5Q :: Classic rock the way it’s meant to be playedBrian Wheeler of the Northland’s Classic Rock (102.5 FM) talks about his station's latest craze: Album Side Thursday.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Northland’s Classic Rock (102.5 FM) has become one of the most buzzed-about commercial radio stations in the area.
While its staff is trying out a lot of different things over there, the one “experiment” that seems to get the most people talking is Album Side Thursday, where the music lovers who run the station play entire album sides — most of which are requested — the way classic rock is meant to be heard: on delicious, scratches-and-all vinyl.
Recently the Budgeteer spoke to 102.5’s Brian Wheeler to find out how this exciting programming changeup came to be:
Budgeteer: As many Northlanders are starting to find out, Album Side Thursday is a lot of fun to listen to. Where did you guys get the idea for it?
Wheeler: It’s kind of a cool story, really. I was meeting with my boss and his boss, discussing the direction I wanted to take the station.
I’d always wanted to do an album-oriented show, but, everywhere I went, I’d get crazy looks when I’d bring up the concept.
So there we were, all hanging out at Pizza Luce talking about music and, all the while, I was looking for a way to bring up my “crazy” idea to my new audience.
At one point during the conversation, I referred to the Electric Fetus across the street and casually brought up that they sold vinyl there. That immediately elicited a nostalgic response from my superiors, so I took my shot.
I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive they were to the idea of bringing in a bunch of vinyl and dropping the needle on the record once again.
I decided to go online and I found there were a few other stations throughout the country that also had begun to reintroduce vinyl to their listening audiences. That only fueled the flames and, before you know it, Album Side Thursday was born.
Were there any obstacles you had to overcome to get it going, whether equipment-wise or finding all the requested pieces of vinyl? You’ve been getting help from the Fetus and the Vinyl Cave, right? And listeners too?
There weren’t too many obstacles, really. Once I knew my boss had my back, it was full steam ahead. Our station engineer loved the idea of installing a turntable in the studio and was on the case right away.
We did encounter an issue with the turntable itself initially — that caused some unnecessary skipping during the first Album Side Thursday — but, once we figured out the hardware issues and installed a second turntable, things went very smoothly.
Electric Fetus is a sponsor of the feature, and Vinyl Cave has been cool about lending us some tougher-to-find selections. It is still tricky to find some of the requests, but we’re hoping that gets easier with time.
We’ve had a few “vinyl heads” come out of the woodwork to help us locate some titles, which has been very cool.
All of us at the station have pitched in records from our own collections, too. It’s been a very organic, cooperative thing.
That’s a big part of the charm in my mind. It really is like having a bunch of friends over, sitting down in the living room, grabbing a stack of wax, cueing it up, playing the music and talking about it ... except my living room is a couple hundred square miles and I’ve got thousands of friends over. It’s really more fun than should be allowed, and you’ll get no complaints from me!
Speaking of requests, what’s been asked for most, and has there been anything so out of the realm of classic rock that you couldn’t play it?
The first Album Side Thursday, we received an insane number of requests for Cream’s “Disraeli Gears.” Sadly, we didn’t have a playable copy of it in time for the first show.
Darius, one of the aforementioned “vinyl heads” that help us track down records, had a Japanese import of “Disraeli Gears,” so we made sure to play it this time around.
As far as requests go, we’ve certainly seen some odd requests. That’s to be expected, and I’m actually glad to see it.
Many of our listeners are pretty savvy music fans and, when you think about it, there isn’t that much separation from the “tried-and-true classic rock” and the “fringe,” so to speak. It comes down to opinion at some point.
The bottom line is, if the listener trusts you with their time, then you would do well to strive to entertain and not insult. So we look to strike a balance between familiar and fringe. We’re not too afraid to push the boundaries — but in the right measure.
This last time around, we took the 11 o’clock hour and played some cool stuff like Tom Waits, Television and the Sonics. It was an adventure, but I don’t consider it too out there.
Personally, when did you first fall in love with vinyl? Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
I’ve been spinning records since I was old enough to play with turntables. I started playing with real records at 4 or 5. My dad exposed me to Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys, to name a few.
My mom had the Beatles, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin and a ton more.
At 4 years old, my uncle scared the daylights out of me with Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” album and Iron Butterfly — and I can’t thank him enough. My aunt played the Eagles, Toto and others. I had another uncle who played Kiss, Zeppelin, Van Halen and Pink Floyd for me.
When I finally got around to having to buy my own vinyl, the first new album I bought was Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms.” Oh, and a “Weird” Al Yankovic record.
Otherwise, I can’t recall the first used album I bought. I’d buy used records any chance I got, so it’s tough to remember.
Finally, what other types of interesting programming have you guys been implementing? I heard Little Steven on the other day — will you be keeping “Underground Garage” around for awhile then?
I try to make everything we do have a greater level of interest to it.
We don’t subscribe to the common notion that the music is a means to get to the next commercial break. That’s why Little Steven’s “Underground Garage” is here to stay.
I was stoked when I found out that Little Steven’s show was available, as I knew him as a champion of the music industry as well as the radio industry. He really loves music and doesn’t like to see what it’s become. He believes in what’s good about music and the power it holds in people’s lives.
That made Steven and his show a perfect fit for 102.5.
He called in for an interview with John Chopper and those two talked for nearly a half hour about music and where it’s heading. Little Steven is one of the good guys, no doubt.
As far as other features, we’re looking forward to unveiling a few new features in the next couple of days. We hope folks will tune in to find out what they are!
NEWS TO USE
The next Album Side Thursday on the Northland’s Classic Rock (102.5 FM) will be held April 8. E-mail your requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.northlandsclassicrock.com for more information.