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.

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.

Super Scholars

“The 2021 Presidential Scholars represent extraordinary achievements for our extraordinary times,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release. “I am delighted to join President Biden in saluting these outstanding young people for their achievements, service, character and continued pursuit of excellence. Their examples make me proud and hopeful about the future. Honoring them can remind us all of the great potential in each new generation and renew our commitment to helping them achieve their dreams.”

Like the Secretary of Education, I’m proud and hopeful about the future too. I’m also proud that half of the Presidential Scholars semifinalists in the entire state of Ohio — 11 kids — hail from the Cincinnati area. Two of these scholars (Aidan Finn and Anna Rahner) started their scholarly journey in the same Montessori classrooms as my kids. Three of the semifinalists attended Walnut Hills High School, where all four of our kids attended junior high, and three attended (or are still attending) high school. Another semifinalist went to McNicholas High School, also the alma mater of our oldest child and my lovely bride.

I’m not claiming any sort of transitive property that makes my kids super-scholars by association. But I do think grade schools like Sands Montessori lay a strong foundation for all the kids going to school there, and high schools like Walnut Hills and McNicholas help them blossom. The kids get the awards, but the teachers deserve a ton of credit for bringing out the best in their students.

“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can read more about the semifinalists in this story from Cincinnati.com. And you can read about the two area Presidential Scholars in this article. Aidan Finn, who started at Sands Montessori, is one of them. We know his family well, and couldn’t be happier for them. The qualities cited by the Secretary of Education include “service” and “character” and Aidan and his younger sister have that in spades.

Aidan founded Tutor Teens with his sister, Erin, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The volunteer tutoring program matches Cincinnati area high school tutors to students across the region. There are tutors from more than a dozen local high schools in the program tutoring students from more than 70 local schools. The program is virtual and free. 

From this Cincinnati.com story
Aidan Finn – Lisa Binns Photograpy

A few years from now, no one will care what these Presidential Scholars got on their ACT or SAT… but “service” and “character” will matter for the rest of their lives.

The Father and Child reunion

That’s our neighbors, Aron and Ben Levin, up on stage last night, doing their thing. Playing the blues.

Ben Levin is a piano prodigy. He’s only 21, but he’s been playing gigs since he was 13. (You can check out his chops here.) Pre-pandemic (“The Before Times”), Ben and Aron had quite a few gigs around town every week. When coronavirus hit, it shut down most of the venues they played. Then it hit a lot closer to home – Aron got COVID-19 last November. Playing live took a back seat to staying alive. Aron was in the hospital for a month… he came way too close to being yet another coronavirus fatality. Then he endured a long stint of in-patient rehab. He’s not 100%, but he’s working his way back.

I’ve always loved seeing live music. I’ve always admired the special bond that Aron and his son have. But I’ve never appreciated their gigs as much as I did when I saw them last night.

Blues a healer, all over the world

Blues a healer, healer, all over the world, all over the world

It healed me, it can heal you

The blues can heal you, early one morning

It can heal you

The blues can heal you

Yeah, yeah

John Lee Hooker, “The Healer”

I’m kind of a Big Dill

My wife and I play pickleball on Tuesday nights, in a couples league. No, we’re not 80 years old, we just like to act like it.

There’s another league that plays on the courts next to us, and one of the guys in that league heads up the Cincinnati Pickleball Club (yes, such a thing exists). A few weeks ago, he gave us some promo swag (carabiners to hang our pickleball bags on the fence… now if only we had pickleball bags). The carabiners had the CPC website listed, so I checked it out and decided to join. It’s a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting the sport in this area, and I’m all about groups that promote positive activities (hence my 20 year membership in the Arbor Day Foundation… and my decades-long love affair with Up with People).

Smells Like Teen Spirit… the good kind

Unbeknownst to me, my $20 annual fee made me Member #700 in the CPC. And that’s the only 700 Club I want to be a member of.

They’d never play pickleball… it even sounds sinful.

In Cincinnati Pickleball circles, I’m kind of a big deal.

I didn’t get a tickertape parade, but I did get a Q&A slot in the weekly email newsletter.

Free publicity in a newsletter that goes out to at least 699 other members. It’s almost as good as being in the new phone book!

Autograph line forms on the left. One item per customer…

Getting Hip to Hops

Not that I need any more notoriety — this blog has thousands hundreds tens a few loyal readers — but I managed to get a byline in the April edition of Cincinnati Magazine by writing the text to accompany some really cool photos (by Aaron M. Conway) of a local farm that grows hops.

You can check out the full online version here.

The editor of Cincinnati Magazine, John Fox, is an old friend of mine. When I was working at an alternative music station, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, and the station and the paper would collaborate, cross-pollinate, and co-promote events often due to the large overlap in audiences. John will throw me a magazine assignment every now and then – usually something fairly straightforward and not too time-consuming. I enjoy the challenge, and I always wind up learning something new while doing research and interviews. For the hops farm piece, I got to interview one of the growers and connect with brewers at several local breweries… it’s a really tight-knit community and it was cool to witness the spirit of collaboration among them. I also learned quite a bit about the process of growing hops, and I found it quite fascinating.

“The more you know…”

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now done four pieces for Cincinnati Magazine over the past couple of years, and two of them have been beer-centric. I think I’m being typecast. Then again, if the shoe beer mug fits…

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