The Ballad of Central Control

(Reflective Paper)

Written on October 24, 1991

It's always been one of my favorite picturesJay, Kirk, Jim and
     Tim: Tim, Kirk, Jay and I standing in front of the metallic warehouse door that led into the Miss Alans' old practice space. They were having an eviction party that night and since Tim was leaving for England to get married, we thought it might be a good idea to at least to have one picture of the four of us. After all, we had been intertwined with each other and the radio station for four solid years.

As at least one person has commented, we looked like a bad garage band, even though only Jay, the bassist for the aforementioned Miss Alans, was in a band at the time. But since we were all wearing various shades of black, white and grey and were laughing hysterically at some joke, I guess that the case could be made.

I was wearing my de rigueur costume of the time -- black jeans, white long-sleeved button-down tuxedo shirt (untucked, natch), and my hardy black vest (unbuttoned, natch), with my long-lost Bob Dylan button attached to it. Pretty standard mid-80s regular underground rock guy fare. Coolest of all, though, was the old-style green glass Coca-Cola bottle (half-filled with rum, natch) I was holding between my legs in what I just noticed was an unintentional phallic gesture. I haven't seen one of those bottles for sale in years.

At the time, I was glad to get the picture -- the four of us had been through a lot of shit because of the radio station, and even though the politics were mostly behind us, the friendships were as solid as ever. With Tim leaving for the U.K., and Kirk graduating, I wanted a photographic record that Central Control (as we were inadvertently dubbed and thought so funny we decided to use ourselves) ever existed.

Let me explain.

Tim Gaskill and I were best friends in high school, mostly because we were the only people who liked "weird" music, but not weird clothes. After graduating, we went to Fresno City College, where we met with this guy who said that Fresno State University (as it was still PC to call it then) was putting a radio station on the air within the next year and since we had cool taste in music would we like to get involved?

I jumped at the chance, because ever since I was a little kid, one of the things I wanted to do was be a disc jockey and play music for people. (This, of course, was long before a DJ could be a band and turntables could be musical instruments.) Somewhere, there are tapes of me as an 11-year-old kid with two turntables being a DJ and making up "clever" introductions for the 45's I was recording. Thinking about it now, it seems that I instinctively knew then what I positively know now: that I've always communicated best with other people through and about music.

Since at the time I couldn't play any instruments, the chance to be a disc jockey and be on the radio was almost a life's dream come true. So on October 30,1982, KFSR 90.7FM went on the air, and me with it.

Now, to this day, I really don't know how I got to be one of the ones to be singled out, noticed and generally identified with the station -- especially since there were tons of DJs... -- but my guess would be three-fold: 1) I have a distinctive (though not radio-like) voice; 2) I'm extremely knowledgeable and eloquent about the music I enjoy, and now I had a forum; and 3) because the voice was so memorable and the knowledgeable so evident -- and I was only 19 -- the then Station Manager, Bret Kofford, quickly dubbed me "The Boy Wonder." And for some reason, "Boy Wonder" is a memorable moniker whether it's applied to me, Dick Grayson, or Lou Boudreau.

(I just spent a half-hour digging through what Baseball books remain from my childhood fact-checking the memory flash that Lou Boudreau was indeed called "The Boy Wonder" when, at the tender age of 24, he became the player-manager of the Cleveland Indians. I never found it. But what the hell, I'll swear on a stack of Roger Angell books that its true. Ok, ok . . . Thus endeth the Arcane Reference Section of this paper. Now, back to our plot, where Jim is about to describe how he embellished on the "Boy Wonder" nickname.)

And I inadvertently made it even more memorable when one day it was so damn hot in the studio I took my shoes off before my shift started and went on the air saying, "My name is Jim Connelly and I'm not wearing any shoes, so I guess you can call me The Barefoot Boy Wonder.'" It stuck. It really stuck. It stuck so much that some people (not my friends) still use it, despite the fact that I publicly disavowed the nickname and stopped using it on the air when I turned 25.

In any event, two of the DJ's that Tim and I noticed were Kirk Biglione and Jay Fung, who were also playing good music and saying witty things on the air. Soon the four of us became good friends. We were all equally shocked that there were people that we hadn't know previously that liked the same kinds of music (not to mention film, TV and literature) that we did. So we hung around together, ditched a lot of classes and were on the air an awful lot. Especially me.

I couldn't get enough of it. Being on the air, and discovering music I'd never heard before and playing it for people was an almost indescribable rush. If just one person called me and thanked me for turning them on to something they'd never heard before or told me I was doing a great job, then it was worth it to miss class or piss off my then-girlfriend. So even though, like everybody else, I was only scheduled for one airshift per week, I hustled two or three or even four if I could. I wasn't getting paid a dime, I was doing it for the sheer balls-out pleasure.

Because the station was so new and we were so young, we played it fast and loose on the air. We were dropping in on each other's shifts, insulting things like other radio stations, Ronald Reagan, and the new Coca-cola -- generally causing as much havoc as we could get away with.

Soon, Kirk because Music Director and we were putting on shows and the underground music scene in Fresno was galvanized, if only for one brief shining moment. We knew that the future was even brighter; it was obvious that either Kirk or Tim could be the Station Manager and then our vision of the radio station would soon be in full effect. Because even though we were the most public, we still weren't totally in charge. But we knew it was coming, because we knew we had the vision thing.

Right at the time that we seemed to be on top of the world, that it seemed we were going to be able to run the station and really do it correctly and make it formidable powerhouse -- not just in Fresno, but a well-knows and well-respected college radio station on a national scale -- right when we were on the cusp of all this, along came some people who were no less intelligent, yet had different ideas about the goal of the station. You see, we had always seen the station as about music, playing different types of music for different people, but these other people thought that the station should be used primarily as a training ground for the real world.

