This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”
Other bands meant more to me personally and yet others were more dominant on the WWSP-90FM airwaves, and yet no artist better defines the sound of my college radio station during my time there than the Smithereens. They were amazingly consistent. Grab any of the four albums or one flat-out great EP that sat in the music library by the time I graduated and there is smart, crisp, tight music to be found there. It wasn’t risky or daring or out to reshape the sonic landscape. Instead, the band was fully invested in the no less daunting task of absolutely mastering the classic rock ‘n’ roll songwriting and production that came before. Maybe more than any other band I regularly added to my playlists at the station, the Smithereens were committed to making music that felt thrillingly timeless.
In that commitment to rock solid music-making, the Smithereens were perfect for radio. While they were so spot on in selecting their singles that the Smithereens are one of the very few bands that may be best incorporated into a music collection with a “best of” package, they provided rewards across every record side. Without deviating dramatically in their core sound, they had a song for every spot in the set, every mood the DJ was trying to convey, from a riveting jolt to start off a show to a somber, lovelorn ballad to close out a late shift before powering the transmitter down for its nightly four-hour nap. The music was also more accessible — more friendly — than a lot of what got pitched to college radio stations, which probably put it a little out of step with the prevailing sentiment among our broadcasting brethren across the country. For us, perched in the middle of a relatively sedate Midwestern community and more committed to serving our audience than challenging them to the point of potential ostracization, it fit in just right.
That hint of safety to the music also meant that the Smithereens were one of the few bands figuring prominently on our charts that could also take up residence in local jukeboxes. At least the album Blow Up, released during my senior year, was deemed acceptable enough for such an honor. Since this was back in the days before digital interconnectivity meant that practically any song could be dialed up in any bar, it was a big deal to be able to flip past the Steve Miller and REO Speedwagon CD covers to find that one disc that had a twin back at the radio station. I logged a lot of hours at Butter’s Brickhaus, sometimes wearing a softball jersey adorned with the establishments logo, and I’d almost swear that practically every visit was accompanied by I or one of my cohorts feeding a buck into the jukebox to get at least one song from the Smithereens into the mix, usually “Top of the Pops.” We might not have controlled the full playlist in that place, but we understood the value of incorporating a request here and there.
Listen or download –> The Smithereens, “Top of the Pops”
(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)