Wednesday, February 28, 2007

WFMU Aircheck Tapes

I started regularly recording air check tapes of my WFMU shows in 1993, when I'd been a DJ there for 12 years, & I was done with weekly programs in 1999. In some of the earlier tapes I recorded only the music - if I remembered to push the record & pause buttons - later just taped everything. I usually listened to my shows once afterward, because I couldn't listen to them as I was doing them. I went through periods where I carefully labeled the tapes & even listed the songs on the case. At some point WFMU began online setlists, & at some point after that I started posting mine, though not every week. I kept recording the tapes but became indifferent about labeling them. Each show required two 90 minute tapes. Now I have hundreds of aircheck cassette tapes from the 90s, some organized, others just stacked into boxes. Many have just a date, many are completely unmarked. I've had ideas about digitalizing some of these old shows & having them archived on the WFMU website, it would be like doing new shows. But it's a time consuming task that at the moment I don't even know how to do. I rarely used high quality tapes, the studio cassette decks often were beat up, with dirty & misaligned recording heads. I wasn't that concerned with sound quality except when a tape was unlistenable with wow & flutter. A few time I improvised a story on the air that I transcribed as the basis for a prose piece. There were sets of music & even some whole shows I liked so much that recordings served as a compilation tapes. But cassette tapes are obsolete. The only cassettes I play now are some out-of-print reggae, jazz & classical things. I can always sort out the labeled shows, but I'll never wade through all the unlabeled ones. Nobody including me wants to listen to them.

WFMU began archiving shows online in 2001, & that was the end of the aircheck era for nearly everyone. Those DJs who keep personal copies of their shows now can download an mp3. But what about all those pre-internet analog years? I'm hardly the most disorganized WFMU DJ, & having been to some of their homes, I know I'm not even much of a pack rat anymore. Putting the matter to the staff, these responses came back:

"ohhhhh yes. bags of em. sitting in my car-- the only place with a cassette player. lost the playlists long ago."

"Yeah, I got my demos and 1996-2000 tapes under the bed. "

"Oh, yeah, 60 minute cassettes all over the place, in boxes, in piles, on the floor, just about every show i did from '94 to '05..."

"I've got hundreds. many are undated or labeled. I think I may have my very first show somewhere."

'From 1992 to 2001, in a couple of giant Hefty bags in my basement. Some of the cassettes are actually still in their cases."

"Only since 1985."

"Thousands. I recently threw away several hundred of them in a fit of materialist disgust. I also threw away a few hundred records and CDs. No regrets."

"I have crates of cassettes and, more recently, mini-discs that I put into storage. Like Rix, I never listen to 'em but can't seem to let 'em go. I envision myself on my death bed - think a rheumy-eyed Claire in the final episode of Six Feet Under - bequeathing the entire lot to some starry-eyed young soul who has a crazy dream of reviving the outdated occupation of deejaying. Thus making me even more rheumy-eyed."

Unlikely, but a swell fantasy.

Then WFMU Manager Ken made this reassuring suggestion: "If anyone ever decides to throw away old WFMU aircheck tapes, donate them to the station instead."

Nice to know, but it'll require a warehouse if everyone decides to do it.


I'm in the market for a new name for my blog. "Wow & Flutter" might just be it.
Aw, nuts.
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