It gives me great pleasure to start out the week with a blog post not about the pandemic, racial tension, economic woes – or a mashup of those things.
Today, it's Radio 101. And we begin this post with a lot of “friendly voices” and “companions unobtrusive.” If those lyrics have the ring of familiarity, it's because I lifted them from an anthem to radio during a time when not many music superstars are rhapsodizing about our medium.
But then there's Rush – the Canadian trio that first hit the airwaves in the 1970s, remaining a dependable source of great music on Classic Rock stations throughout North America – and the world.
The band called it quits in 2018, and earlier this year, master drummer, Neil Peart, succumbed to brain cancer. While most heritage bands might have tried to replace him and continue touring, Rush's remaining tent poles – Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson – knew better and closed up shop.
But apparently, they weren't done DONE.
Last Friday, they released a tribute video to Peart – and to radio – an animated version of their anthem, “Spirit of Radio,” coinciding with the 40th anniversary of their Permanent Waves album. It's lovingly produced by Fantoons out of L.A.. Rush could have chosen any number of hits to turn into a cartoon. But it had to be “Spirit,” and the way they produced it and tell their story – and radio's story – makes this a true “moment.”
I'll drop in the video here, and then come back with some perspective from a group of very special people who have their own stories to tell – about Rush and about radio.
Guglielmo Marconi in a music video? But that's Rush. And the new video – OK, it's an ANTHEM – “Spirit of Radio” walks us through both the Rush and radio stories – giving special props to David Marsden, the guy behind Toronto's CFNY, the station that used “Spirit of Radio” as their station slogan. The band truly enjoyed listening to the station, and hence, first recorded the song four decades ago.
But other DJs and Rush VIPs are shown in the video – Bob Coburn, Jim Ladd, and Donna Halper (who discovered Rush in the U.S. while she was the Music Director at WMMS/Cleveland).
So, I thought, how do I conceptualize this amazing video – this love letter to radio and to Peart – in a way that does it justice? Friday night, I reached out to a variety of rock radio icons here in the States (and yes, Canada). They are radio and music “gods” in their own right, and I was able to capture their thoughts in words and pictures for this post.
Warning: It's a long one. But if you think of it as your fantasy Facebook feed, where you can literally scroll down to one rock radio legend after another, I hope you'll be entertained. Thanks to all. – FJ
Alan is a music & radio historian, writer, and broadcaster from Canada.
In January 1980, I invited my buddies over to hear the new Rush album. We listened to side one, track one, browsed the lyrics. There was a footnote to the first song: “Inspired by the Spirit of Radio in Toronto, alive and well (so far).”
Cool! My favourite band had written a song about a radio station. Wouldn’t it be cool to work there one day? Six years later, I walked in the door of CFNY-FM as the new all-night person. I eventually made it all the way to PD.
Hanging in my office (and now mysteriously at home) was the platinum record Rush presented to the station. I look at it every once in a while and marvel how hearing a song altered my entire career trajectory—and in fact, my whole life.
Some of the greatest DJs in radio came out of Detroit, including “the casual one,” Ken Calvert. Over the decades, K.C. has entertained on WABX, W4, WRIF, WLLZ, WJR, and WCSX. In the photo below, he's sandwiched in between a couple of vaguely familiar rockers back in '78.
I always loved the line “Invisible airwaves crackle with life,” it simplified the true magic of radio. As a kid I always wondered how it got from that tower in the distance in to my radio. I knew at a very young age that I had to be part of that “Begin the day with a friendly voice.” Being so close to Canada the ‘South Detroiters’ had a big part of early success in the Detroit market.
(I can name that tune in one note!)
A Baltimore radio icon, the Kirkster has been a mainstay at WIYY – 98Rock.
The “Spirit of Radio” is alive and well here in Baltimore! We flipped the light on at 98Rock in 1977 (I started in '84), so Rush has been a big part of the station's sound from jump. I graduated high school in 1982, and I can still hear “Subdivisions” crankin' out of my Datsun B210!”
An LA radio superstar at KLOS in its heyday, and later a great run at KSWD, the Sound, Rita has worked both as program director and talent – one of the most beloved personalities in Southern California.
The video is a love letter to radio and I adore it. It honestly gave me the same shot of adrenaline that I felt when I heard it on the radio the first time and that was before they spotlighted two of my mentors, Bob Coburn and Jim Ladd of 955 KLOS in the video.
I was lucky enough to see RUSH on every tour from Permanent Waves to their last show at The Forum on August 1st, 2015. I chose Clockwork Angels (the last album) and 2112 for the listeners of 100.3 The Sound who went crazy every time we played Side One on the Album Side at 11.
