This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.
There are few trickier times for a college radio station than winter break. The reliance on student volunteers to staff the broadcast day is tested by other planned downtimes for whatever institution the station calls home, but there are usually enough individuals who’ve decided to stick it out at their part-time jobs and local rental housing when the other calendar stretches arrive. The call of Christmastime is a different matter, though, in no small part because any inclination to skip family festivities is likely to get quickly vetoed by those at the homestead.
As part of my college station’s leadership team back in the day, I was deeply grateful to anyone who carved out some late-December time to be on the air. For the days immediately around Christmas, we always threw out the existing schedule and let on-air staffer do just about anything they wanted, as long as they were keeping the transmitter warm. That’s how my little college station nestled in the Upper Midwest came to host daylong assaults of heavy metal music to commemorate Jesus’s birthday.
In my memory, I was standing right by the schedule sing-up board when it was approached by the DJ of the station’s Sunday night program Metal Thunder, a fellow who went by the name Paul Pannick. Paul took the pen dangling next to the hand-drawn calendar and blocked off almost an entire day, writing “A Metal Thunder Christmas” next to the bordered-off time he chose. I asked, “Really?” and started laughing with delight.
Beyond the event’s status as devilishly great counter-programming for a season packed with treacly sentiment, giving Metal Thunder an extended perch on the schedule was a shrewd move for pleasing the listenership. At this point of the late–nineteen-eighties, Metal Thunder was undoubtedly our radio station’s most popular program. We didn’t have actual ratings information (and our market was so small that no methodology for gauging numbers of people tuning in would have yielded meaningful data), but I would gladly wager that Metal Thunder outpaced any other programming block on any other local station. It certainly had vocal, devoted fans. If the show started so much as one minute late on a Sunday night, the phones lit up with callers angry that their weekly raging session was delayed.
I’m pleased to report the Metal Thunder Christmas tradition continued, even after Paul departed the station, willing the radio show to Todd Jaymz and Sckaught ED. Those stalwarts have kept up the weekly sonic assault on Central Wisconsin for well over twenty-five years, and yuletide sneer gets its annual turn. In tribute to this fine tradition, I offer a recently released Christmas song that is, in truth, probably too tame for metalheads. Its sentiment, though, is perfect.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Radio Days” tag.