Sheltered from the worst of the 70s….

I started college in September, 1971, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Soon after arriving, I got interested in the campus radio station, WRPI 91.5.

I started out wanting to be a news announcer; WRPI had a small news department, and they were happy to have me join them. Well, I think they were happy — when I first auditioned, the News Director gave me a hard time about my Southern accent. He was probably joking, but somehow I managed to lose the accent within a couple of weeks (I have no idea how I did it), and I became a regular news announcer.

Or, to be more accurate, a news reader. We were urged to avoid Rip’n’Read newscasts, but our sole source of news was the AP teletype, and there wasn’t much room for creativity there. I did learn the secret news-only phone number for the Weather Service at the Albany Airport, and I got pretty good at copying down data from them very quickly, but that was about the limit.

So I decided to broaden my horizons and got involved in both the engineering and the programming sides of the station. I didn’t get deeply involved in engineering (that would have required learning how to solder, among other things), but I did get my FCC Third Class Radiotelephone License with Broadcast Endorsement, making me legally qualified to run the station. I also went through the internal qualification process to take an airshift, first as an engineer for another announcer, and then as my own engineer. So I had my Very Own Show on WRPI, late in the afternoon. I got to choose the music, run the station, and respond to the audience (well, that last didn’t take much time…it wasn’t exactly prime shift).

WRPI had two classes of announcers: Format and Non-Format. The Format was the master list of songs which were available for use, printed fresh every week — when you played a song, you crossed it off, so that it wouldn’t be overused. The Format also dictated the rotation between classes of music; we were heavy on “Folk Rock” (groups like Steeleye Span, Pentangle, and Fairport Convention) and “Progressive Rock” (groups like Yes, Genesis, and Jade Warrior), with the odd bit of “other” (including the fourth movement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, which I played fairly often). Although I had qualified as a Non-Format announcer, my show was during Format hours, and I stuck pretty much to the guidelines of the Format. The evening was Non-Format time, and some of those announcers could get fairly esoteric — here’s a promo for a Saturday Night Special featuring the Mothers of Invention.

When I wasn’t working at the station, I was usually listening to it (and if I wasn’t listening to WRPI, I was listening to the classical stations in the area, WAMC and WMHT).

After leaving school, moving to Florida, going to work, and getting married, music played less of a role in my life; if the radio was on at home, it was usually on WTMI, the Miami-based classical station. I’d sometimes listen to WSHE, which was the local progressive rock station, but not all that often.

There was a perennial controversy during my years at WRPI — the staff and volunteers wanted to play Good Stuff, and the student government (which funded us) wanted us to play the same music they could hear on WTRY, the local Top 40 outlet. We won the battle, and so WRPI presented a choice, not an echo.

And now that I’ve been listening to the 70’s on 7 as today’s XM Bootcamp exercise, I’m very glad that we won — because this is definitely not the music I want to remember from the 70’s!

I knew it was going to be bad last night, actually. Just before going to bed, I tuned the radio to Channel 7 so I’d be ready — and I was immediately greeted by “Stayin’ Alive” (which I’ve heard again today). Today started off in the same vein: Donna Summer’s version of “MacArthur Park” was part of my complete breakfast. And I’d managed to forget “I’ve Got A Brand New Pair Of Roller Skates (You’ve Got A Brand New Key” until today. Sure, there have been a few good songs (but I can’t remember any at the moment), but the balance is definitely on the side of dross.

And now that I’ve looked at the channel’s home page, I think I’d better turn it off NOW, before they live up to their threats and play Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun”!