My favorite book of the past year is James VanOsdol’s We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History Of Q101.
Like Legs McNeil‘s 2006 classic Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, VanOsdol’s page-turner evokes a distinct time and place in music history with interviews with key insiders who tell what happened in their own words.
Only this book is far more engaging; like a master deejay, the former Q101 personality (he hosted “Local 101”) and music director seamlessly weaves together the voices of 75 former staffers to tell the story of WKQX’s switch from a failing Adult Contemporary station with Robert Murphy in the morning in the early ’90s to female-skewing modern rocker to a full out alt-rock station featuring “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse” to its slow demise. Plus it includes a foreword by Rise Against singer Tim McIlrath.
VanOsdol, who worked at the station on and off for a decade, got to work on the book after Emmis Communications announced it was selling to Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media last June. “I assumed a format change would quickly follow,” VanOsdol says. “I’d always wanted to write a book about radio, and the timing of Q101’s exit pushed me in that direction. I had a Kickstarter campaign live within 15 hours of the sale announcement.”
The campaign far exceeded his goal, raising about $15,000 from 385 fans. VanOsdol, (who also penned last year’s Off The Record Collection: Riffs, Rants, And Writings About Rock and the unpublished Chicago Rocked! 1990-1999) spent a year and nearly 500 hours interviewing his former co-workers and transcribing their thoughts for the book. “Transcribing takes an excruciating amount of time, and it was definitely the least fun part of the process,” he admits. He published it under his own imprint, Haaf-Onion Omnimedia (which comes from an anagram of his children’s names).
The book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the station’s playlist and its many live events. Erich “Mancow” Muller’s eight-year reign makes for particularly engaging (if occasionally nausea-inducing) reading. Many of the stunts that may have seemed fake to listeners were all too real (and often observed firsthand by station staff, who give blow-by-blow accounts).
Mancow initially did not want to be in the book. “Mancow doesn’t have much love or nostalgia for Q101, and he was pretty turned off by the idea in the beginning,” VanOsdol reveals. “We talked a lot about it, and he finally agreed.
“[His] appearance in my book was 100 percent on his own terms. He chose what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.”
Mancow interviewed himself in a series of SMS messages to VanOsdol. In his chapter, separate from the others, he takes credit for Kid Rock’s success, tells a hilarious story about Death Cab For Cutie‘s appearance on his show, and explains his polarizing appeal. He writes: “Mancow comes through your ear and settles in your soul, to some a hero, to others a heel. It makes no difference to me! I get people to feel something, and in this desensitized world, that’s really something.”
When VanOsdol’s book begins, Q101 was mired in a three-way ratings race with two other AC stations. Ironically, 20 years later, the same frequency (WIQI-FM) is in a three-way ratings race with two other AC stations. But in today’s post-Internet, bottom line-driven climate, programmers are far less likely to take chances.
“Music radio’s in a tough spot, and in many respects, it put itself there,” VanOsdol explains, from the vantage point of a pocaster podcaster who hosts a monthly interview segment on The Steve Dahl Network (dahl.com). “Radio companies these days have to do a lot more with a lot less money, less talent, and less available audience. I don’t know what the future will look like, but I’d like to think that someone out there will figure out how to successfully adapt to the cultural and technological shifts and again make radio meaningful in some way.”
Mancow, whose syndicated radio show airs weekday mornings from 6 to 8 on Fox-owned WPWR-Channel 50, addresses the topic in VanOsdol’s book. “Radio has become so diluted and boring,” he writes. “To work in radio now is to work in a factory. Being the best at radio in 2012 is like being the best buggy whip maker in 1896 at the dawn of the horseless carriage.
“I’ve been watching The Bride Of Frankenstein, and I was taken by how the movie is so symbolic of (what) all radio has become. These corporations gobbled up all the radio stations they could. Then they cobbled them all together. Now this corporate radio-monster stumbles around, unknowingly killing everything in its path. Frankenstein was not inherently evil, just stupid, and people got hurt.”
ODDS ‘N’ SODS: We’re not saying that the IE curse is real, but didn’t Mancow grace our December 2005 cover – and get canned from Q101 eight months later? . . . Kudos to Kill Hannah bassist and club DJ Greg Corner, the new co-host, music director, and talent booker for JBTV . . . And to Julian Nieh, who walked away from a great morning drive gig at B96 (WBBM-FM, 96.3) to pursue, well, we’re not sure. Talk about jumping without a net! Get the latest at facebook.com/julianontheradio.
— Cara Jepsen