In the fall of 1999, I set foot on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for the first time as an enrolled student. To the little country boy from BFE, Indiana, it was a total culture shock. Different races everywhere you looked. New friends, new modes of transportation, a whole new way of life. Total Culture Shock.
But, we human learn to adapt quickly, and I was no exception. I quickly had a new group of friends, and I never, ever wanted to leave. I also learned how to spread the word and communicate with your fellow college students: sidewalk chalk. Every fall and spring, hell, every day at IU, the sidewalks are covered with messages – join us tonight for the annual Korean Christian BBQ, don’t miss Dr. Lear’s lecture tomorrow at 8 pm at Ballantine Hall, come see Danagas and Homonculus throw down at the Bluebird this Saturday night!, and so on.
One such message caught my eye that fall – want to be a college rock DJ? Why, yes… yes I do. And thus I found myself in a lecture hall days before my first college class had even started – signing up to be one of the many, the not so proud – the DJs of WIUS, AM 1570 Student Radio.
Little known fact at the time: newbies get the short end of the schedule stick. There are only so many spots available, divided into two hour timeslots. I was the lucky winner of one of those time slots – only after at least one person passed on it before me. The time? Tuesday mornings… 4 AM to 6 AM.
That was ok – I was a Freshman, which meant my first class every Tuesday was a 8 AM anyway. Rudimentary Music Theory, as it was – literally M100. This wasn’t Music 101. It was Music 100. But you see, I had a class of my own to teach – lecture time from 4 AM to 6 AM, every Tuesday morning.
And thus my career as a DJ at WIUS began. Two things to remember about this first semester as a DJ: one, fall turns into winter, and two, WIUS doesn’t have the best broadcast radius nor listener base, not even on campus (the yuppy lite-pop FM station, that completely sucked, took those honors).
So, the first thing. When fall became winter, 4 AM became hard. Have you ever been on campus in Bloomington? The studio was a good 10 minute walk from Wright Quad, the dorm where I was staying. And that’s in sunny weather. In the winter, in the cold black of night with snow on the ground? Or worse? Total hell to get from Wright to the station house. Once there, it was up the creaky metal staircase on the outside of the building to the studio loft on the second floor, where you had to bang on the window to get let in – if you were lucky. No keys or codes for the peons – bang on the window, hope for the best, pray you don’t freeze while the 2 AM guy is jamming out to whatever tripe he was listening to. Oh, and the studio isn’t really that heated…
Second, WIUS was AM 1570, and had a transmission radius of a few miles. Basically, on campus, maybe a few streets north or south, but not too much farther. If you were at the mall, or over by the rec center, or ever on Fountain Square… you weren’t hearing much. On campus, it really wasn’t much better. Sure, we had a channel on the campus cable system – WIUS played as background noise as a slide show of announcements went by – but the only people who listened were your friends (hopefully) and other people that had shows at the station (if they weren’t dickheads, which was about a 50/50 chance).
So, cold as hell temperatures, early morning timeslot, no one listening. Can you guess how many shows I didn’t show up for? None. Not a single one. In my whole time, not just that semester, as a DJ for WIUS, I never missed a single show. I loved being on the radio that much, and besides, I had the face for it. My friend Rob sometimes got up and joined me, and we talked about “emonauts” and “sorostitutes” and played bad music. And so it went that first year.
Long story short (or at least, shorter), I made it through fall semester, and the spring. Later, my sophomore year, I was caught up in a delimma – still considered a peon, and with too many returning DJs (who always get first crack at show times), I was left with a choice. I could either take another bad time slot – something in the 2 AM to 8 AM range – or accept a slot in tandem with another DJ (and either splitting the timeslot, or doing the show together).
The poor bastard on the other end that got offered this same opportunity must have pissed off the student station manager. Josh was a Senior, and he still got asked to share/split a time slot? Really? I took the opportunity – it meant a 10 to Noon timeslot, on Wednesday afternoon – and so did he. And so I met Josh, Senior IUB student, lover of jam rock (Phish, Dead, moe., etc.), and my new partner in crime.
Josh and I had almost completely different tastes in the rock and roll spectrum. I loved grunge, alternative rock, metal, blues. He loved jam bands and electronic music.
It ended up being a match made in heaven (sigh). We combined our powers to introduce each other to so much new music. It was almost as if we were playing the radio show for ourselves (which, essentially, we were). Our friends dropped by, and some days we had a collection of hangers-on in the studio – girlfriends, roomies, musicians we played with – and other days it was just us. A full year of the buddy system. It worked, it worked gloriously, and it was the best of my time at WIUS.
One day, early on during the first semester of my Sophomore year, we were in the studio, on the air (as in, speaking during a break in the music), bantering back and forth. We were looking at the schedule, at the names of the other DJs’ radio shows. We had been requested to provide a name for our show – so far it just said “Dusty and Josh’s show.” That was lame. We needed a name. A cool name.
That day’s show was spent, trying to think of a name. We were getting nowhere, both on and off the air. Then, during one on-air break, Josh commented on one of tracks we had just listened to. “That was radio bliss,” he said.
“Wait, that’s it!,” I said. His quizzical look drew forth my explanation. “That’s the name of the show – Radio Bliss.”
“I like it,” he said. “But it’s missing something.”
“How about a number?,” I asked. “You know, like White Zombie’s ‘Thunder Kiss ’65.’ Something like that.”
