My Radio Daze on WLIR-FM
Critic's Choice, Alternate Sunday Nights 1981-1982
In 1981 and 1982, I had a part-time radio gig that fit well with my Newsday job. Denis McNamara offered me a radio show on WLIR in Hempstead, Long Island. Every other Sunday night from 10pm-11pm, I had a program called Critic’s Choice, which was on right before or right after Ray White’s “Off the Boat,” which played the latest releases from England.
WLIR, 92.7 FM, was transitioning to WDRE, the “Dare to be Different” era that would place the station in the vanguard of commercial new wave/post-punk radio. In the 1970s, WLIR was known as a station that played a lot of classic rock, with a phase that included Southern rock (Marshall Tucker Band seemed to be a favorite on Long Island), and a mix of mainstream and alternative rock until the new wave format change in mid-1982. My memories would not have any clarity at all if I had not found my radio logs from the programs.
I do know that Ben Manilla, the popular WLIR personality and DJ, was my producer and engineer, and he was a gentleman putting up with my occasional sloppy presentations. If it was during football season, in those days, my drinking would start at noon. By 10 PM, I was sometimes a bit slurry, but there was something about the responsibility of live radio that would snap me into focus most of the time. The music I played came from my own collection, everything from soul and funk to doo-wop to reggae to experimental music like the Residents, and performance artists like Laurie Anderson. I liked the San Francisco punk scene of the moment, played Flipper’s insane “Sex Bomb,” and the 415 Records artists like Romeo Void. The one dispute I had with Ben was one in which he thought it might be better if we referred to Jello Biafra’s Dead Kennedys as “the D.K.’s” I disagreed, and he let me go ahead and say the name of the band on the air. I played Elvis Presley, and the Sex Pistols.
Ben and I were reunited later in the 1980s or early 1990s when he was also my engineer and producer when he had moved on to a syndicated company called Radio Today. They had a popular show called “Rock Stars,” which was hosted by then Billboard editor Timothy White. White left Radio Today for the number one syndicator, Westwood One; after some legal shenanigans, he had to call his show “Timothy White’s Rock Stars.” Radio Today had kept the “Rock Stars” title, which was hosted by me.
But Tim had the name and the power of Westwood One. Radio promotion, and press promotion were independent entities. An interview session needed special recording, microphones, settings, to be radio quality. So I couldn’t just use one of my tape recorded Keith Richards Newsday interviews, for example, for Radio Today.
Westwood One locked up the radio exclusives with the big stars. I had a few good ones: Joe Cocker at his home in the Santa Barbara hills was a promising start. But instead of U2, which I would interview for Newsday, my “Rock Stars” interviews might feature a new band with Greg Lake or Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; or involve a flight down to Jacksonville, Fla., to interview the rebooted Lynyrd Skynyrd, with Johnny Van Zant singing lead replacing his deceased brother, Ronnie. It was a good gig, even if the New York classic rock affiliate rarely aired my show.
It must have been doing well enough, because the CEO of the parent company came from Texas to New York to take me, Ben, and our leader, radio management veteran Dan Formento, to dinner at the fancy Smith & Wollensky steakhouse. Somewhere during the second bottle of red, the CEO told a not quite hilarious Jew joke. It was like that Dictators song, “The Next Big Thing”: “we knocked ‘em dead in Dallas/they didn’t know we were Jews.” Ben and Dan stifled coughs. They looked at me with pleading eyes: I was still capable of “causing a scene.” For their sake, I kept cool; I might have said something politely as possible explaining why we ought to change the subject to something we might all agree was funny. I left the Radio Today gig soon after.
My Creem colleague Lester Bangs death had been announced (April 30, 1982) a day before a Critic’s Choice show. I dedicated that show to him, but it required no break in the routine for the songs I chose: A typical Critic’s Choice show (the playlist I have says “show five or six? which would have been 1981) include Bangs and Robins faves such as [Question Mark] ? and the Mysterians’ deep cuts “8-Teen” and “Girl You Captivate Me,” then after the break the version of “96 Tears” by Suicide, then the ? Mark version, then later in the show The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and the MC5’s “High School.” On one off-night, Ben handed me a letter addressed to me at the station: a death threat that I didn’t take too seriously, but it didn’t make me feel comfortable and cozy at the mic that night, either.
