On Racist College Radio Playlists, 1981

Wrote this for my college newspaper (the weekly extracurricular not daily Journalism School one) about University of Missouri-Columbia’s student-run radio station when I was 20. Sometime before, I’d been invited on as a guest of KCOU’s Sunday night new wave show and for some reason the host didn’t show up, so I wound up spinning Prince and Grace Jones and Grandmaster Flash songs with only an engineer there to help me, until the music director physically came down to the station and removed me from the air since dreaded “disco” wasn’t allowed. When I tried to include this piece in my fourth book, some clueless faculty administrator representing the maneater insisted on charging me $50 to reprint it (only time that’s ever happened), so I left it out. I apologize for the fuzzy appearance and even the callow tone. But I was still, obviously, right — and the music director later admitted as such (quite possibly in print as a letter the editor, I forget the specifics). I’d like to think I changed something for the better.

4 comments

  1. via facebook:

    John Ned
    Chuck Eddy Maneater? A Hall and Oates themed newspaper? Seriously though, was there any student reaction?

    Chuck Eddy
    Not that I remember, off hand. Though the station at least theoretically changed its ways soon after.

    Tom Lunt
    Which campus? What year?

    Chuck Eddy
    That’s all up there! Columbia, 1981. (I graduated with a J degree and Army commission in ’82.)

    Tom Lunt
    Chuck Eddy I lived there, but much earlier.

    Jody Rosen
    Precocious as hell! Great piece in every way.

    Steve Pick
    I do remember those times – in a weird way, you foretold the changes in pop music which would hit just a few years later, as rap and dance forms and r&b would mix once again (for a little while) with rock. I don’t remember if our local college radio station – Washington University’s KWUR being the closest comp to the Mizzou station – played any of this music. If they did, it would have been segregated away from the rock shows of the time. I do remember that by 1981, most of my New Wave friends were excited by rap and funk.

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  2. via facebook:

    Ron Warnick
    I do remember 1984 being rather large in ending those music color lines, as Michael Jackson’s and Prince’s albums both blew up that year and any radio station would look foolish if they didn’t play them.
    I remember having conversations a few years later about Fishbone and Living Colour and whether black people could rock. Yes, the question sounds even more ludicrous now than it did then. Like Little Richard and Chuck Berry didn’t exist?

    Chuck Eddy
    I’m still unclear on to what extent even “When Doves Cry,” say, and “Beat It’ (and Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” etc.) got played on actual AOR stations around the country. At the time, I still assumed it wasn’t much at all.

    Jordon Zadorozny
    Chuck Eddy I listened to all of those songs on top 40 AM stations exclusively. I remember the local AOR station playing “Sign O’ The Times” once on their “new release” show and then dropping it.

    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, that’s pretty much how I remember it. I often hear nowadays how Prince and/or Michael Jackson broke AOR’s color barrier, but I still haven’t been convinced that that’s not a wishful thinking myth.

    Michaelangelo Matos
    “Beat It” peaked at #14 on the Rock Tracks chart.

    Adam Sobolak
    AOR in its commercial form didn’t really count, because it was already “supremacist” by design. Where it really mattered was the traditional big-tent pop formats (which had been just as complicit in leaving off the Prince and Rick James early in the decade) and the KROQ/campus “alternative axis” (inclusive, one presumes, of KCOU). And when it came to the latter, they actually “came to” fairly quickly, perhaps because they were noticing the buzz about this very issue in the “tastemaker” rock press and thought to themselves, gee, maybe we’d better loosen up on this disco-sucks thing. Thus a lot of the kinds of alt-outlets and realms that were boycotting Rick James and Prince in 1981 quickly did their homework and were playing Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” in 1982 and came to gladly embrace George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” by the time 1983 rolled around–or at that point, if “alternative” outlets shrunk at playing Prince or Michael Jackson, it’d be on the same “commercial, maaan” terms that they came to shrink at playing Blondie or Cheap Trick by 1980…

    Chuck Eddy
    Was not aware (and am skeptical) of Top 40 stations not playing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (or “Little Red Corvette”) or “Super Freak,” Adam. And Michaelangelo, I guess I could have looked that up myself. And I think you’ve probably pointed out that chart peak before (maybe in your new book). Am curious, though, how regional MJ’s rock airplay was, and to what extent “Beat It” was a fluke in the format — or if not, what specific songs by Black artists it may have opened the floodgates for.

