I remember laughing
at the term "cable-ready
". I was looking of the back of my old JVC FM
tuner, reminded of college radio
and the headaches of sitting in a city (Raleigh, NC
) where there is, now, so much college radio (all bad), that it's no longer a simple task to hear the two good ones (WXYC, my old home, in Chapel Hill
, and WXDU
, in Durham
). My tuner
is great; I can tune even the frequencies that don't get used; 104.2 FM, anyone? Howie fixed it up for me, along with a from-Japan Sony
amplifier whose previous owner was in the Navy
, stationed in Japan
. Howie was the chief engineer at XYC at the time, and he would eventually try to talk me into becoming Program Director there. I begged off, citing band commitments, drug-addled unreliability, and the need, perhaps, to have a full-time student
handle the job. Ironically, this opened the door for the guy who ended up firing me during a purge
. Howie was also a viola
player, and I think our ideal gig would have been as the guitar/viola front line of some improvisation
al rock band; just as I had every obscure avant-garde jazz album, he had every obscure European prog
LP in the known universe. But my prior band commitments and his need to pay his half of the mortgage
on the house he shared with his SO
put the kibosh on all that; all he really had the time for was the occasional sound-man gig
. I was laughing at the term "cable-ready" in reference to the JVC tuner; it has only a coaxial cable
interface for an antenna
, though it long predates the term "cable-ready". To pick up XYC or XDU here in Wake County is not a casual thing. With a car radio
, it all depends on which part of the county you're in - you drive a mile or two in some direction, and the signal fades out, replaced by one of the nearby college stations, a classical station, or a Christian station. With the home tuner, it's a lot easier; I can move the antenna all over the place for optimum reception
. But I gave away my coaxial adapter
a couple of years ago; I need to get a new one if I'm going to get XYC or XDU on a reliable basis.
I remember my first visits to North Carolina, after I discovered there was a tuning knob on radios. There wasn't any college radio back then, much less public radio. There was a past of student radio at UNC - Charles Kuralt, NPR's Carl Cassell, and, I think, Andy Griffith, once worked at WUNC. At some point in the mid-to-late 70s (I was now living in NC), it was resurrected as an NPR station, no longer a student-run operation. The new student station came a few years later: WXYC. One of my record-collecting mentors, a med student at Duke, had a late-night shift there (a couple of years before I actually met him in person), and I had my first visit to the station as a result of the show - I had been the fifth caller and had won The Spooks' new EP. I had to be in town for part of the admissions process and after my interview, I headed to the basement of the Student Union, where the station was then located. The Student Union was the only familiar place to me on campus, since I played in the semi-monthly RAM chess tournaments, held on the second floor; between rounds, some of us would do our kibitzing and hanging out in the basement, near XYC and the bowling alley. For years, you could pick up XYC with no problem (other than a weak signal) in a great deal of the Triangle area. But then more stations went on the air; a classical station, where Al, one of the more obnoxious high-school personages, worked. And the station at N.C. State, WKNC, which played some prog, but generally was even worse than the commercial rock stations. Shaw University went on the air. On trips to Raleigh in subsequent years, picking up XYC became problematic. WXDU at Duke went on the air a few years later, giving me another cool option, but it too was hard to pick up unless you were in some sweet spot in the Triangle - even on the Duke campus, you couldn't pick it up at its proper frequency; you had to use another.
I remember the XYC transmitter tower. It was located at Morrison Dorm, where I lived. The dorm was recommended because it had a computer room, and comp sci was possibly going to be my major (either that, or journalism, or political science, or math). My first roommate was then the chief engineer, so I had my first taste of the tower pretty early, helping out with stuff. And I had my first tastes of commercial radio - his best friend, who lived down the hall from us, worked part-time at WCHL, and a high-school classmate of mine worked at WQDR. I was so horrified at my various glimpses of commercial radio in those years (you mean they don't give a damn about the music they play?) that I swore never to have a career in radio. I deliberately developed a goofy, spacy, rambling style on the air. Not even a gig at quaint, yuppie-scum, NPR WUNC interested me, though I get tickled now at hearing the voices of my old colleagues, who "graduated" there from XYC. I raise my imaginary glass high, and wonder how bored they are, sitting there, not loving with the passion of a True Believer. My last memory of the transmitter tower was of nights of jamming. Badly. The chief engineer (yet another one) had set up amps and drums in there, and invited me along; it was awful, but I had a chance to learn some more songs - "Hey Joe", "All the Young Dudes", etc.
I remember Steve, sitting in his room in the rooming house above a Greek restaurant, swilling wine like there was no tomorrow, and his being able to boast about his newfound liquor-holding ability. He was in drink mode over breaking up with his girlfriend. I wondered what sort of huge in-love-ness would drive him to such drinking after its loss. I was young.