Unlike the first five books which are stand-alone novels, Radio Activity starts a series featuring classic rock DJ (and soon-to-be amateur sleuth) Rick Shannon.
The premise: We meet Rick as he’s having an early mid-life crisis. He’s lived in fifteen cities in twenty years, most recently, Bismarck, North Dakota. He thinks it may be time to change professions. Problem is, Rick has no other marketable skills. He’s an unemployed FM rock DJ from a bygone era, an era before play-list consultants and media consolidation, an era when the music mattered.
Just as Rick begins selling off his record collection, a job offer comes from a small station in his home state of Mississippi where a DJ recently stopped showing up for work. A simple night shift, easy money. Rick drives 1,600 miles only to find that the General Manager lied (not that such things ever happen). Rick has to do the morning show and be the program director, or he can stay unemployed. Rick takes the job and sets about fixing the classic rock format. His first rule: No more ‘Stairway To Heaven.’
Rick soon discovers an audio tape that might explain the disappearance of the DJ he replaced and he decides to look into the matter. The result is a learn-as-you-go investigation that points to blackmail, murder, arson, and conspiracy. Suspects literally come out of the woods, ranging from a divorcée who rents construction equipment to a former local beauty pageant queen (Miss Tire & Auto Parts) to the station’s general manager and the president of a local personal finance business (who has unusual ideas about collateral).
Meanwhile, Rick falls for Traci, the receptionist at the station whose excessive eye make up drives him wild. He soon discovers Traci has theories about the missing DJ and the two of them partner up and start poking around, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Realizing he’s found his new profession, Rick assumes a false identity: Buddy Miles, PI, naming himself after the one-time drummer for Jimi Hendrix. Rick and Traci quickly find themselves neck deep in a zig-zagging investigation involving insurance fraud, murder-for-hire, major FCC violations, and the peculiar sexual habits of a local businessman.
When the GM starts making not-so-veiled threats about people who don’t mind their own business, Rick decides to go for broke and keep asking questions. Is the Dixie Mafia involved? What happened to the missing DJ? Who keeps breaking the window out of Rick’s truck? And what is the secret ingredient in the Tater Wads they serve at Kitty’s Road Cafe?
Before it’s over, Rick has redefined Classic Rock and solved the mystery. Trust me, it rocks.
IT’S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL
I’ve always loved pop and rock music. I grew up in Jackson, MS, listening to Top 40 stations WWUN (‘The Mighty 1590’) and WRBC (‘Thirteen, WRBC, The Good Guys, Rebel Radio’ — RBC stood for Rebel Broadcasting Company, I think). This was before FM was widely used as a commercial band. When the FM band started being used as a commercial outlet it was usually for classical stations. (For an overview history of FM ‘underground’ radio, read Jim Ladd’s ‘Radio Waves’ or the Washington Post Magazine article from 1/19/03 by Frank Ahrens titled, ‘Can XM Put Radio Back Together Again?’)
In any event, the way I heard it, a couple of guys from Jackson who had heard this new ‘underground, free form’ FM radio format in San Francisco (I’m assuming they heard the famous Tom Donahue) brought the format back to Jackson and went to Lamar Life Broadcasting and suggested they give it a try. This became WJDX-FM, among the country’s earliest and best free form rock stations — and one of the last, as far as I know. They later changed the call letters to WZZQ-FM and I eventually ended up working on the air just as the station was making a switch from ‘free form’ to the format that came to be known as AOR (Album Oriented Radio).
Eventually, consultants (starting with Lee Abrams) sold mass market research to radio station management and essentially ruined FM rock radio. The play lists got tighter and the format became more or less Top 40 with a different set of artists, so I moved on.
Flash forward a couple of decades and it occurs to me that I should set a comic murder mystery in the world of ‘classic rock’ radio. Enter Fitzhugh’s All Hand Mixed Vinyl.
Many years ago, I committed a state and a federal crime. I didn’t realize it at the time but, as they say, ignorance is no excuse. Here’s the ‘trailer’ I produced for the book.
The crime? I illegally recorded a phone conversation. It lasted about six minutes and thirty seconds. And it’s fabulous. Flash forward some years and I decide that, you know what? Crime CAN pay. So I used the tape (verbatim, except for names) as the center point of a blackmail scheme. Not a REAL blackmail scheme, a fictional one. The result: RADIO ACTIVITY. A book that is available for free in the Kindle lending library and is a downright bargain if you just gotta own it.
It’s the first of two “Rick Shannon” novels (the second being Highway 61 Resurfaced). The books follow a disillusioned FM rock deejay, a guy who remembers what the radio world was like before deregulation, when rock stations played thousands of songs, not the same 200 over and over and over.
In any event, Rick finds this TAPE… And before you can say, ‘I’m sick and tired of hearing Free Bird’ Rick has become an amateur sleuth. And, as if that’s not enough, Rick and his staff redefine ‘classic rock.’
My dear friend (and best-selling writer), Jill Conner Browne said the book is “Fast, funny, and fabulous. This is Fitzhugh’s finest, and that’s saying a lot!”
Thanks, Jill. Then it was time to write Rick Shannon’s next adventure. It opens in Vicksburg, MS and takes us through most of the Mississippi Delta and a lot of blues history. So, what did the New York Times say?
“Fitzhugh’s satire isn’t subtle, but it’s hilarious – and dead on. In sending Rick [Shannon] up and down the Delta in search of Blind Buddy Cotton, Crippled Willie Jefferson, Crazy Earl Tate and the missing tape of their collaboration. . . Fitzhugh treats us to a tragicomic tour of regional black-and-blues history. Fitzhugh, born and reared in Mississippi, has a belly full of feeling for the songs and legends of his Southern musical heritage. But where he really shows his artistry is in his richly comic, warmly affectionate character studies of battered old men with long experience in living – not just playing – the blues.”
The New York Times
But my favorite review was from the great music writer, Greil Marcus, who said “A lost tapes mystery — all blues mysteries are lost-tapes mysteries — but unlike the rest, this pays off with a climax so rich you want to hear the tapes as much as the people hunting them down.”
You gotta like that!