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Feast Your Ears

By Gary Wien

originally published: 02/26/2018

Feast Your EarsIt’s hard to explain just how powerful the movement of free form progressive FM radio truly was.  When it emerged in the 1960s, it was unlike anything anybody had ever heard.  Instead of listening to the same five hit songs over and over again, you might hear five straight songs about rain or five songs that featured the same guitarists in different bands.  There were no playlists, no corporations in charge, only DJs.

It was also rather short lived.  With the exception of a few radio stations, most moved from free form to a more structured playlist in the 1970s.  One station that stayed free form was WHFS 102.3 - a small station based in the large market of Washington, DC.  That station remained free form until 1983 and its story is told in the upcoming documentary Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 by Jay Schlossberg, a New Jersey native (raised in Chatham) who moved to Maryland in 1969.

In 1983, the station left Bethesda for Annapolis and moved to 99.1 on the radio dial.  A new generation fell in love with its alternative rock and roll playlist.  The station was no longer free form and was often programmed in advance as opposed to purely live on the air.  The documentary only focuses on what is called the station’s golden age - the period when the freeform started in the late sixties up until the change in 1983.

Even though decades have passed since the station’s freeform days, the station is still remembered fondly by many.  WHFS DJs had several reunions over the years.  One took place on Record Store Day in 2013.  Schlossberg was in New York on a business trip at the time and saw a photo of the reunion a few days later.

“I look at it on my computer and said, ‘Oh my God, they’re all not dead yet!’” he recalled.  “Somebody should tell the story. And that was it.”



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Schlossberg began having conversations with friends about the idea of a film.  Conversations with some of the DJs then followed.  They agreed to meet in “The Triangle Towers” in Bethesda, where the original station was located.  One of the DJs still lived there and they let them use the lounge for the meeting.

“We all met and talked about it and they were all like ‘We’re all in, this is great!’”

Filming began in June 2014 with an interview of musician David Bromberg.  Many musicians were interested in being part of the film.  In addition to musicians loving the music played on the station, WHFS either broke or helped break artists like Little Feat, Cyndi Lauper, NRBQ, and even played songs from Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park album on the day it was released. Some of the artists interviewed include Roger McGuinn, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Cockburn, Marshall Crenshaw, and members of the band Little Feat. 

Feast Your Ears

Most of the musicians they approached instantly remembered the station.  Those who didn’t remember WHFS still remembered how special the free form radio format was and wanted to be on board as well. Schlossberg said, “They were able to talk about what it was like to go in and be welcomed like a long lost brother or sister and play some songs on the air.”

Musicians weren’t the only ones to remember though.  Once word started to trickle out about the documentary, fans of the station began flocking to the film’s Facebook Page.  The tiny 2,300 watt station that stopped broadcasting 35 years ago has 27,000 fans currently on the Facebook page - many sharing their own personal stories of what WHFS meant to them.

That passion goes way beyond the music.  The station was a true community with discussion boards.  They had ride boards, job boards, housing boards, lost pet boards, etc.  The music was the soundtrack of a generation embattled in a period of major change.

“If you look at the Facebook age, it’s amazing what people have said about how WHFS changed their lives completely - musically, politically, socially, culturally in many different ways,” said Schlossberg.  “I remember early on one woman sent me a private message.  She said she was in her 50s now and it was her dad who listened to WHFS.  He was the one who brought the station to her and it changed her life.  She said, ‘I’m so grateful to my dad and when I told him you are making the movie, he started crying.’”

Feast Your Ears

The film is about 99% finished and deep into post, but they are still shooting a few pickup interviews to fill holes in the story.  The goal is to have a completed film by the spring and then to see where it goes from there, whether that means the film festival route, theaters, streaming services, international distribution, or something else.  Judging by the interest the documentary has already seen, its story is much larger than the station’s original reach.  It will appeal to music fans who grew up listening to the station as well as those interested in radio and radio history.

Schlossberg notes similars stations like WNEW in New York, WBCN in Boston, WMMR in Philadelphia, WMMS in Cleveland, and KMPX in San Francisco.  At one time or another, each of them utilized the free form radio format.  Madison Avenue watched as these stations became popular and grew dedicated audiences. But changes in the industry - notably when Metromedia began buying stations across the country - their formats and playlists became more homogenized. It happened rather quickly to the industry. College radio and Nation  Public Radio stations would continue the practice, but the large majority of commercial stations had abandoned free form.

