"There Goes the Last DJ" - by Jeff Sweeney for SKYe Magazine, December 2010
It's Election Day 2010 and I'm getting ready to go downtown to the D93 office to interview my old friend and long-time program director at the popular rock and roll station, Bryan Locke. As I collect myself to leave the house, I flip on the radio, just to see what they're playing and to psych myself up a bit.
Graham Nash's "Chicago," an ode to the '68 Democratic National Convention and some pretty charged political times, leaps out of the speakers and I smile. How many stations in the country are playing THAT song today?
And therein lies the beauty of Bowling Green's favorite radio station, D-93. There is a spontaneity and free-wheelingness to the D-93 broadcasts that is sorely missing in commercial radio. "It's like a fine pilsner, we brew it every day," Bryan says.
The playlist is wide-open; you might hear a deep catalog Aerosmith song followed by Iggy Pop and Royal Court of China. Iggy Pop isn't exactly a commercial FM staple and Royal Court's heyday has long passed. But hey, people here in Bowling Green remember when Royal Court packed Picasso's, and that's the other thing that D-93 does that makes them so special.
They connect with their audience. They are the home team.
Bryan and I have nestled in comfortably around a set of old wrought-iron patio furniture on the back stoop of the building on a pleasant November day to discuss just what makes D-93 so special.
"The secret to our success is staying local," Bryan says. "Our listeners are kind of like extended family. We have fans who call us every single day."
"We are real people playing real music. We specialize in being who we are."
Like me, Bryan grew up listening to much-heralded WLS out of Chicago, one of those Clear Channel AM stations that could seemingly be heard around the world. I remember listening to pop hits like the Music Explosion's "Little Bit O' Soul" or the Seeds "Pushin' Too Hard." I first heard the Doors "Light My Fire" on WLS. Every night, I was serenaded to sleep by the strains of WLS emanating from the crappy, plastic radio on my bed.
"WLS made me want to get into radio," Bryan says, as we begin to reminisce. "John Records Landecker comes up. How can you go wrong with a guy who uses "Records" as his middle name?"
WLS is still on the air today, but is primarily a talk radio station. What was once one of the greatest rock stations in the country now rests its laurels on Rush Limbaugh.
"The knee-jerk reaction in radio if ratings slide is to change formats," Bryan says. D-93 has sustained its popularity by sticking with who brought them to the dance in the first place. We discuss other great radio stations that have fallen by the wayside. Bryan acknowledges that D-93 is influenced by stations like Bowling Green's Natural 97 and the semi-legendary KDF, out of Nashville.
Natural 97 broadcasted from a tiny block building near Indian Hills Country Club and had to be one of the best stations ever, Bryan and I agree. Managed by Rick Dubose and manned by the likes of Greg Pogue, now a Nashville sports writer, and Jay Preston, Natural 97's playlist was about as restrictive as D-93's is now. They provided the soundtrack to the summer of '78, when I first moved to BG, playing the Kinks, Rickie Lee Jones and Dire Straits, along with whatever obscure track suited their whimsy at any given moment.
Sadly, Natural '97 eventually became a victim of the times when they went to an automated format in the early eighties.¬†
"The last song they played was 'Welcome To The Machine'," Bryan remembers.
Anyone over the age of twenty probably remembers Nashville's rock giant KDF, who succumbed to the "knee-jerk" and went country in 1999, after thirty years of playing album-oriented rock. Government Cheese drummer Joe King, aka "Joe Elvis", deejayed there from the late-eighties until 1998. Joe was sometimes aided and abetted by his partner in crime, Tommy Womack as they hosted the popular "Nashville Tapes" which featured local and regional artists. Rockin' Ronda and Bryan both pulled time at KDF, as well.
Trends come and go, formats change and D-93 just stands their ground and keeps rocking.
Originally known as D-98, the station was founded by the Daily News Broadcasting Co. in 1973. Despite numerous offers, the owners have refused to sell, preferring to "keep it in the family". During the D-98 days, the stations current personality, remember that word, began taking shape. Some of the jocks from that period still elicit fond memories; Metal Bob, Twisted Tim, Psychedelic Dean and the unforgettable Marshall Stacks, along with Bryan, were playing a delightful mixture of heavy metal, classic rock, alternative and local and regional artists, i.e. pretty much what suited their whimsy at any given moment.
