On December 24, I pontificated on what a bummer it was working on the radio on Christmas Eve night. I also worked a few New Year’s Eve nights in my 25-year career, but I didn’t mind that so much. If nothing else, it helped me avoid a New Year’s morning hangover because every station I worked for had a strict “no alcohol in the building” policy that I dutifully observed.
Each station (and there were many) had a different approach to New Year’s Eve. At one station, we had a year-end countdown. At another, it was a dance music show. I did an all-request show at a country station. Some stations just played the regular format like it was a normal day.
Without a doubt, my favorite New Year’s Eve show was 1984 at (the first) “96 ROCK” (WSKS-FM) in Cincinnati. The studios were in a converted ranch house at the end of a private lane on the western edge of Hamilton, Ohio. There was a small cluster of residences on that lane. Talk about unconventional zoning! My show was on from 7:00pm – 12:00 Midnight. On 12/31/84, it was commercial free! My boss told me there were four rules. First, don’t stop the music flow…talk over the music intros. Second, keep the songs uptempo. Third, don’t play obscure stuff…only familiar songs. This was a straight-ahead Album Rock format: Journey, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Stones, Motley Crue, yada yada yada. Finally, I had to end exactly at midnight so I could play a special pre-recorded New Year’s greeting followed by the Paul McCartney and Wings song, “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.”
Aside from those reasonable restrictions, I was free to play and do whatever I wished. I took requests, picked out my own choice cuts and just rocked the Queen City. BOOM! “Rock and Roll All Night (and Party Every Day)” by Kiss. BOOM! “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. BOOM! “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. BOOM! “Crazy Train” by Ozzy NoLastNameNeeded. BOOM! “Dancing in the Dark” by The Boss. BOOM!
“Just the Way You Are” “Big Shot” by Billy Joel. BOOM! “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers. BOOM! “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. BOOM! “Urgent” by Foreigner. I even slipped in BOOM! “Wasn’t That a Party” by The Rovers.
Shortly after I started, my good friend from college, Boo Willis, came up to the station. Boo lived only a few minutes away, so he brought some snacks and soft drinks. He also served as my unofficial assistant that night, helping me organize the songs and answer the request lines.
At 10:00, I heard loud pounding on the front door. I peeked through the window and saw about twenty people waving beers and whooping it up. I hit the intercom button to see what they wanted. They were neighbors down the lane and had a communal party going on. They wanted to bring the party to the station. Normally that was a no-no, but I let them in. They hung out in the hallway (unless they went outside to drink) while I was on the air. I left the door open so their chatter came through when my microphone was on. That gave the show a live party atmosphere.
As the clock swept past 11:30 pm, I started thinking about how to wrap up this gem. CLICK! Light bulb goes on. BOOM! “Two Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden. It ended at about five minutes to midnight, but that’s close enough. Next song? What better way to wrap up the old year than with BOOM! “1984” by David Bowie. When that song ended, BOOM! I rolled the synthesized instrumental track “1984” by Van Halen. While that played in the background, I reflected on the old year and how it was a good thing that Bowie’s prediction didn’t come true. At ten seconds to midnight, the neighbors in the background counted down to midnight and shouted, “HAPPY NEW YEAR, CINCINNATI!”, and then I started the recorded announcement and Wings. I turned it over to the next jock and left the studio with my new-found entourage.
I felt drained at the end of that show, but what a rush! I bid the neighbors goodbye and had a celebratory beer with Boo in the parking lot. Hey, I was off the clock and it was outside!
After we pounded our brewskis, Boo took off for his apartment, and I went home. During the 45-minute drive, I listened to a cassette tape of the show. The station had a cassette deck hooked up to the microphone switch. It started recording when the mic was turned on and stopped when it was off. That way you could listen to your breaks but didn’t have to sit through all the music. Usually I was my own worst critic when I listened to my show tapes, but not this time. Even though that night’s audience forgot about that show – I am sure many of them forgot about it by New Year’s morning – I thought it was just about the coolest thing I’d ever done, and I couldn’t wait to get back on the radio the following night.
As I mentioned in that Christmas Eve post, I don’t regret leaving radio. However, I also don’t regret having done it, especially on nights like 12/31/84.
Have a Happy New Year!