You’ve come a long way, WTBU.
Boston University’s student-run radio station recently won Station of the Year honors at the annual College Radio Awards, and was nominated for a couple of other awards.
I was amused to read that even though WTBU has nice new studio space, it’s still barely audible on either AM or FM outside the walls of the building from which it broadcasts.
That was also the case 20 years ago, when I spent the spring semester of 1993 (my sophomore year) simultaneously breaking into the campus radio station and the campus newspaper.
My eventual choice of the newspaper was not difficult. I had no pretensions of radio talent, nor did I perceive it as a career path. But it looked like fun and I felt like trying it for a while, so I did.
I was assigned to shadow an experienced DJ for the semester, and even got to handle the show by myself twice when my mentor had other things to do. (I have tapes of at least one of the shows somewhere, though I would be hard put to sit through it again.)
Nowadays, WTBU overcomes the limitations of its broadcast signal by streaming over the Internet. The station champions local, alternative and otherwise underplayed artists.
In 1993, there was no Internet, and there was no audience.
(Two years later, when I was second-in-command of the campus paper’s weekly arts section, I commissioned a cover story on “A Day In The Life of WTBU,” with reporters sitting in on shows from dawn ’til dusk. One of the common themes: No one called in. No one.)
And there was no organized campaign from the higher-ups, whoever they were, to play alternative artists. You could go down to the cramped little room in the basement of Myles Standish Hall and play whatever the heck you wanted.
(The station’s record collection was weird and scattershot. I remember WTBU had a copy of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Love Beach, which is hilarious, and helps explain why most DJs brought their own tunes with them.)
I remember celebrating the 53rd birthday of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh by playing the three-song “Help On The Way/Slipknot!/Franklin’s Tower” medley from the Blues for Allah album, followed by a relatively concise live cut from the One From The Vault CD.
No one complained, or called in to request Soundgarden, or anything.
You got the feeling — and accurately so — that a big throbbing cosmopolitan city was circulating all around you, paying you no attention, and you might as well have been filing manila folders in an endless subterranean room full of file cabinets.
Anyway, in honor of WTBU, here’s a song I played on at least one and maybe both of the shows I hosted. I picked it up from my mentor, who played it a couple of times himself.
More people will probably hear this song as a result of my blogging it in 2013 than heard it as a result of my playing it on the radio in 1993. Life is weird like that.
I’m not a huge fan of the band, but this one particular song has the same sense of unhinged, inexplicable absurdity as “Surfin’ Bird.” And if you know me, you know that’s high praise, indeed.
“I am the one who controls the sun, and I know that things will pass as time elapses …”