If I was going to work in radio, I needed to work in radio. WXJM was cool, but it was college radio – I needed to move into commercial. Q101 was the big local station, whose format I’ve described as Top40 with Adult Contemporary leanings – the kind of thing you hear in a doctor’s waiting room, with Rick Dees every Sunday morning. I was John Williams, and often did the 12a-6a overnights and weekends. I was the FNG so I got the shit shifts. But I had a blast.
The format was fine. I got my dose of Celine Dion, developed an appreciation for Taylor Dayne, played Sophie B. Hawkins “Damn, I wish I was you lover” a lot, and that “I would walk 500 miles” song. “What Is Love” just… oh that song! Have I told you lately that I love you? It was prescribed – I had a list. I played was I was told… mostly. Occasionally timing changed and I’d get to pick my own song to fill, or maybe things go long and I cut. But for the most part, I just spun the CDs, loaded the commercial carts, gave a weather break.
Weather breaks. So we would do something like: “In Harrisonburg it’s 75º, Wayneboro 77º, Staunton 72º… it’s time to Come Undone with Duran Duran on the Q…!” <hit station ID jingle bumper> <spin Duran Duran>. Those temps? The station had a “weather station” on the building, so the Harrisonburg temp was the temp at the station. Then the other two were made up, always within a couple degrees. Seriously. I was told to do that (and so I did that). Yes, I was flabbergasted. I was there to gain experience, and experience I gained.
One year there was a nasty blizzard. There in The Shenandoah Valley, snowdrifts up to my waist, it was nasty. I had to get into the station so I could help run things – you kids and your cellular push notifications! I had to go out into the blizzard to get to the station… that was precarious in a 1983 Ford Escort hatchback. But people needed relief so in I went. I was reading all the closures, taking calls to learn about closures. If you wanted to know what was open or closed, you tuned into the radio. It was cool to be of service to the community, not just entertaining and advertising. It was cool to be a DJ.
But really, it was all about talking over that song intro and “hitting the post” of ending the talk right as the singing starts. Even today, when Kix’s “Girl Money” comes on, I have to intro it – it’s just that sort of song intro. Oh and… I refuse to “kick things off…”; that’s a tired segue.
Q101 had other interesting things too. You’d have regulars that would always listen, call you up. Some of them too young (I recall some dude got canned and maybe arrested over something with a young caller…). Some not so young… and while I had an opportunity, I didn’t do it. So she did another DJ. I know because I was doing my airshift and the other DJ came in to cut some commercials… but his sweats were stuck to his crotch, having just come from spending time with her. Good times.
John Williams was a hasty decision. I showed up for my first shift, introduced myself to the dude who was about to sign off and hand it over to me. He was getting ready to go into his last break, cocked his head back my way: “Kid, what’s your name?” Oh shit! I hadn’t thought of my on-air name! The first thing that came into my head? John Williams (I’m sure due to the composer). And it stuck. Not what I would have chosen if I had the opportunity to put thought into it, but I didn’t. And I don’t know what name I would have chosen, because I had chosen so it was an answered question.
The hot young afternoon drive-time DJ was Dennis Hughes. At the time he was also married to Libby Gardner, the pretty young anchor on the local news (Den-by? Lib-nis?). Dennis and I got to know each other. He told me he was in a rock-and-roll band, “In Debt”, he was the drummer. He invited me to come over and jam with them. I’ll have more to share in a later installment.
Dennis wanted to move up in radio too. He had topped out this market, so he went up the road to the Winchester, VA area and got a gig at Froggy99 (I think they were 50,000 watts). He had me come up too, getting occasional shifts. I forgot my name there… we all had frog names, like “Doc Hopper” or other frog puns to roll your eyes to. It was basically the same stuff, different call sign. One winter the roads weren’t good. I was riding with Dennis in his brand new Geo Tracker. We were heading up to Froggy99 to work, when the car hit a patch of ice, slid diagonally, ending when the driver’s side parallel collided with the guard rail and caromed off. We could keep driving, just a little shook up – the car not so much. And a pisser since it was brand spankin’ new.
I was working my way up in things. I was soon to graduate from JMU and figured the logical move was into a radio gig. I heard the money, I did the math… food OR rent. Not AND, but OR. That’s not going to work. So I panicked and decided to avoid the real world for another 2 years and went to grad school. That’s how I ended up at Texas A&M.