As with just about any young person growing up in anywhere America during the 1980’s,I’d have to count myself as part of the last American generation whose musical interests were deeply affected by the radio. As maudlin and funereal as that might sound,it was something of a necessity in New England. Even than most commercial radio stations were very limited in their approach. Being someone interested in the music of the funk/soul/R&B/jazz spectrum? The only musical outlet local radio in my area offered this would’ve been through either European new wave era groups and soloists having soul/funk oriented hits such as Duran Duran’s “Notorious” but also with the big hits of artists such as Michael Jackson,Prince and Whitney Houston. In terms of the black population/DJ culture of the area? There was absolutely no DJ culture in that regard. And as far as the black population? I assumed it was only my mother. And that wasn’t an entirely inaccurate outlook either. One thing Bangor Maine did have at that time was Stephen King.
King and his wife Tabitha own the Zone Corporation-a part of which is the rock radio station WKIT,which was founded in 1979.. This is one of the few radio stations that still has a live local announcer in the studio 24 hours a day, however on the weekends they carry some syndicated programming. After the turn of the millennium,WKIT also adapted to the digital age by streaming their programming on the internet via the official station website. Their personalities include the “Rock and Roll Morning Show” hosts Bobby Russell and Mark “The Shark” Young, midday host Jason “Rock Dog” Roberts, afternoon host Scotty Moore, evening host Dave Isaac, overnight host Rob Greene, and news anchor Paul Allen. As time has marched on however, WKIT has oriented itself more and more towards the oldies based format in their playlists. King has openly voiced his views on the continuation of live radio DJ’s and their place in promoting music-which I feel is extremely laudable. However their format does seem to be mainly based in the “classic rock” music of their particular generation. Of course soul/R&B/funk is almost totally excluded. Some of the people involved in the station (King himself may or may not have been excluded from this) very likely supported the racist and homophobic “disco sucks” attitude of the early 80’s. And much 70’s/80’s era soul,funk and R&B has been seen only under that moniker. Even so,there is always a place for the blues on WKIT-both old and new. So that door is at least halfway open.
On May 1’st,1988 WERU FM first began broadcasting out of one area of an old hen house located in Orland-not too far from its base town of the fairly large coastal town of Blue Hill. Folk icon Paul Stookey was a major benefactor of this major breakthrough in non commercial,independent radio in the state of Maine. In 1997 the station moved it’s operations from the hen house to a more traditional facility in the same town but directly on U.S Route 1-linking the state to traffic from across the country. Every Thursday at 2-4PM the station carries the X-Large Soul Show. This showcases primarily new and often independent music from soul,R&B and blues acts-with some lesser known oldies thrown in for good measure. The one difficulty WERU has it that,to this day it still operates at an effective radiated power of 11,500 watts. In a state consisting of huge amounts of undeveloped rural land connected by conflicting signals from other radio and TV transmitter,sub stations and cellular phone towers,WERU can be somewhat difficult to receive on both its translators. Especially if one happens to be in transit in their vehicle between one town/city or another.
WMEB,91.9 FM actually began its life 50 years ago this month as a strictly on campus collage radio specifically for the University Of Maine in the town of Orono. Becoming primarily known as a progressive rock/AOR oriented radio format during the 1970’s,WMEB spent the next three decades developing a strong and diverse format somewhat similar to WERU and some of the collage stations out of Maine’s larger towns and cities such as Portland,Waterville and its capitol Augusta. For a long time they specialized in playing vinyl records. And a good part of my vinyl collection came from a giveaway they presented to the public of their entire vinyl record catalog in 1994 when they were ceasing use of this format. This alternative oriented format began to strongly embrace DJ culture during the early years of the millennium. It was here I met Nigel Hall-than a DJ with his own funk/soul/jazz show on WMEB moonlighting with the local band Funkizon,now a moderately successful session musician who was a member of Soulive for a time. It was through Nigel’s influence that my interest in the jazz end of funk music expanded so greatly of course. Though the years since have found WMEB specializing more and more on the popular Maine Black Bears collage ice hockey radio coverage,a possible local jazz/funk underground was beginning to spring from this station in 2003-2004; the earliest years of Nigel’s show when he even managed to secure on air interviews with musicians Jan Hammer and George Duke-the latter of which I had the privilege of participating in.
While a long time DJ at the local public radio station one Rich Tozier has maintained his Friday Night Jazz show,though I believe now airing on Sundays,Tozier is very proudly an acoustic jazz traditionalist who excludes anything fusion and jazz/funk oriented from his playlist due to his own lack of interest-focusing instead on replaying the music of be-bop era jazz icons. A good deal of the stations I talked about here,however do not attract a very wide audience of listeners. And are generally dependent on local benefactors and fund drives to stay financially afloat. Generally it is the commercial country music stations that tend to draw the widest audience where I live. In a way the DJ/radio scene in Maine has been,and continues to be rather based on its demographic. Being that even today over half of the landmass of the United States of America is still very rural it is primarily the homegrown musical variations on folk,country and blues musics that continue to be the driving force of local radio in places such as Northeastern Maine. While these music’s certainly have their value,people moved musically by music within more of the jazz/soul/funk spectrum face many challenges in either being a radio listener or even one of the endangered species of DJ being in such an area. Often I ask myself: it is a challenge worth facing? Or has its time come to pass? Perhaps that question is more important than it’s answer.