This is why we do it

My buddy Dave and I have been doing a podcast for nearly three years. It’s called “97X Rumblings from the Big Bush,” and it’s about a dearly departed modern rock/alternative/college rock/indie (pick any of those) radio station. Dave and I both worked there in the 90s. The station never made a scratch in the Cincinnati market ratings, much less a dent. But the few folks who did tune in weren’t just casual listeners, they were truly passionate about the music. And 97X was their tribe, the place where they belonged.

The terrestrial station (97.7 FM in Oxford, Ohio) gave up the ghost in 2004. The online version (woxy.com) was lost to the ether in 2010. But it still holds a very special place in the hearts of those who remember it. And that’s the target audience for our podcast. It’s too small to even be a niche, but we don’t mind.

We publish a new episode roughly every two weeks, and we probably average around 160 downloads.

Joe Rogan is not in danger of losing his podcasting crown, that’s for sure.

Over the three years, we’ve published 66 episodes. Each one requires scheduling a call, doing the interview, editing each episode down to roughly 20 minutes, uploading and posting it. (We probably should promote it too, but we stink at that!). So it’s easily two hours of work per episode. We’ve made the princely sum of zero dollars and zero cents for our efforts. (Actually it’s a loss leader – we have to pay for podcast hosting.) But as Dave and I like to say, “we’ve made 150 people very happy” because we’re helping them reconnect with a station that meant a lot to them, and reconnect with the people who made it so special.

Here’s an email we got about a month ago — I think it sums up why Dave and I continue to do the podcast:

Hey Dave and Damian!

I discovered 97X: Rumblings from the Big Bush on Spotify, and have been binge listening for weeks to get caught up! This past weekend I listened all the way down to Nashville and again all the way back, and you made the trip go by so fast.

I love this podcast so much. Hearing your voices and your guests take me right back. This is going to be a long email.

I grew up in Crosby Township, just south of Ross Ohio, surrounded by cornfields, with a view of the Fernald uranium plant in the distance. 

My family wasn’t really into music. As a kid their idea of good entertainment was “Hee Haw”. My older siblings listened to 70s lite rock and country music.  I knew none of this was for me, but I didn’t know what was.

I was in middle school in 1983 when my brother came home from college one weekend and played some new music he’d heard from friends. When I heard The Go-Gos for the first time, I thought it was the weirdest thing I ever heard — and I LOVED IT. Around that time too my just older sister and her high school friends were listening to British pop. I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover, and they had cable tv. We watched the U2 Red Rocks concert on MTV, and I was amazed. I was getting closer, but I still couldn’t find anything in any steady stream that was for me. All I heard was Q102. 

Then one day about 1985, I was in my room flipping through my collection of Star Hits magazines, looking at photos of Depeche Mode and other British bands, wondering what they sounded like, and scrolling through the radio dial…when all of a sudden I heard the most outrageous sounds coming from the speakers. I found 97X!

That was about the only good thing about where I lived: 97X came in crystal clear and was like an oasis among the fields of corn. The music you played opened my mind and heart to soundscapes so different than anything I’d ever known. You took me to places I was sure I’d never get to go. How lucky was I! 

I remember the summers in high school listening to 97X. I always had leftover notebooks at the end of the school year. So I ripped out all my biology and algebra notes, and used up the remaining pages keeping lists of songs I heard and liked on the radio. I filled pages and pages. I hung on every note, counted each song, waiting for you to backsell what you just played so I could write it down. (Gosh I wish I still had those lists!)

Whenever I could, I kept a Memorex 90 minute cassette in the player so I could spring from my bed in time to hit record/play and catch those songs and make mix tapes. And I waited all week for Saturday overnights when you’d play an album in its entirety. I struggled to stay awake til midnight just to hit record, then turned the volume low so I could sleep. In the morning I rewound to listen back, and was either happy or bummed to find out if the entire album fit on one side. I remember getting XTC “Apples and Oranges” that way, and The Indigo Girls and The Smithereens. Then later I would make my own album covers from a collage of pictures and patterns I’d find in magazines.

I didn’t have an allowance or a job, so I’d save my lunch money up to buy used albums whenever I could. In anticipation of The Smiths’ “Louder Than Bombs” I saved and rolled coins for weeks and weeks til I had enough plus tax to buy it brand new at Camelot Music in Northgate Mall. (I think the clerk hated me for my rolls of taped up coins, but I was too excited to care.)

