The Goldrush was possibly the most successful program WIDB ever had. It was a live remote from Merlin’s, then the largest bar in Illinois, and put WIDB “on the map.” Merlin’s held 1500 people, and it was packed for every Goldrush.
By 1974, students who had been protesting and rioting less than 20 months before were now streaking naked thru campus and watching “All my Children.” They were less serious and looking for a good time. It seems ironic from today’s view, but even though most were under 21, there was a yearning for the simpler and more carefree days of our youth in the 60’s, only a few years before.
It is fair to say that the 1960’s generally looked forward to new things, and there was a great willingness to accept change in the name of “progress,” especially with popular culture and music. But by 1970, nostalgia began to creep in. Radio formats played 50’s hits and called them “oldies.” WIDB had a weekly oldies show as early as 1971 and WTAO aired such a show on Saturday afternoons in 1973 and ‘74.
Programmers at WIDB knew there was a great interest in 60’s hits, especially from The Beatles onward. As early as 1971, WIDB had a weekly oldies show. Until fall ‘72, weekends meant every other song was a 60’s hit. In the Fall of 73, WIDB began airing the “Solid Gold Sunday Night Special” where requests were recorded and played with the song. It was very popular.
To capitalize on this appeal, WIDB decided to have a “Sock Hop” at the Student Center. Heavily promoted on WIDB as an “Oldies dance party,” the “Sock Hop” drew 900 to Ballrooms A-D. But, of course, no alcohol could be served.
My first exposure to punk rock was in late 1976, when I saw The Ramones at the Red Lion in Champaign.
The Red Lion…Then
A friend of mine was a roadie for the opening band, Games; so I was on the guest list. Otherwise The Ramones would never have been on my radar. I was into Bowie and Rundgren, Steely Dan and Rick Derringer. I liked prog rock. Musicians for whom the production side really mattered. But hey, I got in free, The Ramones did have a record out, which Games did not, so I stuck around for their first set.
The Ramones Debut
Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it, thought they sounded like Chuck Berry, only loud and fast.
So on one level, I got it; but I didn’t really get it. And I remained a bit clueless about what punk meant until I worked overnights at WIDB.
It was April or May of ’79 when I successfully auditioned for a slot on air at ‘IDB. It was a lot easier to get in if you were there in the summer. And as a beginner, you knew you were getting Midnight – 4am or 4am – 8am slots. And working one of those shifts in the summer meant you could usually count your audience on your fingers and toes.
Alright, on the fingers of one hand. Which is a perfect situation for beginning the craft of performing live radio. And is also very punk rock, as I came to understand.
In particular, and exclusively, the Midnight – 4am slot is the punk rock shift. Yeah, it’s tough to go in to do a shift at 4am. You learn that you have to sleep for at least a little while before you go in. You learn that coming in at 4am is about showing commitment and about taking the opportunity to get your practice in, and when your shift is in the last hour you have an audience. At the end, you leave in the bright sunshine. Maybe head to Mary Lou’s. But for Midnight – 4am, it’s different. Punk Rock.
Not that you play punk rock for 4 hours. I personally never felt comfortable playing punk after 2am. Just felt like my peers would be ready to wind down a bit at that point in the day, and chose to push my choices in other directions. But the start of a Midnight shift was often amped up, coming in from good times with friends who would be listening to the beginning of your show. Or just knowing that someone at the station would be listening…you knew that you were expected to entertain.
So you create the waves you crave to ride, knowing that by 4am you should probably be wound down. And you spit yourself back out onto the street at 4am, alone. And you imagine you are like one of The Ramones, rocking out full bore ‘til 1, then a rockin’ encore, then you somehow wind down. And when you hit the streets at 4am, you’re hungry. And you hit the 7-11 for a microwave burrito. And if you follow the directions on the package, you’re in for a punk rock slice of heaven. So sweet. So sad. But a little more sweet than sad. Because it’s 4am, and there is absolutely no one to share this with.
And you realize that you don’t need to share this, because you are doing it for yourself. Yeah, it’s for everybody. But if it’s not for you, it’s not for anyone.
So when I caught The Ramones backing Iggy Pop at the Aragon in ’88, I completely appreciated what they were accomplishing. And it brought me back to the sandwich tacked up on the wall, with a bite out of it. Authentic punk rock. I learned it firsthand at WIDB.
The “sandwich on the wall” represents an iconic moment of WIDB’s punk era and will be featured in an upcoming post. Until then it may remain mysterious to those who aren’t
“in the know.”
Ramones at The Red Lion……Isn’t the Internet great!