My first two years after high school were spent at Rider College (now Rider University) in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I lived on campus in a cinderblock door room with metal furniture. The first thing I did was offer to work at the college radio station. WWRC-AM. Yes, it was an AM radio station. They wouldn’t get an FM license for years. (It’s now WRRC-FM, 107.7) After a quick trip to Philadelphia to get my FCC broadcast license, and an even quicker tutorial on how to run the equipment, I was on the air.
The first song I played was Elton John’s ‘Mona Lisa and Mad Hatter’ from the Honky Chateau album. I remember that because someone called into the radio station midway through the song to tell me how much she liked the song. That’s all I needed was a little encouragement. My next song was Eric Clapton’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ from 461 Ocean Blvd. That was followed by ‘One of the Nights’ by the Eagles. The song had only been released a few months earlier – and was still relatively unknown.
You may wonder how I remember all this. That’s because I recorded my first show. I have a reel-to-reel copy of an 18-year-old version of me spinning records, talking about liner notes, and discussing music. But the funny part is the commercials. Even then – I had to read commercials and public service announcements over the air. The boring – ‘Jim’s bar and grill just across from campus has a wide selection … – to the embarrassing ‘VD is for everybody, not just for a few.’ Yikes.
And don’t think I was some incredible music junkie. I played a lot – and I mean a lot of crappy music on my first show. The studio had a ‘playbook’ – these were the required songs you had to play sometime during your 90 minutes on the air. I think we needed to play them to continue to get free albums from the music labels. I played Bad Company’s ‘Shooting Star’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’, Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Evil Woman’, and the album of my freshman year Jefferson Starship’s ‘Miracles.’ That album was a staple of college radio.
But the album I loved to play was Peter Frampton’s ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’ Released in the middle of the year, I played that endlessly. One night, when I thought nobody would notice, I played the entire album start to finish without any commercial interruption. (It allowed me to take the elevator to the student pub and get a beer.) That album sold 6 million copies in that year. Amazing.
I worked at the radio station for two years. Had numerous time slots – including a poorly thought through morning radio show with a dorm mate – Wayne Hodges. (Hodges and Levy in the morning). AM, three days a week. I don’t think we wanted to admit that nobody is listening to a college radio station at 8 AM. I broke up the partnership quickly and changed to a better slot.
My time on WWRC taught me a lot of valuable lessons. How to present material to an audience. How to read something for the first time and make it sound good. How to get people to engage. It was a fun time. It was hard work. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The one thing I didn’t do was have a signature sign-off. It never crossed my mind. I just ended the show with ‘that all the time I have, see you tomorrow.’
So, until tomorrow.