We were aghast. The real world sucked. It was corrupt, evil, and based on commercial interests, not musical ones. Who needs a training ground to sell your soul? Besides, some of us music people were damn fine disc jockeys and could make it in the real world.

(Not that any of us ever wanted to. Or ever tried. The real world of radio does not encourage creativity -- either musically or verbally. So why would I ever want to cage myself for money when I had been able to roam free for so long?? Irony: I'll graduate with Radio-Television degree that I started because I wanted to be on the radio, but after learning all about the industry, I have no desire to ever be on the radio again . . . unless, of course, I could do it my way.)

The radio people pointed out that a college's first responsibility was to teach, and besides, what you knew about music was irrelevant in the real world where they had consultants. Indeed, who were we to try and make things different in our little corner of the world? And so the battle was joined for control of the radio station.

I am now convinced that there is nothing worse than to get involved with some sort of politics when you are in your early 20s. Before the battle of the music people and the radio people, I was naive about vicious people could be: twisting facts around to suit their own purposes, lying about their motives to gain power, and just generally being evil.

You see, our friendships, our high profiles and even our goals were turned against us. Instead of being perceived for what we were -- close friends who shared basically the same ideals and goals -- we were suddenly characterized as a good-old-boy network, shutting out other people for personal gain. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We wanted other people to join us. What we didn't see -- couldn't see, really -- was that because we were so close, so smart, and sometimes (especially Kirk) so openly contemptuous of anyone who disagreed, some saw us as arrogant and elitist. Which (sigh) maybe we were.

All that I know for sure is that our friendships had become a political liability. It got so bad that even our other friends were affected -- at one point, Ronnie Woods, another DJ (and the drummer for the Miss Alans), joked: "Someone's gonna ask me if I know Jay or Jim, I'm gonna deny it, and a rooster's gonna crow." (I know he said those exact words because it made "Quote of the Week," one of the most cherished of our several running inside jokes.) Nevertheless, it never affected our friendships. We still hung out with each other -- what else could we do??

But it just disillusioned me. After over a year of brickbats, infighting and just plain nastiness, the whole thing ended as a stalemate in mid-1985. And while we were glad that the politics were over, KFSR was really never the same in any of our lives.

By that time, Tim had already quit and gone off on the London Semester where he'd meet his future wife, and Kirk and Jay and I had retreated to the security of our weekly airshifts, where we were still so entrenched and identified with the station itself that we could still have fun and cause trouble as long as we didn't violate any FCC guidelines. And our friendships endured, lasting through various girlfriends, jobs and people actually graduating.

And so by the time that photo was taken in late '86, Tim had been gone and home and decided to go back to be married; Kirk had graduated and was planning to move to L.A., Jay had the band and I . . . well, I was beginning to develop a love-hate with being on the air which lasted until a final straw in May '89, when I quit for good.

It took me that long to quit, because I was like a junkie, and I needed my weekly fix, even though I was completely cognizant that it just didn't get me off like it used to. Increasingly, I felt out of touch with the audience. The local underground scene, after its brief moment of unity due to the novelty of having any radio station play this music, shattered into various feuding factions: hardcore punks, synth-poppers, jangly guitar bands, doom and gloom goths, mod skasters, hip-hoppers, funkateers, grungemeisters, etc.

All of these people were convinced that their subgenre was the correct one, the one to truly carry the banner of the underground, and so it was impossible for me to please everyone or everything, except for my own pre-sold fan base -- who, as I saw it, liked everything but leaned towards the jangly guitar stuff and the more melodic edge of punk. Yet I stuck around because I still loved playing the music and there were whole new generations of good people on the air to have fun with. So it took me forever to quit the radio station that had dominated my life for the better part of a decade.

Even with none of us at the radio station, our lives have remained intertwined: the girl who I pissed off to be on the air has been living with Kirk in L.A. for years; I flew over to England to be Tim's best man; my band, Sedan Delivery, has played with the Miss Alans several times in the past couple of years; Kirk manages the Miss Alans, and send free copies of their CDS across the sea to Tim, who is trying to get them write-ups in the U.K. pop press and talking to U.K. record labels for them; Jay and I hang out, see movies, and complain about our love lives; Tim and I call each other every couple of months and he's been back here several times, etc.

And very very occasionally, Kirk can make it up here when Tim makes it over and the four of us do what we always did best -- compare opinions on new albums, discuss TV and film and insult each other, just like friends are supposed to do.

I know now that night was a watershed moment in all of our lives. With Tim gone for good, the dynamic would never be the same. Yet when I look at the picture, I don't really feel nostalgic for that time; what's done is done and though we all had a helluva ride, you can't recreate the cross-section of time and space that created the friendships. It gives me a flood of memories that create, almost logarithmically, other memories that create other memories and so on and so forth.

So while I don't feel nostalgic, I still feel good, because the picture makes me laugh, if for no other reason than for the sheer joy of friendship that it obviously details. These people are life-long friends, that picture says. And while it was something we subconsciously knew that night, it is pretty much of a given now. I also think that we knew it was the end of an era, or the start of a new one, just from the who-gives-a-fuck grins on our faces. Because it's pretty obvious now that while the radio station and that phase of our lives was history, the history of our friendships was just beginning.

--Jim Connelly

Still. Even with some of the life changes -- after nearly a decade, the Miss Alans broke up; I moved up to the Bay Area; Jay got married -- we still keep in touch. Its even easier now: both Kirk and Tim are on the Net.

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This document created on 02 July, 1995.
Last modified on 16 January 1996
I was listening to Robert Johnson -- The Complete Recordings