As broadcast on WVIA-FM 05/13/99)
It was 25 years ago today that I first said welcome to the daily edition of Mixed Bag. On May 13, 1974, what had been a 90-minute weekly show of eclectic on WVIA-FM became a daily two-and-a-half hour presentation. Somehow the program has persisted, a contemporary music program on a radio station which mainly plays classical music, in a broadcasting organization that is mainly television.
Over the course of close to 6500 programs, we have introduced you to a lot of music including0 over 10,000 featured new releases, and played a lot of requests. We've presented well over a 1000 different performances by regional artists on the Homegrown Music series, including close to 180 live concerts, and goodness knows how may times I've turned on the mic switch and said "This is Mixed Bag and this is George Graham."
When we first started Mixed Bag as a daily program the only rock music on the radio, outside of the college stations, was on AM. FM was still considered the realm of so-called "beautiful music," and one commercial station still played classical music at night. So called "album rock" radio did not come to a commercial station in Northeastern Pennsylvania until than two years later. FM radio listenership was still a small fraction of the audience for AM, where Top 40 stations ruled. So Mixed Bag became the only what was then called "progressive rock" on FM radio in the region, outside of some odds and ends on the college stations. In the program's early days, we did play a fair amount of music from mainstream rock artists, but also right from the very beginning played the eclectic material that has been this program's hallmark. In our first weeks, for example, we were playing Bonnie Raitt, John Hartford, Joni Mitchell, along with Frank Zappa, the Mahavishu Orchestra and Muddy waters. It was in 1976 that All that Jazz became a separate program, so Mixed Bag also included a fair amount of jazz. Our first weeks' playlists included Miles Davis and John Coltrane as well.
It was more than two years after Mixed Bag became a daily fixture on WVIA-FM that the first commercial FM station started playing rock. But when album rock came to FM, Mixed Bag started heading in other directions, away from the commerical mainstream and toward hard-to-describe blend of eclectic rock, folk, blues, world music, electronic music, and other styles not heard elsewhere.
It's also interesting to note that what we have been doing for 25 years has now become much more accepted in Public Radio elsewhere. It's being called called AAA for Album Adult Alternative, and I have seen various stations claim to have come up with the idea in the early to mid 1980s. I was amused a few years ago when I read that a large grant had been awarded to develop a type of radio programming that would appeal to Baby Boom generation audiences. After much labor and money spent on research and consutants, what they came up with was what we have been doing on Mixed Bag since 1974.
Some of you may be relatively new to this program. I know some people who have been listening for pretty much the full 25 years. I also know of the children of regular listeners who tell me they grew up listening to this program, and it forever shaped their musical outlook. Some of them have become musicians themselves, and to complete the circle, have appeared on the Homegrown Music series.
WVIA-FM last year celebrated its 25th anniversary, and now with Mixed Bag's Quarter Century mark upon us, I have been doing some thinking about how much things have changed, and yet how much certain things have remained constant. Good music really does last. I still get requests for music that pre-dates this program, and some of the artists we started out with, like Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, John Prine and Joni Mitchell are still doing some excellent work. We have also introduced you to literally thousands more, some of whom have gone on to be major figures on the music scene, often years after the first time we shared with you their music. People like U2, whose first album we played in 1981, plus Dire Straits, Rickie Lee Jones. Suzanne Vega, Bobby McFerrin, Tracy Chapman, Bruce Hornsby, Hootie and the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Phish and Barenaked Ladies, all of whose music we played literally a year or more before the artists achieved commercial success.
A lot has changed in the last quarter century. We have been through six presidents, starting with Nixon, whose resignation we carried live during an edition of Mixed Bag, then Ford, and Carter. We survived the Reagan years, which gave us the twin scourges of Oliver North and MTV, along with Bush and Clinton.
We've been through rise and fall of disco, leisure suits and platform shoes, the Bicentennial, urban cowboys, jazz-rock fusion, heavy metal hair bands, music videos, punk rock, yuppies, New Wave. techno pop, the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Jerry Garcia, the proliferation of VCRs, microwave ovens, answering machines, compact discs, the breakup of AT&T, rap music, New Age Music, grunge, line dancing, PCs, The Macarena, all-O.J.-and-Monica trash television, trash radio, the Internet, the Celtic phenomenon, roots rockers, and teen idols, and two generations of Star Wars.
