Friday, December 05, 2008

Dahl downsized ... and not by Seattle Sutton

During my early adolescent years (right now being my "late, protracted, seemingly never gonna end" adolescence), which I'd peg roughly as 1979 through 1986 or so, I was an insane Coho-lipped follower of Chicago radio's El Jefe scumbag worm-meat idiot, Steve Dahl.

And aside from a few law-school-and-afterwards years in Champaign-Urbana when I couldn't pick up the signal (part of that time was the era of the amplitude modulation "Loop" on AM 1000 -- complete with Ed Schwartz overnights -- when I could tune it in, kind of weakly -- but when he was on FM, no way), I kept listening. There have been ups and downs (notable down: the ESPN 1000 phase, with Bruce Wolf, which was mostly a down because I was practicing law in Ottawa, Illinois, newly married, totally miserable, and catching only about 10 minutes of the show a day on the way to the second worst job I've ever had), but being generally nostalgic, I stuck with him. Sided with Dahl when Meier quit, bounced from station to station and time slot to time slot.

I lost a lot of enthusiasm during the moribund "Dave and Joy" years, but I thought the show picked up a lot of steam when Buzz Kilman took their place ... because Buzz Kilman is my personal hero. Guru, really. But I digress.

I've had problems with some of the twists and turns ... I was bummed when Wendy Snyder was fired, even though I got a ridiculous number of hits from blogging about it ... and I was never particularly interested in all the TV gadget coverage in latter years. But, by and large, some 20-plus years of listening was has been worth it. [Edit made because, dammit, he's not dead; just enduring another interruption in transmission.]

For one thing, Dahl is responsible for my cultivating interest in a bunch of fine songwriters, whose work I was aware of, but who I'd never have gotten to know as people so well without Dahl's show. Such as Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, and Jim Peterik. Not to mention Joe Walsh.

Same thing with comedians -- Andy Kaufman and John Belushi were frequent guests on Dahl's show ... and Dahl's show was where I first heard about Belushi's death. His interview with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas during their promotional tour for the "Bob and Doug" movie fit in perfectly with my SCTV fixation at the time.

Lately I've been more or less a casual listener, but in those "early adolescent" years, I was pretty well obsessed. I used to listen to the Steve & Garry show every day after school, from the moment I got home until sign-off at 7:00. I taped hours of the show on my crappy K-Mart tape machine, and listened to the tapes over and over. Celebrity Jeopardy (Ozzy Osbourne ... Marcus Palmer's "Omar Sadat" crack-up). Blues News. "Ayatollah" (and "We have no Chicken Kentucky!"). "Skylab." "Falklands."

In those WLS-FM (94.7) days, Steve & Garry were controversial for their irreverent, sometimes taste-questionable take on news events -- but, for me, the show was the first place I turned for much needed "coping through laughter" therapy when world tragedy struck. When the space shuttle blew up in 1986, Dahl was off the air at the time, between gigs, and I missed him.

When I say I was obsessed, I mean I was obsessed. When he and Garry did a remote broadcast from the "Snowshoe Saloon" at Six Flags Great America, I had a season pass to the park (just a couple miles down the road from my house), so I hung out and watched them do the entire show, like a miniature stalker. Still have my high school ID with Dahl's autograph on the back from that day.

I used to try to phone in a lot, but I could never get through. The show was hella popular then. It took effort. But I succeeded one time, on a Saturday -- Steve and Garry were still doing six days a week then -- when I was about 14. When I heard Dahl's voice on the other end, I felt a shock of realization that I didn't actually have anything to say, so I dived into my standard repertoire: bitching and moaning.

Me: Your station is so boring! I used to be an insomniac before I tuned in! You play the same songs over and over!

Dahl: Oh yeah? Well, we know something you don't--

Me: [interrupting] I'm surprised!

Dahl: You're a little smartass! Anyone ever tell you that? Now, just listen!

Me: OK.

Dahl: The reason we play those songs over and over is because the polar ice caps are expanding, and we're about to have another ice age. We're going to be buried under glaciers! Then there won't be any entertainment. Everything's going to be destroyed. The only thing to do for entertainment will be to sing songs ourselves. So we're doing you a service.

Me: [vague and twerpy protesting and scoffing]

Dahl (or Meier, I forget): OK, well, let's test you. Can you sing the Go-Gos, "Our Lips Are Sealed"?

Me: Yeah!

And I gave it a shot. I crooned most of the first verse before I screwed up. "See!" Dahl said. "You're not prepared yet!" And then they played the Go-Gos record. And after that, David Bowie & Queen's song, "Under Pressure," which Meier intro'd as "Under Glacier."

I have that on tape somewhere ... with a couple backup dubs, so I expect it still exists. Maybe I'll digitize it and find a way to post it ... if I can stand the embarrassment of my voice, which hadn't quite changed yet into the manly baritone it is today.

I played the tape later that evening for my mom, who still proudly tells people that "Steve Dahl called my son a smartass!"

Which is as good a punchline as any with which to wrap this up. Cuz CBS canned Dahl, and his last show was today. Heard it on the car radio on the way to the office this morning. He has a couple years left under contract, so he could be off the air for a while, but I know he'll be around in one medium or another, and I expect he'll be on the air again someday. Until then, thanks, Stever. Thanks muchly.

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