    Michaelangelo Matos
    “Running with the Night” was one.

    Chuck Eddy
    Wikipedia doesn’t seem to list US Rock peaks for singles by Prince, Run-DMC, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock or Michael Jackson for that matter. (It does list US Country peaks for Lionel, fwiw — “Stuck On You” got to #24, “Deep River Woman” with Alabama to #10.)

    Adam Sobolak
    When it comes to Top 40, it was that big gap btw/ “I Wanna Be Your Lover” in 1979 (when Prince could still pass as just another twilight-of-disco R&B-Top 40 crossover act) and “Little Red Corvette” in 1983 that matters. And as for “Super Freak”, that really had to be promo-force-fed onto Top 40, and even that was only good for mid-teens Billboard-wise after pop radio balked at “Give It To Me Baby”–the Hot 100 was at its peak post-disco “white flight” moment in the earliest Reagan era, when Top 40 programmers seemed really eager to “build the wall” against anything too non-ballady R&B: “Burn Rubber”, “Fantastic Voyage”, etc. (Ten years later, the dynamic reversed itself–as Top 40 came to be increasingly defined by the “rhythmic”, the heartland-guided marketplace said programmers had been catering to fled for country and made Garth Brooks a superstar.)

    Jaz Jacobi
    Chuck Eddy
    “Running with the Night” Rock #49
    “Beat It” Rock #14
    “Thriller” Rock #42
    “Say Say Say” Rock #24
    “Little Red Corvette” Rock #17
    “When Doves Cry” Rock #31
    “Let’s Go Crazy” Rock #19
    “Purple Rain” Rock #18
    “Raspberry Beret” #40
    No Mainstream Rock chart entries for Herbie Hancock or Run-D.M.C.

    Jaz Jacobi
    Oh, and:
    “State of Shock” by Jacksons [with Mick Jagger], Rock #42

    Chuck Eddy
    Jaz Jacobi Where did you get these? That’s quite a list.

    Jaz Jacobi
    Joel Whitburn’s ROCK TRACKS book

    Jaz Jacobi
    Also: “Ghosbusters” Rock #38
    w
    Jaz Jacobi
    Philip Bailey with Phil Collins, “Easy Lover,” Rock #5 !!!

    Chuck Eddy
    “The Other Woman”? “Easy Lover”? (xp!) “Dead Giveaway”? “Misled”? (If those weren’t on rock stations, they sure should have been.)

    Jaz Jacobi
    “Dead Giveaway” Rock #41 !

    Jaz Jacobi
    I started listening to pop music in 1984, and I felt kind of intimidated by guitar rock at first. I think “Misled” might have been the most “metal” record I owned at that age, give or take a track or two on the Go-Go’s’ TALK SHOW album.

    Jaz Jacobi
    Neither “The Other Woman” or “Misled” made the Mainstream Rock charts. More’s the pity. 🙁

    Jaz Jacobi
    However, “Electric Avenue” Rock #12, if that counts?

    Jaz Jacobi
    One way AOR embraced sort of “rapping” before CHR was onboard in a big way:
    Falco, “Der Kommissar” Rock #22
    [maybe AOR stations didn’t know enough about hip-hop yet to shun anything that had even a whiff of attempting something like “Sie sagt: Sugar sweet, you gotta rappin’ to the beat”]

    Jaz Jacobi
    When I got this Rock Tracks book, I was a little taken aback that these songs had made the AOR charts, in addition to a pretty huge number of new wave tracks. In my midwestern/white-majority market, the AOR station was much too lockstep in meat-and-potatoes rock mode to play anything off-model or unpredictable–their idea of diversity was playing Pat Benatar or Heart instead of Loverboy or REO. The sort of station where the first version of “Raspberry Beret” ever heard was sung by Warren Zevon.

