All Hand-Mixed Vinyl

Got to get the needle in the groove!

Folks, you can stop taking your protein pills and take your helmets off because, for the time being, FITZHUGH’S ALL HAND MIXED VINYL is no longer on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio.  Thanks to the late, great George Taylor Morris and the former Deep Tracks PD, Earle Bailey, we had a great run of five years on the DEEP TRACKS and we may yet return. OR we might end up PODCASTING the shows.  You can still read about them, imagine how good they sound by looking at the set lists and show commentaries:

Set lists are HERE.

I’ve still got the All Hand Mixed Vinyl and Way Back Studio page on FACEBOOK, so drop by and be our friend.  We can still TALK about music…

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/All-Hand-Mixed-Vinyl-The-Way-Back-Studios/291908605832

By the way, if you’re looking for the SET LISTS, you’ll notice the button up there on the right.  There are 145 or so shows, so if you’re looking for a specific song or artist, it might be quicker to use the search function.  If that doesn’t work, send me an email and I’ll get you an answer.  To become a FRIEND of The Way Back Studios and All Hand Mixed Vinyl on FACEBOOK.  Click HERE!

Here’s how the show came to be in the first place…

It happened like this: Every Tuesday while I was researching and writing “Radio Activity” my pal D. Victor Hawkins would come over for what came to be known as “Tuesdays, ‘Tinis and Tunes.” (Victor and I worked together at WZZQ-FM in Jackson, Mississippi many years ago. We both ended up moving to LA to write. He did TV, I ended up in the book racket.)

Anyway, Victor and I would sit in the Way Back Studios every Tuesday, drinking martinis and figuring out fun segues with the music from that era of FM rock radio. In time, we made a lot of ‘em. After “Radio Activity” was published, George Taylor Morris, then the program director of the Deep Tracks channel read the book and got the sense that I knew what I was talking about. A mutual acquaintance (Greg Bell, who programs the Radio Classics channel) introduced George and me, and we had a chat. We seemed to hit it off. Just for fun I sent him a collection of the sets of songs we’d been compiling in The Way Back Studios. Next thing I knew, we were working out the details of the show.

This is the greatest gig in radio.

It’s called “Fitzhugh’s All Hand-Mixed Vinyl” because it’s all mixed by hand, the way a deejay used to work on the air. It’s not ALL vinyl, but there’s a lot of it. (Some of it’s pretty scratchy too.) But it IS all Hand-Mixed, no ProTools or other editing platform. You either hit the segue on the fly or you miss it. It’s a high wire act, just like being on the air used to be.

When is it on? NEW SHOW TIMES: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays at 9 PM Pacific (10 Mountain, 11 Central, Midnight in the east).  And Friday mornings at 8:30 Pacific (9:30 Mountain, 10:30 Central, and 11:30 Eastern).

So right about now you may be asking yourself, what is this All Hand Mixed Vinyl?

Every week, I’ll do a new set of tunes, roughly 26 minutes long. The key is how they fit together. In the old days (when FM rock radio was called Free Form or Progressive or Underground, and even the early days of AOR) the jock, often just trying to keep him or herself entertained, would find creative ways to transition from one song to another. I grew up listening to WJDX-FM (which later became WZZQ-FM where I worked). One guy who worked there, name of Bruce Owen, had a couple of great segues that I remember. One of them went from Johnny Rivers into the Beatles. In his song “Summer Rain,” Rivers sings a line about how everybody just kept on playing Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That’s followed by the drum lick from Sgt. Pepper which lets you to go seamlessly into the Beatles (if you hit it right). One minute you’re sitting there singing along with Johnny Rivers, the next thing you know, the Beatles are on and you’re thinking, “Whoa! That was cool.”

That’s what Fitzhugh’s All Hand-Mixed Vinyl is about. Finding ways to put songs together in ways that make you smile or shake your head or look at the radio to see if the station changed on its own — and on the beat no less.

