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The University of Hartford

By Kevin O’Toole

Tonight’s Episode:

            So, alright, the column this time is not about one new CD in particular, but it’s about doing radio.  Lots of radio.
Oh, and did I mention Storm Emily?
You remember Storm Emily.  It was the storm that sidelined tractor/trailers (though only a few), and practically closed the state for no seeming good reason. Governor Rowland (bless its’ obtuse little head) was on the verge of such an action for fear of 15”-26” or more of the wet white stuff.  People were panic buying as they had been instructed to do by most broadcast outlets.
Let me paint the picture.  Many of the fine volunteers here at WWUH drive from quite aways out to do their shows.  They drive over mountains, they drive through valleys, they drive over the great plains, and from the vast craters of the moon…
 … well, alright, maybe not those last two, but, baby, they drive!
And so, it was sometime during Ambience on Sunday, March 4th  (the last Sunday in another successful Marathon, thanks to you constant listeners) that this really began to look like a major storm. Several announcers had already called out for their show the next day (which was expected to be the height of the storm).
When such storms occur, station management… alright, John Ramsey… usually decides that it would be safer to have one person stay at the station for the duration, in case more announcers have to miss their shows.  In fact, a general call is put out to the affected staff at such time to discourage anyone from taking their lives in their hands to get on the icy roads just to do a radio show.
I had Monday off work, so I volunteered.
I was there.  I was asked.  I accepted.
It seemed like a good way to kill time during this little winter hazard, and it gave me the opportunity to fill in for shows I hadn’t in a while.
Other DJ’s have been required to perform this service over the thirty-three years of station history, of course.  John himself tells of a 72-hour on-air stint during 1978’s Storm Larry shared between himself and fellow announcers Allison Rassmussen and Mark Smith.  This was the same storm that caved in the roof of the Hartford Civic Center, which mattered at the time, since people used to go there to watch sporting events…
I’m just kidding.  Nobody ever went there.
O.K., Wolfpack fans, I was REALLY ONLY KIDDING!
Anyway, that was back in our days at the Gengras Student Center on campus, and snow apparently had drifted heavily against all the doors, making escape unlikely.  John said every thing was fine until they ran out of change for the vending machines and had to reenact the Donner party…
Oh, I’m such a kidder.  Actually, campus Public Safety brought them food.
And human sacrifices.
In more recent years, announcers who volunteered for this service dealt with a lack of vending machines here in the Harry Jack Gray Center’s basement.  Psychedelic Susan brought meager rations during a two day on air stint alone in the mid 1990’s.  Sir Nik of Nowhere and (earlier this winter) Chris Marti only had whatever they had brought with them when they arrived for their own shifts and ended up staying over (in Chris’ case for over twenty hours!).
I would have the luxury of preparation.  I was able to go home that afternoon and early evening (as the storm began rather threateningly) to grab a few pillows, blanket and comforter, alarm clock (a must), food and water (two musts), a change of clothes (another must), and deodorant (so as not to be too musty).
           John gave me a ride to the station around eight p.m. in his s.u.v., during one of those lengthy pauses where the storm seemed to be doing nothing.  The possibility was raised that I might be able to score a ride home in a humvee.  You see, John, in his job as a radio engineer for many stations beside our own, has access to such a vehicle in case the roads up Avon Mountain were deemed impassable and he had to drive straight up the side of a cliff or something.  He also was one of those people volunteering his time to give rides for essential personnel who could not miss work on Monday or Tuesday, like doctors and nurses and such.  Between these responsibilities, a humvee ride seemed a real possibility.  I’d never ridden in such a monster vehicle, and had some curiosity as to what Republicans and humvee owners like Arnold Schwarzenegger think about all day.
            I arrived at 8:30 (or so).  It was doing nothing out, but my first fill-in was for Gary the Microwave Brain on the Greatest Show from Earth (a show I’ve filled in numerous times).  I started out with some snow songs from Tony Bennett’s Snowfall: The Christmas Album as XTC’s “Snowman” from their English Settlement album was unavailable.  Then I played U2, Brian Eno, Throwing Muses, New Kristin Hersh (Sunnyborder Blue (4AD)), Freezepop’s new one (Forever (Archenemy Record Company)), and the latest from the excellent Japanese neo-lounge act Pizzocato Five (aptly titled The Fifth Release from Matador (Matador)). I also played new material (I hope not the last) from United Future Organization (Bon Voyage (Instinct)), some Barry Adamson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Elvis Costello & the Attractions and closed the first show with Tom Waits’ “Time” (from Raindogs), always a nice finale.
