Radio has been in my life from early on. My mother listened to Studs Terkel on WFMT every week, and so I did, too. As a kid, I also listened to WLS and WFLD at night, after I was supposed to be asleep. I remember getting scared by “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.” And by the theme song to Bonnie and Clyde. Our mom had taken us kids to that movie, by mistake; there weren’t warning labels back then. I remember hearing “Jumping Jack Flash” while playing miniature golf as a teen. Amarcord! I remember WXRT first starting out, playing the entirety of Electric Ladyland. In the spring of 2002, in the office of Critical Inquiry, we had been listening to NPR nonstop, it seemed, ever since 11 September.
That spring, Melissa gave me the push. Melissa Oglesby was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago when I hired her to be our intern. She loved it. In turn, she told me I should apply to become a DJ at the university station, WHPK. It came up because we played music in the office. I had bought a miniature stereo system–radio, CD player, cassette deck–in the early nineties. Once, when I first started playing music, pretending to be a DJ (ah, the fantasy life of the American adult), I didn’t hear a loud knocking at our door. I was alone in the office. A woman came in, nonetheless, and I recognized her as a long-time staff member at the university. She regularly walked by the office on her way each morning to get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop down the hall. She yelled something, and I immediately turned the music off and looked inquiringly at her. She was mad: This is the University of Chicago! What do you think you are doing?!
I bought a pair of headphones, but rarely used them. The tastes in the office seemed to always mesh, each of us learning something new from the others’ choices. I remember hearing Seattle grunge for the first time from Siobhan McDevitt. Kristin Cassady gave me a copy of The New Pornographers’s Electric Version. Aeron Hunt turned me on to the Mekons. Dave Schabes and I memorized “Cuban Sandwich” sung by Tom Russell and Barrence Whitfield. David Grubbs worked for CI for two years. Mari Schindele loved the Stax and Volt labels. Zarena Aslami and Neda Ulaby (they worked at CI at the same time) gave me a tape entitled “Estrogen Rock.” I needed it. Melissa and her then-boyfriend Geoff Guy even put together a tape of obscure and excellent rock tracks for my daughter, Patsy.
I got a slot in the folk format. My DJ name was Squirrel Dundee. I pitched a show that was alternative country called “The Shape I’m In.” It grew into something more general, Americana. I was a shameless shill for Chicago’s record label Bloodshot. Not surprisingly, this show from 11 October 2002 begins, rather slowly I admit, with the Waco Brothers at the 2:34 mark; the tail end of “Johnny Was” is the ending of the show before mine.
Here is another show, this time from 11 January 2003. It’s a fizz pop, alt rock show I did as a favor for a fellow DJ, Ryan Jackson. DJs subbed for each other all the time at WHPK. Ryan was a Renaissance Man, able to devise an excellent show in any format. I can’t claim the same expertise. This show begins several seconds into Steve Miller’s “Space Cowboy,” but don’t let that scare you away. I can’t tell you why this show is broken into ten pieces. If there is a way to combine them into one file, let me know. When one track is done, just click on the next one, if you haven’t had enough.
On 7 November 2003, I was able to persuade my teenage daughter, Patsy, to join me on the mic. She was very gracious.