Treadmill-Based Musical Observations

Here we are, five days from the official start of winter, and the outside temp is in the mid-70s. The wind is also blowing around 30 mph, making this seem like a typical spring day in west Texas. The St. Augustine side of my yard is still green. The weeping willows in Grafa Park still have their leaves, for pete’s sake. Even the red oaks, having turned red, haven’t turned loose. So much for relying on the weather to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Not that I’m complaining too much. With natural gas prices pushing $5.50, I’d much rather hear the warm wind howling through the leafy branches than the hot air blowing through the attic ductwork, if you know what I mean.

But, the windy conditions meant that I’d be putting in a session on the treadmill, rather than enjoying a warm day of cycling. The freaky December weather put me in a mood for contradistinction, for juxtapositionary sensory input, for…weird combinations. So, for auditory stimulation…ummm…plug in Jethro Tull’s exquisite Aqualung¬†on CD; for visual distraction…TV on mute…click, click, click…there it is: CMT, aka Country Music Television. Nothing makes a few minutes at your anaerobic threshold go by more quickly than hearing Locomotive Breath while watching a Dixie Chicks video.

It had been a while (a long while) since I had watched CMT, and I was disappointed to see that the music/commercial ratio was roughly half of what it used to be. And the choice in videos was aimed at a demographic that clearly excluded moi…say, women aged 25-40. There was Travis Tritt, but it was some smarmy ballad instead of the rockin’ T.R.O.U.B.L.E. Brooks & Dunn, normally a good choice, but another ballad (I could tell because it featured Reba gazing mournfully into the camera) instead of the classic Rock My World (Little Country Girl). And absolutely no sign of Chris LeDoux (For Your Love gave the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Tuff Enuf a run for its money). Well, I suppose that’s what I get for tuning in at 10:00 a.m.

OTOH, hearing Ian Anderson’s scathing lyrics and bad-boy flute (aha!…more juxtaposition) put me in a pleasing stream-of-consciousness groove that ultimately took me back to my DJ days in the greater metropolitan area of Fort Stockton, Texas, home to the 250-watt giant, KFST AM (860 on your radio dial). There’s no possible cooler job for a high school kid than DJ, right? Well, yes…and no.

It was cool that the station owner let me host what I’m sure was the only AM album-rock show in the 20,000 square mile service area of the station (don’t be too impressed…the population density averaged 1 per square mile). And even better, I got to play my own vinyl – the station being a little, um, underserviced in the rock album area. So there I was, spinning Cream (Sunshine of Your Love), Iron Butterfly (Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida) and Chicago (25 or 6 to 4) to a listenership that undoubtedly numbered in the upper dozens. (I always fantasized that the occupants in the cars on nearby I-10 would stumble onto the station in the otherwise vast wasteland, and report back to their friends in L.A. that they’d found a little bit of rock-n-roll heaven in the desert.)

It wasn’t so cool that the rest of the time I had to stick to the station’s regular format, charitably described as “variety.” That meant we’d intersperse country with western and vice versa, occasionally getting jiggy with Peggy Lee or the Percy Faith Orchestra. The station owner broke most of the R&R demo records that he deemed unacceptable (Hey Jude didn’t pass the sniff test, as I recall); I can only assume that he never actually listened to my Saturday night show.

I also often drew the short straw to oversee the Sunday afternoon “Classical Hour,” and to ensure the airing of the requisite quantity of public service programs; these generally consisted of some pretty good jazz played on behalf of various branches of the United States military. I was also often the “chaperone” for the non-licensed host of the following show which consisted of non-stop, paid-request Spanish music. I’m sure there was a proper name for the musical genre, but I didn’t know what it was then, and I’m still not sure. It was a mixture of conjunto, mariachi and what eventually would become Tejano. I was continually amazed at the steady stream of people coming to the station to slip the DJ a couple of bucks in exchange for his playing this exotic music. It took me awhile to figure out that this Sunday afternoon ritual was a major part of the social culture of the day. In any event, I could only envy the DJ’s superior listenership, and the fact that I had an FCC third-class operator’s license carried precisely no weight with him. I was a regulatory requirement, nothing more.

Looking back, I guess the good outweighed the bad. I’m probably one of a shrinking minority who can remember the sound of a real teletype machine spitting out AP newsflashes, and I did get to hear some great music before anyone else (when I could get to it before the owner). And, frankly, I miss the hepcat Latin rhythms of the inestimable Rudy and the Reno Bops. You can’t buy memories like these.

But feel free to make an offer!