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October 03, 2006

The Reel Night John Lennon Died

Lennonprofile After all the online interest and controversy surrounding a particular audio file posted on this blog last December, I suppose that posting the original MP3 and providing a bit of an explanation is long overdue.

So, first off let’s get the download out of the way.

The Unedited NYC FM Dial Scan from 12-08-80 (Download MP3)

The Unedited NYC FM Dial Scan from 12-08-80 Dial-up version (Download MP3)

On the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination (December 8, 2005) Station Manager Ken posted a “dial scan” of New York radio from the night of Lennon’s death. And then the linking began, and the controversy. What Ken didn't know at the time is that there's an uncut version. And here it is.

The audio Ken originally posted came from a Two-CD set I put together for WFMU in 2004– Radio Archival Oddities Vol. 2, a collection of strange and entertaining aircheck material. One disc featured little gems of WFMU history and the other was a candy box assortment of unique radio moments. Folks making those substantial “mouse” pledges during our yearly fundraising marathon can still score a copy of this set as part of their prize package. Or you can just buy one, while they last.

Teac Anyway, I had missed Ken’s original post at the time (it was quite short with no picture) and it was weeks (maybe months) later when he mentioned posting the track and that a bit of a controversy bubbled up in the comments. Some thought it was fake, with bits of real radio from that night edited together with some Beatles songs. Others insisted it was obviously edited and likely a hoax.

I didn’t think much about it at first. While I don't actually know where it came from (I’ll get to that in a minute), I believed it to be real the first time I heard it. And I still do. However, a while later I came across this blog post where a HUGE debate raged over the authenticity of this dial scan. And then I remembered, I had indeed edited it (and should eventually post the whole thing). But fooling anyone was the last thing I had on my mind.

So, where did this recording come from? I’d like to brag that it was a dirty cassette I dug up at Queens Goodwill while scouting recordings for the Audio Kitchen. But not so. I snatched it from the hard drive of some stranger’s computer. Don't worry, I left a copy behind.

Napstermonster Remember Napster? While I’m sure there’s far more people swapping files online now than there were back in 2001. But at that time, they were almost ALL on Napster. And one night, I was searching for “Lennon,” pairing it with a number of other terms in search of rarities. A search for “Lennon” and “radio” yielded a number of things I proceeded to download. That’s where I found the recordings of Lennon hosting a show on KHJ’s "Superstar Week" in 1974. And that’s where I came in possesion of this MP3 named “Radio Collage from the Night Lennon Died.”

In editing the radio recordings for the CD set, I generally worked the same way as I did with the Audio Kitchen. I edited for content, balancing a respect for context and flavor while trying to be kind to the attention span of the listener (and there were also issues of trying to fit in as many interesting tracks as I could). If something was short, or just overtly poignant every second (like the cop killer on the phone with the Florida news guy), I generally let it run unaltered, but a few other pieces were compressed down to the good parts while maintaining continuity and not changing the meaning or sexing up the content. Like I said, that’s how I operated in presenting found tapes on the Audio Kitchen. I could trim down a half hour audio letter into seven solid minutes, and it would sound natural from beginning to end-- true to the original without a lot of boring bits or repetition. (Also, I oughtta mention that Audio Kitchen reruns are available as an FMU podcast these days.)

That’s basically what happened here. I cut away almost half the recording, keeping the meat of what made it interesting and real. The shift from announcer saying “the sound of a revolution” to “Help!,” and then to some sitar jam all happened the same way as it did on the original recording. And on both “I’m Only Sleeping” follows a solemn discussion of his death. I did remove a lot of the FM radio noise and some snatches of dialog and music here and there, as well as a segment on a rock station (WNEW?) where they were playing edits of listeners calls over Lennon’s music.

Pioneer And even though I don’t know exactly where this thing came from, I have no reason to doubt it’s the real thing. Why? Because it would take A LOT of work to fake something like this so well. It sounds real throughout, especially the FM radio hiss and  noises. I’d guess it was recorded on a snazzy home amplifier/receiver. You know, the ones that glow by night and have nice greasy bearings in the tuning mechanism. The scanning has that kind of "glide" to it. And I believe I hear the buzz of video near the end, which usually occurs up past 88 MHz where TV’s channel six and possibly five can be heard. This may just be the tuner needle coming up against the dead end of the left side of the dial and then wheeling back, or just the listener pausing the tape and starting the tape again at that end of the dial.

All that said, there may be an edit or two here, and if so I’d guess it's most likely by pause button rather than a digital cut and paste job. I’m sure if somebody out there is very familiar with the New York City FM dial circa 1980 you could probably chart out many of the stations coming up through the tuning. I hear a beautiful music station or two in there, another playing Manu Dibango, another Jobim. And then there’s a few Beatle tunes. Way too much McCartney as others have noted. Why would John Lennon’s death make you think of “Hey Jude”? Or “Blackbird” for chrissakes? These both appear three times in the unedited version, and only once each in my edit. You see? I was merciful.

Johnyoko OK, there’s my confession. I guess I can take the obligatory moment to mention where I was and what was doing when I heard the news, and how Lennon affected me personally. But I’ll spare you all that too. Suffice to say I was (and still am) sick and angry about the murder, and I would be damn curious to see how the last twenty five years might have played out if he was still around. While I wasn't so prescient to pull out a tape recorder myself, I did traverse the dial that sad evening and heard plenty of Beatles and Lennon (and too many songs obviously penned by McCartney).

If you’ve read any of my AM and shortwave radio series here at BOTB, you might guess that I spend too much time recording “dial scans” off the radio. But I didn’t record this one. If you'd rather believe it’s some bit of smoke and mirrors, have it at. I can’t prove you wrong, or at least I’m not going to take the time to analyze every second of this recording to prove anything. (Perhaps someone else will. If so, please report back in the comments section below sometime.) But I can tell you honestly that the 11minutes and 24 seconds you get here is unedited (by me) and (except for boosting the volume a bit) is unprocessed. I don’t believe much, but I believe this recording is a real artifact. I'd like to hope that more recordings like this might float up out of somebody's closet or hard drive one day.

Lennon_peace When I was producing the aircheck CD’s I guess I had no idea of how significant this recording would be for so many people. So now I'm releasing it into the wild to become part of the packs of archives that roam free. In retrospect, I should have included it whole and unedited in the first place, because it really is such an intact artifact. And John Lennon is at least as fascinating, and his death at least as tragic, as it has always been. I think this can all can be heard in this one recording.

Peace. Imagine that.


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