Life in the Eclectic Seizure
Eclectic Seizure is the incidental key calling the piano black. Eclectic Seizure has incorporated dead air and interference from the oldies station into its format. Eclectic Seizure has been a rock show, a funk & ska show, a fake jazz show, a Czechoslovakian folk music show, K90.1FM: The All-High Frequency Show for Dogs, an all-commercial show, an all-Mahlers 5th symphony show, the Hour of Slack, all-sound-effects radio, and a show to celebrate every holiday from New Years Day (The Hangover Show (honestly the only time we got in trouble )) to The 18th Anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution Show (1997) and The 110th Anniversary of the Implementation of Global Standard Time Show (1993).
In this article I tell stories and name names. I must be an old, old man; I have had so much fun. I have been on WEFT Champaign since 1990. In pretty much the same timeslot. The jumbled slum in the margins of strip programming: the much-sought-after Sunday at midnight (recently moved to the primetime 10 PM) timeslot.
I remember the time before strip programming: before WEFTs daytime programming involved consistent jazz & blues. I fell in love with WEFT Champaign when I heard Mitch Altman play Guy Lombardo & "Who Are the Brain Police?" in the same show. Mustve been the late 80s. I fell so in love with two consecutive station managers that for awhile I was also hosting every daytime slot I could finagle. I had an afternoon show which was bread sandwiched between two slabs of different meat: Kent McKonkeys Old Timers Country Music Show & Kim Johnsons Sludgefunk show. I called that timeslot The Human Segue hoping someone would get it. Back then, at the same time every week, I would destroy a record from the seventies by shattering it on the air. Stuff like REO Speedwagons first album -- whatever struck me as particularly bad that week.
I started hosting the midnight show before WEFT was a 24-hour station; it used to go off the air at 2 AM. I used to play the sign-off tape and then stay on the air broadcasting silence for many minutes, then the sound of a door slamming, then more silence, then the sound of breathing. I must admit that my only intention was to freak people out. I assumed my primary audiences were: people driving home from bars, people who had fallen asleep during Departing Platform 5, people on stimulants, people working dreary graveyard shifts (including one enthused ska fan), fatigue-crazed students up all night studying or writing papers due Monday morning, and various combinations of the above. I liked that audience.
The Sunday at midnight show was first called Wading through a Ventilator. After that it was Funk, Skank & Slack. Finally, Eclectic Seizure was born from a bad joke in 1992. That bad joke was The Jack Testosterone Show ("The most well-hung man youll ever hear." ) It is always nice to listen to those tapes and hear Rick, Joe, Bethany, Mark and I, basically, doing our best to crack each other up until there was only one person standing to press play. We played a lot of experimental 20th century classical music, stuff that FM has totally neglected: music with silences, twelve-tone, electronic music. But we always introduced it as if it were country, jazz, or blues.
I wish I could list the strangers and casual friends who wandered in off the street and ended up on the air. Like The Screaming Mummy. In 1997, two mysterious writers in one night. Brian Krumm, or Barney, Mark, & John doing improvised weather reports. But if I mentioned them it would be because I forgot about people I talked into planning shows with me: Michael Holloway, Nina Paley, Herbert Brün, Susan Parenti, Larry Goldfarb, Warren Burt, Paul Kotheimer, Address Unknown (a Chicago theater troupe of homeless and formerly homeless people), Patch Adams, Scott Rettberg And to mention them is to neglect the Eclectic Seizure Radio Theater Collective (people who attended regularly for at least a month in very approximate order of first appearance on the show): Rick Burkhardt, Joe Futrelle, Mark Enslin, Bethany Cooper, Keith Johnson, Carol Huang, Adam Cain, Rishi Zutshi, David Fruchter, Sam Markewich, Andy Gricevich And the bands? Catgut, Hardvark, Jaw, the Prince Myshkins, the Ad-Hoc Phil Ochs Ensemble, & APPA: Alabaster Pterodactals and the Plastic Attitudes. And what about the music made by the Eclectic Seizure Radio Theater Collective itself? Original songs by Bethany Cooper, Rick Burkhardt, Danielle Chynoweth, Joe Futrelle, Adam Cain, Katie McDowell, Sam Markewich In many cases songs were written for a particular show: for you. How many radio shows write their own music? And to reminisce about the Collective is to forget appearances by Jeff Glassman, Maria Silva, Brian Hagy, Elizabeth (Moth?), Jean Kim, Carol Huang, Ben Blanchard, Frank Marquardt, Genevieve Futrelle, Anetta Pendretti, Sam Patterson, Frank Lombauer, Tony Macauluso, Chris Kólár, Brendan Holloway, Nathaniel Holloway, Drake Depew, Aimee Rickman, the students of LAS 295 and Music 145. And now that Ive mentioned all them, the thirty or so people I forgot must really feel stung. Please understand that one two-hour show per week for five years means that Eclectic Seizure has been on the air for about 22 solid days. That works out to be about 92 songs, 176 poems, 1078 radio plays, & 1,846,254,855 mistakes
