WBGO Blog
  • It's What I Do

    January 2, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "It's what I do ..."
    I never know what to say when I get a compliment. I've always been amazed that people actually like me and like what I do -- and that I get paid to do what I do. I've sometimes felt that if I say "thank you" I feel as if I'm acknowledging that whatever nice thing someone is saying to me is true.
    "I love your interviews!"
    "It's what I do ..."
    "You got so many pledges that last hour!"
    "It's what I do ..."
    I've been "doing" for 35 years on the radio, and it was only after 25 years that I felt that apparently I'm good at this, good at ... what I do.

    New Year's Eve was my 21st coast-to-coast broadcast and my 23rd anniversary as a jock on WBGO. My first shift was filling for Rhonda in the afternoon, December 31, 1984. January 1st is the birthday of Milt Jackson, and so I played a day-before birthday tribute. Phone rang, and the voice said "This is Bags. Thanks." And in that moment I knew that I was a jazz jock in the jazz capitol of the world.
    Even though we broadcast from Newark, and there's considerable Jersey pride at WBGO, I usually tell people elsewhere in the world that I'm from the jazz station in New York. We apparently, last I heard any numbers, have more listeners and more members in New York than in New Jersey -- although, really, I say New York mostly because I live in New York.
    I only recently realized that I'm a commuter.
    Back before the various large edifices that have gone up in Newark since I first came to the station -- law school, arts center, FBI, and now the Rock -- the walk on Raymond Blvd twixt train station and radio station was darker. I never felt especially in danger. I've always been quite grizzly, and I've seen folks on the street fear me. What was weird in the 80's was when folks in New York asked me if I carried a gun to protect myself in Newark.
    Tempus fugit ...
    23 years ...
    I knocked the station off the air 20 minutes before I first came on the air. I was expected to record myself on a cassette. Remember them? Various plugs and wires were involved, and I somehow plugged the entire on-air signal into the cassette recorder. Nobody knew what was happening and the phones started ringing about the dead air. I didn't know what was happening, but I thought maybe I should un-plug the cassette recorder, and at once WBGO was resounding loudly again.
    I'm still the clumsiest jock on WBGO. I'm not kidding when I get crabby about "too many buttons!" I've pushed the wrong buttons and played the wrong CDs countlessly. We didn't have CDs when I came to the station. We played music from a wall of LPs. Remember them? I remember when the first CD player came in. There was what looked like a spice rack in the studio with four CDs. One was "Glenn Miller in a Digital Mood" -- which I never played even once. I was afraid that if I endeavored to play a CD I'd blow the station off the air again.
    I'm proud to say that since that first clumsiness, I have knocked the station off the air only one other time. Readings said our power was too high for the FCC max, so I pushed the button that lowers the power and the power lowered to zero. After a scramble of engineers like the code blue for a heart attack, we came back.
    We now have an all-new computerized system for on-air spots, calendars, produced programs, and IDs. It's been working for almost a month now, and I've only screwed up a half dozen times. I once said to Josh Jackson, who's a whiz at working all this new tech and was so quickly and seeming effortlessly editing a special we were producing on a machine with a screen full of multi-colored squiggles, "I feel like a baboon looking at a rocket ship ..."
    I'm much more technologically adept than I used to be. I'm helpless about the squiggles, but I sometimes can get through an entire shift without pushing a wrong button. Even a monkey can learn how to ride a bike.
    I've actually never learned how to ride a bike -- but that's another story. Now comes ... blogging.
    E-mail, I can do.
    Googling, I can do.
    Porn, any baboon can do.
    I've owned a computer for two years, and by now I'm not as cyber-challenged as I first was.
    I've actually been able to listen to baseball on my computer.
    I've finally been able -- without help -- to buy stuff on my computer.
    Now comes ... blogging.
    I've been asked and encouraged to blather about ... whatever.
    Baseball. Batman. Musicals. Traveling. Why I think of myself as Dutch. Why I've lately become obsessive about "Pride and Prejudice" and Jane Austen. And other things I love. And also ... love.
    When I was initially asked to blog about what I think about, my immediate answer was "Who cares?" I'm blogging now only because my loved ones have insisted that listeners who like me might like to know ... what I do when I'm not doing what I do on WBGO. And also how I do what I do. I've been requested to explain how I program Singers Unlimited -- which will involve confessing a variety of eccentricities I've heretofore never talked about -- when the easiest answer is nonetheless
    "It's what I do ..."

    I'm Michael Bourne.

  • Toast of the Nation New York - The Crew

    December 31, 2007. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Since you may miss the litany of names at the end of the New York segment, meet the folks who bring you 2008. Remember that while you're binging on champagne, we usually drink ours at 12:15, when the show is over.

    Becca Pulliam is our uber-producer. She coordinates each of the locations for Toast of The Nation (DC, Boston, NY, Minneapolis, Denver, and SF) into a mosaic of live music from coast to coast. Becca makes this whole party possible. Oh, and "listeners like you."

    Michael Bourne is our host. You may remember him from such hit shows as - Afternoon Jazz on WBGO for the last 20+ years. Or 20+ years on Toast of the Nation. That's committment. Everything I can say about Michael, I've already said to him personally - usually while I'm helping him connect home audio devices, changing light bulbs in his apartment, or eating Cantonese specialties with him (too infrequently) at Phoenix Garden.

    Steve Remote at Aurasonic is our guy for audio. He brings his 24 foot GMC truck, affectionately know as "The Breadmobile," to the gig. As you can imagine, jazz clubs in New York are short on space. That means you have to build a recording studio outside, and connect it to what's happening onstage. No small feat. Steve Remote and his band of merrymen do it with aplomb. Robert Carvell manages stage tech, and Jon D'Uva will assist the recording engineer in the truck. Jon is a vegetarian. I have no idea what he's planning to eat for dinner at the barbeque palace upstairs, Blue Smoke.

    Jim Anderson is the Recording Engineer tonight. He possesses both sartorial splendor and golden ears. He will make tonight sound so good for listeners. In Jim's spare time, he's active in the New York chapter of the Audio Engineering Society. He's also the Chair of the Clive Davis School for Recorded Music at New York University. He gets some of the best drum sounds I've heard on jazz records. He also reads great books.

    David Tallacksen is the Technical Director and Codec Jockey. He's the youngest member of the crew. He is responsible for the audio transmission via codec to NPR, among other things. We don't trust that job to just anyone. David also shows a tremendous amount of patience with Verizon, who installs our ISDN circuits to transmit that audio. David has tested these lines over and over and over. Two of the three circuits work, as of 12:30pm on the broadcast day. Verizon has assured us they will fix the problem with our backup transmission lines today. Fingers crossed.

    Katie Simon is our Stage Manager. She makes sure the trains run on time, because I'm barking in her ear the entire show. Katie can blame her first job in public radio on WBGO. Now she's hooked. She's a producer for Storycorps, producer David Isay's oral history project for public radio. You may have heard the stories on Morning Edition every Friday. Guaranteed to make you a little teary-eyed., if you're just a wee sensitive. Michael Bourne nicknamed Katie "Supergirl" because she's just...super.

    Martin Goodman is operating the house sound for Jazz Standard. He will be making sure that the artists have their sound on the stage and in the club. Martin also interfaces with our broadcast in a big way, because we share all the same microphones used on the stage.

    I'm your humble field producer and director for the show. You can blame me if something goes wrong.