Tuesday, March 13, 2018

THE SPIRIT OF RADIO: THE SYNESTHESIA TRIBUTE TO CHICAGO'S WLUP 98.7 FM-THE LOOP CHICAGO'S CLASSIC ROCK

"Invisible airwaves
Crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle
With the energy
Emotional feedback
On a timeless wavelength
Baring a gift beyond priceless
Almost free..."
-"The Spirit Of Radio"
lyrics by Neil Peart  
music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
performed by Rush

Yes, I know. Things change. Hell, everything changes and nothing lasts forever. But still...ever still, I am stunned and tremendously saddened with this latest farewell.

Chicago's premier classic rock radio station WLUP 97.9 FM, eternally known as "The Loop," has now ceased to be. As of the stroke of midnight, as Friday, March 9, 2018 became Saturday, March 10, 2018, legendary Chicago DJ, and one of the original rock radio bad boys, Steve Dahl sailed The Loop on its final journey as the station, now owned by the Educational Media Foundation, made its inexplicable transformation into a new contemporary Christian music network. And with the defiant, goin' down swingin' hard rock middle finger, which arrived in the three song set of Motley Crue's "Shout At The Devil," Iron Maiden's "Number Of The Beast" and the final song, most fittingly AC/DC's "Highway To Hell," The Loop said goodbye to Chicago after 41 years of service in the name of radio and rock and roll.

While I probably hadn't listened to the station since some time during my college years, it did not matter at all because The Loop was an essential piece in the complex puzzle that made up the city of Chicago. It was so much more than a station that directly influenced me, my love of radio and rock and roll at the absolute best time of my life, it was a station that served to represent Chicago triumphantly and with irreverence, grit, guitars and glory. The Loop is as much "Chicago" as the metallic sonic onslaught of the 'L trains, the majestic architecture that surrounds the city, the funky salt-of-the-Earth backbone of its neighborhoods and citizens, and a city landmark for all times, much like Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower (I will NEVER call it "Willis"!). The Loop IS Chicago. The Loop IS rock and roll. And while its identity is forever cemented within generations of Chicago listeners, it doesn't make it any less sad that it is now gone.
While I am unable to remember the exact day and date, I will NEVER forget how the experience made me feel. In my life during my childhood leading up to my year in 5th grade in the 1979-1980 school year, the radio was an essential piece of my upbringing as it was ALWAYS part of the fabric of my family. WBBM-AM for constant news and sports. WJPC and WVON for soul, gospel and most specifically for my Mother, Rev. Jesse Jackson's weekly Operation P.U.S.H. broadcasts each and every Saturday morning.

Again, I do not remember how or when, but the radio truly came alive for me when I discovered WLS-AM and its rotating cavalcade of DJs with the late, great Larry Lujack existing as my first radio hero and the terrific radio ready music of pop, rock, R&B and yes, even disco serving as the soundtrack with the likes of Peter Frampton, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, KISS, the Eagles, Electric Light Orchestra, Cheap Trick and others of their ilk becoming personal favorites. Yet, by the time I was 10 going on 11, I distinctly remember growing a tad fatigued with WLS and just desiring something new. I do not remember how, when or why I made that very first switch to the FM dial, but I do remember precisely what I heard.
The song was "The Spirit Of Radio" by Rush and it was a piece of music that could not have been more prophetic and more of a fanfare if it had even wanted. The sound of the song and the fidelity of FM radio made me hear music and the radio in an entirely new way, so much so, it was as if a brand new set of ears had been placed upon my head! Whatever I had been looking for was immediately found and very quickly, my AM radio days were over in favor of the exceedingly wider horizons of FM, and most specifically, The Loop!
With all due respect to the great hard rockin' WMET-FM of which I was a passionate listener, WLUP-FM became my go-to radio station for this next and crucial wave in my musical/radio education as well as my building worldview. Starring the first rate presence of radio personalities that sort of felt like the characters from television's "WKRP In Cincinnati," yet they had either just crashed through the bars well beyond closing time or had otherwise been released from jail for all manner of belligerent behavior, WLUP-FM truly felt like a band of gleefully unapologetic anarchists of the airwaves. The playfully flippant Jonathan Brandmeier. The smoky, sexy late night voice of Patti Haze. And most of all, there was no one more revolutionary and dangerous than Steve Dahl and Garry Meier (sorry Howard Stern, as far as I am concerned, you are still chasing Dahl).

Hearing this cast of radio characters, it was easy to hear how bullshit detectors were on high alert and they did not suffer fools whatsoever with that trademark Chicagoan resolve. But, what they did offer, and happily so, was an allegiance to rock and roll so steadfast that for me, the station functioned sort of like what I would have imagined a street gang to have been like. The Loop harbored a "take no prisoners" attitude and aesthetic that made you feel as if the radio airwaves were their turf that was fought over and had to be defended. The Loop presented themselves as the toughest by far with rock and roll as its armor and the now iconic back in black T-shirt as the uniform known citywide.

Steve Dahl and Lorelei the Loop Girl, Comiskey Park 1979 

Now when I first listened to The Loop, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were the morning shock jocks and I never heard him in action due to my parents' listening habits (plus the fact that they would never tolerate that level of insanity so early in the day). But man, I certainly knew of him and his controversial, newsworthy antics, of which the still infamous "Disco Demolition Night," held July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park (no, I will NEVER call it the U.S. Cellular Field or the even more impersonal and blue blooded Guaranteed Rate Field), where Dahl exploded stacks of disco records to the riotous delight of rock fans and therefore the second game of the White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers double-header was forced to be cancelled due to the damage made to the playing field. reverberates powerfully.