The longest-running morning personality in New York radio history, Jim did mornings for the legendary WPLJ, and has anchored Q104.3's morning show with co-host Shelli Sonstein (pictured below with Rush's Geddy Lee). In 2018, Jim was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
I love the song, especially the first verse! Sometimes we forget that we broadcasters, and the artists whose work we play, had parallel dreams. We both listened to the radio and fantasized of someday being on it. In our dreams, we were the radio show hosts playing all of the great music for audiences to hear. In their dreams, they were creating the great songs that people like us would play on the radio.
So many artists through the years have talked about the excitement they felt when they first heard themselves on the radio. The fictional scene in “That Thing You Do” when the Wonders were first played on the air in Erie, PA, has been played out in real life thousands of times. And not just in the distant past.
A couple of years ago, Jack Antonoff of Fun, whose song “We Are Young” hit #1 in 2013, walked into my studio unannounced. He was visiting Elvis on Z100 and just dropped by to introduce himself and say hello. His band emerged from the “indie” world and his 21st century story was the same one I had heard from Micky Dolenz, David Crosby, Garth Brooks, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and SO many others. The life highlight of hearing themselves on the RADIO! You should hear Lady GaGa (named after Queen's “Radio GaGa”) describe how she felt when she first heard herself on Z100!
I loved the video. It was great to see 102.1 (CFNY) highlighted on the radio dial guitar neck. Best of all, the recognition of Donna Halper of WMMS, who played such a pivotal role in their ultimate success. (You should hear Jon Bon Jovi talk about Chip Hobart, who was Chuck Hobart at CKLW.)
Geddy and Alex have visited our show many times through the years, and yes, there was always something to promote. Except once. Shelli Sonstein asked Geddy to make a special trip to the station to be a guest on her early Sunday morning Public Affairs show to discuss his family history for Holocaust Remembrance Day. He said Yes. An important story to tell, nothing to sell. The Spirit of Radio.”
Showcased in the video, Donna was the Music Director at WMMS who discovered Rush. It was the song “Working Man” that resonated for her. And she supported the band through the early years, and championed them for their Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2013. She was kind enough to let me interview her Friday night.
Fantoons emailed me about three months ago, and told me, “We want to use you in a video we’re doing. We want to make you into a cartoon.” Well, my enemies already think I am one!
From the first time I brought Rush’s “Working Man” to (DJ) Denny Sanders, I said “Listen to the lyrics of this song – every person in Cleveland is going to thank us. This is their life.”
So many songs, you hear them years later you cringe. But Rush songs, they age very well.
One of the things about Rush is that their fans are like a giant extended family. I noticed it right from Day One. You have Rush Families. Rush started out a guy band. By the 1990s, 30% of their fans were female.
Rush inspired other people’s creativity – artists, poets, sculptors – anyone who felt like outcasts, left out. Their message was about thinking for yourself, ethnics, trying to make something better by taking positive action. And I found the fans resonated with that message. I have seen so much creativity around this band.
Rush were a radio band. They didn’t necessarily feel like they needed radio airplay, and they weren’t willing to sell out to get it. Many radio stations – especially album rockers – championed Rush, stood up for Rush, and defended Rush.
And they’re the nicest people you’d ever want to meet – down-to-earth, honorable, decent, family men.
I’m honored to be in this video, I’m honored to be part of the story. But so many other people were part of the story, too. And when you’re a Rush fan you’re part of the story, too.
And I’m just so thrilled this cartoon speaks about RADIO – because radio was so important to Rush. They all woke up listening to radio as kids. And to see what has happened to it just breaks my heart. And it broke their hearts, too. And they wanted to do a song that honored the “spirit of radio.” And it’s so cool, so important, so significant that’s the song that became a Fan Tune.
And here's a bonus photo with Donna's caption:
Pat is the rock n' roll dean of the Sacramento airwaves, spending nearly all of his illustrious career at 98Rock – KRXQ.
This video is a love letter to radio.
And of course, most fittingly, to the late Neil Peart.
I was absolutely thrilled to see Bob Coburn and Jim Ladd portrayed, as they were my radio heroes growing up in Southern California, along with several others who were not only seminal to the career of Rush, but to rock radio itself.
When this song was written, its original intent was meant as a double-edged sword, celebrating the beauty and spirit of free-form radio while at the same time lamenting the fact that the tide was turning in a not-so-flattering direction. Forty years later this new video seems to come full circle to a place where radio should once again be fully appreciated for what it is, and honoring one of the truly great musicians this world has ever known.
