Radio Days — Tracklist stickers

This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.


I’ve never been precious about the condition of record sleeves. When I peruse a shop’s used vinyl bins, the dings, stains, and rips that might mar the jacket, making it thoroughly unacceptable to a serious collector, are entirely incidental to me. If the record plays cleanly (or even with a little endearing crackle), I’m indifferent about worn packaging.

My stance existed before I ever set foot into a radio studio, but my time as a college broadcaster locked the viewpoint in firmly, partially because it built up a sense of nostalgia for those releases deep in the music stacks that had obviously seen the most handling. (My station’s copy of the Clash’s London Calling bore enough marks of desperate mending that it resembled Frankenstein’s creature in record sleeve form.) As I gradually learned the deeper history of college rock, signs of heavy use were like a stamp of excellence.

And I had a special affection for a once common piece of informational support literally pasted onto albums that were sent to stations for airplay. Usually taking up around a third of the front cover, the stickers from the label included a clear listing of all the album’s tracks. It was a way of helping on air personnel follow the music industry urging to “Say It When You Play It,” no matter how borderline indecipherable the titles of the albums cuts might be in other spots on the packaging.

The stickers also provided a handy way for the jocks to communicate their discoveries about the album, an especially common practice in college radio, where dozens of people passed through the station’s time slots any given week. Scrawled hastily in pen, the messages were like an early version of internet crowing and grousing, along with the occasional warning of content with the potential to rile the FCC. It was a rambunctious discussion, passed between staffers who otherwise had little chance to share general impressions and hard-earned wisdom.

A sticker-adorned record will sometimes still make the rounds, dropped into dollar bins or shoved into eBay listing with gruff indifference, the perceived value of the product reduced to practically nothing because of its distance from mint condition. Those are the versions of the album I’m happiest to grab. I like the idea that, in some small way, I’m keeping yesteryear’s internal radio station conversations going.


Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Radio Days” tag.

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