Radio Days — College Lunch Blocks

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

The way I remember it is this: We needed a special programming feature that could air at noon every weekday in large part because we had a local restaurant sponsor that wanted to give away free meals to promote their lunch specials to hungry college students. As a college radio station, we weren’t exactly inundated by local businesses wanting to pony up money or goods to get a slice of airtime, so this wasn’t an opportunity we were inclined to pass up. Luckily, I knew exactly the segment I wanted to steal.

My preferred hometown radio station through most of my high school years was WMAD-FM, an early adopter of the format that would be known as adult album alternative or simply AAA. Weekdays from noon until 1:00 p.m. they aired a show called The Radio Deli that built long sets around some sort of theme, maybe bands from a certain geographic area or songs that shared a common word in their title. (When most of the staff from that iteration of WMAD-FM later moved across the city to a new station, WMMM-FM, they took The Radio Deli with them.) My favorite segments were those that turned over twenty to thirty minutes of the programming hour to playing music from a single artist, if only because the DJ was inclined to go a little deeper into records by familiar artists.

At our station, WWSP-FM, we opted for around thirty minutes of a single artist, starting from right after the noon news every weekday and extending to somewhere around the bottom of the hour. After some brainstorming, we settled on the name College Lunch Blocks for the segment. The initial sponsor didn’t last all that long, but we found it relatively easy to convince other restaurants to agree to weeklong or even monthlong stints providing giveaways in exchange for on-air promotion.

We largely left it up to the DJs volunteering for the time slot where College Lunch Blocks fell to decide which artist would be featured on any given day, mandating no more than one appearance per artist per semester. We had a big schedule on the wall where jocks would write in their selections, usually angling to be the first to claim a major act such as U2 or a station favorite (Material Issue, Jesus Jones, and countless others). In the days before the internet put all sorts of music minutiae at the clicking fingertips of anyone with a modicum of skill for searching, we had one print resource in the station that listed a few birthdays of performers who fir within our college rock format. In my capacity as the station’s program director, I would occasionally write in a name on the date that corresponded with those days of celebration, figuring it was smart programming to occasionally have a specific impetus for the day’s featured artist. Or at least I did until one of those prefilled slots led to a DJ playing Tom Waits for a half hour and decided very early on that she decidedly was not a fan of his music or singing. I had my fair share of blunders during my tenure in various station leadership positions, but I don’t think a staffer was ever as angry at me as she was that afternoon.

Due to both my regular shifts and regular need to slide into the air chair as a substitute when there was no one there (especially early in a semester when the schedule was still getting settled and newcomers were trekking through the training process), I presided over a lot of College Lunch Blocks. I mostly remember the weird little tinkering I occasionally did with the format: the day I eased out of format a skosh to feature the Muppets or the time I claimed listeners were about to hear thirty minutes of Michael J. Fox songs and played the first part of the Light of Day soundtrack track “You Got No Place to Go” before revealing the prank by bursting in with “That’s a Lie” to kick off an extended set focused on station heroes Too Much Joy. Like practically everything at the station, College Lunch Blocks at its most enjoyable was a platform for creativity, a way to play on air while celebrating the music we loved so dearly.

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

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