This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.
Several years after I hung up the studio headphones for the last time as an undergraduate student and flipped my cap’s tassel, I blessedly found myself back in a college radio station. This time, I was an advisor, doing my best to serve the needs and interests of the upstanding youths presiding over WPRK-FM, the student-run radio station at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida. I’ve been thinking about that fine place quite a bit recently, in part because the current crew at the station is pumping the social media feed with a steady stream of information about seventieth anniversary celebrations. I well remember being part of the station when it’s fiftieth birthday came around working with the students to mount commemorative programming and events.
Playlists are often the best map to a radio station’s personality, particular in college radio, where song selections are usually made by the actual on-air staff instead of some heavily calibrated system. With that in mind, I’m going to settle my reminiscing into the nest of WPRK’s Top 30 chart, as reported in the October 7, 2002 issue of CMJ.
1. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight
In between my two tenures in college radio, before the advent of boundless options for sampling new music through the tubes of the internet, I found myself eager to hear certain emerging artists with little means of doing so aside from investing in their album note unheard. Spoon was one of the bands that, from their reviews, seemed like they were made for me. To be honest, Kill the Moonlight didn’t wow me quite as I hoped and expected. Two albums later, though, was Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and I become a full convert.
2. The Apples in Stereo, Velocity of Sound
Part of the Elephant Six Collective, which was still going strong, the Apples in Stereo were a band I actually knew, having bought their 1995 full-length debut, Fun Trick Noisemaker, on a whim when I saw it in the rack at Milwaukee’s beloved, bygone Atomic Records. A few years later, I procured their album The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone from Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, and it soundtracked our drive up the California coast. Velocity of Sound was sort of a sharp left turn from the band, and I think it faded pretty quickly on our chart.
3. Of Montreal, Aldhils Arboretum
This was a defining sound of WPRK back then: twee, painfully clever, lithely lavish, and just a touch scruffy. During my time there, we booked Of Montreal (or rather, one of our eminently talented student directors booked them, a forecast of her endlessly inventive music biz future) to play a live concert on the back patio of the on-campus art museum. It was a lovely idea until the rain swept in.
4. I Am the World Trade Center, The Tight Connection
This fabulous dance record is anchored by an inspired cover of Blondie’s “Call Me,” but the duo’s originals are collectively the actual highlight. A couple months later, they presided over a DJ set at the station’s anniversary concert at a downtown club in nearby Orlando.
5. The Mercury Program, A Data Learn the Language
Ambient and fidgety, this album is also representative of what could get a real foothold with a good chunk of station. The Mercury Program formed in Gainesville, so that probably helped stir a certain amount of affection with our Floridians on staff.
6. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights
Watching the documentary Meet Me in the Bathroom during the most recent Sundance Film Festival reminded me anew just how good this band’s first couple albums are. This is a dandy debut.
7. Jazzanova, In Between
The debut album from a German collective that comes together to record every four to six years (including a release earlier this year). In Between is an appealing mash-up of jazz, soul, hip hop, you name it.
8. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
I sure did love this album back in the day. “Do You Realize?” might very well be my pick for the best song released during my whole span of time at WPRK. “You realize the sun doesn’t go down/ It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round” is all kinds of brilliant.
9. Bright Eyes, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
Hey, it’s the Happy Gilmore of emo!
10. The Flaming Stars, Sunset & Void
Such gooey rock goodness that I now assume this made the station’s Top 10 because I pestered DJs to play it from my dinky office across from the main booth.
11 The Walkmen/Calla, Split
The Walkmen hadn’t reached critics’ darlings status yet, but Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Was Gone, their debut album from earlier that year, was a station favorite. I think that explains the high placement for this split single with Calla.
12. Doug Martsch, Now You Know
Built to Spill had the top album for all of 2000 on college radio, so the following year obviously seemed like just their right time for the band’s frontman to step out with his first solo record. As I recall, it mostly made people want a new Built to Spill record instead.
13. Atjazz, Lab Results
More jazzy electronica. It was a whole thing.
14. Wire, Read & Burn 02
The second of three EPs from the venerable, consistently daring band. Read & Burn 01 was issued earlier the same year, but Read & Burn 03 didn’t arrive until 2007.
15. The Fairline Parkway, Street
This band out of Washington, D.C. delivered gentle, sorta dreamy pop, landing somewhere in the nether region staked out on different corners by Mojave 3, Yo La Tengo, and Belle & Sebastian.
16. Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf
I’m sure there were a few purists on staff who felt this album was already too well known for us to be playing it. Or maybe that’s what I think now because I don’t actually remember this being played all that much.
17. The Turn-Ons, Love Ruined Us
This EP was the Seattle band’s follow-up to the previous year’s debut full-length. There’s barely a trace of their music online, but you can download their 2008 album, Curse, if you like. It’s listed on their website as “New Album.”
18. Ryan Adams, Demolition
I don’t have a thing to say about this cad.
19. Various Artists, Sounds Eclectic Too
20. Various Artists, Little Darla has a Treat for You, Vol. 19, Fall 2002
A couple of nifty compilations, including the regularly issued CD that served as KCRW’s implicit boast about the ludicrously enviable guest list for their show Morning Becomes Eclectic.
21. Snapcase, End Transmission
There’s weird, twisty, abrasive music to be found on the fourth album from the hardcore band from Buffalo, New York. In panning the record, Pitchfork wrote, “Once in a while, they chooga rather than chugga, and that’s somehow enough to make them ‘avant’ for genre purists,” in case you’re wondering if Pitchfork was always a little annoying.
22. Koop, Waltz for Koop
23. Ivy, Guestroom
The New York band Ivy was definitely a known quantity by this point, with three previous albums to their credit. That they were making their debut on Minty Fresh Records gave them a boost at our station. WPRK felt like a Minty Fresh kinda place at the time.
24. Morcheeba, Charango
This is some dandy trip hop; dandy enough, in fact, to help push past the aversion some might have had to playing an album from major label Warner Bros.
25. Great Lakes, The Distance Between
Another Elephant Six Collective act. There were always a few folk who could truffle-sniff acts like this out of the new music rotation.
26. Division of Laura Lee, Black City
27. Brad Mehldau, Largo
If you’re an in-progress jazz icon who wants some college radio airplay, a good way to get it is by including a Radiohead cover on one of your albums.
28. Irving, Good Morning Beautiful
Want to explain to someone what indie rock is? This album works.
29. Piedmont Charisma, Piedmont Charisma
As if providing a forecast of my future, this band was from Asheville, North Carolina. If only I’d know, I could’ve booked them for my next gig.
30. Sonic Youth, Murray Street
Most of the artists that were huge on college radio when I was an undergraduate were considered passé when I was an advisor, just a few years later. Sonic Youth was the major exception. Murray Street was a major album on college radio in 2001. It deserved to be. It stands with the likes of Daydream Nation and Goo among the band’s best.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Radio Days” tag.