    Adam Sobolak
    “Tonight” (basically, the best song Paul Rodgers never did) was even more thoroughly “rock” than “Misled”.
    Let’s remember, though, that sometimes due to marketplace reasons, a lot of the “rock” stations reporting these tracks were probably only tenuously “rock”–when it came to airplay, it was a matter of being, uh, caught btw/ a rock and a hard place…

    Jaz Jacobi
    By the ’90s, the rise of “alternative rock” stations seemed to sway the content of the Mainstream Rock chart pretty heavily into a only tenuously AOR direction as well…

    Jaz Jacobi
    Going through the book some more, Tina Turner had about 4 Rock chart hits in the ’80s [interestingly NOT the Mark Knofler-written one, but obviously including the Bryan Adams duet], though I guess you could make a case that she had more ties to “classic rock” tastemaking than most ’80s black musicians…

    Chuck Eddy
    What about “Pass the Dutchie”? “Mama Used to Say”? Also, when does the book begin? Curious whether Stevie Wonder or War, say, ever rock-charted in the late ’70s, assuming there was even a rock chart then.

    Adam Sobolak
    “Mama Used To Say” came when at least the campus/alternative sphere was coming back around to such fare (spring/summer ’82 was when they started to soften a little). “Pass The Dutchie” was later, and was “validated” as a UK quasi-novelty (sort of like a modern version of earlier reggae crossovers like “The Israelites” and “Double Barrel”). And Wonder and War probably *would* have rock-charted, though the energy to do so would have petered out after 1977 or so–heck, KC & The Sunshine Band probably would have rock-charted in their prime, too. (But IIRC Billboard didn’t actually have an album-rock *track* list until c1980)

    Adam Sobolak
    Also, it’s worth considering the transitional state of rock formats in the late 70s; and there was still an impulse to bow to a certain prog/fusion gentility—that is, Wonder and War being “acceptable” on the same terms as Weather Report. (And EW&F was better at playing that particular game than P-Funk, who probably just seemed too unruly: insufficiently “yacht”, if you will.)
    Wouldn’t be surprised if as goes such rock radio (or even pop radio in general, at least in the “heartland”) Steve Dahl had a “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” effect—that is, it wasn’t so much that such stations suddenly discovered that “disco sucks”, as they were now receiving tons of hate mail and death threats to that effect…previously, “disco sucks” was more of a benign thing…

    Jaz Jacobi
    I recently found a copy of this promo comic book STARRING Steve Dahl, where he battles “Discoman”!

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  3. via facebook:

    Mark Kemp
    Chuck Eddy God, I so love middle-finger pieces like this. You were SO right, and you were right about it early on, when most rockist critics (myself included) still completely missed the point of disco (which, of course, I love and respect now, and have compiled a great Spotify disco playlist, linked below if you’re interested). Thanks for sharing this piece. Wish you’d sprung the $50 for it to be in your book.

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    One thing to know about me, Mark — I’m cheap. (Also not someone to surrender to ridiculous demands. Though if it’s any consolation, I now consider the Eliminated For Reasons of Space blog my “fifth book”. Or the blueprint for one, at least.)

    Alfred Soto
    badge icon
    It lacks the flash of your work just three years later, but, damn, I’d have read this as A&E editor of my college paper and resigned so you could take the job.

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    I did argue my case well, I think.

    Edd Hurt
    I did a radio show in college 1980, and when I played Johnnie Taylor, Chic and Detroit Emeralds disco stuff the phone would light up.

    Edd Hurt
    I told one irate caller, man, that is Willie Mitchell you are bitching about. He did like Al Green.

    Sara Quell
    Kerry Don’t Wayward 2 Night https://youtu.be/DGg7sVhB89M

    Edd Hurt
    I played D.C. LaRue, Tea Dance, in 1980, and people did seem to like it, cause I played it almost every week

    Edd Hurt
    Just a great piece. Thanks!!