While doing that, I went to the production room to take advantage of that wonderful modern convenience, the CD burner, to burn a CD with an hour’s worth of music, plus my back announcing and legal I.D. (“WWUH, West Hartford”).  For the music, I selected the new collection Rarewerks  (Astralwerks) featuring fine rare tracks from Fatboy Slim, Primal Scream, Air, Basement Jaxx, The Beta Band and The Future Sound of London among others.  This would be the station’s overnight programming filling in for Jon Scott on the Sunday Gothic Blimp Works (Gothics for short) and V.O. on the Sunday All Night Show. It would repeat six times over, while I napped, getting up every two or so hours, to make sure the station was still on.
Oh, and also to answer the phone twice before V.O. finally decided not to try to move his car to come in.  I felt quite lucky that my own car was at home in a garage, suddenly.
That night, staring out the picture windows at the red and blue glow of the reflection of the “WWUH 91.3” neon sign off the frozen tundra, I wondered many things.
I wondered if the garage my car was parked in would collapse under the weight of the coming snow.
I wondered if I’d do well on Monday FM on Toast, my first folk fill-in in my twelve years here.
I wondered if I would be able to sleep that night.
I wondered when this snow would start.
Most of all, though, I wondered where the damn off switch for that red and blue neon sign was.  It was driving me nuts.
            Six A.M.: Monday F. M. on Toast!  My first ever full length folk fill-in was for Denise’s “Acoustic Playground.”  I started the morning with another “D.J.’s cheat,”  playing much work from our collection, The Folk Next Door Nein (Uh-Oh), with highlights from our ninth annual folk fundraising concert.  It features wonderful work by Alastair Moock, Rebekah Hayes, Adrienne Jones and Rani Arbo, the latter of whom was to have her concert later that week cancelled for similar weather problems.  It also features Cece Borjeson and Ruth George, Groovelily, Gene and Mimi, The Roadbirds, and Eric Burkhart and Humpty Daddy, whose “Happy Guy” was arguably the highlight of the show, and was certainly a lot of fun.  It was even more fun than sitting out a snowstorm at a radio station.
             Later on F. M. on Toast, I played Richard Shindell, one of many requests.  I dipped liberally into his Somewhere Near Paterson release from last year (featuring my favorite of his tunes, “Confession,” as soulful a meditation on a culture of soulless greed and chemical based problem solving as I’ve ever heard).  I also played some John Wesley Harding, from his 1999 tribute to fellow erstwhile Brit folkie Nic Jones, entitled Trad Arr Jones, re-released on Appleseed recordings this year with new, more rocking material just recorded last year. Another re-release with added material (Awake: The New Edition) was also just released on the same label.
             On to Morning Jazz, filling in for Dean Hildebrandt.  Dean is quite meticulous in planning for his show, and so he had faxed a suggested playlist’s worth of suggestions to the station for whoever would be filling in.
              He then called to make sure I got the list.
              He was, understandably, anxious about his post-Marathon show.  You see, the post Marathon week is generally a time of “thank you shows” for the listeners, and Dean didn’t really want someone programming his timeslot with no feel for the type of music his loyal listeners (and pledgers) had come to expect.  At the same time, he understood that all announcers, even fill-in personnel, have a wide latitude to play what they will in the genre of any chosen program.  His fears were somewhat allayed by the fact that I had done a number of jazz fill-ins over my twelve years plus here, so, though still nervous, he hung up the phone.  I’m sure he was fighting the urge to take on a potentially funky traffic situation though, truthfully, the storm seemed to be barely doing anything at this time.
               I started in with more cold music, Billie Holiday’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” from Verve’s Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas.  Funny how snow and Christmas seem to go together, huh?  I took care to play only those songs dealing with snow and cold for this opening set, going to Verve’s Jazz for Joy set for a Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove version of “Let It Snow.”  I got a call complaining about all the “Christmas” music (even though it wasn’t), right about the time I finished with Oliver Jones’ “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride,” both from his funky Yuletide Swing album.
            Fair enough.
            Next were a couple of Dean’s suggestions on which we definitely found common ground:  Gerry Mulligan from two live dates with two different quartets in the late 50’s and early sixties in Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic series on Pablo Records.  The previously unreleased recordings are now out as The Gerry Mulligan Quartet In Concert, a fine example of the saxophonist in his heyday.  Next was new material from eclectic vocalist Carla Cook whose dem bones (Max Jazz) recalls Cassandra Wilson, with originals like “Like a Lover,” and covers like Bobbie Gentry’s country pop classic “Ode to Billy Joe,” and Fred Wesley’s “For the Elders.”  Following that, I played some of the fine vocalist Napúa Davoy’s new album Until We Meet Again (Brave Cool World Records), for which she wrote some of the music and all of the lyrics.  That was followed by David Lahm’s new release, More Jazz Takes on Joni Mitchell (an Arkana Jazz release and his second such tribute to her), then Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus.