“69 is too conspicuous,” Josh said. “Split the difference?”
And there you have it – the birth of this beautiful monster we called Radio Bliss ’67.
It all culminated during Finals Week (cue loud, intimidating drums), when the station didn’t go offline so much as control of it was turned over to “DJs by Committee” – all time slots were open, and you could sign up for any time. Josh was graduating and wanted one more giant crack at the mic, the turntable and the disc player. Was I in? Bet your ass I was in. And so, the last blast of Radio Bliss ’67 (at this point, in the year of oh-one) went out over the airwaves – on a Thursday night/ Friday morning – 11 PM to 5 AM. No rules – the FCC technically wasn’t listening between the hours of 1 AM and 5 AM. Lots of guests/friends/hangers-on. Six hours of Radio Bliss… and then it was all over. I asked if I could keep the name, and Josh of course said yes. Then, just like that (blows wind off of fingers…)… he was gone.
I carried on, of course. I had other friends help out – Cory, Katey the Radio Mime, and Robbo. The next year saw the birth of Radio Bliss ’67, Part 2: Revenge of the Emonauts. My Senior year, it was just Radio Bliss ’67 (part 3).
But the bliss rolled on and on. I had discovered so much new music, stuff I never would have dreamed of were it not for that strange college rock radio station.
One of the duties of being a DJ at WIUS was to play both “Top Shelf” material – the latest and greatest independent records, usually reviewed and recommend in several indie magazines and the wonderful College Music Journal (at the time, the best read in indie rock) – and plenty of “Local” bands.
“Top Shelf” was about 80% crap, and 20% great stuff. It was here I found Guided By Voices, via their Hold On Hope EP. But most of the stuff was bad – lots of British electronica and weird bands from Nebraska who farted on snare drums.
The Local section was a different story, thanks mostly to some really amazing bands in town, and the fact that the Secretly Canadian record label was headquartered in Bloomington, making all of their bands “local.” This would start my obsession with Songs: Ohia.
The there was the in-studio library – a few shelves of the best of the best indie rock (and, I am convinced, the worst of the worst). That was just the beginning – the upstairs library was incredible, if not organized at all.
Then of course there was the legendary TDs CDs and LPs – literally a hole in the wall, or rather floor, basement record store. It’s probably smaller than your master bathroom. Tom Donahue was the nicest man, who made you deals, always smiled and always had a great story or three, and who had absolutely ANY underground record you could think of. If he didn’t have it, he’d find it.
This was bad. I came to college with about 150-200 CDs. I left with about 650-750 CDs, and probably 50 or so 33s and 20 or so 45s (records, people – viva la vinyl) and the turntable to go with them. No shit – my record collection (I call all of my stuff, CDs and LPs, my records) grew and grew and grew. Of course, All Ears record store didn’t make it any easier, or Tracks, or the Den… hell, even the Borders by the mall played it’s part.
Friends at the station introduced me to new bands. The aforementioned CMJ was always a bastion of knowledge, and was clear enough to know which bands I would like and which ones I would think sucked.
There were shows at the station house and the yearly Culture Shock festival. Lots of shows, from local bands and visiting indie bands – Bloomington had great luck in landing even nationally known recording acts big and small. Local bands set up and played during tailgate parties at the football games, and afterwards at house parties. The Taste of Bloomington Festival and Lotus World Music Festival were two other great opportunities to hear new music.
Campus was alive with music. And I did my best to stay right in the middle of it. I kept collecting records, I became the jazz beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student (among other writing opportunities), I played in bands on and off campus, and of course was right there for the explosion of Napster and lesser-known but much-better AudioGalaxy. It was all at my fingertips, and I ate it up.
So now, as the decade that introduced me to so much music comes to a close, I celebrate the time with my definitive collection of the music that started it all. I have second-guessed my second guesses for tracks to be included, and watched the project grow from two discs to three, and still feel like I have missed so much, and forgotten more.
But, the fact remains that if you had turned on your television to the campus updates channel, or were listening over the internet (even in those days – we were pioneers! – except it only worked about 30% off the time), or just happened to be flipping through the AM channels on your car stereo while driving through campus during one of my shows, this is what you would’ve heard.
The chronicler in me demanded there be some order to these discs, so they are presented here in like-minded format – these songs sound like one another, or close enough for comfort. The truly enterprising among you are welcomed to cut these up and rearrange them however you like. Certainly, putting all three discs’ worth of songs on “random” would more like approximate the sound of Radio Bliss ’67 – especially if you can somehow find some snippets of Indiana University WIUS Public Service Announcements, and either me or Cory singing the weather, and some crappy, trendy indie rock band’s hit at the time, and the spoof of the song “Scrubs” by TLC used as station identification.
This is it. This is the best of the best of Radio Bliss ’67. If I am feeling up to it – and I most likely will at some point – I might even make up a cutting room floor disc, the songs that got left behind, were to weird or unlike any of the others to make it in, or some of the more mainstream stuff I played on the radio program. But, barring that now semi-promised jewel, this is it. The Platinum Collection.
3 ½ Years of Audio Mayhem.
A Decade of Consequences.
The Best of Radio Bliss ’67.
As always, happy listening and good lucking hunting for these gems.
This one’s for all you Emonauts out there listenin’. We are so bringing the rock. And remember to always, ALWAYS play with their minds.