Will the last DJ out the door please remember to turn off the radio?
When I was in elementary school my parents bought me a clock radio. The clock, probably the primary purpose for the purchase, didn’t interest me much. It, after all, was the insistent alarm that sent an unmotivated student to school each day. Thanks for nothing, Clock.
The radio, on the other hand, was a revelation.
At night, I would tuck the entire unit under my pillow and fall asleep listening to new music, old music, strange and beautiful music. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was a world I became entranced with. The neck pain was worth it.
And while the music was the main attraction for me, the people that served it up, the personalities with the voices, taste and talent to serve up an endless buffet of rock, pop and country – depending on what I saw as essential that week – became the friends and mentors that kept me company as I leaned in and learned how music rewards the careful listener.
The first records I bought were recommended by a DJ. The first songs I bonded over in the schoolyard were introduced to me by a DJ. I learned to write and analyze from teachers in school. I learned to listen from DJs on the radio.
I bring this up because that kind of radio personality – particularly on the increasingly more generic AM and FM dials – is becoming rare as rooster teeth. Programming has become a corporate responsibility and more of a science than art – a numbers game. What was once a place of discovery has become a slightly more stilted place where only what is deemed commercial is allowed to flourish.
It is no longer about making art commercial but rather the art of commerce. All over the country, radio personalities, those men and women willing to program the exciting and exotic, are disappearing – set free in favor of the digital playlists. Recently, it happened here.
Chuck Williams might have been the last man standing in the Augusta market. For more than 20 years he gave creative programming, both literally and figuratively, a voice. His position at Beasley Broadcasting was recently eliminated – a sign of the changing times – and chances are we will not see, or hear, the likes of a Chuck Williams on Augusta radio again.
I first became acquainted with Williams more than 15 years ago, when he was steering the ship at 95 Rock. What struck me about him and the way he programmed that station was the sense of vision and understanding. He saw that station as a single cohesive entertainment product and every shift in tone and timbre in the broadcast schedule not only served that purpose, but also addressed the broad demographic of rock fans then listening to FM radio.
But times changed and, to his credit, Chuck changed with them. He shut out the lights when 95 Rock was taken off the air. He willingly took his talents to BOB-FM 93.9 and did what he could to establish that station’s place in the local market. All the while, he became one of those indelible radio voices, a voice like those that informed and entertained me as a child, that became an essential part of the listening experience.
There are, of course, still some personalities on Augusta airwaves. But the day of the DJ – on the classic sense of the word – seems to be over.
Chuck Williams was our last knight errant, but even he had to stop tilting at windmills eventually.
Radio will never sound the same.