              During the Napúa Davoy set, one cranky caller demanded to hear something that swings, which prompted an aggressively programmed set of Duke Ellington. First it was Duke with Mingus and Max Roach (from the classic crossover Money Jungle), as well as with his Famous Orchestra (on “Jack the Bear,” “Koko,” and “Cotton Tail”), with Ella Fitzgerald from the Verve “Songbooks” series, and, with his Orchestra and that of Count Basie from their famous Columbia collaboration.
              You want swing, you got swing.
              Closed out the show with Miles Davis with Gil Evans, some funky “Papa” John DeFrancesco from his new Hip Cake Walk (High Note), both by request, and finally Brazillian artist Gilberto Gil from his new soundtrack for the movie Me You Them (Atlantic).
              By this time there was entertainment from our station security screens, as frost patterns formed and shifted from the frozen precipitation on the lens overlooking our parking area.  It looked like nothing so much as a black and white version of that monster space amoeba from the “Immunity Syndrome” episode of Star Trek.
Yes, by this time, constant readers, cabin fever’s first symptoms had appeared.
Luckily, also by this time, relief had arrived in four forms:  First, that of a public affairs show on tape (for one hour);  Second, that of Chris Marti (arrived to do his Monday Synthesis show);  Third, that of Aaron, the work-study student (neither snow, nor sleet, nor gloom of Emily shall stay this dude from putting our office and library back in order, nor stay him from putting up with Moondog’s channel flipping to find out about the storm); and, finally, that of program director Colin Tipton with some welcome salad from the University’s Commons.  Thankfully few people were around to see me lounging around in sweats in the morning.  Also, thankfully few saw the temporary transformation of Psychedelic Susan’s desk into my makeshift larder for the duration.
Incidentally, Susan, if you find a jar of 100% fruit Blueberry preserves… could you leave it in my mailbox, please?  Thank you.
Next, I filled in for Keith Barrett and the mysterious Drake the Bandmaster (funny how they’re never in the same room at the same time.  Hmmm…) on Monday Evening Classics.  I reached liberally into our “new” Classical bin here, with Salomon String Quartet performing Adalbert Gyrowitz (Hyperion CDA67109) and Yo-Yo Ma with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra performing Luigi Boccherini (Sony Classical SK60681).  I also played cellist Maria Kliegel and the Nicholas Esterházy Sinfonia with the music of David Popper (Naxos 8.554657) and then the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin performing works by Max Reger (Naxos 8.554510).
Then I dipped into more modern pieces with the Ahn Trio (consisting of sisters Lucia Ahn (piano), Angella Ahn (violin) and Maria Ahn (cello)).  On their latest album Ahn-Plugged (EMI Classics 724355702227), they feature Leonard Bernstein’s “Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano” (1937) and David Bowie and Pat Metheny’s “This Is Not America,” originally from Metheny’s soundtrack for the film The Falcon and the Snowman among others.  I then played a piece from those disciples of the musics of Harry Partch, the Newband, as they rearranged Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” for cello and three man zoomoozophone (a Partch original instrument).  This was on a Mode records CD from 1994 (Mode #33).  I ended the program with a set of pieces by composers and performers of the modern era from Africa and Mexico.  I started with Chicago Sinfonietta performing the music of Fela Sowande (Cedille Records # CDR 90000055) and finished with two pieces performed by Kronos Quartet: Gambian Kora player Foday Musa Suso’s “Tilliboyo” (“Sunset”) from 1992’s Pieces of Africa (Nonesuch 9 79275-2);  and Mexican composer Enrique Rangel’s “La Muerte Chiquita” (“The Little Death”) from last year’s Kronos Caravan (Nonesuch 79490-2).
               Another hour’s respite for public affairs programming, and then hour 25 and the beginning of Blue Monday, usually with your host Bart Bozzi.
           Again, I turned to our collections by various artists.  First, a great collection just released on Specialty records.  The Ebb Records Story, Vol. 2: Blues ‘N’ Rhythm & Rock  ‘N’ Roll 1957-1959 covers some of the urban and country blues and r&b catalog from this L. A. label that also experimented with rockabilly and doo-wop vocalists in their three year history.  This collection features the work of former gospel singer Tony Harris, bluesmen Floyd Dixon and Ray Agee, country guitarist and vocalist Andrew “Smokey” Hogg, New Orleans piano favorite Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd, doo-wop vocalists Earl Nelson and Tony Allen, lesser known vocalist Dolly Cooper and many others.
