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“The time space-continuum is sent into disarray when Chuck and Curly –two likeable but disoriented teens- accidentally destroy the Tempus Sanctum Oraculus, the mythical time keeping piece of the Ancients. Their mission is to restore order in the Universe before it’s too late.”
Like a lot of other folks, my real start in the media business came in the 1970s in college radio at WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s student station. It might have been the zenith of the medium, but WKCR wasn’t like many other college stations, as I suppose, was befitting of the university’s classical nature. “Kings Crown Radio” had been on the air already for 30 years, and had a rich history in what I guess you’d call “alternative” music. That is, classical, folk, and international. And, an incredibly robust news operation, which had just gotten an global jolt being the real time source of information during the university protests that kicked off seasons of college riots across the world.
The students that ran the operation (unlike today, there was minimal supervision from the university) took ourselves and our mission very seriously. I think we all felt responsible, being in the most important media capital of the world, for the cultural well being of our audience. Every kind of commercial music was well covered in our market (there were over 100 stations in the New York metro), so we needed to focus on everything else. By the time I left we had significantly robust jazz and classical blocks (jazz edging out classical for the first time), with shows from the most familiar to the most contemporary offerings, since our city was the epicenter of it all. And that’s not to make short shrift of the blues, country, Haitian, folk, progressive rock, and everything else we did. In the years after my time, WKCR pioneered hip-hop innovations too.
I’ve written elsewhere about the key role WKCR played in my fledging independent record label, Oblivion Records. But recently, the student board of directors were collecting reminisces from station alumni in preparation of their 75th anniversary. I figured I’d share mine here.
I was nervous knocking on the door for the first time.
“I’d like to work at the station,” I said to the two upperclassmen who answered No. 208 Ferris Booth Hall (demolished years ago and replaced by Lerner Hall, a much fancier facility).
“What do you want to do?”
“Well, we have a broom, you could be the janitor.”
“Fine with me.”
I was a freshman at the now defunct Columbia College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, at 68th and Broadway, living in the Henry Hudson Hotel on 57th Street. But I trekked to campus with a buddy to find the radio station because an annoying friend had been boasting to me about all the new bands he’d heard about at Yale’s WYBC. I just hated the fact that this know-it-all blowhard had a leg up on me.
Little did I know that my life’s path was about to change, and that the friends I made would last a lifetime.
An FCC 3rd class license and Sunday afternoon engineering shift later I was nervously queuing up records for Ethan IV’s calypso show and Jim Carroll’s avant garde “Jazz Projections.” Both foreign sounds to my ears, I had a ball with Ethan’s pop expeditions through early reggae and ska, discovering the Mighty Sparrow, and overall enjoying his Jamaican approach to a Top 40 style show. Then, careening in the opposite direction, an hour of Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, which made me turn the monitors off during the records. What was this shit?! (Fast forward, it became the shit that powered my cultural life for years to come.)
Along the way, David Reitman’s Wednesday midnight show, “Journey to the End of the Night,” invited vibist Karl Berger to perform. There was no one around to engineer the recording, so I volunteered though I knew next to nothing about recording, the equipment was a recommissioned news recording mixer and and mish mash of microphones, and the five musicians crammed into the announcer booth of Studio 3.
Somehow or other we made it work and I was hooked forever. I became the go to guy for an increasing amount of live performance at the station and got grandiose ideas as to where it could lead me.
I got my own midnight show as the only freshman with a paid summer job at the station that very first year.. I engineered other shows, produced my own, dropped out of chemistry and started finagling a transfer uptown to the College. I stopped playing piano –I’d never become the musician I wanted to be– and took my inspiration from George Martin, The Beatles’ producer. He was 15 years older than they were, so I figured maybe I had 20 years to suss out what a producer actually was and become one myself. (46 years later, I’m still close to figuring that one out.)
In 1971, my big ideas got a giant push when a German avant gardist, Gunter Hampel, asked if he could take a tape I’d recorded on his trio and put it out as an LP. Are you kidding? My own credit on an album cover? Go with God, Gunter. And towards the end of the year, when I stole the coveted news department Nagra out of a locked closet one weekend and hightailed it downtown with fellow KCR DJ Roy Langbord to record Mississippi Fred McDowell at the Village Gaslight. My buddy, Fred’s bassist Tom Pomposello (a non-student who did the weekend blues show, “Something Inside Me”), and I got the bright idea to start our own label with the recording. For its four years of existence, Oblivion Records ran out of the station, causing no small bit of resentment for the use of station equipment for a personal, commercial (hah!) enterprise. I didn’t feel bad though, since every recording done at the station was featured on various shows for several years, and I gave copious credit at every turn.
So, what do I have to show for my amazing years at WKCR?
• No college degree. How could class compete with what I was doing at the radio station?
• A love of jazz. First, the avant garde (how quickly things changed), and then the entire breadth of this wholly American music.
• An appreciation of classical and world folk music that I might have otherwise disdained.
• A rip off of the Beethoven’s Birthday Festival (gone now, I believe, but living on as the dozens of annual jazz marathons) that actually started the trend of binge programming on cable TV.
• Production and creative abilities on short form promotions and parodies that fueled my life in radio and television for decades. Thanks David Reitman, Nick Moy, Jim Carroll, Alan Goodman, Roy Langbord, and all the other crazy cast of characters.
• A creative colleague who became my business partner, then my brother-in-law, and the father of my nephew and niece.
• A lifelong career. It started in record producing, morphed into radio and TV management, back into producing (though this time as a producer of animated cartoons), and eventually as a serial internet media entrepreneur.
• Work companions at every stage of my adult life.
• More than a dozen of my closest friends I see almost every week, 45 years later. (And, to shout out one in particular, my partner of many years, now the loving father of my niece and nephew, Alan Goodman).
Most of all, it’s the intimacy of those friends that have made all the difference in my life. Thank you WKCR, you made my life.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog belong to Fred Seibert, Frederator Studios, Bellport Cartoons, Inc., JoeJack, Inc., FS Holdings 2005, Inc., and/or Frederator Networks, Inc. and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Time-Warner, Turner Broadcasting, Viacom Intl., MTV Networks, or The Empire.