Wednesday, April 11, 2007

WDET: This is Not a Eulogy

(two of these people used to have WDET shows. One of these people still has a satellite radio show. And one of these people will always have pit stains)

With the departure of new music programming on Detroit’s WDET radio, the area is left devoid of a proper broadcast outlet for independent music. Wah-wah boo-hoo, I know. Perhaps this is the siren song we all need to hear…reach out to satellite, hi-def or podcasts. It’s only a matter of time. I’m sure network television initially thought no one in their right mind would PAY for TV…and now, do we have the Nielsen ratings for the Sopranos premier?

My first memory of WDET was sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s Pontiac 6000 and her saying “That’s my cousin” as she flipped through the dial and Martin Bandyke’s voice came across.

I remember wondering why we didn’t listen to him more. I (with my mother) would never hear him in her car again. My thoughts were, if my cousin was on the radio, I would want to listen the them all the time. But I guess my mom wasn’t a big Los Lobos fan.

My first appointment listening to the station would be Wily Wilson’s Friday night-time show starting sometime in the late 90’s. He’d always start with Pookie McClain’s (right? Pookie McClain? I can’t find any verification on this) “Do the Uncle Willie” taken from some god-forsakenly scratched single. And occasionally he’d be brilliant…the Halloween show where he rocked Larry and the Blue Notes “Night of the Phantom” and his “Hey Joe-a-thon” where he played an impressive string of versions of “Hey Joe” (favorites being the Roks, a Michigan garage band from the ‘60s featuring actual gun shots on the recording and the Deep Purple long-as-hell version) were memorable.

Despite his unproven claim of being the first person to play the White Stripes on the radio, (I remember CJAM in Windsor being first) Wily was an ardent and early supporter of all things Detroit rock and roll. His show is easily where most of the rockers in this town first heard their own songs broadcast. I can’t remember where I first heard a Dirtbombs song I performed on over the radio, but have just come to assume that it was probably Wily who was responsible for the spin.

And although I’ve never heard the actual show, there was the legendary tale of Tom Potter being interviewed live on-air and drunk. The disastrous results almost cost Wily his job and found Potter writing a letter of apology to the station. If anyone has a copy of this, PLEASE, I would love to hear whether it was “salty meatstick” or “salty milkshake” which Tom asked whether or not he could say on-air.

While interviewing the Go in March of ’99 on the show, Dave Buick, the smart-ass he is, asked Wily “Can I say ‘Tom Potter’ on-air?”

Or Wily, introducing the individual Dirtbombs on his show in 2001, Potter’s response being “Hi, I’m not allowed to speak.”

I also remember a hazy, half-asleep night hearing 2 Star Tabernacle’s version of “Who’s to Say” (or possibly “Garbage Picker”) taken from a live recording at the Gold Dollar. That was pretty cool and weird and rare. I would oftentimes apologize to Wily for falling asleep during his show and it was always met with a laugh. I did all I could to stay up and would hope for a tune that could change my life’s trajectory.

The few times I actually visited the studio it was fun…whether it was Ed Love pitching a fit about the White Stripes recording full-blast while he’s trying to broadcast from the other room (thus leaving the band kicked out of the studio until the Dr. had finished his show), recording live with the Dirtbombs (with Wily in ’01 and Liz Copeland in ’04) the place was comfy and inviting. That being said, I could never get into the mixes of the live performances…both Dirtbombs spots, the Stripes, the Go were waaaay too vocal heavy with the guitars buried. But that’s really besides the point, the fact that someone was conscious enough to capture performances by these groups is the important part.

So as I listen to Mick Collins final edition of his Night Train radio show, I learn some things…

-the first song Mick ever heard on WDET was Devo’s “Gates of Steel” in 1980.

(the Dirtbombs would later cover the song live, way before I was in the band)

-the previous time Mick had a “last” radio show (while he was still in college, I believe) he ended with Jonathan Richman’s “This Kind of Music” and he would do so again on this occasion.

-his final show would be the only time I clearly remember Mick not fucking up…playing the wrong song or having to cut one off to make the on-the-hour news. It was as if only for this show, he had reached a level of professionalism.

But that is totally not the point. I loved the Night Train because Mick was the complete opposite of professional. For me, both radio and rock and roll, (to truly be meaningful) are best left to the characters who are original, uninhibited and unlearned. Someone like Electrifyin’ Mojo or Wolfman Jack transcended disc jockey malaise and made the in-between almost as memorable as the songs, in the same way that the Stooges or Bo Diddley could wrap Rush or Candlebox (great examples, surely) into the forgettable mess that they are.

Mick told personal stories on his show and that’s what the world needs. Personal stories in relation to music is really the entire purpose of this blog. No one’s opinion is worth a damn if they do not tell you how it makes them feel. So often on the Night Train Mick would say “I had to play this song because, for some reason, it reminds me of winter.” Those are the slices of life and experience that you cannot manufacture and remind the listener that they are alive.

The Night Train was cool for so many other reasons…an entire 2-hour show dedicated to the “Back From the Grave” series, actually playing Cass releases, giving personal shout-outs to friends who wanted to hear songs, hearing a true record collecting nerd spout about it on-air (like we had a man on the inside)…all that stuff will now sorely be lacking in my life and this town in the less because of it.

Mick’s first show on WDET had a half-hour segment on Fats Domino, explained as so…
There was a news story a few years back about a guy in Texas who threatened to bomb KMCM 96.3FM after three unsuccessful requests for Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame”. As has been retold dozens of times in the Dirtbombs’ van, we all could not understand why the guy was arrested and hauled away. Me, Pat, Mick, Ko and Troy all independently of each other, replied “Why didn’t they just play the song?”

So Mick said in his first show, “Ain’t no radio stations getting blown up on my watch.”

And it was fitting that Mick chose to play some Fats as part of his final set. The man had done all he could, but the station still bombed. The train had left the station and all that was left was the rumble of the tracks.


bill c said...

i used to call my radio program on wcbn (ann arbor) "the night train."

always enjoyed DET.: nkenge zola, radios in motion, ed love, etc.

Krautner said...

one night in 97, I heard liz copeland interviewing ed to meet him the next night. great memory.

alex said...

if satellite radio becomes really popular, do you think they'll develop satellite radio receivers for cars? we'd need small satellite dishes on our cars, though, I guess. jetson-esque!

Christopher said...

Electrifyin’ Mojo. I may still have my WHAMMY CLOTH ...
For now, this is sad. I myself have turned to several online "Podcasts" like Plan 9 and "Local Radio/ HD shows like Riff2 for local. At least the online batan has been picked up.

*Thank you to the cat who complimented me on my (rightfully) bad memory, but on my pics too - at the same time. Stil laffin!

Elizabeth said...


Colin said...

Plookie McCline was your man - "Uncle Willy" + "The Gorilla Walk" (not sure which was the flip) on Jerry-O Records. See this playlist for confirmation