Second, I played the great new set, Superharps II (Telarc Blues), featuring an all-star group featuring harmonica players and vocalists Carey Bell, Lazy Lester, Raful Neal and Snooky Pryor with Kid Bangham on guitar, Anthony Geraci on piano, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and Per Hanson on drums.  Then I played some material from the collection Rare Chicago Blues, 1962-1968 on Bullseye Blues label from 1993, featuring the likes of Otis Spann, Big Joe Williams and James Cotton.  For the last part of the show, I was able to fulfill a number of phone and on-line requests for Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, Dave Van Ronk, Jimmy Smith (from his latest, Dot Com Blues (Blue Thumb)). I even had a request for John Hammond from a St. Louis on-line listener, who said that out there “Emily” was being called a “500-year storm.”
          Yeah, right.  Storm of the month as it turned out.
           Although by Monday night into Tuesday morning, the snow was blowing most impressively, much more so than on the day the state was virtually shut down.
Go figure.
During Blue Monday, I contacted Steve Theaker, one of two F. M. on Toasties to offer a relief fill-in for Tuesday morning’s “Celtic Airs” (usually with your host, Steve Dietrich).
I should say thank you here to other people who heroically offered relief fill-ins during my extended on-air stint, including Ed McKeon and the wonderful Bonnie.  I could not accept their offers, however, because of communication problems, or because I thought they should reconsider for sleep or safety’s sakes.  Many thanks, though.
Steve Theaker, however, said he would not mind filling in for the other Steve on Tuesday morning.  “Besides,” he said, “I only live two miles away by ski.”
“Uh… okay,” I said, thinking among other things, “Is it less than two miles by car?”
It also occurred to me that: a) such a person would not be deterred by safety warnings and b) I could really use the break.
So, as I toiled to put together the hour long loop of programming for the Monday overnight…
…the doorbell rings.
It’s Theaker.
Standing in view of the security camera, waving hello, ski-poles in hand, baloney curls hidden under a hat with floppy ears.
It was snowing very hard and he had skied in to say hello, and “just to find out if I could do it.”
Satisfied he could, he disappeared back into the snow, skiing home to sleep for a few hours.
That’s dedication.  Or mental illness, or something.  At any rate, I was familiar with the symptoms.
Blue Monday ended, and for Monday’s overnight loop (filling in for Dr. Longhair’s “Local Anesthetic” on the Gothics and Katherine’s “Folk Crossing” on the All Night), I programmed an hour featuring music from all nine Folk Next Door concerts (not counting the special holiday concert and CD, or had you forgotten?).  I figured, local, folk… why not?
(I also figured I would skip the holiday CD after the complaints I had heard about snow music on Morning Jazz.  Fair enough.  I was pretty sick of it, too.)
            Incidentally, both Dr. Longhair and Katherine had considered coming in, despite weather related transportation headaches earlier in the day.  I had to help convince them what a dicey propostion travel was becoming that night.  Like I said, dedication.
The overnight brought many restful naps to the music of the Nields, Catie Curtis, Hugh Blumenfeld, Sloan Wainwright Band, Don Sineti and many others, between the inevitable awakenings to make sure the station was still on every couple of hours.  At 5:30, the doorbell rang.  Theaker sans skipoles.  He had driven in.  Still pretty crazy, though.
             A nice three hour nap followed until I got up at 8:30 or so, meeting the student who had been tapped for a relief fill-in for Tuesday Morning Jazz (usually Chuck Obuchowski with “Out Here and Beyond”).  Eric Porse was his name and he handled his very first show like an old pro.  Keep an ear out for Eric.  He may be what we UH’ers call a lifer.
             Okay, well, that’s what I call him…
             Professor Evica showed up for Assassination Journal at noon, leaving at 12:45 p. m.  By then, Colin and/or Aaron had stopped by again and I had talked to Tuesday Synthesis host Andy Taylor on the phone.
              Andy was awaiting the plowman to till his field… or clear his driveway, or something.  It wasn’t clear.
             Sorry.  Cabin fever.
             Andy asked me to play certain things, as he, like Dean, wanted to make sure his loyal listeners were thanked properly.  And, he like Dean understood that the show would be in adequate hands.  I think.