The regional well was deep in those days, with artists like Royal Court, Walk The West, Webb Wilder and the Questionnaires frequently trekking up I-65 to play at Kenny Smith's Picasso's. And D-98 was always willing to play those artists. It was during this period that the first edition of "Home-Cookin'", a show devoted to showcasing local and regional talent, was developed and lives on to this day, thanks to the efforts of Tommy Starr.
Which brings us back to personality, what D-98 had and what D-93 still has, only in spades. On-air personalities like Tommy Starr, Rockin' Ronda, Darrell and just plain "Bob", along with Mr. Locke, make listening to D-93 a much richer experience than just "listening to the radio". The DJ banter with the fans and callers is often hilarious, and they are willing to both laugh at and with their audience. The afternoon rapport between Bryan and Rockin' Ronda is often priceless, on "Rock n' Locke n' Roll", as both are quick-witted observers of social satire and play off of one another effortlessly.
Then there's the "niche shows" or as Bryan puts it, "the icing on the cake."
Tommy Starr is first a fan, and second a jock, possessing an infinite knowledge of all things ROCK and an unmatched enthusiasm for the local scene. "Tommy was one of the first autographs I ever signed," Bryan says, "He approached me in the parking lot and told me he was going to be on the radio someday." An endearing story, if ever there was one.
His specialties are heavy rock, as evidenced during his Saturday show, "Blasting Fast and Loud" and what seems to be his labor of love and proudest achievement, "HOME-COOKIN"".
Then there's Mr. Greg Martin, guitar virtuoso for the Kentucky Headhunters and a master musicologist if there ever was one. He's also host of "The Lowdown Hoedown". The "Hoedown" is about blues, obscure R & B and so much more, as Greg plunders his own personal archives for the musical education you didn't realize you needed and his guests have included Warren Haynes, Johnny Winter along with numerous other notable artists.
Bryan and I agree that a lot of people probably plan their Sunday afternoons around Mellow Matt's "DEAD AIR", two hours of everything from the Grateful Dead to the Black Crowes, and, of course, a little Dylan. Basically, anything that might have ever fallen under the jam band umbrella. Or Not. It's another schooling.
When asked about "Nights With Alice Cooper", one of the few syndicated offerings on D-93, Bryan says, "He's as off the wall as we are. Alice will play the deep cut, tell you a story about the deep cut, then tell you why he played the deep cut. He gets it." I concur.
And then there are the NASCAR broadcasts. "NASCAR allows us to do what we do the rest of the time. Rock and roll and cars. It all goes together. Plus, we live where we live-the Corvette Plant, Holley-there's a heritage in that, as well."
"We just try to be Bowling Green. We're not trying to be something that we're not."
It doesn't hurt having a staff comprised of seasoned professionals. "Darrell's got more years in radio than he would want you to know. Tommy's pushing twenty years. Rhonda, over twenty years. We've all seen trends come and go. We're confident in what we're doing. It's all second nature for this staff.
Darrell and Bob Arizona aka Larry Hall have been the lynch pins that hold it all together, as both have been there as long as I remember; "Diamond" Darrell in the morning and "Bob" providing what it takes to get you through the night. It's a tightly-knit family and "seasoned professionals" is almost an understatement.
"The hardest moment in radio is that split second after you've flipped the microphone switch on and you realize that the next thing out of your mouth may be brilliant or it may be horribly stupid."
"We've all pretty much gotten past that point."
Having survived everything from Clear Channel's late nineties' monopolization to satellite radio, the internet, and everything in between, it's not likely that D-93 will stray from their proven methodology, as it has clearly gained them a loyal audience and made them southern KY and Bowling Green's rock station of choice for some time now.
"At the end of the day it's all about the music," Bryan says to me, somewhat convincingly.
99% of the time, I would agree but, in this case, I have to think the people at D-93 have a whole lot to do with the brand of magic that comes out of our speakers.