As Jim Ladd said in his book Radio Waves, long live the tribal drum.
Nik is a multi-media star who got his start in Alternative radio, working his way up to WBCN/Boston. Nik's signature voice work has been heard on radio stations throughout the U.S. He was the host of Vh-1 Classic's “On Tap,” currently anchors “Feedback,” the morning show on Sirius/XM's Volume: Music Talk That Rocks. He's pictured below with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.
Such a fantastic tribute! And I love that the neck of Lifeson's guitar during the solo is an analog tuner!
Most of all, in an era where people of a certain age are genuinely impressed by someone in their basement hosting a podcast, you've got to love they romanticize radio in this video, almost more so than in the lyrics of the song itself, while giving props to the true greats that broke them, in the U.S., in particular.
But that does not surprise me at all, because in my almost 30 years on air, Rush have been more gracious and accommodating than I ever could have imagined a band could be.
The pure joy of this video makes you miss Neil Peart even more, if that was even possible. Between the recent spate of losses of my rock star heroes, from Bowie to Prince to Aretha, moving to that theoretical next plane.
I know I'm not alone in that the shot of Neil's empty drum kit at the end gave me the biggest lump in throat. Rest in power, Professor.
Starting out fresh out of school at 95X in Syracuse, Dave's been the voice of rock in his community. He's now the force behind The Rebel, and continues to host his local music show, “Soundcheck,” established in 1978. Dave is pictured below with Geddy Lee.
Because of our proximity to Canada, Upstate NY is practically a suburb, and Rush is a staple on our station. This imaginative video demonstrates the magical bond between the music and our unique delivery system, to make an emotional connection with fans.
Plus, throwing the word “radio” in the title is a 2-inch putt for airplay…
Jim is one of the pioneers of rock radio – a veteran of L.A. radio stations KMET and KLOS, and now a fixture on SiriusXM. As mentioned, he was one of the DJs singled out by Rush in the Fantoons video. This is from his Twitter feed last week.
Love to RUSH and the fan family! ☮️❤️😎🎸🎶 pic.twitter.com/7Yz651fUN8
— Jim Ladd (@JimLaddRocks) June 12, 2020
If you've spent any time in the nation's capitol, this guy embodies rock ‘n roll, a great work ethic, and a warm, unique style. From HFS to DC101, Cerphe's been that “friendly voice” that has always connected with his listeners.
“One likes to believe in the freedom of music.” Powerful words that still resonate. I played Rush on my shows here in Washington, DC, on WHFS, WAVA, DC101, WJFK and now on MusicPlanetRadio.com. Countless blissful moments of studio monitors turned to eleven.
I began following their evolution in 1974, and now miss the anticipation of waiting to hear their next brilliant release. I love this music video that celebrates Permanent Waves’ 40th anniversary. Here’s to Geddy, Alex and Neil. We miss you.
Dan was one of the original “Air Aces” at the legendary WABX in Detroit, and worked his way up to WNEW-FM, KLOS, and other seminal rock stations in the U.S. He's always been a personality with that innate ability to connect audiences and music together.
What great imagery and love and hurt all together. Describing radio as “Bearing a gift beyond price,” and asking radio to be “open-hearted” about the music and to keep its integrity.
Isn’t the “Spirit Of The Radio” what reached out and touched us all? I’m still in love with it.
When you think about rock ‘n roll – and dogs – in Jersey, you think about Terrie Carr. She's the heart and soul of WDHA, a station that lost one of its mainstays last week, Curtis Kay. Below is a Facebook post she wrote:
I absolutely love this (video). Being a Rush geek for many reasons. If there is one thing this whole mess has taught me, it is how important local communities are. Local radio ties us together. We are NOT a streaming service. We don't want to be.
We are there to serve our listeners, advertisers and artists. We will find new ways for you to discover us. We will still be your companions if you move out of state or the country based on amazing new technologies we now have at our fingertips. We will connect with your busy life online as we move forward in our mission. Losing Curtis Kay this week has also taught me a lesson on how local radio affects people. #spiritofradio
Gary is the dean of music in the Detroit Metro, starting out at the Detroit Free Press, and then branching out into radio, numerous national publications, and writing several books about music. He typically attends several concerts a week (when there were concerts), and he's got a keen view of the music biz.
By NOT having substantial radio support early in its career, Rush was able to establish a cult, grass-roots following that gave the music legs and gave birth to a legend.