             So I started with the latest from Banco de Gaia, Izigeh (Six Degrees), as well as some Brian Eno and David Byrne.  I played some of the latest William Orbit (Pieces in a Modern Style (Maverick)), Robert Rich’s Sunyata (Hypnos Soundscape), Björk, some material from the Six Degrees Dance Collection: Motion (Six Degress) (featuring Bebel Gilberto, Monica Ramos, Euphoria and others), The Soggy Bottom Boys’ “Man of Constant Sorrow,” from the soundtrack to the latest Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou?.  I also played more ambient music from the latest Al Gromer Khan (Sufi (New Earth)), Ron Boots, Steve Roach & Vidna Obmana and a recent Thomas Ronkin release (Symmetric (Tristissima)).
             Next was a fill-in for Tuesday Evening Classics.  Since I know that Scott Deshefy has been known to turn to the music of film for his program, I programmed liberally from our soundtrack bin.  I played music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne from The Last Emporer (Virgin CDV2485), followed by David Byrne’s album length piece, The Forest (Luaka Bop / Warner Bros./ Sire #9 26584-2).  I followed that up with Hans Zimmer’s score to the Jon Boorman film Beyond Rangoon (Milan 7313835725-2).
             After that, I ended the show with two sets of performances by the City of Prague Philharmonic.  The first was of the film music of Bernard Herrmann for the films of Alfred Hitchcock from A History of Hitchcock- Dial M for Murder (Silva SSD1030).  The second, and last thing I played was Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score (featuring one piece written and performed by vocalist Marianne Faithfull with the Philharmonic) to Jeunet & Caro’s film The City of Lost Children (Point Music 314 532 047-2).
              During this last Classics show, arrangements were being made for my escape.
              John Ramsey called around 4:30 p. m., asking if he could bring me anything to eat, and after a day and a half of cereal and cold cuts in a chilly office, the offer of a hot, or even lukewarm, meal was very tempting.  In my dazed, half-Jack-Torrance-early-on-in-the-Shining state, I asked if he could, shall we say, “make a run for the border.”
             Unfortunately (and strangely on this late Tuesday afternoon, “The Border” was closed, as he reported on his cellular phone.  Would I rather the Hamburger Clown or the Mass Transit sandwich shoppe instead, he asked?
              I paraphrase, of course.
              I chose the Mass Transit.
             He also proffered an offer of his wife’s homemade chili, explaining apologetically for it not being her five alarm variety and for having chunky veggies in it.  He explained that she had made it for the neighbors, who have kids, so…
              I said, damn the chunky vegetables, full chili ahead!  It sounded great to me!
             When John arrived, between those s. u. v. transport trips, he brought a wonderfully large bowl of chili (which ended up being very delicious) and a bag, not from the Mass Transit place, but instead from the Dirigible Sandwich Place.  Mass Transit, too, was closed.
              The Dirigible Place was more fitting for a Gothic Blimp Works host anyway, don’t you think?
                I hungrily ingested warm food and a whole turkey sub.  Thanks, John.
                By now, we had agreed that, storm danger mostly passed, I should surrender my post at 9 p. m. that Tuesday night, making it 48 hours exactly as the station’s standby snowman.  Students were now poised to fill –in the increasingly less likely absences in the schedule to come.
                I packed up everything in the bags I brought them in.  I returned Susan’s desk to its’ former useful state, and returned the station couch to its’ pre-makeshift cot existence as a mere piece of office furniture.
                John arrived shortly before nine (and shortly after my student relief fill-ins for Accent on Jazz) and we headed to the loading dock to fill the humvee with my bags.
               Except, as I got out there, I saw…
               No Hummer.
               Dang.  Now I’ll never know what it’s like to be Republican.
               But, seriously, much thanks to everyone who made it possible, from Emily and the Guy with a Big Toe for a Head (he lives around the corner from UH), to John Ramsey (and his wife, the mistress of chili cooking.  Mrs. Ramsey, I bow to your kung-fu…), to Colin and Aaron and Bonnie and Ed and Steve and Eric and George and Chris Marti.
               Also thank you to the emailers: the Big G and Vishnu, Dwight “Weedsman” Thurston, Dave and Mary (parents of Emily) listening in St. Louis on wwuh.org, Jeff and also Chris (not Marti, but close…).
                And thank you to everyone with the kind, or only slightly annoyed, calls.
                 As I write this, the vernal equinox has just passed.  In Connecticut, this, of course means only four more weeks of snow.
                  I hope.
                  Hey, Colin, will we need an oppressively wonderful spring weather fill-in person?
                  Because I know this guy…

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2001

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