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I was the ripe old age of six and living in South Jersey when I really understood how music could alter your mood. It was a pageant for the lower school, and my first grade class just sang a medley of “America the Beautiful” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and then, as we exited the stage through the audience, something happened that didn't occur in rehearsal: someone played a recording of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and I got it. I proudly marched off to the song and even got some impressed looks from parents who *weren’t* my own.


Coming back to New York City after that brief excursion exposed me to the #1 radio market, a place that was filled with music and the personalities that played it. Certainly there were lots of characters, notably people like Dan Ingram, who some credit with creating the concept of talking over the intro of a song right to when the lyrics begin – a term that was known as “hitting the post” in Disc Jockey lingo. Ingram was arguably the best DJ on WABC – 77 on your AM dial.

I would tune in while doing homework and listen to programs, call in when I had access to a phone to try to win a contest (I’ll never forget being the ninety-fourth caller hoping to win 1000 dollars from 95.5 WPLJ. And yes, you needed to be the ninety-fifth caller), and participate in other ways when there were other ways.

A big influence for me was Dick Summer, a DJ who had been on 66 WNBC prior to the so-called "Shock Jock" years of Don Imus and Howard Stern. Summer had moved to NBC’s sister FM station, WYNY (the radio home of Sex Therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer) and was something of a sex-obsessed broadcaster himself (he would play recordings of himself reading poems that were more like high class romance novel passages which he called “Lovin’ Touch” **NOTE: NQSFW).

But he was also was a games player and had a weekly feature titled “Mouth vs. Ear.” The Mouth, namely himself and his team of ringers, would play a trivia game (which often were just bad puns and jokes) against the Ear, the listeners of the program. They always won, and blatantly admitted to cheating to do it.

Between the games and the tunes, I was hooked, so when I got to college, after unpacking and meeting my roommate, I immediately went to the campus radio station and applied to learn to be a DJ. By the end of the first semester, I had a title: Chief Announcer, and I was teaching other students how to cue up records, “back time” so your song finished right as the newscast we got from the ABC radio network began, and proper mike technique so you didn’t “overmodulate.”

There were two radio stations on campus: The AM station was a College Top 40 format, and played music 24 hours a day on a carrier current signal – meaning it couldn’t be heard off of campus, and the FM station, which was a powerful 20 watts, a signal barely able to reach the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where there was a program for inmates to write requests and hear them played. The format of the FM station was more freeform, and tended to be anything except Top 40.

I always wanted to do specialty shows, so for my AM broadcast, I hosted “The Solid Gold Explosion,” which were oldies hits, mostly from the 1960s and 70s. My show on the FM station was “The Everything Show,” where I would play all forms of music, from classical to jazz to R&B to Rock.

Doing those two shows really gave me a full sense of all different forms of music, and I dabbled in a lot of areas I wouldn’t have, otherwise. I got a great music vocabulary from it, and became something of a music trivia expert in the process.

After college, I become a club kid. No, I never did drugs in the bathroom of Limelight, But I did dance there, as well as Palladium and Tatou and Webster Hall, regularly. And I got to watch club DJs and listen to what they did, see how they worked a crowd, got a sense of the room vibe.

I started buying up music I liked. Some on vinyl, and some on CD. I hung around every Tower Records, HMV and Virgin Megastore in town. I collected a ton of material.

Soon enough, I got my chance. I became the house DJ for Polly-Esther’s, a schlocky/kitschy 1970s and 80s themed disco, located uptown on First Avenue at 78th street where I occasionally worked, and my home base, downtown on West 4th Street, next door to Disc-O-Mat, a discount CD store, convenient for me to purchase the stuff requested that I didn’t already own. I played ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” more times than I care to remember (once eight times in a row), viewed the films “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” more than anyone should ever have, and I know way too much about both “The Brady Bunch” AND “The Partridge Family.”

Eventually, I DJed at other similar venues around town, including “Culture Club” (an 80s and 90s themed disco), Decade (a more upscale club that celebrated everything from the Beatles era through the 90s), T.G. Whitney’s (a restaurant/bar that was more focused on current music) and Bar None, who just wanted to make sure patrons kept buying drinks rather than worrying about a format. Ironically, that last one is the only one still operating.

It was a weird existence, working from 8pm to 4am, Wednesday through Saturday. And there were some weird people I observed from the safety of my DJ booth! But, if nothing else, the job gave me an amazing collection of songs that I currently carry around in my pocket on the just discontinued 160GB iPod. If only I had iTunes back then… It would have saved hauling all those CDs and vinyl discs all over town!

//

This entry was created for LJ Idol using the prompt - "The music made me do it"

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
bleodswean
Sep. 16th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this great look back into the music-aspects of your life! DJ-ing sounds like so much fun - I love the idea of turning folks onto new sounds. I was the import buyer for Tower Rex in the 80's and a night manager and we could play anything we liked and boy howdy did we! Throbbing Gristle at 11:30 pm is a good way to clear the store before closing. GREAT GREAT times!
penpusher
Sep. 19th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
You were a buyer! Tower imports were pretty great, back in the day. What store are we talking about? You weren't in NYC were you?

Throbbing Gristle... just the NAME could clear the room!

I bet you have some fascinating stories about that gig.
rayaso
Sep. 17th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
What a great look back into your life as a DJ. Very enjoyable.
penpusher
Sep. 19th, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
Every time I think about possibly trying to go back I look and see just who are running the clubs and I shake my head and go away!

Thanks for reading, and your next request is on the house!
dmousey
Sep. 18th, 2014 04:18 am (UTC)
I was re-living my clubbing and listening days... and Dr. Ruth... I had forgotten all about her! Thanks for the memories! :)
penpusher
Sep. 19th, 2014 02:51 am (UTC)
I've been seriously lucky to have met Dr. Ruth a couple of times at a couple of different points in my life, and she really is amazing. Believe me, once you meet her you will never forget her!

But her radio show, which aired right before Dick Summer's show, was a (softly listen to in your room with the door closed) show! It also gave me appreciation for the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair!" Which she would invariably play for women who called in, wondering what they should do when their boyfriend cheated on them. :P
roina_arwen
Sep. 18th, 2014 02:12 pm (UTC)
You've just got to love a club named "Polly-Esther's". Ha!
penpusher
Sep. 19th, 2014 02:53 am (UTC)
Assuming you didn't work there! Haha!

It was a tacky club, and my bosses got sued by ASCAP and BMI because they didn't pay the royalty fees on MY DJ music! What a joke!

I don't know what made me madder at my boss, that, or the fact that he actually got to date Kristin Chenoweth.

Other stories for other times.
i_17bingo
Sep. 18th, 2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
I always wondered where DJs came from. I just assumed they hatched out of turntables.
penpusher
Sep. 19th, 2014 02:59 am (UTC)
Pretty much, pretty much.

Actually, it seems like now, DJs come from reality TV, or failed celebrities. You no longer need "talent" to spin. Just a recognizable name to bring in a crowd and cover the bar guarantee. Some DJ kits will mix for you and match beats! It's sad.

If I wanted to just put up $10K against the hope that they would sell enough drinks during my evening to cover it (and I've seen the receipts when I worked and always busted that record), I might still be out there. But I never had to put up my own money when I worked before and I don't like feeling pressured that way.

The real question is what rocks did all the bar and club owners and managers crawl out from under?
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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