I also didn’t get to go to shows, but did manage two unforgettable ones I heard about on 97X. I got to see Echo & the Bunnymen at Millett Hall, and Gene Loves Jezebel at Bogart’s (I think RedMath opened for them there?)

After I graduated high school in 1989, I went to a little Christian college in Kentucky. The kids there tried to get me into their Christian music, but most of it stunk, bad. Then someone suggested I give the band The Choir a try, and finally I was like, “These are my people!” Bands like The Choir, The Prayer Chain, The Seventy Sevens, and anything by Michael Knott would have fit so well with 97X’s format! I’m still a fan of them and all the music from 97X to this day.

I wish I could say you inspired me to pursue a creative career in music or art or something that would have made me an interesting adult. I’m just a music fan, is all, but can’t play or sing or anything. I got married and became a stay at home mom. But a freaking cool one. (My kids have turned out cool too, they dig all my music and introduce me to theirs.)

Really I just wanted to let you know how much 97X meant to me in my teen years. You truly saved me. I can’t fully express how much you did. But I am Here in large part because of this station. You gave me hope and an outlet. I heard you, and my spirit felt heard in return.

Thank you so much for doing this podcast. Also excited to find playlists on Spotify, and I tuned-in to Inhailer radio for the first time today. And I just ordered a 97X t-shirt from Unsung Salvage Design in Hamilton that I will proudly wear wherever I go.

Please let me know if you are on Facebook. An episode I heard this weekend mentioned “WOXY Forever” but I couldn’t find it. I found the 97X WOXY Alums closed group, but I wasn’t an employee so… The only other page I could find is WOXY.COM The Future of Rock and Roll, which hasn’t been posted to since 2011.

Thanks!
Jen

See? I told you it was more than just a radio station. And it was more than a home for independent music… it was a refuge for whole bunch of folks like Jen who felt like they didn’t fit in anywhere else…. and 97X became their home.

Really I just wanted to let you know how much 97X meant to me in my teen years. You truly saved me. I can’t fully express how much you did. But I am here in large part because of this station. You gave me hope and an outlet. I heard you, and my spirit felt heard in return.

(We got Jen’s permission to print her email, in case you were wondering.)

The station and its programming was driven by the idea that true independence is possible only when practiced with and for other people. The book argues that this idea of independence is what we need to fight the 21st century corporate mainstream, which is driven by the false idea that real independence is being left to fend for yourself.

Robin James, describing the book she’s writing about 97X. Read more here.

All their stories are songs… or vice versa

My “listening room” is the Little Miami River. I paddle downstream and listen to some new tunes on a $20 waterproof speaker that attaches to my kayak via a suction cup — with a carabiner clip as a backup.

The river is peaceful, and it’s a great place to really focus on the lyrics. This past weekend, I put my ears on a couple of albums that hit the high water mark (see what we did there?) for eloquence and poignance.

James McMurtry’s new release The Horses and the Hounds is brilliant from start to finish. James is the son of novelist Larry McMurtry, and clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the storytelling tree. Check out “Canola Fields” or “Operation Never Mind” or “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call” for fine examples of a good yarn.

Next up on my not-so-rockin’ river excursion was Home Video, the third album from 26-year-old singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus. She really knows how to capture a sense of time and place with her attention to detail and her emotionally moving lyrics. Listen to “VBS” or “Thumbs” or “Brando” and try not to get goose bumps.

Yes, sometimes I don’t play any music and enjoy the natural symphony. But when I want to spend some quality time with an album, the river is my favorite spot for streaming (see what we did there?).

Not my river!

Find Your Own Rhythm

Charlie Watts passed away Tuesday, at the age of 80. For nearly 59 years, he was the drummer for the Rolling Stones… “the greatest rock and roll band in the world” according to none other than Bob Dylan.

On stage, while Mick was strutting around like a peacock and Keith was firing off those classic guitar riffs — usually while a cigarette dangled from his mouth — Charlie was the quiet guy in the back, just doing his job, keeping time.

Off stage, while Mick was hanging out with Andy Warhol at Studio 54, and impregnating Brazilian models… while Keith was ingesting every drug under the sun, Charlie was hanging out with his wife Shirley. They got married in 1964 and remained married until the day he died.

