In 1982, Donald Fagen released an album entitled The Nightfly. Its iconic album cover depicts an all-night deejay sitting in a dimly lit radio studio. Acoustic tile lines the walls, a broadcast turntable spins a platter as the host talks into an RCA desk microphone. He smokes unfiltered Chesterfields. A crumpled pack lies next to a full ashtray. One can easily imagine the sounds of Miles’ trumpet wafting in the background.
To most, this overly romanticized image represents what we all have come to believe the life of a jazz disc jockey must be like. However, for a handful of music students who came of age in the pre-internet era, this way of life was a reality at WYSU.
I was one of those students, and for some time now I have felt that our story needed to be told. It’s the story of a group of aspiring young musicians at the Dana School of Music who believed strongly in a form of music that could only come from the American experience. So strongly, that we fueled ourselves with stale, warmed-over coffee and took to the airwaves to preach the gospel of jazz to the "night people."
Each weekend from midnight to 6:00 a.m. we entertained the insomniacs, the non-conformists, the poor bohemian hipsters and the lonely. We filled the night with the sounds of Miles’ mournful muted trumpet, Trane's "Sheets of Sounds" and Bird’s exuberant stream of consciousness. Our mission was clear, of that we were sure- spread the good news!
Keith Turner was the first to host an all-night show that seemed to have happened by accident. In 1984, an English professor of his introduced him to the station management. Keith had previous radio experience and mentioned off-handedly that if WYSU ever wanted to expand its jazz offerings, he was available. Months went by before he was contacted and asked to put together an audition tape of the program. The rest, as they say, is history.
After Keith graduated, other music students would step up to fill this same nightly time slot. From 1984 to 2001 they would include John Venesky, Mike Kamuf, Bob Matchett, David Luscher (myself), Nate Daubenspeck, and Doug Butchy.
A lot has changed since that time. With the proliferation of the internet, thousands of outlets now exist to hear any type of music one could think of. However, during the era of rotary phones and vinyl LPs, my fellow night flies and I kept the faith by presenting music we so deeply believed in: jazz, America’s true art form.
By: David Luscher