(Above: the 45 “picture sleeve” for “Just Like Heaven”)
I’ve mentioned in earlier posts on college radio – most recently last week’s entry on my first-ever show – that one of the goals of the student station is often to introduce audiences to music that they may not be familiar with. Some stations take this to an extreme: a few years ago I was drumming up support for the first College Radio Day, and spoke with a student station manager in Michigan who scoffed at my suggestion that Coldplay supported our efforts. “We’d never play anything so… commercial,” she sneered. (“We also can’t figure out why our audience is so… small,” she probably asked later.) Don’t get me wrong: I like learning about new music. But in all things, moderation, and my early college shows reflected that.
“You must play two new releases per hour” blared the sign above the record library at WLRA. But how does one select a new release if you’re completely unfamiliar with what’s in the rack? Or, if you were like me as a college freshman, an oldies/classic rock listener with a stunted development in terms of new product? You did one of two things:
- Throw something – anything – on the radio. This was dangerous. You were trying to hold an audience, who knew that all of the selections were yours. One false move, you assumed, and the audience would turn on you. (Not to mention the risk of airing something that shouldn’t be aired. Normally the music department screened things, but occasionally something got missed.)
- Stick to the cart rack.
I opted for #2. The cart rack at WLRA had a small number of songs that were determined to be the most popular selections. These were (for those who don’t know about broadcast carts) put onto tape cartridges that were, in theory, always cued to the beginning. Pop the tape in, hit play, and it’s all good. For all the time I’ve spent researching playlists, I’m disappointed that I don’t have a good record of everything that was in the cart rack. Off the top of my head, I can think of two from the fall of 1987: R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”
Needless to say, the songs on the carts got played a LOT. If I can fulfill my obligation to the music department with these four songs over here, it’s tempting to just play those four and not branch out. Likewise, if I wasn’t paying attention, the record was running out, and I needed something to be on the air NOW, the cart was a handy way to bail myself out of a jam, and the audience never knew of the drama.
An unexpected side effect – at least for me, anyway – of hearing the new releases in repetition was that I grew to like them. When I got to college I had never heard of the Cure, or anything by them. By week 3 on the air I had obtained my own copy of “Just Like Heaven,” and years later I plunked down cash for a copy of the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album on CD. (Come to think of it, it wasn’t cash. Every time you moved in the 80s you got to hit up the Columbia Record Club for free music, and I suspect that that’s where the Cure CD came from.) Eventually I added Staring At the Sea to my library, which is a darned solid greatest hits collection. A whole pile of music that was “new to me” graced my stash and got put on at parties – all because I was a little lazy when it came to doing my research as an undergrad.
Today, 30 years later, any time I hear this song, I think of college radio. I also think “someone doesn’t have the next record cued up.”
Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick. You can hear “Just Like Heaven” by clicking here.