, especially once Lisa arrived and followed by Rolands, Casey plus Nivek and other co-horts from the AM era of WLHA continued to come and go, all the while adding to the overall party atmosphere. And when Kelly Klaschus and Sue Grass arrived, propelling themselves comically upon the glass of the opposite side of the studio wall, my heart lifted even more. And frankly, how could it not?
Trust me, dear readers and listeners, if you knew Kelly and Sue personally, you would be taken in instantly. Their combined warmth and wit is nothing less than completely infectious. Their musical taste (like Lisa's) is equally impeccable. And when those elements are merged, you have two radio hostesses who have an ease about themselves on air that I truly believe would inspire listeners to remain as their audience for as long as they would choose to have themselves broadcasted over the airwaves.
But before, Kelly and Sue arrived on air in full, it was not only Lisa's solo turn for her one hour program, it was also time for Kelly and Sue to do some exploring...
For the past two years, Lisa Grueneberg has joined me on-air as my lovely co-hostess/co-pilot as she had not fully desired taking on the entire role of providing the music set list quite yet. This year, however, she was more than excited to take the helm.
Once switching DJ seats as my last song, Prince's propulsive seven minute "F.U.N.K.," filled the speakers, Lisa began her show in earnest. And while she would tell you herself that maybe she said too many "ummms" between words, to my ears, she sounded just wonderful and furthermore, after just one on-air snafu which mirrored by own during my set, she mastered the 'SUM boards on the first try for her full 60 minutes and the effect was wonderfully seamless and filled with the sounds of glorious power pop melodies and harmonies that drifted down the 'SUM hallways and throughout the city of Madison. Aside from a brief portion where I sat in with her to have some verbal back and forth, Lisa flew solo and beautifully so.
Meanwhile, in other areas of the WSUM studios, Kelly and Sue embarked upon a journey that was nearly a mirror to my own journey during the very first Resurrection/Reunion event. As guided by Rolands, Kelly and Sue were finally able to head into the WSUM vault/library to explore the vinyl stacks and re-discover the very albums that we had played ourselves during our years in the late 1980's/early 1990's--quite a number of those very same albums made their way to their 2 hour broadcast this very weekend.
In addition to reuniting with each other, it was truly blissful to reunite with "old friends" such as the original Canadian EP version of "I'm An Adult Now" by The Pursuit Of Happiness and even the original 12" single version of XTC's "The Mayor Of Simpleton," both of which are the very copies we all played when they first arrived in the mail at WLHA!
These findings also led to many laughter filled conversations between ourselves and Rolands who was quite fascinated with the hows and whys we wrote and defaced album cover after album cover in order to discourage DJ thefts. "You guys had entire conversations on some of those albums!" Rolands remarked. Yes, we certainly did and especially so on the albums we absolutely, positively, unequivocally hated like Black Flag's hilariously repugnant "Slip It In" release, on which the written comments have become the source of some minor legend. (As for the album itself, listen to it at your own risk--you have been warned!!!!)
And just as that very first time, I was still so amazed, and now joined in the very same amazement by Kelly, Sue and Lisa, to find our own handwriting scrawled across the jackets after all of this time when these very albums should have been lost to the four winds yet survived all of the changes of stations and locations to survive in 2016, intact and ready to be played by anyone who chose to pull one from the shelves, place it onto the turntable and send the music over the airwaves to the masses.
For now, I am compelled to send out a series of thanks...
1. To WSUM's Dave Black, station management, student and community DJ staff and to Rolands Lauzums, I deeply appreciate your kindness and willingness to turn your station over to the veterans for one more weekend for another year. It is an event that I sincerely hope is able to continue for years to come as this wonderful place has meant so much to so many and continues to hold a connective link to everyone who has ever followed the ones who came before. The legacy is rich and real and your openness has allowed that legacy to thrive onwards.
2. To Kevin "Casey" Peckham, our fearless leader, our pied piper, I thank you for once again taking on this massive task in organizing and scheduling this event plus this year incorporating live remote segments as well as a trivia contest to boot. Your "kid-in-a-candy-store" enthusiasm, beaming smile and festive attitude is unquestionably the shining sun to this radio reunion universe as with each year, I am able to see how this is so much more than nostalgia...it truly is community, from past to present, from music to DJ, from DJ to audience. Like the very best records, it is forever revolving, thanks to you and your associates!
3. And to Kelly, Sue and Lisa...what else needs to be said other than I love you all so very much. May our own connections remain strongly bonded, in radio certainly, but in life definitively!
As I wrote just a few hours after returning home from the weekend, I just never knew back in 1987 how important this DJ path would have ever been or mean to me...and without a doubt, it means more to me every single day.
Can we do this again next year, please????? I'm ready!!!!