    Sara Quell
    TTC lyric unfortunate. ELO and Toby Beau would’ve made better rhyming examples of mindless entertainment, as would Sheryl Crowe or Sebadoh had they then existed

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    “Who needs to think when your feet just go” is such a dumb, mind/body-dualist line.

    Sara Quell
    My feet have to be going before I can think at all

    Mark Kemp
    Chuck Eddy Ah, come on, that’s a great line! Beats the hell out of “Back to back, sacroiliac / Spineless movement and a wild attack” followed by all that nonsense about the man from Mars who eats cars.

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    People don’t stop thinking when they dance (or when they listen to Kurtis Blow — what the hell?)

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the song — Just think it’s revealing and kinda creepy that Frantz and Weymouth would’ve distinguished Black music from *thinking* music, like I dunno Talking Heads.

    Mark Kemp
    Chuck Eddy I think that’s stretching it. I hear them saying exactly what the lyric says: Who needs to think when you’re dancing?

    Sara Quell
    https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/…/and…/dancing-and-brain

    Mark Kemp
    Sara Quell Well, I suppose, scientifically, there’s your case. I’m sticking with mindless joy.

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  4. via facebook:

    Kenny Mostern
    I’m mostly fascinated by this from the point of view of having DJed on Georgetown’s WGTU from 1984-87, immediately after this was printed. I’m not sure if the differences were more about Missouri vs. Washington DC, state schools versus private schools, or the rise of indie rock and CMJ that occurred between ’81 and ’84. What I will say is that for me the playlists provided by the station management and the CMJ were much *more* racially exclusionary than that described by Chuck Eddy here, because all-white “college rock” was more firmly and narrowly in place. There was simply no Smokey Robinson or Bob Marley at all. We were supposed to play Costello/Dury/The Clash and such, we were supposed to play music from the Chapel Hill/Athens nexus (R.E.M., Let’s Active, etc.), we were supposed to play the Replacements/Husker Du, we were supposed to play the Slash Records bands. Note this is all music that I love and has felt like “my” music in a way that nothing else ever has or will. I wasn’t complaining about it then or now. And these playlists were supposed to be roughly two thirds of our shift. On the other hand, what I played in the one third of time I wasn’t playing the current CMJ playlist (Washington DC version) was 100% up to me – so I, and maybe a quarter of the other DJs, played Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC and Prince and P-Funk right next to the other stuff and got no flack for it, while the other 75% of the DJs didn’t. And of course there was a token black show, probably even two, where the DJs played go-go and whatever else they wanted to play with no outside interference. Overall, I’m suggesting that in my experience the racism was stronger and more reified – the categories had congealed harder and were snobbier – at the same time that indie rock ideology left more independence for individual DJs to do what they wanted without the station manager rushing down to the station to stop us.

    Peter Stenhouse
    Not many black artists got played on Boston rock radio back then, even on anything-goes WBCN. I remember hearing “A Real Mother for Ya” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson a lot. Later, “Mama Used to Say” by Junior. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Not much else.

    Sara Quell
    Significance of this man can’t be overestimated. “Ghostbusters” was like “‘Suspicious Minds”-era” for me, and pretty much everyone I knew who had good enough taste for me to know them https://www.thelastmiles.com/interviews-ray-parker-jr/

    Chuck Eddy
    Author
    “The Other Woman” should have been a *huge* AOR hit. It’s like the best Bad Company song of the ’80s.

    Sara Quell
    Believe me, where I’m from it was bigger than every Bad Company song combined. Everybody Knows That Was Nowhere but it’s amazing what invisible-market stations could get away with in the early 80s

    Sara Quell
    Just cued it up and Prousting the fuck out. Awww shuxx

    Sara Quell
    I love how the singing is so laid back he makes Snoop Dogg sound like Henry Rollins’ coffee buyer. Amazingly awesome classic

    Chris Kelly
    Awesome, thanks. NC State’s radio station WKNC played only the harshest metal during the 80’s and 90’s. After years of protest they finally started playing rap one night a week after 9pm. Today they sound like most college radio stations, interesting but a bit boring.

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