The headline is correct. For the next seven and a half days, The AIR will play every episode of Radio Free Charleston Volume 5 so far, culminating in a brand-new episode, next Tuesday night. To hear all of this coolness you simply have to click on the link and tune in at the website, or, if you’re reading PopCult on a desktop or laptop, you could just stay on this page, and listen to the cool embedded player over at the top of the right column.
In order to explain why we’re having such a massive marathon, I have to tell you a story (largely copied from earlier posts in this blog).
Over Labor Day weekend, in 1989, the first episode of the first version of Radio Free Charleston aired on WVNS FM, 96.1.
The show was a sort of my reward for working 100 days straight, often two or three shifts, with no day off while the station was beset with serious staffing problems. One week I made more in overtime than the new Station Managergot paid. My loyalty was rewarded not with a higher hourly rate, but instead a psuedo promotion.
I was given a promotion (in lieu of a raise) to assistant program director. With the title came the responsibility for scheduling the part-time talent to work on the weekends. I couldn’t get anybody reliable to handle the midnight to 6 AM shift Saturday night/Sunday morning, so I went to my boss with the idea of plugging a part-timer into my Friday night, 7 PM to Midnight shift, which was all syndicated crap programming anyway, and I would take the desolate shift that nobody wanted…IF I could have the freedom to play what I wanted.
My boss agreed to it and thus, Radio Free Charleston was born. I was allowed to go on the air at 2 AM on Sunday morning, and play anything I wanted (within reason) for four hours each week.
That first show didn’t include any local music. To be honest, it was mainly me digging out the best stuff from our existing playlist and augmenting it with a few choice progressive rock and New Wave tracks from my collection. I also remember being really happy that I could play the extended mix of “Heading To The Light” by The Traveling Wilburys on the first show. I think it was the third week of the show when I slipped in “Big Red Satellite” by Hasil Adkins, and some single recorded by the teenaged daughter of a local car dealer who was considering advertising on the station.
Two weeks after that, the floodgates had opened, I fell in with the local music scene, and for the remainder of the original broadcast radio run, Radio Free Charleston became a bit of a phenomenon, peaking at over ten-thousand listeners and being featured in The Charleston Gazette. This was with a mix of local music, alternative rock, prog-rock, New Wave, underground tracks and even comedy records.
After the show was strangled in its crib over station politics in the spring of 1990, I couldn’t get hired in local radio. I was told repeatedly that program directors were afraid that if they’d hire me, I’d have their job in six months. I consulted with stations in other towns. I couldn’t relocate because I was taking care of my ailing parents, but they still appreciated my expertise. I also sort of backed into writing and market research after working on local political ads. Along the way I began co-writing Animated Discussions with my now-wife, Mel Larch for the Charleston Gazette, and made a bit of a name for myself writing about toys and pop culture for several national magazines.
The whole time I was trying to find a way to revive Radio Free Charleston. I must have recorded a dozen pilot episodes for different stations, but it wasn’t until after I began writing PopCult that Brian Young came to me with the idea of reviving RFC as a video show, and Douglas Imbrogno let me incorporate it into The Gazz and PopCult.
With The AIR operating as the internet radio arm of this blog, and with my video work diminished quite a bit due to Myasthenia Gravis, I’ve kept Radio Free Charleston going as a radio program again since 2014. For the first few years I was producing RFC as an all-local show, and RFC International as an “anything I feel like playing show.”
Back in January, 2020, I made a move that I had been contemplating for a while. I revamped RFC to make the show more like the original concept of RFC back in 1989, when it was on broadcast radio. Since that time, instead of producing Radio Free Charleston as a one-hour weekly showcase of local music from Charleston and the surrounding areas, and RFC International, as a two-hour show where I played anything I want, I combined both shows into Radio Free Charleston Volume Five, a weekly three-hour show that mixes local music with the best indpendent, avant-garde and classic music from multiple genres.
The reason for this was to shake things up a bit and keep the shows interesting for me. When I started doing RFC on WVNS radio back in 1989, one of the most rewarding bits of feedback I got was when I would play a track by a local band, and follow it with a song by one of that band’s musical heroes. I felt then, and I feel now, that our local music scene produces high-quality artists whose work can stand side-by-side with any musicians from around the world. While it was cool to produce a one-hour local showcase for so many years, it’s more fun this way.
Our local music is too good to segregate away from the rest of the world’s music. This is a bolder way to bring local music to the masses. This is the show that you will hear on The AIR for the next week-plus. It’s almost like I’m doing the same show I was back in 1989/90, only not in the middle of the night, and with a worldwide audience.
That very first RFC happened during Labor Day Weekend in 1989. Nobody knew then that the show would take on a life of its own as a beacon of obscurity. All the big shots in Charleston pretend not to know what RFC is, even if they’ve been on the show. I’m proud of the underground legacy I’ve built over the last three-plus decades, and I hope you enjoy soaking in it, because that’s all that you’ll hear on The AIR for several days.
Some of these shows will contain huge chunks of earlier versions of Radio Free Charleston. Select episodes bring you airchecks from the 1989-1990 run, while others bring you audio from our video run of almost 300 shows. We even have a few shows that revisit earlier internet radio incarnations from Voices of Appalachia and OnTheAIRadio. Plus you’ll get a few bonus editions with RFC International tossed into the mix.
The cohesive glue over the next seven-and-a-half days is yours truly, hosting every episode. I hope you tune in and hear me playing great music.
When this marathon is over, I’m going to shake up the schedule on The AIR a bit, so that you can hear RFC every day at 6 PM (not new episodes every day—what are you, HIGH?), and hopefully we’ll see some new shows joining our line up, along with all of our great music specialty shows.
Join us. It’s mind-boggling to think I’ve been doing this for 32 years.