But I’ve taken it a bit further, finding ways to build longer sets, instead of just doing two-song-segues. There are a lot of ways to do this. One type of mix is to work with songs that have “false endings.” For example: George Harrison’s “What is Life” and Badfingers “No Matter What” – they both do the usual verse-chorus-verse thing but then they stop. Two, three, four. Then the guitar returns and the song finishes. On All Hand-Mixed Vinyl, I’ll find another song to insert in the false ending, preferably something that sounds like what you were expecting. And eventually we’ll return to the end of whatever song we left (but only if it works).

Sometimes it’s just a note from a guitar or a piano, or it’s a chord that’s the same at the end of one song and at the beginning of another. Sometimes it’s a mix of the sound effects that are on records (e.g., storm sound effects used on The Who’s “Quadrophenia” mix nicely with the effects on Gino Vannelli’s “Storm at Sunup”). The list goes on and on.

When my HarperCollins Publicist was writing a press release as part of the publicity campaign for All Hand-Mixed Vinyl, she asked why I thought now was the right time for me to return to the airwaves…

I said I didn’t think it was a matter so much of now being the right time for me to return to the airwaves. It’s not as if radio has been trying to lure me back ever since I left. It’s more that, by and large, terrestrial radio has no use for someone with my particular skills. That’s just how terrestrial radio has evolved. When I first worked in FM rock radio, the jock was still free to select and sequence the music in addition to being an “on air personality.” By the time I left radio (about ten years later), the selection of music had been taken out of the hands of the deejay and turned over to consultants who reduced the library of songs from thousands to a couple of hundred. Songs that would be played over and over so that there was always a “familiar” song on the air. By the way, this sort of radio programming wasn’t designed to inspire you or even entertain you, it was designed simply to keep you from changing the station.

How depressing is that job?

You can’t raise the hair on anyone’s neck with that kind of radio. But if you play the right songs in the right order, you can make people move. Or smile or laugh or shake their heads, thinking, “That sounded cool!”

Anyway, the sequencing of songs became a moot point since rock radio stations rarely, if ever, play two or more songs in a row without commercial breaks or station I.D.s jammed in between, breaking the flow of the music. For the most part, today’s classic rock deejays aren’t allowed to do anything more than read liner cards between songs or going into and coming out of spot breaks.

An interesting sidebar to consider is that (except to the extent that programmers sequenced songs to vary the tempo within each hour) paying attention to the sequencing of music was never a characteristic of any other radio format (Top 40, country, rap, jazz, blues, whatever). In other words, the art of the transition from one song to the next – the SEGUE – was strictly an FM rock radio phenomenon.

In nightclubs, deejays rely on segues to keep the momentum going from one song to the next. Of course it’s much easier to do segues using dance music (whether it’s disco or trance or hip hop) because it’s a simple matter of finding songs with roughly the same number of beats-per-minute and pitching the turntables up or down to match the beats in order to make a seamless transition. To do that with the FM rock library takes a different set of skills. First of all you have to know the library and second you have to have an ear for it. The first time I heard Brian Prothroe’s song “Enjoy It”, I knew it would make a great segue out of (but not into) Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote.”

It’s not the cure to cancer, but it beats hearing Free Bird again.

One of the brilliant things about Sirius-XM Satellite Radio in general (and Deep Tracks specifically) is that they allow people who know what they’re doing, to do it.

And that’s the main reason this is the right time for me to return to radio.

Terrestrial radio music research is NOT designed to find songs that people like a lot, because their research suggests that songs one segment of the audience really like are songs that another segment of the audience strongly dislike. The research is designed to find songs that most people DON’T DISLIKE enough to change the station (and the “familiar” songs you hear repeated endlessly fit this requirement).

Another way of looking at it is that, with the exception of college and public stations, terrestrial radio is, and always has been, a commercial delivery system that simply uses music to lure audiences. So whereas terrestrial radio is dedicated to commercials (that’s what pays the bills), Sirius-XM and Deep Tracks are dedicated to the music and the listeners pay the bills, cutting out the middleman.