Music has always been a part of my life. I began singing at age eight. I had a keyboard that I played nightly for my grandmother. Of course, I spent many hours listening to radio. I participated in all kinds of choral activity. I learned to play guitar.
But in 1984, I was given an opportunity that would impact the rest of my life, and give me full exposure, literally to the world of music and what was available to listen to.
It was a small college radio station at the college I was attending, WXLV, 90.3fm. There were about a dozen other jocks. Two of my professors were also advisors (not the correct title for their roles), but that fact did give me some perks, but definitely a lot of good times.
Up until that time, I had been described as a “bubble gum” type DJ, a reference to being into “pop” music. With no rhyme or reason, I was teamed up with someone named “Kamikaze” Craig. He aired a heavy metal genre radio show, making him one of the more popular DJ, as he was known for bringing in a lot of acts into this tiny college radio. Being non-public radio, genres included heavy metal, art rock, classic rock, and polka.
Craig was definitely a cool guy, a lot of fun. I could tell by the interaction he had with his listeners and callers. I learned to expand my music taste to include a harder sound. And you know what? I liked it. After a couple of shows with Craig, I was ready to go, just needed an opportunity. It happened quickly.
One of the managers came up to me, “there is an opening tomorrow morning we need filled. You interested?” I felt Craig had done well training me. I was a quick learner. I would be allowed to play whatever I wanted, and now I knew more music than when I started. I was ready.
“You’ll be doing classic rock from 11am to 1pm.”
Huh? What? Classic rock? What the hell was that? If you have ever heard the expression, “being thrown to the wolves”, the wolves were now tucking their napkins in, ready to feast. I had no idea what to play.
“Just pick music that is at least ten years old and you’ll be fine.” I had been listening to music a long time, but really had no concept on how “old” music was. And really not getting much more help at 10:55am that next morning, I turned my microphone on. “Good morning. You’re listening to WXLV 90.3 fm. My name is Paul Johns (one of the many alternative names I used, this one after a Seattle Seahawk wide receiver) and I’ve got classic rock for your lunch period. Today’s my first day, so I will be honest, I have no clue what to play for you all listening out there. But if you call me right now, I guarantee you I will get your classic rock requests on as soon as I can.”
This particular time slot was a busy one, because there were a lot of businesses that listened to our unique format. Our station was known for not playing things that have been overplayed. I gave the phone number, and then pressed the button to play the turntable I had cued up. I was playing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, a song that I knew met the “age” requirement. It was a six minute song. Which came in handy.
My phone immediately lit up from Scott Cheverolet’s service department. They were regulars for this particular time slot. I answered and was asked if I could play Supertramp’s “School”. I had never heard of it before, but I knew all I would have to do is go to the music library, find the Supertramp albums, which for the most part, the albums were in alphabetical order, and I was good to go. Before I hung up, I mentioned to the caller that it was my first time, and that I could really use their help in filling two hours of classic rock music.
And I got a lot of help not only from that first caller, but from several others after. Some of the requests that I played, actually sounded familiar. Now I was able to put titles to songs. Staring at the music library, I now realized what I had at my fingertips, and it would make my ears, and my soul happy.
I would spend about three years there, on and on. Several of my fellow jocks would be there way longer. And I still keep in touch with them to this day, thirty years later. One of the happier times of my life for sure. Good friends they all were. But it also started a long career as a disc jockey, playing mostly live gigs.
But getting back to that first request, “School,” comes from Supertramp’s album “Crime of The Century.” If you were to ask the average person for a song from Supertramp, if they knew who the band was, you are more likely to get a song like “The Logical Song” or “Take the Long Way Home” from their album “Breakfast In America” which got way more commercial play.
“School” was a much more thought-provoking single, often considered a studio release, in that, it would never be played on commercial radio or perhaps even in concert. But the first song on the second side of the album, would get a lot of airplay. “Dreamer”, much more of the “bubblegum” sound that I was accused of, was classic rock! It also was a hit for Supertramp after the failure of their first two albums, this album finally was successful because of “Dreamer.”
I would sit in the “recording” studio next door to the on-air studio after every show from that point on, and listen to the albums in their entirety, not just to get familiar with classic rock music, but because the albums, and the bands were that good.
“Bloody Well Right” and “Rudy” would get a lot of attention, but that would be it until “Breakfast In America” came out, really.
But there are a lot of good tracks on that album including, “Hide In Your Shell”, “Asylum”, “If Everyone Was Listening”, and of course the title track, “Crime Of The Century.”
I would go back and listen to the first two albums by Supertramp, and would listen to each one that came after “Crime Of The Century.”