One of the fun things about the radio incarnation of Radio Free Charleston was that I had total freedom. It was the kind of freedom you get in radio only when you’re working for a completely mis-managed company that didn’t know what it was doing. I was basically allowed to start the show as a reward for working over 100 days straight without a day off, sometimes filling two on-air shifts — and not demanding a raise. It was a cheap way to keep me happy while I was doing the work of five people.
And happy I was. I was able to bring all sorts of new music, much of it local, to an area that hadn’t heard anything approaching free-form radio since the old WVAF-FM mutated into V-100 back in the late ’70s. I got away with playing stuff on the air that hadn’t been played before and hasn’t been played since. And I also got to have live guests in the studio, because the show aired at 2 a.m. and it wasn’t like anyone in station management was listening.
On the fateful night of this long-lost broadcast, I did not have any guests planned, but some showed up anyway. Gary Price, John Radcliff and Tommy Medvick from The Swivels showed up. Along with them came Sue Gaines, who stayed quiet except for laughing, Jennifer Green, and a young lady named Jeannie, who seemed to have spent much of the night having a running argument with Tommy. That’s a photo of Price and Radcliff taken at one of the Tuesday night jam sessions at the Charleston Playhouse at the top of this post. If you look close, you can also see Charleston filmmaker Bob Gates seated in the background. This is a rare photo of Bob, showing him awake at the Playhouse.
Today we’re going to bring you clips from the first hour or so of the show with The Swivels chipping in and with me doing the back-announcing that other radio stations in town were forbidden to do. It’ll give you a good idea of the type of controlled chaos that was Radio Free Charleston.
If you’re scoring at home and want to re-assemble the show from the scraps that I’m posting here, this is where I re-played the song “Broken Vase” by Three Bodies. That’s the tune that I posted here Monday. In that same set, I also played “Got Drunk, Got Married, Got Screwed” by Stephen Beckner, Gary Price, and Me, which was recorded at the Charleston Playhouse the previous Tuesday.
In the next clip you get an idea of the type of music I was playing on the show and you get to hear from John Radcliff, the “Quiet Swivel.”
There’s a passing reference in this segment to a couple of bands that I’d caught the previous night. The Velvet Brothers had played at The Levee. Among the members of that band were Jim Lange, now the host of Eclectopia on West Virginia Public Radio, and Greg Wegmann, co-owner of LiveMix Studio. See how everything all comes back into one neat package? I also mention seeing a band called “The Visitors.” The drummer for that band was my old grade-school buddy David Dunkley, who has been otherwise occupied for the last 13 years or so drumming behind Tim McGraw in Nashville. (Dropping names is fun.)
I decided to edit out a bit of the exchange here, because some people might have their feelings hurt, even nearly eighteen years later. We pick up the show in our next clip just in time to see how seriously I took edicts from management about using certain elements of language on the air. It was an open secret that live guests in the studio on RFC would occasionally slip up and drop an “f-bomb.” That didn’t happen on this show. It was the first time in 17 weeks that nobody uttered that word. Luckily, none of my bosses could stand to listen to the show so we never caught any flak over it.
You can also get a hint of the conflict brewing between Tom Medvick and Jeannie, who worked in ad sales for WSAZ-TV (she may have just left her job there, I’m not sure). They’d been having a loud disagreement over whether TV advertising was more effective than radio advertising. Of course, this all seems quaint today, when it’s clear that Internet banner ads (particularly on TheGazz.com) give you the best value for your advertising dollar.
One of the other rules I bent was the prohibition on allowing my guests to appear with the aid of certain types of liquid courage. Since station management was not listening, and nobody complained, I didn’t see how it hurt anything as long as the guests did not leave any evidence behind. I didn’t imbibe, so I wasn’t in violation of any FCC regulations.
The Swivels were a self-lubricating band, and when they’d show up unannounced it was usually the result of an evening of partying that ended with “Let’s go see Rudy!” The repeated references to Pepsi or RC bottles were actually clever euphemisms for the other popular bottled beverages in which the band was indulging. The cool thing was that we were so slick that NONE OF THE LISTENERS EVER KNEW that people were drinking alcoholic beverages on the air. Really. Listen for yourself.
The next clip, our last for today, picks up right after Gary Price threw the top from a beer bottle across the studio, and it landed in Tom Medvick’s shirt pocket.
n Jeannie and Tom was getting serious. Tomorrow you’ll get to hear The Swivels say “goodbye” and I’ll also bring you some other fun bits from this rare radio version of Radio Free Charleston. Remember, this is all supposed to make you want to come out and see the video version of Radio Free Charleston at the La Belle Theater this Saturday. You will get to see John Radcliff peform solo and as a member of The Feast Of Stephen, which also included Tommy Medvick and Bob Miller from The Swivels.