Weve done our best, I think, to mythologize WEFT. There was a radio play (one of many produced by Adam Cain, the King Midas of Audio Fidelity (everything he touches turns digital), about The Great WEFT Fire of 1830 (back when WEFT was a telegraph outpost). And there was another radio play in which WEFT was a spaceship drifting between galaxies broadcasting the endangered music of Earth (which had been taken over by a corporate rock global fascist empire). Of course, there was the radio play in which WEFT (during a pledge drive) is arrested for aggressive panhandling, goes to prison, and afterward cannot find a job. At least twice, hosts of other shows were the subject of our show: Mikeljon & Doug Down. I never forgot the play where a crew of pirates sets out with a treasure map to dig up the bootlegs of old Staticbeard. The great Weft curse. Also the play called The Night the Eclectic Guy Didnt Show Up, in which we pretended that, because the airshifter was late for the show, a series of increasingly improbable airshifters stepped in to fill the timeslot; these included a dog training show, a polka / cha-cha show, and a new-wave synth-pop show . Because someone on the programming committee was listening and thought I had actually failed to show up (although I played maybe three parts in the play), I felt quite a bit like Orson Welles. And, oh yeah, there was The Death of the Eclectic Guy, when we staged my own on-air assassination.
My favorite memory of all, though, is my memory of the night two tapes got stuck in Keiths vans tapedeck. Keith had written a play in which Adam (probably playing WEFT roving reporter Chip Wilcox or WEFT chief engineer Trevor Kajilligard) had to read his lines into a wireless microphone sitting outside in Keiths van while playing background sound effects on the vans tapedeck. If Adam Cain is the King Midas of Sound Engineering, then Keith Johnson is Rube Goldberg. Otherwise manageable radio plays were made way more interesting to work out with the addition of wireless microphones, tapedecks and amplifiers, detuned shortwave radios, pure static mixed in off the satellite downlink, and additional mixing boards plugged into the mixing board. Not that I helped any; I was the one who brought in laptops and printers (for a radio-show featuring only electronic music & computer-generated writing), an actual answering machine (for Answering Machine Radio), and my trusty microcassetterecorder, truly the most reliable piece of equipment Ive owned. I was the one who miked the typewriters we were using to hurriedly try to write the show before it was over. And all this not to mention shows too complicated to even mention, like Twenty Consonant Radio and Police Scanner Radio.
Eclectic Seizure is a place where local and visiting artists, including those who do not make art, get to find out how much fun Frequency Modulation can be. Yes, I know WEFT is better than anything on it, and weirder. Our show just offers a condensed version of the inconsistency, ecstasy, and madness that is WEFT. Eclectic Seizure celebrates experimental radio in a way most commercial disc jockeys would have trouble getting into or away with. As WEFT offers music you would never hear on any other station, so does Eclectic Seizure offer music you cant even hear on WEFTlike good songs played live for the first time ever. Our show is my heart, and it only beats once a week. Sundays at 10 PM this fall: All The Hard Time Killing Floor News Thats Fit To Sing (dedicated to highly subjective reporting of local news and newspapers, in the form of original poetry, music, and theater; cohosted by Danielle Chynoweth), Paul Kotheimer Unplugged, The Herbert Brün Radio Hour (my friend Herbert has, of late, been programming music for me selected from his personal collection: waltzes, electronic music, piano concertos, and 20th century music celebrating the interrogation of capitalism), and Radio Utopia (cohosted by the School for Designing a Society). Tune in sometime. If you dont dig it, thats actually a good sign: itll be totally different the next week. Eclectic Seizure: Psychedelinquent Schizophradio.
(originally published in The WEFT Revue (5:5) September-October 1997)