Since I was 10 years old at the time and really had no concept of the possible subversive cultural, racial and homophobic politics that may or may not have been weaved into the event, for me, that night, as I witnessed it on the news and of course, heard about it on the radio, felt like the anarchy I adored in John Landis' "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) was brought to vividly, vibrant life.
Garry Meier and Steve Dahl

All of that being said, I never really heard Dahl and Meier until they were jettisoned from WLUP and joined the then new WLS-FM, when I listened to them religiously during my middle school years in the afternoons before switching right back over to The Loop each and every night. Even during periods when I was under punishment from my parents for poor grades, I still found ways to to listen to The Loop, for this was my safe way to join the rebellion, such as it was, with my own act of rebellious behavior. The Loop was precisely what I needed for so many years of my younger life and I am unable to imagine what my life woud have been without it and what it gave to me.

Yes, The Loop was the home of those aforementioned radio rebel DJs and high adrenaline advertisements ("Sunday!!! Sunday!!! SUNDAY!!!!") but my musical horizons were blasted wide open, expanding the rock and roll universe for me rapturously. While my favorites from my AM radio years were still present and accounted for, I was graced with so much more than hit singles. The Loop was the station to play those deep cuts, the longer tracks, the full versions and even entire albums in full. It was the station that introduced me to Rush, Genesis, Yes, The Who, The Police and so, so many more bands that I will cherish forever and ever.

In fact, my eternal love for Led Zeppelin began with The Loop as I distinctly remember one full weekend entitled "Led Zeppelin A to Z," during which every Zeppelin track was played in alphabetical order. I listened to as much as I was able that weekend and I was enraptured and transported.

In another instance, The Loop was the station that helped to re-acquaint me with Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (released November 30, 1979), an album that I received on Christmas Day 1979, listened to in its entirety on that day and was so terrified by it that I actually felt it to being "evil," that I shelved it into the vinyl stacks in my house. Out of sight. Out of mind. But on The Loop, I soon heard one song from the album on one day and then, another and another, and soon, I decided to dig the album out from its hiding place and give it a listen again. I was still frightened but I began to very slowly realize that I was hearing a superlative work of art that was challenging absolutely everything I thought that I knew about rock and roll, lyricism, poetry, albums that served as storytelling as well as psychoanalysis. Again, The Loop was instrumental in changing the way I heard music and to this day, Pink Floyd's "The Wall" remains one of the best albums I have ever heard in my lifetime. Without The Loop, that album still may have been hidden among my parents' record collection.

Dr. Demento

The Loop was also the home to a series of syndicated radio programming that served to deepen and expand my musical horizons. How I adored "Rockline," a weekly interview series hosted by Bob Coburn who engaged one musical hero after another in conversation, along with call in questions from fans just like me (I can still hear the theme son in my brain). "The Dr. Demento Radio Show," two full hours of comedic tunes, novelty songs and bizarre sonic ditties (Barnes & Barnes' "Fish Heads," anyone?), solidified the subversive, anarchistic vibe of the station. 

But, first and foremost, it was the music. ALWAYS the rock and roll music that made me constantly wish for more, to be inspired to race to my drums and bash away, to house rock star dreams and visions, and mostly, to just float away on roaring symphonies of guitars, carrying my teenage heart to wherever it wished to take me.

As my musical horizons and listening habits expanded even further by the end of high school and especially, upon heading off for college, I stepped aside from The Loop and gave my attention and devotion to WXRT-FM, which for me will eternally e the greatest radio station I will ever hear. That being said, I never turned my back upon The Loop and even after years of being away from Chicago and not listening to that station, I have NEVER forgotten it and all that it gave to me at the very span of time when I needed it most. Even with the advent of the internet, streaming, satellite radio stations and the avarice driven corporate take over of radio stations coast-to-coast, the kind of which that has bled any sense of originality, region and location, individuality and integrity completely dry, The Loop continued onwards, waving that rock and roll flag for Chicago as proudly and as defiantly as it was able.

That is, until now...

Steve Dahl, the final Loop broadcast March 9, 2018

Upon hearing the news that The Loop was sold and purchased, and with a complete format alteration to Christian music, I felt as if I had been sucker punched. I was in utter disbelief without question as The Loop was just one of those Chicago staples that seemed would outlive me and generations after me for it felt to be so entrenched into Chicago's identity. It still doesn't feel real that when I return to my home city and spin that dial to 97.9 FM, The Loop, after 41 years, will simply not be there.

So, I feel the need to hope that for all of the people who listened and loved and were fiercely loyal to The Loop, whatever spirit of radio it instilled into all of us remains...just as proudly and as defiantly as it did when we were kids, passionately listening to and debating rock and roll just as the adults conversed and debated about sports teams. Yet still, Chicago has lost a crucial piece of its overall soundtrack and in some fashion, I have lost a piece of my childhood with The Loop's sudden absence. I have my memories. I have my music. I just wish that it could still be there for the next wave of kids who need that space for rebellion and anarchy, irreverence and audacity, all of which wrapped up in the heftiest serving of classic rock, so imaginatively presented as it was for my generation.

All I can do right now is to say, THANK YOU" to WLUP-FM as this station truly threaded an entire city together, and so wondrously graced my life. In fact, I think one particular tribute saidit all for me and it was one as delivered by WXRT-FM...
"We grew up together." Indeed.

And the both of them raised me...

WLUP-FM 97.9 THE LOOP 1977-2018
REST IN ROCK AND ROLL POWER

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