Picture: Getty/ SWNS

In Robert Greenfield’s STP: A Journey Through America with The Rolling Stones, a documentary of their 1972 American Tour, it is noted that when the group was invited to the Playboy Mansion, Watts took advantage of Hugh Hefner’s game room instead of frolicking with the women.

From this article about Charlie Watts in the Independent

Rock and roll drummers are supposed to be the crazy ones. Keith Moon of The Who practically invented the port of trashing hotel rooms. John “Bonzo” Bonham played 20 minute drum solos during Led Zeppelin concerts, and rode a motorcycle through the lobby of a Hollywood hotel. Actually, he rode one through the lobby of three different hotels.

(It’s also worth noting that Keith Moon died of a drug overdose at age 32, and John Bonham also was 32 when he drank so heavily (the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka in a 24-hour period) that he choked on his own vomit and died.)

At some point in our lives, most of us want to be the rock star or the the guitar hero. But maybe it’s better to be in the background, keep a steady rhythm, and stay true to the beat of your own heart.

Thunder Island is in Scranton!

I’m drawn to music trivia like moths to a flame. My puny brain cannot retain any useful information, but it does know that Jim Peterik of Survivor (the “Eye of the Tiger” folks) also wrote and sang “Vehicle” by The Ides of March.

However, one juicy nugget of music trivia had escaped me until this week: The theme music for the American version of “The Office” was composed by one James Ferguson. I know him better as Jay Ferguson. Yes, the dude who was a one-hit wonder with “Thunder Island” back in 1978.

Joe Walsh played guitar on the tune, btw. He was a Kent State classmate of the members of Devo. And Jay Ferguson was in the band Spirit. But I digress.

How did I miss that? I mean, who doesn’t love “Thunder Island”? And that album cover is pure 70s yacht rock gold:

The hair, the unbuttoned shirt… the mandals!

A quick search of the google machine reveals that James (a.k.a. Jay) Ferguson has carved out a nice little niche doing music for Hollywood:

His resumé is rather impressive since he has worked on music for episodes of shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles, Women’s Murder Club, Tales From The Crypt, Going To Extremes, Melrose Place, and Eerie, Indiana. Ferguson has also composed music for popular films as well. Throughout his career, he has worked on music for The Terminator, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and This Is 40.

From this article about The Office theme song
The “Thunder Island”/”The Office” connection should be enough to satisfy my music trivia fix. But Jon Wurster (drummer for Superchunk… and the Mountain Goats… and Bob Mould) sent me even further down the rabbit hole with this little post on Instagram:

Sooooo, not only does Jay Ferguson have a hit single in the 70s and a hit TV theme song from the 2000s… but the Rolling Stones sorta/kinda ripped him off.

I’ll have to make room in my puny brain for this… guess I’ll have to forget my wedding anniversary to clear some space.

Keep reaching for the stars

I grew up in the Space Race era, when going to the moon was cool.

I also grew up listening to American Top 40 every weekend, and Casey Kasem always told me to keep reaching for the stars.

At the risk of turning into “Old Man Yells at Cloud” I’ll say that kids these days don’t seem to have the same fascination with outer space.

Perhaps that’s because the Space Race has turned into a Billionaires Ego Trip.

But the Cincinnati Public Library is trying to get kids’ heads in the clouds again. Check out this excerpt from an article by Emily DeLetter in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have partnered with Dean Regas, an astronomer with the Cincinnati Observatory, to offer telescopes for free to library patrons. 

The library has five Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch astronomical telescopes available for checkout at branches around the city. Each telescope can be reserved for 21 days, and comes with two eye pieces, an Orion EZ Finder II Reflex Sight, a star chart and two of  Regas’ books—”100 Things to See in the Night Sky” and “Facts from Space!”— to guide viewers through their star-viewing experience.

I think it’s really cool that the library is doing this. Most kids — and adults — spend way too much time with their heads down, staring at their phones. Looking up can reveal whole new worlds – literally and figuratively.

Speaking of telescopes, one plays a prominent role in an excellent short story by John Young, who lives in Cincinnati.

From John Young’s “A Membrook Man”

The story appears in his book Fire in the Field and Other Stories, which is a collection of 16 of his short stories, all of which are thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended – check it out… and maybe check out a telescope while you’re at it.

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