Keep your songs alive

I interviewed a dozen folks from WDST’s early days over the past fortnight. It left me even more jazzed about the wonders of radio as a community unto itself.

I lived much of my life without good reception in the hills and vales of Vermont, on an island in Alaska, and then deep in the Catskills. I know what great radio can sound like. We had a great college station, I lived in New York City during its WNEW New-Wave heyday (remember those great subway ads featuring young stars’ likenesses?). I’ve been involved with community radio start-ups.

Now, in these challenged times, I’ve had the radio on all the time. I’ve been volunteering to program a community radio station, producing shows out of our community and also searching out shows from the nationwide Pacifica Network. I want to spur people to try their own hand at making radio. All you need, I’ve been teaching folks for the past year, is a good recording app on your phone. If you want to get complicated and mix talk with music, say, you add the open-source software Audacity on to your laptop. and you’ve got all you need.


Ever seen Bob Rafaelson and Jack Nicholson’s early 1970s follow-up to Five Easy Pieces called The King of Marvin Gardens? The Nicholson character is a late-night FM talkmeister who uses the airwaves like a therapist’s couch. The King of Marvin Gardens lives in an earlier time of isolation.

Today’s community radio is very different from that long-ago time. It’s about what one needs to know to feel well. It’s about the provision of comforting voices. It’s also about some very cool music, both old and new.

Check out Darrell Kelly’s ;The Coronavirus,’ or the way The Coco “Mama’s Got a Blessing” plays out now. Or dance yourself sane to Cardi B’s song of the moment. I’ve been listening diligently to Baton Rouge and New Orleans mixes dedicated to the ills in their cities, as well as hosts of progressive black talk shows mixing upbeat hip-hop with interviews on the edge of everything else we hear.

All those stations can be streamed. The same for stations here in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills broadcasting out of Roxbury, Palenville, Hudson, Kingston, and the mountain overlooking Woodstock.

The WDST veterans remembered the Woodstock station’s earliest days, when it was affectionately known as “The Bulldog,” as well as the core of what’s remained there to this day.
You don’t need to be in your car, driving from good spot to good spot, to hear any of it now. It’s available on your computer systems, even on your phones.

I’ve used this quarantine really to open my ears, to stretch my mind. It’s something we can all do. Call it the new voice of America, the new sound of all of us trying to keep our songs alive.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.