Jim Bishop: Radio daze-Once more, with frequency

I’ve recognized it a long time, but this latest experience confirms that I’m not good at letting go, moving on.

On Friday evening, Feb. 7, I unlocked the old radio studio, threw the microphone switch and the golden voice of the airwaves intone, “Good evening, I’m Jim Bishop, welcoming you to the final – that’s right! – the final edition of the ‘Friday Night Jukebox.’

“Come on along,” I tried keeping my voice in its usual hyper mode, “on this last guided tour down those cobwebbed corridors of time, back to the decade of the 1950’s and music of that ebullient era…”

A bit more mumbling, a press of the CD player start button, and Antoine (Fats) Domino emanates from the control room speakers: “I’m walkin’, yes indeed, I’m talkin’, ’bout you and me . . .”

And the 1957 upbeat went on. While it may not have been my finest hour, it felt like it arrived all too soon, this “swan song” edition – honk if you like vintage music – of the radio program I’d nursed along for 11 years on public radio WEMC, 91.7 FM.

The hour passed swiftly. I was glad I had contacted a work colleague, Marty King, to be present with his video camera to record some moments to remember.

Prior to recording the last show, Marty followed me around the old WEMC studio, vacant now except for the nearly obsolete equipment in the old production room and the hum of the station transmitter.

I went from one room to another, reminiscing about what used to take place when all programming originated here, 24 hours a day. In 2007, WMRA assumed management of Virginia’s oldest public radio station that went on the air in 1955, and operations moved to their studios. It’s been a good marriage, I think.

It’s been a month since pulling the plug for the last time on the colorful Wurlitzer jukebox, and the silence is deafening. I find myself digging in my pocket for a couple Buffalo nickels to plunk into that colorful machine, press B-17 and sing along with Anthony and the Sophomores, “Play those oldies, Mr. DJ.”

Were this weekly program still going strong, this weekend would mark the start of my 12th year of spinning dusty discs and taking listener requests. Each year, on the anniversary of the start of the show, I included a special feature on “the day the music died.”

I was in eighth grade at Lenape Junior High in Doylestown, Pa., when I picked up the Daily Intelligencer and read that a small aircraft had crashed soon after takeoff in an Iowa cornfield in a snowstorm on Feb. 3, 1959, claiming the lives of young musicians Buddy Holly (“That’ll Be the Day/Peggy Sue”) Ritchie Valens (“Oh, Donna/Come On, Let’s Go”) and The Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson (“Chantilly Lace/Big Bopper’s Wedding”) along with the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Every year, on the first Friday night in February, I played one or more selections by these artists, followed by “Three Stars” by Tommy Dee (Tommy Donaldson), a tribute song that came out immediately after their deaths. Tommy Dee (Tommy Donaldson) was a disc jockey in San Bernadino, Calif. After the plane crash, he got the idea for the song and took it to Crest Records, where he recorded it with Carol Kay and The Teen-Aires. Dee did the narration on the song. It went on to peak at #11 on the music charts, but you’ll never hear it played today on commercial radio stations.

This is why I made a point to pay tribute on the show to these artists on the anniversary of their deaths as one way of keeping their memories alive. In fact, I made special effort to play selections each time another 50’s artist joined that great street corner harmony choir in the sky. Now, with the demise of the “Jukebox,” I need to find other outlets to keep this good old gold and pay tribute to these pioneer music artists.

The time was right, however, to declare with The Spaniels, “Good Night, Sweetheart, Well, It’s Time to God” while the show was still fun to do. The decision was mine, not a directive from station management.

Yes, I’m obviously having musical withdrawal pains. It’s clear to me that “One Fine Day,” a la The Chiffons, I will need to hunker up again to the studio console, open the microphone and unfold my telescope tongue: “I’m Jim Bishop thanking you for the pleasure of your company and reminding you to keep your love lights burning ‘til the end of time.”

Whatever program format might evolve, I’ll likely close with a song I often ended the “Friday Night Jukebox” with – “The End” by Earl Grant.

And, like the song asserts, wish that this musical love affair will go on ‘til the end . . . of time.”

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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