Sam Burnham, Curator
Back at the beginning on this month, Georgians of a particular age were delighted when iHeart Radio resurrected Atlanta radio station 96 Rock in an all-digital format.
From 1974 to 2006, 96 Rock ruled the airwaves across North Georgia. I’ve heard more than one person opine that it was the best radio station in The South. The only competition for that title I ever encountered was Classic Rock 99.5 in Birmingham and WRUF-FM in Gainesville, Florida. Both of these stations were also gobbled up and destroyed by corporate radio acquisition. This is why modern commercial radio stinks. But that’s another story.
Back to the good aspects. The nostalgia ran deep on this. They say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. But in this case, we knew exactly what we had. Homesick Georgians were gathered together at Jacksonville State one night when someone suggested going up to Mt Cheaha and listening to 96 Rock. The signal up there was crystal clear under a starlit sky and a pilgrimage was born. That’s just one of many stories. And a lot of Georgians can tell you similar tales.
My take on the reboot is mixed. The music is great even though it’s a bit repetitive at times. Toward the end of the broadcast era, the station had the same problem, only much worse. It is good to hear most of the voices of the old personalities. The iconic “This is 96 Rock” makes me smile every time.
I do not like hearing the reminiscing by “The Regular Guys.” The former morning team whose juvenile antics ultimately killed the entire station are pretty much hailed as heroes at times. There’s no reason for Eric von Haessler’s voice to be on 96 Rock. There’s no reason for Larry Wachs to be heard on radio ever again, period. Like many New York transplants in Georgia, these two self-serving miscreants made a lot of money destroying something we all loved. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I do hope that the station will cultivate more of a presence in the area. Ultimately what we have right now is a playlist. In its heyday, 96 Rock was where we heard about shows, concerts, album releases, and other music news. The very first time I heard Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell was when 96 Rock played the album in it’s entirety. The 96 Rock stage at Music Midtown was always a must. This wasn’t just a radio station. It was part of the community. Correction, it was part of our communities, plural.
So this resurrection is not without negatives, particularly the fact that it is orchestrated by the Walmart of radio, iHeart. It’s a corporate thing and we all get that. But hopefully that floating disembodied heart emoji in the sky will see by that data it’s collecting that we all still love our old station and they’ll put the resources into it to make it what it was, what it could be, what it should be.
Welcome back, 96 Rock!
Sam Burnham, Curator
“...kind of a mistake. It’s a song that should have never been a hit single.” Michael Stipe
”Think about it. You’ve got a five minute song with no discernible chorus and the lead instrument is a mandolin. Why would anyone play that on the radio?” - Mike Mills
This is how two members of REM introduce a show featuring the creation of their 1991 single Losing My Religion. Yet this is the song that, after it was recorded, was the band’s consensus choice for the first single from their album Out of Time.
The new Netflix series Song Exploder offers a look behind the scenes into how these four men created one of the greatest songs ever released by a Georgia band. Seeing the magic of the creative process just added to the greatness and the mystique of the song.
Peter Buck teaching himself to play the mandolin and just building that iconic riff in the process booked the band a date with destiny. From there the show meanders through the creativity of Stipe, Mills, Buck, and Berry as each one made their mark. REM collectively decided to do something different. That’s what they did. It was different than anything they had done before and much different than anything else in the radio at that time. Stipe choosing an old Southern phrase is indicative of Georgia as an anchor for the music.
One of the greatest parts of the show is to see how they talk about the band and each other. So many bands out there that have the years together that these men have are burned out or even hate each other. These four are still very much friends and obviously love each other the way long time friends should. It’s refreshing.
I remember this song so vividly. Even on such a great album this one stood out to me. It was one that I listened to over and over. For me in 1991 that meant rewinding a cassette over and over, which I did. Whether it was on my stereo in my room or on my Walkman on the bus headed to a football road game, this song was never far away. In 2020, I find it just as enjoyable as I did in 1991. In fact, I’ve been through it 6 or 7 times while writing this piece.
I would have thought that the samples, those that were singled out in the show would have been detrimental. Such a mechanical separation of vocals, or percussion, or strings should peel back some of the magic and cost the song it’s soul. But it didn’t. It gave me chills, made me take notice. It proved to me, even more than I already knew, that this is just a truly great song.
If you are a fan of REM or even just enjoyed Losing My Religion then this is 25 minutes well spent. It is well worth your time.
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire