I think about what my life would have been like without radio growing up. Kids today! Sure they have their cool shit going on. They can blink and make songs appear in their palm. That's too easy though. And no damn fun!
Kids are missing important things in life, like patience leading to the payoff. Special moments with music. I think way back, sitting in my room, not doing homework, thinking about the girl I was too nervous to talk to at school, trying to make that “VH” logo on my math book cover look better. I waited, knowing in my heart it was coming. I had waited all day for those few minutes.
My parents were shouting from downstairs asking me to do some type of chore. “Yeah, alright! Wait a minute! I’m trying to record this song on the radio.” They would wait for me as I waited for this music. Then, this scruffy voice DJ making no dollars an hour introduced the new Van Halen song and at that moment... nothing else in the world mattered. Not that girl at school, not my homework or what my parents wanted. Hearing that song meant everything. It was that simple. Those moments were that impactful. That person on the air brought that to me. He gifted me this song that made me feel like I could do anything. Until that moment, I had zero access to that song. No way to stream it. You waited and kids, the waiting... was the best part. Trust me.
Those moments are mostly gone now as music is made instantly available. In a way, that's unfortunate. You can hold out your hand and catch any song you want. Those DJ’s are mostly gone too, but miraculously there is still one here and there for us living the right way on the the dial.
We’re lucky to have one around us on the biggest rock station in northern New England. He’s been called, “The Last DJ” by some and I’ve been lucky enough to work 12 feet from him for the past 12 years. When I listen to him do his thing, I love radio.
“Tommy C” Carbone from 102.9 WBLM (Portland) is what we love about radio. He’s not selling you anything. He’s not there to pull your chain or talk down to you. He loves those musty stacks of records behind him and actually plays them a lot. He knows music. He knows the best music. He makes real radio every weekday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
During my times at WCYY, whenever I needed a break from whatever the Chilli Peppers just put out, I’d slide into BLM and watch Tommy do his thing. Usually barefoot when he’s on air; he shuffles around like he’s catching waves or he’s doing the cha-cha. No headphones. One hand cupped over his ear neglecting any technology to let him hear better. Holding the mic in his hand like he’s about to croon. “Let’s see what’s ccccccooking, in the kitchen for today’s classic lunch hour.”
Normally you leave him alone when he’s on, cause, you just do. It’s Tommy C! You don’t bring any drama or hang ups to him while he’s on. When he’s on, those hours are his. Ours. We need nothing else getting in the way.
Born in Haverhill, Mass., this former saxophonist cut his radio teeth in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the mid ‘70’s. I used to hear him on WGIR in Manchester, N.H. when I was a kid. He made his way to Maine by way of Sanford to WCDQ in the 80’s. Then in November 1986, Tommy was hired at WBLM. Yes folks, last month was Tommy’s 30th anniversary on the “rock ‘n‘ roll blimp.” Every single day Tommy’s show pumps out of some busted old radio in a garage in Oxford or in a truck hauling something heavy from Bath to Oxford. He’s there day after day on the station that's been there for Mainers day after day. That's comforting. He loves the old TV show WKRP in Cincinnati and you can feel the “Fever” from Tommy sometimes if you pay close attention.
Hey, I understand the times. I worked full time in radio for just 11 years, but I know what's been happening. You can lose faith in radio at times, but you shouldn’t lose faith in everyone in radio. Certainly not in Tommy C. Which means, rock radio still has a good shot. Which means there’s also a good shot more kids will be ignoring their parents and waiting to hear that 30-year-old Van Halen song do the same to them. Of course, they’ll be streaming movies on their iPad and texting while they wait, but they’ll wait, and it will be so good when it happens.
Do you remember the first time you listened to the radio when something completely knocked you over? A voice, a song, a moment, a report?
Knocked over by the first time I ever heard "Honky Tonk Women." I was in the back seat of our neighbor's car. We were on our way to Carter's Ice Cream Stand and they had 68/WRKO-AM on.
This song came on I'd never heard before. Hypnotized from the cowbell-get-go. It was like I was on another planet. Nothing else mattered, no one else knew. When it was over, I returned to Earth, looked around and thought, "Did anybody else just hear THAT? Did anyone else just FEEL THAT?!?!" This is likely what some people experience when they say they were born again.
Can you give me two of your favorite radio interviews over the years?
No. 1: Yoko Ono. Completely charming. She talked to me like we were old friends. I just about fell in love.
No. 2: Dan Castelleneta, the voice of Homer Simpson. Goosebumps, every once in a while during our talk he would simply become Homer. Very surreal and unforgettable.
Who are some of the radio hosts you admire or have looked up to you over your years?
Two of the original WBCN jocks, Maxanne Sartori (afternoon drive) and late nights with Zircon John Brody. They turned me on to Sparks and Bruce Springsteen, way, way, way before the rest of the world knew who they were. They also made an art-form out of segues; a great radio tradition that is sadly missed. The old, "What's next? How did we get here?" way of putting together fully-thought-out-sets of music. They were fantastic, those two. People listening to the radio today have no idea what they're missing.
You're a serious music fan and to me, that's what makes a true DJ. Aside from the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame acts you play daily, what other bands outside of the BLM catalog rock your world?
Beyond BLM, I've always admired old-schoolers like The Andrews Sisters who were probably the best vocal group of all-time in any known universe. Spine-tingling talent. As a former saxophonist, I'm always turned-on by like Phil Woods and Paul Desmond. They played like the instrument was invisible. Just as if they were painting or sculpting sounds out of thin air. Really supremely gifted players.
Ok, the next five songs on BLM are of your choosing. What do you play?
"Don't Look Back In Anger" by Oasis. "Can't You See That She's Mine" by The Dave Clark Five. "Dead End Street" by The Kinks. "Hot House Of Omagarashid" by The Yardbirds and "Stuck On You" by Elvis.