Music is Sanctuary at Radio Station WFDU
We're surrounded by visuals and, frankly, its overload. Almost every stimulus demands a response: cells, email, traffic, relationships, ATMs, Tweets, blogs, texts - it doesn't stop.
The one thing that does provide an oasis is music. But only if it's the right music. And each of us has our own definition of what that is.
It's tough to find spot-on sounds on public airwaves in this age of electronic, robotic programming, but college radio still offers the newest and the oldest in a personal format. Call-ins are picked up during live broadcasts by DJs who'll chat with you, play your favorite cuts.
Since 1971, WFDU 89.1-FM at FDUs metropolitan campus in Teaneck streams live, distinctive entertainment and prize-winning public affairs programming to the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area.
"This year marks our 40th anniversary," says general manager Carl J. Kraus.
With 89.1-FM since December 1980, Kraus began his broadcast career in 74 and has held operational, engineering, news and management positions with several New York stations, including WPAT and WNEW. He also is an amateur radio operator and director of telecommunications for Fairleigh Dickinson University.
"Music is a sanctuary," he says.
This year is a dual anniversary because were also on the cusp of the decade since (the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001). During that day, we continued doing our music. Amid all the devastation, we firmly believed it was our responsibility to play American music as a comfort, to maintain and reaffirm the spiritual bond that music creates.
Kraus thinks the station embodies two forms of magic.
One is the music, and the other is broadcasting itself, he says. That the ancient tradition of music is able to travel through the air into people's homes and lives, that's a kind of miracle. It's an honor to have this job.
In 1980, my musical tastes were rooted in Motown. I was ignorant, though, of the roots blues and gospel of how it evolved. The format we established then distinguished this station from the 80 or so other ones broadcasting at that time. Music America, Across the Tracks, all our programming, continue the legacy. I got myself a second education as manager of this station.
The legacy stems from Maj. Edwin Howard Armstrong, inventor of FM radio. WFDU is still transmitted from his original 40-kilowatt historic tower in Alpine, 400 feet above the Palisades Armstrong loved heights site of the world's first FM radio station in 1937.
Duff Sheffield, program director/operations manager (and married to CBS 1010 WINS-AM news veteran Judy DeAngelis), graduated from FDU in 1974. His talent is engineering, production and on-air talk. Sheffield has been a New York City Metro-area broadcaster for 40 years. He started by answering the request line at WXLO-99X. I stayed in New York for almost 20 years and returned to WFDU in March 1990, when they asked me to move the studios from the original location, he says and grins. My office downstairs? That used to be my dorm room. I've come full circle.
Sheffield is proud to helm the station he helped establish in 1971.
We have a staff of over 40, all volunteers, he says. Everybody here is serious. There has to be passion for the craft and a true love of music to do this.
Red, white and Bleu
Across the Trax is the Monday-to-Friday afternoon broadcast. For two years from 1 to 3:45 p.m. each Tuesday, the Across the Trax segment Code Bleu is hosted by Jimy Bleu, whose show features interviews and the finest in R&B, soul, rock and funk.
Bleu, a professional singer and guitarist, has been a recording artist, a back-up musician and currently is in post-production on a film based on the life of Jimi Hendrix. Hes toured with Wilson Pickett, Slade, Betty Wright, Joe Tex, New Birth, Al Green, the Black Crowes, Brook Benton, Shirley Caesar, Isaac Hayes and Lonnie Youngblood (who recorded sax and vocals with Hendrix).
Bleu currently performs with his all-female band Divinity and, for night owls, co-hosts Gospel Revelations with Stacy Wendell from 1 to 6 a.m.
On Code Bleu, he interviews some of the giants performers themselves and people who were with them sidemen, engineers, producers, managers.
On a recent afternoon, as torrents of rain gurgled down gutters, Bleu explains how he finds his subjects.
I approach them, and they also go to my website, see what I'm doing, especially if it's to do with Hendrix or funk. I've met some good people, gotten really good advice from them. One guy told me, I should be interviewing you.
Music has always been a part of his life, Bleu says.
I come from a family of professionals. Mom was a singer, and Dad was a singer/dancer. And my grandfather, Emmett Babe Wallace, was a professional singer and actor who played Lena Horne's original boyfriend in the (1943 film) 'Stormy Weather.'
Bleu grew up in Queens and graduated from the School for Performing Arts in New York City.
It really was like (the movie Fame) when I went there, he says.
Since 1968, Bleu has been performing the only annual, authentic Jimi Hendrix tribute show worldwide, starting as a member of Hendrix's official n club at Warner/Reprise records. I joined the n club with a girlfriend who got me into that scene, but we were just on the fringes of the entourage. Jimi didn't know my name, just to nod.
I once invited him to a gig, and he said, "What music?" Well, I wanted to impress him, so I said, "Purple Haze." He looked at me and said, "When you're doing you, then I'll come see you." I never forgot that. It's stayed with me my whole life. You have to be yourself.
'Shut up and listen'
For two years at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Bleu majored in voice and arranging-composition.
When I went to Berklee, Miles, Quincy, Duke would just walk in. Classes would stop. They'd say a few words, talk to us. Those were the golden years. That was the time to be at Berklee.
My professors were great, exactly what I needed. They told me, "Just shut up and listen." They taught me that you have to learn by doing.
So Bleu did. He answered an ad for English heavy-metal, hard-rock band UFO and toured with Aerosmith, Foghat and the J. Geils Band.
UFO was the fourth band on that tour, Bleu says, and I never looked back. Mostly funk and R&B, but always Hendrix.
In the early 90s, he and his all-girl band Cleopatra signed with Columbia/Def Jam, where he also worked for Columbia as a studio musician.
Russell Simmons was my personal manager and my producer. I learned more about music from Russell than I did at Berklee. School was great for technical stuff, but nothing like what really goes on. Barry and Carl share that history, that bond.
Nowadays, in addition to his radio gigs and club dates with Divinity, Bleu enjoys mentoring kids.
That's real special stuff, to watch them evolve musically and as individuals, he says.
And Bleus message to his students? Stay in school!
New show: Gospel Jazzations with Tony Smith
New show: Code Bleu with Jimy Bleu