Here are some playlists from that time when I was a one-person free-form hour, twice a month, for a little over a year. By later in 1982, with the new air personalities like Malibu Sue, and emerging stars like Larry “the Duck” Dunn, my show seemed a little redundant. I was on the air as a guest on other stations in the 1980s: I was asked fill in for vacationing Vin Scelsa on WXRK-FM/92.3 FM one Sunday morning circa 1985; I was never so nervous in my life, so I just played records and hardly talked. I was a guest on Howard Stern’s show a few times, where Howard and I played nice together and I never rose to take his bait on what a crummy job one of my colleagues on the New York Newsday radio business beat was doing. I debated, remotely, Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” for the Voice of America, booked by former WBAB-FM rock announcer Maura Bernie Bernard. The topic was rock music, about which the giant intellect Bloom knew nothing at all, so I kicked his uninformed tuchas all over the globe. And I did occasional reviews and commentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including a few minutes about the opening night of the Jacksons “Victory” tour in Kansas City for a nationwide morning show based in Winnipeg. For those Canadian gigs, I can thank my old friend Susan Farkas, CBC’s New York bureau chief-turned-D.C.-based producer for CBC’s coverage of the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign.
The following playlist is embedded in the top audio file. Not sure if I ever found Claude Morgan and the Blast, which I spent plenty of time hunting for. But Claude “Butch” Morgan appears to still be playing and recording around San Antonio. The Neil Young track is for some reason unavailable on Spotify. (Duh!) Heard anything about that? And the Suzanne Vega track was before her A&M Records deal. She was working as a receptionist at a publishing house in Manhattan, and she occasionally sent me lyrics she was working on. Stephen Holden from the Times and I both reviewed a gig of hers at Folk City, making us her co-Robert Shelton’s. Vega introduced me to the Fast Folk magazine and album series, highlighting a scene of new singer-songwriters that also included Lucy Kaplansky, Shawn Colvin, David Massengill, and many other worthy talents creating a fine acoustic revival at Robbie Woliver’s Folk City.
Rank & File: "Amanda Ruth" (Slash "Sundown") LP
Claude Morgan and the Blast: "I'm a Student" (A.R.T. San Antonio)
Belle Stars: "Slick Trick" (Stiff 12" single)
Yello "You Gotta Say Yes (To Another Excess)"
Ricky Skaggs: "Don't Get Above Your Raising"
Anne Waldman: "Uh-Oh, Plutonium"
Inflatable Boy Clams: "I'm Sorry" (Subterranean single)
The Roches: "Want Not, Want Not"
Suzanne Vega: "Cracking" (The Coop Fast Folk magazine)
Mystery Date: "Mystery Dates"
The Residents: "Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Day of a Life"
Neil Young: "Time Fades Away"
Eric Frandsen: "I Shot Jack LaLanne" (The Coop Fast Folk magazine)
Here are the songs on the embedded playlist for Critic's Choice, WLIR, Oct. 11, 1981
Tom Verlaine: "There's a Reason" (from "Dreamtime" album)
The Act: "Too Late" (Hannibal single)
Rough Trade: "It's a Jungle" (from "Avoid Freud" Stiff LP)
Joe King Carrasco: "Bad Rap" (from "Party Safari" EP)
English Beat: "Monkey Murders" (from Sire LP "Wh'appen"
Roky Ericson and the Aliens: "Don't Shake Me, Lucifer" (415 Records)
13th Floor Elevator:"You're Gonna Miss Me"
Jim Steinman "Love and Death and an American Guitar" (spoken word)
Chuck Berry: "Almost Grown"
Marshall Crenshaw "Something's Gonna Happen" (audio replaces original single with Ronnie Spector vocal version)
Pigbag: "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" (Stiff EP)
James Brown: "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (King single)
Swamp Dogg: "Low Friends in High Places" (from Takoma LP, "I'm Not Selling Out, I'm Buying In")
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All typos, memory lapses, are on me.