Backyard | by Andrea Avery
Hidden Pulleys on Balcony Four | by Aaron Belz
The Bars of Our Fathers | by Thom Fletcher
This Way Chuck Berry | by Thomas R. Raber
Sonnet: PSA | by Tony Robinson
Stardust in a Phrygian Key | by Stefene Russell
Sophomores | by Julia Smillie
The Ghosts of Winifred Moore | by Mike Steinberg
Four Days Behind the Iron Curtain, or, I'm With the Band | by Mary Kaye Tonnies
Late Night Radio | by Brett Underwood
Late Night Radio | by Brett Underwood
You've all heard the stories:
There are drunken marauders storming the station late at night. They put a gun to the DJ's head and demand Air Supply—any Air Supply—at 45 revolutions per minute. Then the jock spewing through a smirk "Don't ever utter revolution and air supply in the same sentence again, Shitbird. We can conquer the world without breathing!"
Or, the one about the man with a half-shattered mind, alone in a room with a microphone, two turntables and a cassette player, digging through a box of cassette tapes and mumbling into a live microphone about that perfect track, wishing it was on his finger tips, wishing it were on the air, wishing for anything but this moment which yawns with ennui in the ears of some listeners and fascinates others who revel in the absurd—all unaware that a pizza delivery girl enters the room on a skateboard, strips, squats up on an office chair and spins with mad abandon whilst lustfully lapping up music from dusty LPs, her hands turning the records clockwise across her tongue so that she ingests so much E Minor tragedy that she begins to weep. Not long after, the host lays his fingers on that Charley Pride he was searching for and the girl dissolves into dust, tears and all…
Then there's the story you like to tell about how you heard this late-night jock babbling at a bar about some older woman who called claiming she used to talk to Moondog on the bus as they rode through the Lower East Side back in the 70's...or was it the 60's...and something about him having attended the Missouri School for the Blind and it was kind of weird because he, himself, the radio guy, was riding the 13 to the Central West End, reading DeLillo when he heard the woman's voice. She was climbing into the bus with a walker and he watched her and listened to her conversation with the bus driver and she got off at Barnes to work at a gift shop...and no, he didn't introduce himself.
Or, the federal judge crying on the phone to the host because he
was rude and hung up on him while he was forlorn and riding around
the East Side and just wanted to hear some Tull while he and a
transvestite ate jet pops in the back of a limo.
None of it is true though. They are all urban legend or lies! None of that could ever happen on late-night radio to late-night radio hosts. For events such as those to occur, for instance, at KDHX at 1:45 on a Friday morning, the sun would have to implode and Reagan would reincarnate as son of John Denver to save the world from schmaltz. Yes, for such arrangements to be made, that much would be imperative, you innocent clams who yearn to produce such pearls.
No, what happens at KDHX during late-night radio is beyond words. I couldn't describe it even if I remembered any of it. It is as if aliens steal my memory as I exit the building after hosting an episode of The No Show and I am left to float home on a beam of light in a fringe-top horseless carriage.
I mean I have the recordings to prove to myself that I was at the station, the overhauled bakery on Magnolia. That’s me on the recordings. The crumpled playlists are there in my bag and archived on the station’s website.
I recall standing outside the station smoking a quick cig as some kids swerved through an intersection after carjacking a fraught damsel chasing down the street with cell phone to head, blood trickling down her torn hose and left knee. And last summer, I stopped by the station on my bicycle to check my email and found two punk-rock show producers outside talking to the police about the woman who was handcuffed in the backseat of the squad car. She had stopped her truck while one of them was loading records into his and ran towards him screaming, "I can't stand it anymore!" and nothing else.
However, these incidents all happened outside the station.
Most nights when I'm not doing the show and have stopped by to listen to something or do some audio work on the computer in Studio A or B, Bob Reuter, Kevin Lawrence or Seth Wahlman will be there doing the same thing or finishing some correspondence. I have a perfect recollection of those nights…and each Thursday as I enter the studio and Josh Weinstein is riveting the heads of his listeners to the heavens, I am fully aware and embarrassed to be sharing the same call letters.