By the time radio did come to the party, whether with “Closer to the Heart” or “The Spirit of Radio,” Rush had a substantial catalog and a great story that radio was able to then push to the next level — and insure that the legend endures and will endure well beyond the active life of the band.
Seattle rockers revere Steve Slaton. When Rush sang about “a companion unobtrusive,” they had Slaton in mind. After getting his career going in Tacoma radio, Steve spent nearly two decades at the mighty KISW, before spending nearly as many years at Classic Rocker, KZOK.
Rush knew how to make an entrance in 1974 and they never let up. Does ANY track have a better open than “Tom Sawyer?”
It was ALWAYS an honor to put my hand on a Rush record and feel the power and SPIRIT OF RADIO.
Thank you, Rush! You have rocked Seattle's world and always will.
Want to get excited about songs you've heard a 1,000 times? Listen to Marilynn Mee who has rocked Milwaukee radio at Lazer, The Hog, and now in the midday chair at the legendary WKLH.
How can you be a life-long rock radio DJ and not pick Permanent Waves as your favorite Rush album?!?! Don’t hate me, but…I’m personally not a huge Rush fan. What I AM a fan of is music that truly speaks to rock radio’s core audience! For so many of my listeners over my three decades as a DJ, I’ve learned how incredibly important Rush is to people who truly LOVE the essence of rock music; how, when all else fails, they’ll be happier once they hear a Rush song.
Although my personal favorites list doesn’t include Rush, I absolutely LOVE the song “Spirit of Radio!” No, not just because it has “radio” in it, but because of the line about the concert halls echoing with the sound of salesmen. How cool that Rush actually got it; they understood that what fans want and deserve is honesty and integrity.
Neil Peart hated the fact that so many rock artists came off as disingenuous and manipulative. Neal and his bandmates never pandered to their fans. Gotta love anyone who vows to keep it real…because that’s what the spirit of rock is all about, right?
Then there's the public radio side, represented by master programmer Bruce Warren, the guy who's been making the moves at WXPN/Philadelphia for more than three decades. Bruce is an author, a college professor, and sits on several media boards. And it's always been about the music.
The new 40th anniversary video breathes new life into radio, a classic song that for years has captured the essence of what “free-form” radio used to be, and how it encapsulated Rush's ode to their hometown station CFNY. I love how the arm of the guitar turns into a radio dial, and you can't help but feel the sadness on the last shot of the empty drum kit. Rest In Peace, Neil.
As much play as the song has gotten over the years it still blows my mind that it never was a “hit” on the Billboard charts, yet for classic rock fans, it remains one of their most loved songs. I was once on the air at XPN and I played this song, and a listener called to complain why a non-commercial station would play a hit song like “The Spirit of Radio.” I guess he didn't know what it was about.
No one represents Chicago rock radio better than veteran Bob Stroud. He spent his formative years at WMET and WLUP in Chicago, before being one of the original WDRV personalities when that station signed on in 2001. Ask anyone in the Windy City what Bob is best known for, and then tell you, it's his “knowledge of the music.”
I like songs about the radio, whether it's “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me“ (Reunion), “On the Radio“ (Cheap Trick), or “Radio Radio” (Elvis Costello). “Spirit of Radio” grabbed me the first time I heard it. It instantly became my favorite Rush song and remains so 40 years later. An ingenious song deserves an ingenious video and this is it!
Phil Thompson & Roxanne Stuart
Long-time radio vets in Wichita, these two capture the “spirit of radio” on The Fox.
Phil: Permanent Waves dropped just two weeks before I started my radio career. To say that me, Rush and radio were connected would be a colossal understatement.”
Roxx: For me, the “Spirit of Radio” is about being who you are, doing what you do…that's why I'm posing with two Rush albums. Caress of Steel was the album that almost sank the band. And 2112 is the result of not listening to anyone but themselves and making an album that was quintessentially RUSH.
Living 150 miles from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rush was our “house band.” Listening to Rush reminded me every day of why I wanted to be in radio at a time when women on the air were doing cooking segments, not rocking as hard as possible on an AOR station.
The video made me cry, taking me back to the beginning of my career, preaching the gospel of Rush.
The ultimate “working man,” Kevin's had the pleasure of overseeing scores of rock stations during his career, including the venerable KISS/San Antonio, and now ruling the roost for Townsquare from his perch in El Paso at the legendary KLAQ, as well as showrunner for the syndicated “Loudwire Nights.”
Rush has gone from the ultimate underdog band, underrated and underappreciated, to overwhelmingly respected and admired. Rush grew their fan base, despite critics, by staying true to who they were, doing what they wanted to do. Ever evolving and ever adapting. For years it wasn’t cool to like Rush, but by the 80s if you didn’t like Rush you were one of the few.
