On this day in 1998, I began my first radio broadcast on KWVA in Eugene, OR. It began at 4 AM, and ran until 7 AM. A momentous day for me! It had taken months of calling and stopping in to chat with the staff and then my application got lost and then the staff changed. But: eventually the stars aligned, I walked in and spoke with the station manager, who had found the application, and at the next staff meeting, they agreed to let me on in the least desirable spot. I leapt at the chance.
I spent the evening before in the bar with friends, wandered out at 2:30 AM, picked up my records at my house, walked to the studio, and began an odyssey that I’m still on to this day, 23 Years Later. I haven’t really left that studio, in a way.
To celebrate my 23rd year, I launched a new show about the eerily prescient sci-fi program, “Max Headroom,” where I’ve been watching and discussing the show with my friend Heather, who has never seen it. And, as if that weren’t enough, I interviewed three of the creators of the US version of the show yesterday, so I could get the full scoop on Network 23 for my 23rd year in radio. The fact that new episodes come out at 23:00 Hours, GMT is merely icing on the cake.
For some, there are plenty of things about the number 23 that are interesting, and while my own particular numerological curio happens to be the number pi (which kept – and keeps – popping up in my life, for a variety of reasons), as an enthusiast of all the dada streaks in our culture, 23 has been of interest to me, too, as it does re-occur in places that are well-worth investigating.
I knew that, going into my 23rd year of radio, that I would want to do something meaningful and significant, to me, if to no one else. And, since I’d been toying with a certain idea regarding “Max Headroom” for a while, it only made since that I should try to line up this new show with this occasion. We even got our release date to line up with the original UK broadcast of the 1985 telefilm, and it felt like we were doing everything right. I was trying to infuse the show with my brand of “Headroom”-style humor, and we pre-recorded so far in advance that there would be no missed deadlines this year, which felt like a win all around. Finally, it seemed like I had done everything right this time.
What we could not count on was that fate had other plans for and and this show. While I knew in the back of my head that it was possible we could get a few listeners, and many even some mail and interactions from fans, I was not prepared for the fact that the first person to contact us was none other than Martin Newell of The Cleaners From Venus. And, sort of like a story torn from his own songs, Martin called his friend Steve Roberts, who called his friends Brian Frankish and Michael Cassutt… and so on.
It’s one thing to get interaction from listeners. It’s quite another to have among those listeners The Greatest Living Englishman, with connections to the “Max Headroom” creative team.
The power of 23 indeed.
I’ll be honest: I couldn’t have lined all of this up on my own, even if I had intended it. I can pick release dates and I can try and be as clever as I want to be, but I could never have planned for something like this. I never could, and I never will be able to.
I’ve been on countless radio shows and podcasts, worked at and visited a ton of stations and studios, and produced hundred of hours of radio in my life. And, here’s where I could name-drop ’til the cows come home, not that I don’t already do that a lot anyway. And yet, with all this experience under my belt, I still don’t know what tomorrow holds.
Coincidences and strange encounters, like those of “Max Headroom” and the world of rock and roll, do not afford you a chance to know what is coming next. One day I’m on the phone with Ronnie James Dio’s manager, and somehow this leads to getting free tickets to The Faint, Patti Smith and Ministry. Another time, you get to spend an hour with Exene Cervenka, live on the radio, because once you played an Angry Samoans song for a listener who happened to have connections. Still another time, I’m sitting in while a live episode of “The Puzzling Evidence Show” is being aired on KPFA, watching as these two radio weirdos are offering some of the best verbal wordplay I’ve ever been witness to. I recall Johnathan Richman calling to apologize for missing our scheduled interview, because he had a break-down and was already running late for the show, and he hoped some guest list spots would be enough to make it up to me. Getting to know all the living members of Negativland has been personally fulfilling in a huge way, while being let down by Jello Biafra at a Zolar-X show was actually the perfect kind of encounter to have with him, with hindsight. The time I met Bloodhag long enough to get on the guest list to a show where I got to party with Andrew from Dead Moon is the kind of coincidence that radio just puts in your lap on a regular basis, and it’s not exactly something you can plan around. I stepped into a radio booth 23 years ago hoping to play some silly records and mix in this faux “religious radio” spiel I’d been working on with my friends. And In the here and now, it has led to me talking to my favorite Hollywood Creators, and not just a super-stoned J Mascis backstage at a metal show I was at in Texas.
I think that is what radio, ultimately, is. In the long run. There’s always one more hour to fill, and there’s always another phrase to turn while introducing the next bit, and there’s always a new twist on an old idea that you could try, and there’s always a new strange coincidence that leads to you having a conversation with someone you admire that you could never have anticipated.
So I have no idea how to predict what is coming after this.
What I can say is that, strange coincidences and name drops aside, most of that 23 years has not involved having cool things happen to me. The majority of that time has involved sitting alone, in front of a radio consul, trying to create something that I would want to find if I was sitting at home, listening instead. And while that kind of life is a little lonely, to be sure, and has lead to periods of solitude over the long haul, it all seems worth it when I perfectly nail a one-hour broadcast, or get to do something wild like this.
Being a radio creator is a strange and wonderful life, and sometimes, only when you can reflect on the long arc of things, can you see that the things you did to get here were part of a larger pattern, much like thinking back on a radio show you just heard, to find the running theme through the entire show.
In the moment, there is only pushing forward. You can’t predict what exactly will happen. There is only finding the next track, the next sample to mix overtop, the next perfect transition, the next idea for a show.
There is only moving forward. To the next show, the next year, the next milestone, and hope that the not-knowing is something you can live with. While I love to reflect, I must also scan the horizon, looking for the next outcropping where I can land my radio boat, and hope to find the next thing that inspires me to build a little show there.
Thanks for listening, all these years. Let’s see if we can make it to 46.
Be seeing you.