And by the way, some of you may recall, that back in the early 1980s, we carried on Mixed Bag an original Star Wars radio series, starring Mark Hamill, with sound effects by Ben Burtt, and which featured in its first episodes, parts of the story which preceded the first film.
We also ran the original BBC radio production of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy which preceded Douglas Adams' series of best-selling books, which were actually adapted from the radio series. We also had a series of fanciful sci-fi shows featuring the character Jack Flanders from the ZBS Media folks, and three series of radio shows by two of my biggest radio heroes, Bob & Ray.
And there were a lot of things I am proud to say we did not play on Mixed Bag. There were also a few things we might have been better off not playing on the program. But throughout the 25 years, I have tried to make this a program you could listen to every day and hear something new each time.
Over the years, I have had a chance to interview a lot of interesting people, including Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, John McLaughlin, Lou Reed, Marian McPartland and many others. In 1974, an ambitious set of concerts was brought to Scranton, but which, unfortunately, didn't last very long. But the first group in the series was Fleetwood Mac. Now in 1974, Fleetwood Mac was something of a has-been group, it was before they were joined by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. They had just emerged from series of lawsuits stemming from their former manager putting another band on the road called Fleetwood Mac. In their hotel, which was in a building torn down to make way for the new federal couthouse in Scranton, I talked with John and Christine McVie, who were then still married. ...
One of the great benefits of doing a program like this live on a regional radio station is that I hear directly from listeners every day. Just call the station, and you'll reach me here in the studio. So feedback from you has been invaluable for me in finding out what you like, and what you don't. Most of the time, it's not a direct opinion -- since people don't usually call unless they have something to complain about or want something. But inquiries about music from people give me a lotof good hints about what interests you, and is perhaps part of the reason we are still here after 25 years, and people like you still support us during our membership drives. But some phone calls are particularly memorable. One that sticks in my mind from few years ago concerned the Russian bluegrass band Kukuruza who by the sheerest coincidence were driving through the area on a US tour when I happened to play their music on the air. They nearly drove off the side of the road when they heard themselves, and I got an excited call from their American tour manager who related the incident.
But then there are other calls. About once or twice a year, I'll get a call like this -- in fact the script is almost identical each time.
"What are you playing on the air?"
It's the new album by, so-and-so.
"I mean what kind of music is that?"
And I tell the caller it's blues, or folk, or world music or whatever it happens to be.
"Is that what you call it?"
"What are you doing playing claptrap like that? You can hear jazz on any other radio station."
I beg to disagree. There are no other stations around here that play folk or blues or world music.
"Don't tell me that. You're certainly not going to have any listeners with that kind of thing. Why did you change your programming?"
What do yo mean?
"What's this program called?"
It's Mixed Bag, our daily program of creative contemporary music?
"When did this start?"
This program has been here for years. It's the longest-running locally produced program on the station.
"The last time I tuned in I was listening to classical music at night."
Of course, WVIA-FM brings you nearly 100 hours of classical music a week during the day and overnight on the weeknights.
"No you just changed the programming."
Mixed Bag has been here since 1974.
"Don't tell me that, young man, I've been listening to your station a lot longer I'll bet than you've been there."
I guess, you can't please all of the people all of the time.
(George Graham is a founder of WVIA-FM, and was the person who first signed the station on the air in 1973.)
The other phone call that amuses me comes on Wednesday nights, after our weekly album review. After I've been talking for ten minutes about a record, introducing it, giving biographical information and opinion about the recording. Then I start to play the album. About two or three minutes into the first song, someone will call up and ask, "What it this album you're playing? I love it." Recently, I even got one of those calls from someone who said, "Would it be too much to ask for you to announce the music that you play?"
It's great that people are showing so much enthusiasm for the music, but after about 6 hours of auditioning, researching, writing producing and doing the audio editing of the weekly album review, some people haven't listened to a word of it. I guess it's a product of today's commercial media where you don't want to listen to what is being said.
But, 99.9% of listeners are great. It's the best, most intelligent and grateful audience any radio person could ever hope to have. My colleagues in commercial radio marvel at the almost complete lack of crank calls. So a big thanks from me to you for 25 years of your support.
(c) Copyright 1999 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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