I Was a Radical Classical Music DJ

A minutiae of my life which must be preserved for my future biographers’ benefit is a summer stint as a classical music disc jockey. Here’s how it happened…

At the end of my college sophomore year (Spring 1972), I was elected to a student government executive officer position:  Director of Academic Affairs.  This meant I was the principal student liaison to the administration and faculty on all academic issues.

After the election, the college president announced that he was appointing a student and faculty committee to meet throughout the summer to develop recommendations for restructuring the academic program.  Of course, because of my election as the Academic Affairs Director, I was one of the student members.  This meant I would be living on campus that summer.

One of the other students living on campus that summer was the manager of the student radio station, which broadcast only to the campus by using the power lines. The manager received the princely sum of $50 monthly but all other staff were volunteers.  Filling out the DJ roster was not a problem during the school year, when 1,200 students were living on the residential campus, but summer was a different matter.

There really wasn’t much of a summer school.  Some students doing research. Various sports “camps” for high school students which brought folks to the campus for a week or two.  Also, a longer English as a Second Language course.

So it may have been desperation which prompted the station manager to ask me if I’d volunteer as a DJ that summer.  Maybe he thought my notoriety would generate some listeners from the few students who were also there during the regular school year, such as the dorm advisors or students conducting research. (Enquiring minds want to know: what music does the campus radicals’ leader listen to?)

Unbeknownst to the station manager, I had recently acquired a taste for classical musical, particularly the Baroque era.  I had been buying many European artist recordings from the Musical Heritage Society collection at a bargain price of $3.  And I was in a proselytizing mood…

So I told the station manager I’d be willing to do a two-hour slot, beginning at 7 or 8 Sunday evenings.  And oh….it would be classical music using my personal collection.  I answered the bewildered look on his face (the campus radical has aristocratic tastes?) by explaining that I believed classical music would be appreciated at those hours.  Students would either be relaxing after dinner, which ended at 6:30, or studying.  The Brandendurg Concertos would be more conducive to those activities than Jimi Hendrix.

I don’t know whether his desperation, my logic and/or the idea of diversity prevailed, but he accepted my offer.  And so that’s how my show, which I suspect many named “Mad Dog Steve’s Classical Show,” came to be.

I’ll confess to having some initial “microphone fright.”  My forte is public speaking.  Because I can see the audience, it is very easy to adjust the presentation (speed, tone, etc.) based on visual audience response.  But I wouldn’t be able to see my radio audience.  (And maybe I would have no audience once they learned I’d be playing classical music!)

My fears soon dissipated.  I still remember my satisfaction the first time a listener called in and said she was enjoying the music and asked what was playing because she had missed my intro. (One of the nice things about LPs is that the liner notes had all sorts of easily readable information I could use to provide some background for what I was about to play.)

What was I playing?  I mixed and matched “top hits” (such as Mozart’s very danceable “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) with less popular but personal favorites, such as Vivaldi’s concertos for lute and mandolin.  Since I favored trumpet and harpsichord music, those instruments received significant air time.

I also pushed my favorite composers, such as Handel, Bach and Scarlatti.  It wasn’t unusual for me to achieve a “twofer”, such as Bach concertos for two, three or four harpsichords.  Just as Jerry Lee Lewis could make a piano rock, so too could classical composers torture a harpsichord.

There was no possibility that I’d continue the show after the summer.  I had way too many (non-academic) issues to press.  Besides my Student Government position, I was the Editor of Editorials of the student newspaper and since the Editor-in-Chief spent most of his time working an internship with the local newspaper, I was in charge of day to day operations.  I had to make sure that the newspaper espoused the proper radical political views… 😉

Fortunately, I think the station manager found someone else to continue the classical programming.  I was too busy to listen to the radio station but I had my own collection.

I’m a hoarder, so it should be no surprise that I still have a good 60 classical albums that I bought in the 70s.  I’ve not listened to them in decades, but I do plan to “burn” them to CDs during my retirement.  I suspect many of these albums never made it to CD because they were not “popular” enough.

Now you didn’t think I’d end this post without my attempting to proselytize you, did you? Below is a link to the Allegro from a Vivaldi trumpet concerto.  If you watch movies or TV regularly, you’ll probably recognize it as it’s been used for a number of themes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3y89Mh-Uu_0

And if you’re looking to dance to your music, shake your booty to Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance #1.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2amTjF_mkM

If you like it, there’s 15 more of them.  (One of the highlights to our 1988 London trip was  a concert at Royal Albert Hall by the Berlin Orchestra, which included Dvorak’s Symphony #9 “From the New World.” )

Speaking of dances, do you know which well-known song from the musical “Kismet” ripped off Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances?”  Her’s the “original”…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8C8frqCKKg

And here’s Sarah Brightman’s version of….Stranger In Paradise.  (Borodin is not protected by the Digital Millennium Act.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG0NCJBDpAE&feature=related

If you’d like a chance to sample more classical music – free – check out the Classical Archives website.  Free to join and you can download a limited number of their offerings.

And if you develop a taste for classical music, the good news is that the Musical Heritage Society still exists, albeit under a new name.  The bad news is that the recordings are no longer $3.

Enjoy!

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4 responses to “I Was a Radical Classical Music DJ

  1. I swear you are completely full of surprises! If someone had asked me to guess one secret thing about you, the very last thing I would have picked is “classical music fan”! I grew up with classical music in a sort of limited way. I took piano lessons for 11 years, starting when I was 5 years old. But my knowledge of classical was confined to pieces that were for piano. My favorites to play were always either Bach or Mozart. I found the “romantic” composers–Beethoven, Chopin, etc.–to be fuzzy and mushy. Bach, et al, were more precise and usually very fast. It’s much more difficult to play “slow” music.

    • I think classical music appeals to the “philosopher” in me, because it has an excellent internal structure which philosophers like. I find jazz too unstructured, altho it probably has a structure I cannot recognize. So despite my “anarchist” philosophy, I do appreciate musical structure.

      I don’t care for the Romantics either. The Baroque composers were much more party animals!

      Two hundred years from now, folks will still be listening to classical music. Not so sure they’ll still be listening to the Stones, et. al….

      • I hate jazz. It literally makes me physically sick. I start to get nauseated and anxious.; When they play it on NPR, I have to change the station. It’s some kind of brain thing. But I don’t know if you”re right about the Rolling Sones 🙂

  2. You’ve certainly had your share of interesting opportunities in life and made the most of them. You could have taken the d.j. position and done the expected thing, but you made it your own. I suspect that’s the kind of thing that’s given you such success in life.

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