March 8, 2011

Participate! The WFMU Marathon 2011

In junior high, I felt like a big shot when WHAV played my frequent after-school Beatles requests. In high school, it was Dr. Demento on the weekends (I'm gonna assume that "Shaving Cream and "Dead Puppies" are still in the "Funny 5"). I strained to tune in to WERS' metal mecca Nasty Habits (which ended its 20 year run a few years ago). I spent all of my time in college at our station, WXPL, and heared the burgeoning days of "alternative" rock on WFNX during that time. And dove deep into WMBR's Breakfast of Champions when finally moving in to the Boston area. Luckily, there was always a radio station to influence and/or re-direct my musical tastes.

Things turned ominous for radion in the 90's, though, as lobbyists nudged along the loosening of corporate ownership restrictions and radio became less and less local and less and less interesting.

'Course, this here truck series of tubes have changed the math on this considerably - and just in the nick of time, really. The internet can serve us virtually any radio station or radio-like internet-only stream in the world. It's a boon, but does come at a price, since a lot of people seem to throw their hands up at the constantly flowing glut of stuff (by that I mean blogs other than this one!) and end up relying heavily on self-curated web streams that just reinforce what they already like.

So what you need is a good and interesting curator. While I continue to love WMBR and also WZBC, much of my aural attention is drawn to Jersey City, New Jersey's WFMU, a fully independent, self-sufficient, and almost entirely volunteer bastion of the wonderful, the weird, the stunning, and, yeah, occasionally the unlistenable. But even that unlistenable stuff is still interesting and isn't it fantastic that there's an outlet for it somewhere?

I came for the comedy, and stayed for the music (and more of that comedy). Scharpling and Wurster's hilarious Rock, Rot, and Rule was one of those discs that got passed around in the late 90's among music dorks. As soon as the internet became capable of reliably streaming audio as the next decade played out, everyone who heard it eventually did the math and realized that the show where that bit originated was still going strong. The Best Show on WFMU (Tuesday nights 9-midnight) celebrated 10 years last fall and Jon Wurster's cast of characters (along with callers from all over the world) are still calling in and harassing Tom for our amusement.

It wasn't long before I expanded my listening to, well, pretty much everything else on the station. The Boston-area native-hosted Evan "Funk" Davies Show (Wednesdays 9-midnight), Joe Belock's Three Chord Monte (Thursdays noon-3 pm), Mr. Fine Wine's Downtown Soulville (Fridays 7-8 pm), and the Cherry Blossom Clinic with DJ Terre T (Saturdays 3-6 pm) are my go-to staples that I can listen to any time thanks to FMU's rather incredible practice of archiving every edition of every show apparently forever. But tuning into the station at anytime virtually guarantees that you'll hear something interesting, unusual, and frequently mind-blowing before long. If that weren't enough, there's their other 24-hour automated streams: Ichiban serves up constant rock and soul classics, avant-garde is on UbuWeb, and Do or DIY and Give The Drummer Some cover pretty much everything else.

All that costs money, so WFMU takes these two weeks every year to ask nicely for it. They make it so fun that it's really the only pledge drive in all of radio that you actually end up wanting to listen to. There's tons of amazing pledge premiums, and Tom Scharpling, in particular, has got a corker this year: a t-shirt, a poster, and the pièce de résistance: "Rated G.G.," a 7" single of G.G. Allin songs cleaned up for General Audiences by Ted Leo, Fucked Up, Ben Gibbard, Mountain Goats, and Ty Segall. Plus - these will be available as a digital download and will include even more stuff by Dump, Scharpling and Wurster, and apparently more. AND, according to the Twitter machine, if you pledge during The Best Show tonight, 9 pm - midnight, you'll be in the running to win an autographed copy of the Numero Group's stupendous Syl Johnson box set, among many other things.

Even if you hated the station, the pledge will be worth it for all that stuff alone. But it's impossible to hate it: it is a vital cultural icon and needs our help to make sure it is maintained. If you have $1 million dollars, please give it to them, but help 'em out with anything you can. WFMU proves - on a 24 hour/7 day a week basis - what radio can and should be. Keep it alive.

-Michael Piantigini

WFMU on Twitter:
Tom Scharpling: @scharpling
Evan "Funk" Davies: @efd
DJ Terre T: @TerreCherry

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