Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yup. I know I want to write more about my radio days - and it is coming regardless of whether you want it or not. However, Ronnie James Dio recently passed away, and I thought it necessary to spend a couple of minutes with this little giant. He was always the size of an Elf, which also happened to be the name of one of his first bands, but he packed a giant voice in that little body of his.

I first encountered Dio very indirectly. It was on a band trip to Stavern, in the southern part of Norway. We stayed at a school, sleeping on the floor in a class room. I believe the school was white, and against this white backdrop, a long-haired guitar player who I believe played the saxophone and a short-haired (read buzz cut) singer (also a sax player, I believe - although I am a little more fuzzy about that) ended up looking like silhouettes. The guitar player was playing a riff that was as powerful as it was simple, and the singer belted out lines that have been with me ever since: "Holy diver, you've been down too long in the midnight sea..."

I was hooked. Instantly. I didn't buy the album right away - as this would have been around the time it was released, but I ended up buying the record in the basement of Playtime, which also set the stage for my second chance encounter with Dio. I wrote about both Playtime and this chance encounter with Dio in an earlier entry. Later I discovered that Dio not only had played with Ritchie Blackmore (in Rainbow), but that he also sang for Black Sabbath on two studio albums and one live album, making him one of three singers who spent time with both Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, two of hard rock/heavy metal's early guitarists who developed and set the standard for what heavy metal guitars should be all about. The other two are Ian Gillan and Glen Hughes, who both spent time in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Dio immediately made his mark on Black Sabbath as well, as is evidenced by the song Heaven and Hell from 1980:

When Ronnie James Dio died after a fight with stomach cancer on May 16, he finally lost the fight against the dragon. This image has been recurring in many of his songs and albums - heavily inspired by fantasy and wizardry long before Harry Potter made it fashionable. I remember trying to decode the lyrics to The Last in Line, and I could not understand what he meant by "we're off to the witch, we may never, never, never come home but the magic that we'll feel is worth a lifetime." 25 years later and far more proficient in English, it makes more sense, although I sometimes do believe he lost meaning in the imagery in his songs.

I never met him. I never even saw him in real life. But I still feel his loss. A great voice is silenced, but his music will live on.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Radio Days vol. 1

I miss radio. After discovering NPR, I can say that I don't miss the listening part, as I do my fair share every day: Michigan Radio is my travel companion for both my morning and afternoon commute. But I miss being a part of a team creating the broadcasts. I think I spent about 8 years working with weekly broadcasts (sometimes more often). Most of it as the host/DJ of various music shows, predominantly focusing on the heavier sides of rock; however, I also spent quite some time as an engineer, making sure the programs sounded the way they should - and I enjoyed that as much as anything.

My radio career (as much as you can call volunteering a career) began the summer of 1985 through a series of rather unbelievable coincidences. I was 13 years old, and one day I found myself home alone (I believe my parents and sister had left to visit my grandmother). Being home alone and bored, I picked up the phone and called a party line, which was pretty new at this point - and, I believe it still was free. After the normal series of hellos, I ended up talking to two girls (which, of course was what I wanted to do anyway). We hit it off fairly well, and I ended up agreeing to travel across town to hang out for a while. I met up with them, and we ended up just talking, sitting down at some benches in their neighborhood. I did not know the first part of the unbelievable coincidences at the time, but one of the girls I was talking to was the daughter of my best friend Arve's mother's partner. In other words, she was his step-sister, but since she lived with her mother, I had never met her, nor did I know she existed.

Anyway, we were sitting outside, just hanging out and talking as a couple of guys walk by. They knew the girls and started talking to us. One of them, Chip Peters was his name (by no means a Norwegian name - but then again, he had at least one parent who was either English or American), noticed the patches and buttons on my jeans and jean jacket (at least a Dio patch, probably a Rainbow patch, and a couple of Kiss buttons - it was my standard fare at that time) and decided he would quiz me about music. I was able to answer all of his questions but one (what motorcycle does Rob Halford of Judas Priest ride on stage?), which must have impressed him. He told me that he had just started working for Radio Ung (ung=young), which was one of many brand new radio station in Trondheim that had started up as a result of an opening of airwaves to other actors than the nationally owned NRK, and then he proceeded to ask me if I wanted to start working there as well - because they had a rock show that I might be able to work for. I said, "sure," and we agreed to meet later that week so that I could meet the managing editor to see if this actually could happen.

I still remember my first meeting. Once again I took the bus to the other side of town, and I met Chip as planned. When we walked over to the studio, I was very surprised to see that it was in the basement of a large apartment building, which again was a part of a complex of apartment buildings - similar, yet more upscale, to the American projects. Studio 45 was located in Øvre Flatåsvei 45, it was owned by Trondheim Kommune (municipality). In the daytime, they ran job training/sysselsetting (essentially giving the unemployed something to do) programs, but in the late afternoon and evening, the two radio studios that made up Lydverkstedet (the sound workshop) were used by volunteer organizations who started their own radio stations - and that is where Radio Ung fit into the patchwork of activities taking place in a very small space.

So I enter the studio. Immediately to my left, there is a large office with windows all around it, which is the only way natural light enters the premises. To my right, we have Lille Studio (the little studio), lockers, then Store Studio (the big studio). Finally, behind the office on the left hand side, there is a common area, and that is where Jørund Hølaas, managing editor, meets and greets me. Whether he actually sized me up or not, I am not sure, but I remember it as him taking a close look at me, then asking me a couple of questions before saying, "OK, come in the studio with me, we have to run an outro right away." I started trembling. I was only expecting to find out whether or not I would be starting - not to actually get on the air. But I did it. I joined him in the studio - I said my one line (which I wish I could remember) as a part of the closing of the broadcast of the program "Give Peace a Chance," and then it was all over. The show was done, and my first time in front of a microphone was over with. It happened so fast that I didn't get the chance to get really nervous. I was then told that I should come to the studio again that Friday to meet the host of Flazz, which was the hard rock show I was going to join. But for now, here is John Lennon singing the song that named the radio program I first was associated with: Give Peace a Chance.

Also - since it still grinds me that I got this question wrong, here is Rob Halford entering the stage on his motorcycle. The song is Hell Bent for Leather:

And, finally, since a Dio patch probably was to blame for my radio entrance, and since he, according to everything I have ever read, is the nicest guy in metal (and please don't argue about him being metal or not), here is Dio with Egypt (The Chains Ar On), which is one of my personal favorite Dio tracks...