From that first airing of “Working Man,” I was a fan, but after I saw them live (“Farewell to Kings” tour), I was a fanatic. Over the years, I heard “They’ll never have a hit,”(“2112” – period), “They’re done,” (“Signals”), and “They’re over” (mid-'90s). Despite the cynics, Rush’s legion of fans grew to love and respect them even more.
Often underappreciated…frequently fighting for respect…mistakenly proclaimed finished…owning a massive loyal passionate audience and having a worldwide influence. Sound like a certain format?
OK, so we don't think of her as someone ON the radio. But Erica Farber represents the medium from her perch as President/CEO of the RAB. If there's anyone who recognizes a great story about radio, it's her.
This video beautifully captures radio's essence – with its rich history and continued evolution. Radio is the perfect companion for all times, for all audiences.
I don't know about you – and I'm not too embarrassed to say it – but I totally got a “rush” out of Rush's video!
Dave Richards & Wyatt Neugesser
Forget the “Terrible Twos.” Dave Richards isn't just one of the best programmers in the business, he knows a thing about successful parenting. He and his wife, Atlantic Records exec, Sherry Alghehband Neugesser, have been “home schooling” young Wyatt. Here's Dave's take on the Rush anthem.
In 1975, I got Rush's “Fly By Night” as one of a dozen 8-tracks from Columbia House. It was a box of prog rock. Gateway.
But if I were to play those albums back now, one after another, Rush would really be the only band that has hasn’t aged out. Now, 45 years later, it’s cool to see my kid loving Rush, The Dead, The Ramones, and sadly the occasional “Baby Shark” spin.
As this spontaneous project mushroomed over the weekend, it became clear to me not just how many luminaries I was able to include in what became one of the longest blog posts ever, but how many other deserving rock radio personalities and programmers I left out.
I've been blessed to meet and work with hundreds of you during this journey, and there wasn't the time or space to accommodate you all. Please accept my apology, and know that I'll get to you next time. Thanks for all you do to uphold the “Spirit of Radio.” – FJ
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Scott Jameson says
Growing up in Cleveland I was fortunate to hear one of America’s great rock stations in WMMS. The first album I bought with my own money? The first Rush album. So thank-you Donna Halper for bringing it to the airwaves. Spirit of Radio indeed.
Fred Jacobs says
I really enjoyed speaking with Donna about her story, and what radio was like back in the 70s from her POV. Thanks, Scott.
Chuck Wood says
I grew up listening to rock radio in Detroit (WABX, W4, RIF) and Canada (CJOM). I was fortunate to see Rush’s first US appearance at The Michigan Palace, they opened for Rory Gallagher. This tribute is fantastic work!
Fred Jacobs says
That must have been a treat. Thanks for sharing the memory, Chuck.
Ken West says
This blog is as long as “2112” or “Hemispheres.” But just like both of them, every part is compelling and you feel like you’ve been on a enlightening journey at the end. Thanks to you, Fred for always letting your passion for both music and radio shine brightly. And thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts. Nice to see something uniting us for a quick minute.
Fred Jacobs says
I like to think of it as a “concept blog.” 🙂 Thanks for the kind words. It was SO nice to see something positive for radio from a band that always mattered. Thanks, Ken.
John Covell says
That says it all. Thanks, Fred, for the great scroll, reminding us all that radio is not just a business, it’s a love affair. (I still have–and wear!–a ball cap I picked up at an NAB show many years ago, bearing the logo “Radio–my first love.”) Wonderful to see how many still share the feeling.
Fred Jacobs says
Appreciate the comments, John. Thanks for slogging through it!
Tim Slats says
Love these journey stories. Bought “All The World’s A Stage” the next day, after Bubba John Stevens played “2112” from it on WMMR/Philadelphia. Even though I was more of a ‘YSP guy 😉
Fred Jacobs says
But did you ever march in a “Louie Louie Parade?”
Tim Slats says
No but loved what John DeBella did with that. However, did attend a Hawaiian Shirt Gonzo Friday broadcast at the Trocadero Lounge that Joe Bonnadonna did. Again loved this, reading about people I learned & looked up to. Worked for a few here too. Looking forward to reading today’s blog after I get done working. Growing up in Central Jersey you had the best of listening to NYC-Philly & yup Allentown, PA was decent too.
Fred Jacobs says
Thanks for the comments, Slats. DeBella was brilliant at branding days – a really smart way to build regularity across a week.