Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Virtually Fabulous

One of the first things anybody noticed about the Internet way back in the 90s is the way it creates virtual communities--people are linked by shared interests even though they aren't located physically in the same place, and may never actually meet. We have got ourselves a nice little community here at this blog--when I referred to the Stepfather of Soul and Homercat yesterday as "friends of this blog," that's what I'm talking about. I've never met either of them, although we've exchanged e-mails, we read each other's blogs, and we share our musical interests. If you read this bilge regularly, you're part of it, too. In those early Internet days, culture mavens worried about the replacement of real communities by virtual ones, imagining a nature of people sitting by themselves typing away at keyboards, mired in isolation while the outside world withered away. I don't worry about that, myself--the rewards of being part of our little virtual community far outweigh any desire I have to actually meet you people.

OK, that's a joke. But just as people in real, physical communities sometimes benefit from acts of kindness by strangers, I have recently been on the receiving end of what I think is my first act of virtual kindness. A web surfer, searching for information on the song "Moonlight Feels Right," found my posts about the song and the summer of 1976, and discovered that he and I share a love for that year, and for old-school Top 40 radio. So, for no reason whatsoever besides the idea that I might be interested, he uploaded and sent me links to a glorious radio aircheck from August 23, 1976. It's a slice of the night shift on X-Rock 80, licensed to Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, which blanketed the Southwest and beyond with 150,000 watts of power, three times the legal limit for American AM stations, into the 80s, and was once the single highest-rated radio station in America. The aircheck is fabulous--it's got all the jock energy and music and cranked-up audio processing we associate with the golden era of AM Top 40, along with the clicks, pops, and buzzes that were a part of life on the AM band.

If you'd like to hear what radio really sounded like in the summer of 1976, the links are still active. Part 1 of the aircheck is here; part 2 is here. The last 10 minutes of Part 1 are especially interesting and important. You'll hear my favorite disco record, "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" by Tavares, followed by one of the greatest AM-radio records of all time, "Brother Louie" by Stories. (The call-and-response between the guitar and strings before the last refrain of that record, especially with the AM ambiance, is as intense as radio ever got--until you hear it as it was surely intended to be heard, you'll never believe anything could sound so damn hot.) Part 1 ends with "Ballroom Blitz" by the Sweet, which is old-fashioned loud rock and roll to begin with, but when it's processed for and broadcast on AM, it achieves its full flowering as a teenage anthem, and you hear it, too, as it was always meant to be heard. In those 10 minutes, you'll hear why I loved AM Top 40 back in the day, and why I still love it now.

And to Paul, the newest member of our little community, who sent it: I've already expressed my thanks via private e-mail. This one's going out to the world: Your act of kindness is much appreciated.

Tune of the Day: "Oh Marianne" by Peter Wolf, although it could have been any of a half-dozen other cuts on his 2003 album Sleepless. It's one of my favorite albums of all time, drawing from several musical streams--country, R&B, Stones-ish rock, and even, in the case of "Oh Marianne," Drifters-style pop. Get it before you grow another moment older. You can't afford not to.


At 1:54 PM, Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

It's always so nice when, within our nifty online communities, we have the chance to share so much, like this totally smokin' aircheck. I think that it's this electronic breaking of bread that those who feared the death of inter-personal community overlooked, especially in terms of those of us whose interests are a little more esoteric. Perhaps the word "community" is too strong to describe the relationships that we have on here - a better word may be "smorgasbord" - come, taste, and enjoy. Then log out and get back to your life.

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep...the aircheck of X-Rock 80 is a shining example of how good Top 40 radio sounded in the mid-70s. Radio will never sound that way ever again. I recently tried doing a radio show with the same type of enthusiasm and energy at the station I currently work at (although not as wild and crazy) but management told me I was "too loud" and pulled me off the air. I guess all they want is someone to read promotional mentions written by some salesman. ---Shark

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's how I feel when I listen to one of my old WLS airchecks -- the pops and clicks of AM radio...it takes you back to sitting in front of that old radio or pocket size transistor unit, like the one I took to 4-H camp with me in 1975 and listened to it late into the night under my pillow. -- Musicradio

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Wow. Yes, that's what it was like. Nuff said.

Thanks, Paul. Thanks, JB.


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