Column: Turn the radio on
By Ruth Ann Angus,
– “Come and listen to a radio station where the mighty hosts of heaven sing. Turn your radio on, turn your radio on! If you want to feel good vibrations, coming from the joy that love can bring, turn your radio on. Turn your radio on!” The lyrics of the John Hartford song were the call we had oh those many years ago when Hal Abrams put out the word in 2012 that he was starting our community radio station in Morro Bay, California. Who could resist? We all have a little disc jockey in us and what about those old guys who retired here who actually were DJs?
It was a great idea and if anyone could bring it to life it was Abrams who already had his own radio program on Animal Radio Network (ARN), the most listened-to pet show on the air. Abrams left a 17-year morning radio show in 1999 to create the largest and most listened-to animal radio programming with ARN. To say he is dedicated to our pet children is an understatement which most of us found out when we signed on to do programs with the new Morro Bay community station 97.3 FM, The Rock Radio. And that’s my story.
Radio has always been huge in my life beginning in my teen years with good old Rock and Roll and on through the turbulent 60s when I managed to snag a job at the best radio station on the East Coast WOR Radio and TV. At that time AM Radio was the king and FM Rock stations were just getting started. I began in AM as a production assistant but soon found my way to the DJs in FM, among them Hal Mitchell and Bob Elliott who I drove crazy with stories about my cat that I had named with a dirty word that could not be spoken over the air. There were times when I was invited to say a few words over the air, although I am quite sure that was forbidden by management. We did it anyway. My primary goal was to get either Bob or Hal to play one of Phil Ochs’ songs on WOR. Songs of his nature were verboten, and I believe Phil’s songs never did get any play on major top 40 radio stations although Joan Baez had a hit with “There But for Fortune” and the Mitchell Trio had a great one with “Draft Dodger Rag.” Not on WOR-FM though.
After my previous radio experience, I was excited to join The Rock and so I contacted Hal and said I had a great idea for a program – a talk program. I was the publicity chairperson for the Morro Bay Art Association and wanted to do interviews with all the artists who exhibited at the gallery. I called the show Art Rocks.
I arrived at Hal’s house with great expectations and was ushered by Judy and the tiniest doggy to a door that opened revealing the smallest radio studio in the history of radio studios. It was literally inside the broom closet of Hal’s house. I don’t know how we fit in that space with all the equipment. Hal sat behind me hunched over the computer console and I sat off to the side in front of him with about two feet of some other technical equipment to my right. I sat up on a high stool with a microphone in front of me and a door to the outside behind me. Also, behind me most of time was an imperious black and white kitty lounging on a shelf. I could speak into the mic and pet the cat at the same time. What fun!
My show included interviews with guests who also had to cram into the space sitting on yet another high stool and we passed the mic back and forth. I don’t know how anyone did their shows that way, but somehow, we all survived. As my show progressed, I extended Art Rocks to include not just the art of painting and sculpting but the art of cooking and the art of sewing or quilting which gave me a wider source of guests to interview. I can’t imagine how the DJs who spun the discs of every type of music you can think of managed in that closet, but we all had the great privilege of signing the inside of the door to the space in big black ink.
Advancing forward a few years or so and lo and behold the station got space in a small room in the rear of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce where the console and the computer and the CD and LP decks fit a whole lot better. By that time, I had advanced beyond doing PR for the art association and had formed a peace and nonviolence education nonprofit so back to The Rock I came with my new show “Peace Rocks.” Along with space, we became 97.3 FM and then also 107.9 FM broadcasting to Morro Bay, Los Osos, Cayucos, Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero on the radio and online to everywhere in the country via esterobayradio.org.
All the air talent had to learn the console which was a little dicey at first but not really difficult. The hardest part for me was speaking into the mic in front of me and placing a CD in deck behind me to play the music I had scheduled. Guests had an easier time though as they could sit comfortably in front of the desk and had their own mic. The most important thing was to not have any dead air, which happened to me a few times between playing a CD and switching back to talking with my guests.
The Rock gave me the opportunity I had been trying to do for over 50 years though. I finally got to play Phil Ochs’ songs on the radio!
It’s hard to believe but this Saturday, Oct. 28, The Rock community volunteer radio station celebrates its 10th anniversary. You can join in the fun celebration of the “10th Anniversary ‘BFD’ Fundraiser Concert at the Morro Bay Community Center starting at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but we hope you will come ready to bid on the great silent auction of many goodies donated by businesses and others in the community. These funds account for 50% of The Rock’s yearly operating budget.
You will get to enjoy featured acts including Mesa Bluemoon recording artist Dulcie Taylor, Jill Knight, Unfinished Business, and Murder Hornets. There will be great Mexican and Mediterranean food, wine from local wineries, and freshly tapped beer from Firestone. You can view the silent auction items and even donate online at www.esterobayradio.org.
“Peace Rocks” took a sabbatical from the station after recording it at home for a year through the pandemic, but plans are for it to return with some great interviews with the movers and shakers for peace in our community as well as some of that grand old folk music of the 1960s. Watch for our announcement!