From 1982 to 1995 I hosted a radio show at WPKN in Bridgeport, Connecticut. WPKN ("The Purple Knight Network") is non-commercial and listener-supported, not unlike a certain radio station here in Jersey City. It's located on the second floor of the Student Center on the campus of the University of Bridgeport, a school I briefly attended in the early 80's while pursuing an ill-fated filmmaking career. Even though we all know FMU is the cats pyjamas, there are certain things I miss about about PKN. Their HUGE library is a massively sick room to behold. Every LP ever released since 1963 can be found in mind-numbingly chronological, non-alphabetical order. (You could walk up to a certain wall containing releases from the fall of 1965 and pull out no less than 300 LPs with covers of "Yesterday.") In a perplexing move, compact discs are filed in the same way--crammed in the wall in the order in which they arrived at the station.
In my early years there, I'd frequently slap on some album side of jazzbo or folk-rock crappity-crap and meander through the deserted Student Center hallways--a labyrinth of coffee-stained indoor/outdoor carpeting and concrete murals depicting the sad mascot of the basketball team, the indomitable Shmoo. Bridgeport's curious litany of hometown talent throughout the ages includes Robert Mitchum, Bill Haley, Bob Crane and right wing nutjob/genius cartoonist Al Capp, who donated the use of his Shmoo in a fit of nostalgic pride. When I returned to the studio, if I was feeling particularly creative, I'd play Kraftwerk and the Archies and early King Crimson at the same time backwards and forwards for five hours at a clip. I can't say I pre-dated the "mash-up" but I certainly perfected the "train-wreck." I'm indebted to PKN for letting me get that nonsense out of my system at a relatively early age. Similar to FMU, PKN shares a commitment to freeform broadcasting and dedication to the DJ's whims, which is all too rare in today's high stakes radio game.
At a certain point it became inevitable that my regular forays to Bridgeport would prove unfeasible and too expensive travel-wise, so I reluctantly resigned from the station. I miss the 10,000 watts of power (that's some decent coverage) and I miss that time that DJ "Dead Bob" Chamenko dropped a Caesar salad on the studio floor and in a spark of ingenuity, poured Thousand Island dressing on it and ate the damn thing right off the carpet. More than anything, I miss those rattling, twin appliances of breaking apocalyptic events: the Associated Press and the Reuters machines. Behind a pane of glass from the main studio was the transmitter room and behind that was a closet-sized cubicle where the ancient newswires chugged ceaselessly into the night, typing out a hiccupping blur of news items both great and mundane. I read the news on the air when I felt like reminding myself that I was actually broadcasting on a radio station. Tearing that low-grade accordion-folded paper off the wire made me feel like a news reporter with a capital "R"--the kind of swaggering Clark Kent loser who would run around with a card in his hatband that said "Press." Sports, weather, world events, economic reports--I mispronounced them all. When a story came in on the AP machine, a bell would ring out once or twice amid the ka-chunking and wheezing noises emanating from the rear of the transmitter room. One time the bell rang four times. That was when Sam Kinison totaled his Trans Am in the middle of the night. If the bell ever rang five times you were instructed to interrupt the broadcast with the breaking news and if it ever rang six times it was generally acknowledged that you could go home and kiss your ass goodbye.
While looking for a clean shirt the other day, a notebook fell out of my closet and opened up on a page with one of the strangest news items ever to cross the wire (at least in my experience). I'm as perplexed today as I was when I first clipped this item. I don't recall if I read this on the air or merely stuck it in my notebook in the hopes that I would stumble across it one day and glean its meaning. That day hasn't come yet. In the meantime, when in Washington DC, don't forget to visit the Smithsonian Institution!