But my friends claim they have visited me while I was doing the show and left because I wouldn't talk to or even look at them and the phone would ring and I'd quote what sounded like Zorn’s horn and Bukowski mixed together and slam the phone down, cackling and frothing at the mouth while grabbing an LP with my other hand and smashing it across the console. But you can't trust those loons; they feed buffalo chips to starving Sioux and argue over soda products and colors of caulk. I can only hope that they, too, will someday learn what it is like, “to be in the zone.”
I can only share one late-night KDHX story with you and hope that it resembles the story I would tell if I could remember anything about doing my show because it happened before midnight on New Year's Eve a couple years back and so was not yet in my sense of time, late night.
I was covering another host's show, so he could hold one of his underground cheese-curls and sparkling water orgies. The previous host had left in a huff, shrieking something about hippies or long-hairs or something, as I spun into the program with some old Pere Ubu and was having a leisurely go of it, like most veteran hosts do when the phone calls aren't rapid fire and the tracks are long enough to type in a playlist allowing mind and fingers to cue up the next track, PSA or the like. I answered a couple of requests for material which I could not fill. No sweat. I didn't have the material. It was not my show. “Enjoy the bubbly, sweet birdies-of-the-night. I’m a grinning volunteer, bridled only by insouciance and a need for solitude huddled in a small room with my fingers at the controls of the airwaves and a live internet stream fueled by nameless urges and caffeine”, I said to the clock.
Later, I recalled my wish to spend a New Year's Eve on my back atop a hill or mountain, cocooned in a thermal sleeping bag with an awe-inspiring view of the stars and planets. I was spinning records and imagining such a night when I came across "I Am God" from Negativland's 1993 album "Free". It is a reflective, sometimes shocking and humorous audio collage which opens with children singing about the ecumenical movement and features a repeated chant of "I am God. You are God. We are all God." A piece which might incite a response; people being so trigger happy when it comes to their religious beliefs.
I mean, I've heard the stories about radio personalities being shot in the parking lot outside other radio stations and I've heard other producers tell stories about being threatened by nutbag callers. I have only recently been brave enough to watch Play Misty for Me so I fathomed that I might draw some frustrated demon out of the cold, dark night.
Didn't have a call for the rest of the show.
I had a couple bands and a party to catch afterward, so I was packed up and ready to roll when I podded up the announcement at the end of the show and cleared the way for the next show’s hosts. I shouldered my bag of tricks and walked outside with my attention focused on the upcoming hours.
I was about halfway down Magnolia to Grand when the fireworks and gunfire announced midnight on the South Side. There were a couple kids across the street launching bottle rockets willy-nilly in all directions and I thought for a moment that I might make a likely target, but rounded the montessori on the corner and walked up Grand free of damage. The gunfire sounded automatically, clearly and rapidly, but distantly.
I was home, re-garbed, ready for action, back out the door and by 12:20, I had parked the car halfway between the bars and the house party and was standing in CBGB with an Oatmeal Stout and a Gambrinus-like thirst as a Jan Primus' spirit sang softly in a drunken woman’s ear as he shot me a wink fueled with jiggers of corn. Her squirming disgust was pitiful. Like souls sleeping dreamlessly, like cyborgs on Soma, she was having none of it. There was still a hint of displeasure to show for her pride, though, so I wrestled the spirit away and we shared old memories from having been at play between our respective headphones and four walls.
Brett Lars Underwood is a bartender and a gadabout who writes, promotes and produces happenings and mishaps. He is the producer and host of KDHX' The No Show (late Thursday/early Friday at midnight). He's quicker with the stink eye than verbal reprimands and favors the brushback pitch over preemptive warfare. He has the wingspan of an albatross.