with Clint Maedgen
One Man Machine
and Good Guys
Veteran WTUL DJ and anniversary-weekend planner Karen "Miss Conduct" Misconish interviews jazz and blues guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer in the studio.
Spin the history dial of WTUL 91.5 FM — Tulane University's irrepressible, freeform college radio station, currently celebrating 50 years of progressive modulation — and you're likely to land in some unexpected places. The studio booth of Ernie K-Doe, for example. The Emperor of the Universe beamed out his squealing "Burn K-Doe Burn" set on Thursday nights in the 1990s. (Disc jockey words of wisdom: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it.") If you were tuned in to WTUL on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, a student DJ named Jerry Springer informed you the president had been shot.
Then there are the two unlikeliest, and most infamous, field locales of all. In the station's pre-FM, carrier-current days, a DJ using a prophylactic-wrapped microphone broadcast an overnight pirate program from his dorm-room shower stall. Another staged an around-the-clock ransom scheme from the rooftop of the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life.
Fans of WTUL's annual "Rock On Survival Marathon" fundraiser, which kicks off Thursday and runs through March 23, have these college radio pioneers to thank.
"The man in the shower with the condom and the man on the roof are [our] founding fathers," says Rachel Wenzel, a Tulane senior and the station's general manager. "We were trying to raise the money (to switch to FM), and this guy started broadcasting from the roof of the LBC and said he wouldn't get down until student affairs gave him the money. This is where we got the 24-hour DJ weekend."
"The first Marathon is steeped in legend and myth," says marathon director Phil Rollins, a 2006 Tulane alum. "All of them are apocryphal, obviously. Even the '50th' is shrouded in the mists of time. We're relatively confident this is our 50th anniversary."
Regardless of the actual number, the planned festivities befit a half-centennial. They include a spate of local and national concerts (led by Denver rock band Crooked Fingers at All Ways Lounge, formerly Cowpokes, on Friday), a seventh annual Songs From the Basement CD-release party (Saturday at the Saturn Bar), and the Alumni Weekend (Thursday-Sunday), in which more than 70 DJs from decades past will take turns hijacking the studio.
"After the storm, so many people who had been there such a long time dispersed," Rollins says. "This is the first opportunity we've had to bring them back into the station and show them our new digs. Sometimes with an organization that's moving people through at such a quick clip, I think, the history of the whole thing can get lost."
The fundraising goal is $50,000 (for 50 years), but as with the anniversary, Rollins says that, too, is a soft figure: "Typically, I think, we're somewhere around $30,000." That fuel has to last the whole year, however, as the Marathon is WTUL's primary source of funding. Like the rest of the station's staff, some of whom date back to the 1970s, Rollins and Wenzel are volunteers.
"I think we fill a niche that nobody else around does," Rollins says. "New Orleans is a great radio market, for sure. But the stuff that we do is not going to be filled by anybody else. We spin records that are loved by maybe two people. But for those two people, those records are the greatest things on earth."
WTUL Alumni Weekend
Thu.-Sun., March 5-8
WTUL 91.5 FM
Crooked Fingers with Clint Maedgen
10 p.m. Fri., March 6
All Ways Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., 947-0505; www.cowpokesno.biz
WTUL CD-Release Party feat. One Man Machine, Good Guys and others
10 p.m. Sat., March 7
Saturn Bar, 3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532