Traveling Directions

In the fall of 1983, it seemed like a good idea to move to Macomb, Illinois, but after a week, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. The job was not what I thought it was going to be, partly because the radio station had misrepresented itself during the interview process as something it was not, but mostly because I was 23 years old and green as grass, and I had no idea how to evaluate a job situation. After I’d been there a few months, I moved to a station across town, and things were better for the next couple of years. But in the fall of 1986, I decided it was time to get out. A new owner had bought the station earlier in the year, and his priorities and mine didn’t match. By Christmas I had found another job and given my notice, and we planned to move on.

Thinking back on it, I recall that nobody seemed especially sorry to see me go. I don’t remember any sort of going-away party, lunch, or happy hour, or anything else beyond my last show, which I ended with “Wasted on the Way” by Crosby Stills and Nash, thinking of it as a poignant commentary on the passage of time, but which could just as easily have been construed as a slam on the whole experience. Although I was beginning to mellow, a large percentage of me was still a know-it-all asshole, and I had probably worn out my welcome.

My last day was December 23, 1986. I had prepared the station’s Christmas programming before I left, along the lines of what we’d done in years past—50% holiday music until sometime on the afternoon of the 24th, and 100% through sign-off Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, with a full boatload of Christmas flavor copped from the old WLS Holiday Festival of Music. But because we were on the road to the in-laws in Michigan before sign-on the next morning, I never heard any of it—and I wonder now if they ran any of it. Because when we got back to Macomb early the next week, I turned on the station and found that every trace of my presence had been erased. The format clocks had been changed, and everything with my voice on it was gone.

I understand now, of course, that it wasn’t my sandbox to begin with, and I didn’t work there anymore, so they were entitled to do whatever the hell they liked. But at the time—still green as grass—it bothered me. Had everything I’d done there over the last year been for nothing? Maybe they really weren’t sorry to see me go. Twenty-five years later, however, it is, as CSN sang, “water moving underneath the bridge.” I know that I programmed a pretty good radio station there for a couple of years, and if the people running the place didn’t like the way I did it, that doesn’t change anything,

On the flip, you’ll find five songs my station was playing during those final weeks, as shown on the Cash Box chart for December 13, 1986.

1. “The Way It Is”/Bruce Hornsby and the Range (up from 4). We were moving from Macomb to Davenport, Iowa, for my new job at an elevator-music station. When I got there, I was surprised to find this song in the station’s library, but with the vocal edited out.

12. “Shake You Down”/Gregory Abbott (up from 17). A really fine light R&B record that should be a lot better remembered than it is.

15. “Word Up”/Cameo (down from 8). This is one of the records from the last months of 1986 that indicated the more urban direction R&B would take in the late 80s, as hip-hop and rap redefined the meaning of R&B.

22. “The Rain”/Oran “Juice” Jones (down from 18). Where “Word Up” plows an irresistible groove, “The Rain” is a both un-funky and unsubtle. Juice takes revenge on a lover who cheated on him in a lengthy rap that includes a threat to shoot her, and closes with a remarkably lame insult: “without me you like cornflake without the milk.”

27. “Victory”/Kool and the Gang (up from 31). Definitely not traveling in the direction R&B would take in the late 80s, “Victory” is another of the pleasant, interchangeable records Kool and the Gang had been making for the last five years. And within one more year, the band would be gone from the charts for good.

Gone for good. Rather like me from Macomb, Illinois. Since we left, we’ve been back there maybe twice.

6 responses

  1. Fall of ’86 first autumn spent with woman who would be my wife year later. Very special time. ‘The Way It Is’ heard about every 5 minutes, but it was okay, because the piano intro is gorgeous and nothing else really sounded like it on the radio at the time.

  2. Used to be, back in the day (60’s, 70’s, even some early 80’s) that whenever a jock (or PD) “left” the station, the airstaff had a gathering that evening to re-do ALL the voicework so that no trace of the departed jock’s voice would be left on the station. That included re-cutting commercials, the whole 9 yards. Then everybody met the dear departed jock/PD at a local watering hole and his/her money was no good. I went through probably two dozen or more of these impromptu festivals back then, and caused more than a few myself.

    But changing the format clock immediately? Wow……extreme, to say the least…..

    1. In my experience, erasing a jock’s entire existence was more likely when a guy got fired than when he went voluntarily. At KDTH in Dubuque, my voice stayed on one commercial—one of those one-per-day, twice-per-week fixed position news sponsorships—for several years thereafter. And I was on the EBS test at another station for something like five years after I left.

      1. You don’t have an aircheck of that EBS test, do you? That would make quite a keepsake.

  3. No aircheck of the EBS test, but I can still do the script from memory. I’d rather have the old KDTH commercials, actually.

  4. The second paragraph pretty much sums up how my departure from the newspaper business likely will go.

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