Late Night Radio

In the month of February WNYC is treating us with The Jazz Loft Anthology, rebroadcasts of Sara Fishko’s amazing 10-part series.  Her assembled segments are running every Monday night in February at 10pm.  We love this nocturnal schedule.  I’d estimate that 80% of Smith’s tape work was done after dark, maybe more.  Virtually all of the jazz sessions were at night – or deep morning.  Even when he was recording things off radio and TV, or when he was recording phone calls or random loft sounds, most of the time it was at night.  Maybe that’s when he was drinking the most scotch and pounding amphetamine pills?  Maybe it was simpler than that; maybe the most unique sounds are at night.  The daytime is normal; amateur hour.  Who knows?

This appeals to me.  I spend a lot of time listening to WFAN sports radio out of New York City late at night.  For twenty years we’ve been able to pick it up down here in North Carolina after dark.  Other than the summer of 1988 I’ve never lived in New York but I’ve felt at home there since I was fourteen.  I’ve made ninety-three trips to the city as part of this project.  Back home, almost every night I listen to at least a few minutes of WFAN.  It connects me to the city.  Sometimes it’s right before I go to bed.  Other times it’s 3am when I’m suddenly awake and trying to fall back to sleep.  WFAN’s nighttime hosts Steve Somers and Tony Paige are sublime.  Somers is a brilliant comedian.  Sometimes Paige will have legendary, 83 year-old saxophonist Lou Donaldson call into his show in the wee hours after Lou is done with a gig at the Village Vanguard.  Lou will talk about the gig but more often they talk about baseball or boxing or whatever.  Lou was a highly regarded third baseman in a semi-pro Negro league in his hometown of Badin, North Carolina.  Hearing them makes you glad to be alive and awake.  I hope their conversations are being recorded and preserved.

Sara Fishko and I once had a conversation about WFAN.  It’s one of the places where vernacular is alive and well.  24 hour sports radio was considered preposterous before WFAN began circa 1988.  Now every city has at least one all-sports station.  Here in Raleigh-Durham we have two excellent ones with top notch local sports talk.

Sara told me she had the idea one time of a 24-hour arts talk radio station.  There’d be some planned programming, concerts, etc., the same way sports talk stations have live games.  But the arts station would be mostly interview and live call-in shows.  I got excited about this.  Can you imagine some fanatic in Queens or the Bronx calling into the station at 3am to argue over whether some unknown viola player in Argentina was better than the terrific Lesley Robertson of the St. Lawrence String Quartet?  It would be fantastic.

-Sam Stephenson

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