Radio Days — March 1995 Adds for WMAD-FM

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

When I write about my time in radio, I almost always focus on the student-run broadcast outlets I was proud to call home at different times in my life. In between my two very different but equally beloved spans working at noncommercial stations housed at institutions of higher learning, I did some time in commercial radio. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1993, which just so happened to coincide with the one point in U.S. pop culture history when the alternative music favored by left-of-the-dial broadcasters also had a foothold with mainstream radio. Before long, it was a very slicked up, derivative, and dispiriting version of alternative rock that got played in between thirty-second spots for gas stations and head shops, but just a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have imagined I could make a wage by telling listeners they were about to hear the new single from Sonic Youth.

For a few years in the middle of the nineteen-nineties, I was a part-time at WMAD-FM, serving the Madison, Wisconsin market from 92.1 on the dial. In March of 1995, I was already a little tired of playing Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” as many as three times in a six-hour shift, but there was still a little shine on the apple. According to the just-released ratings, the station was #2 in the market in the all-important 18-34 demo. All was going well, even according to plan. If I didn’t live everything I was charged with playing, I liked enough.

To give a sense of just what the station sounded like while I was still in my early months there, I offer a list of all the tracks that were added to our playlist in previous mentioned springtime month (which, being Wisconsin, was likely a month with more of a late winter feel), according to reports submitted to one of the industry trade publications. There are links to the songs. I can’t be help responsible for some of the horrors your ears might encounter by clicking. Anyway, these as the songs that I helped introduced listeners to back in the day:

Hootie & the Blowfish, “Let Her Cry” — This leaden, maudlin ballad is stocked with the sort of thuddingly literal lyrics (“You walked in, I didn’t know just what I should do/ So I sat back down and had a beer and felt sorry for myself”) that helped the South Carolina band move a kajillion copies of Cracked Rear View, their debut album. The damn thing is in the Top 20 for all-time U.S. sales, currently right behind the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 1974-78, which seems sort of fitting.

Blues Traveler, “Run” — This is an amiable enough song, in a Barenaked-Ladies-without-the-jokes kind of way. For me, though, this band can never escape the heavy shade of the highly knowledgeable, deeply opinionated host of the blues music show at my college radio station disparaging someone else’s taste by offering the sarcastic assessment “They don’t like the things I play. They prefer real blues, like Blues Traveler.”

Elastica, “Connection” — Now here’s a track I would have flipped for back in my college radio days. Drawing on classic post-punk sounds while sounding utterly up to date, I can attest that this Elastica song sounded amazing turned to peak volume in our little broadcast booth in wee hours of the morning.

Sponge, “Plowed” — The rising grunge wave briefly elevated all sorts of rock band vessels. Sponge was actually one of the more deserving of a having a moment of brief popularity, if only because the sputtery guitar riff that opens the track is genuinely attention-getting.

Matthew Sweet, “Sick” — It’s no “Girlfriend,” but this is still some dandy power pop.

Pearl Jam, “Not for You” — I had to play so damn many cuts from this album, which was brand new when I started at the station. Most of them sounded to me like fairly empty rock songs with maybe one decent idea that gets bludgeoned into submission by the band. This is one of those cuts.

Goo Goo Dolls, “Only” — The first single from the Goo Goo Dolls’ A Boy Named Goo, a major commercial breakthrough for the band, found them in their most common mode to that point: flashing their best impersonation of the Replacements. It wasn’t until several months later that their record label sussed out that there was a far wiser strategy for storming the pop charts.

Face to Face, “Disconnected” The inclusion of this track on our playlists was almost surely attributable to the massive success Green Day enjoyed on commercial radio the previous year with their album Dookie. Just as all Seattle grunge bands had a shot at airplay after Nevermind, a whole lot of Southern California punk got to ride along the Dookie wake.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Fly from Heaven” This is third single from the band’s Dulcinea. I barely remember it, which suggests that it really stiffed.

Juliana Hatfield, “Universal Heartbeat” Without so much as a nanosecond of hesitation, I will tell you that this is the best song of this whole lot.

The Offspring, “Kick Him When He’s Down” — The Offspring’s 1994 album, Smash, was so aptly named that Epitaph Records dredged up this cut from the band’s previous full-length release to fling at radio in the spring of 1995.

The Caulfields, “Devil’s Diary” — The faux provocation of the “bigger than Jesus” hook on the chorus is probably the top reason this admittedly pretty punchy rock song got a place on alternative rock stations. There’s so much snark here: “It’s never good/ To be understood/ By a girl in acid wash.”

Mike Watt, “Against the 70’s” — Not that anyone was asking me at the time, but I declared Mike Watt’s solo debut, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, to be the best album of 1995. Given the string of guest stars on the album and the prevailing popular consensus of the moment, it totally made sense that the tune with Eddie Vedder on lead vocals would serve as the single. I personally have a very different choice for the album’s finest showcase for a nineteen-nineties alternative icon.

Cracker, “Good Times Bad Times” — There were far too many tribute albums in the nineteen-nineties, most of them packed with middling alternative acts taking semi-ironic passes at towering acts of decades past. Most of them are justifiably forgotten. This plodding, marginally engaged pass at a Led Zeppelin AOR staple, taken from the Encomium compilation that also features 4 Non Blondes and Blind Melon, solidly demonstrates why those hodgepodge affairs eternal clog discount bins.

Stone Temple Pilots, “Dancing Days” — Oh, yeah. Stone Temple Pilots was on that Led Zep tribute album, too. We played this far more than the Cracker track.

Hootie & the Blowfish, “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” — And Hootie & the Blowfish also got a spot on Encomium. I can’t believe we added three cuts from that album.

Soundgarden, “Fell on Black Days” — The Soundgarden album Superunknown was one year old by the time A&M Records got around to releasing this as the fifth single. It’s just as good as its four predecessors.

Mad Season, “River of Deceit” — In the mid-nineties, alternative rock was so big that it could have a supergroup. With moonlighting members of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees, the first (and only) album by Mad Season could have been cooked up in a lab to infect grunge-adoring radio stations. This plaintive ballad did even been on mainstream rock stations, where it just missed topping their specialized Billboard chart.

Our Lady Peace, “Starseed” — The second single from Our Lady Peace’s debut album, Naveed, could be fairly described as one of the countless songs that spun out of station CD players because it was designed to sound like Generic Grunge, if not for the fact that it also occasionally sounds like they should have been paying residuals to the Cult for what they’re up to here.

General Public, “Rainy Days” — If you had asked me before I researched and assembled this post if I ever played a new General Public song during my tenure in commercial radio, I would have emphatically responded that of course I never did. Evidently, I would have been wrong.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s