“Madison Avenue didn’t miss the boat,” explained Schlossberg.  “They actually got the boat and stole the boat.”

Structured playlists with the same songs throughout the country made it easier to market products.  It also removed creativity and originality from radio.  If you travel several hundred miles by car today, you can easily hear the same 2-3 songs multiple times as you go through state by state.  This has led many music fans to seek out stations on satellite or internet radio for diversity.  But, while the music played on those outlets may resemble the freeform era, the stations are rarely broadcast live like they were back then.  That’s something that made those stations great and helped stations build their own communities.

“One major aspect that’s gone is a live DJ on the air being moved at the moment by what they’re being moved by,” said Schlossberg.  “Even on the free form stations of today they’re picking the music, but are recording their voice tracks, and editing for broadcast later on.”

Schlossberg likens it to somebody calling the DJ to let them know they’ve just had a baby and to see if they could have a song played for them.  Then the DJ says congratulations on the air and plays 5 songs about babies or with the word baby or whatever the creative spark is for them at that moment.

“Today, radio is all prerecorded,” he continues.  “To me, that’s not real radio.  You might as well just tell Spotify what you like and it will play songs with the D.N.A. of what you like.  But where is the surprise? Where’s the human element?”

To follow the film’s progress and be alerted when the documentary has been completed, you can sign up for alerts at www.feastyourearsthefilm.com





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(HOPEWELL, NJ) -- For an entire week, Hopewell Theater will celebrate Halloween with, Fright Fest, a mini fest of classic Halloween horror films from October 25 - 31, 2018. The slate of films are icons of horror cinema, and will be displayed in all their gory glory on the big screen. 
"Mother Of All Secrets" To Screen At Golden Door International Film Festival
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The Golden Door Film Festival is hosting a red carpet screening of the female-led thriller, Mother of All Secrets, on Friday, September 21 at Landmark Loew’s Theatre with several stars in attendance. The movie, which was entirely shot in Bermuda, stars Emmy award-winner Kate Mansi, Top Gun star Kelly McGillis, Real Housewives of New York LuAnn de Lesseps, Brooke Burfitt and local Jersey actor Sean Stolzen. 
Golden Door International Film Festival To Present A Screening of "The Pretender"
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- One of the most popular sports films in history is Rocky - a film that mirrors the real life experience of professional boxer Chuck Wepner from Bayonne. A new independent film called The Pretender takes viewers inside the life of Mike Kunda, a “Rocky” fanatic since the movie’s release nearly 40 years ago. The film explores Mike’s fascination with the Rocky Balboa character and how it continues to impact his life, and the lives of others, in interesting and unimaginable ways. The film screens as part of the Golden Door International Film Festival on Sunday, September 23rd at 12:00pm at the Landmark Lowe’s Jersey Theatre (54 Journal Square Plaza) in Jersey City, NJ.
Hopewell Theater Offers Crybaby and Family Matinees
(HOPEWELL, NJ) -- Hopewell Theater is presenting a special monthly movie matinee, “Crybaby Matinee” just for parents and little ones. Toddlers as well as babes-in-arms, infants in strollers and carriers are all welcome to attend. These special Thursday morning screenings offer a sensory-friendly environment – lights are turned up, sound is turned down, and talking and noise is allowed. Latecomers are admitted and guests can move around. The matinees are a fun and affordable option for families, tickets are $6.00 and babes-in-arms, infants in strollers and carriers are admitted free. Hopewell Theater is also offering Saturday “Family Matinees” one Saturday a month, featuring screenings of new and classic films that families with older children can enjoy. Tickets are $6.00 per person.


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Event calendar
Thursday, Sep 20, 2018


MUSIC

ELI YOUNG BAND WITH CODY BRYAN @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

CELTIC THUNDER X @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm

Lost 80's Live @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Citizen Cope @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm

ICON 2018: ELIMINATION ROUND 2 @ Hamilton Stage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

Linda Eder @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

Auditions for Seussical at CDC Theatre @ CDC Theatre, Cranford - 7:00pm

Playhouse 22's Third-Thursday Play Reading Series @ Playhouse 22, East Brunswick - 7:30pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Opening Reception @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 6:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 8:00pm


FILM

New Jersey Film Festival @ Ruth Adams Building #001, New Brunswick - 6:00pm


KIDS

Crybaby Matinee: The Triplets of Belleville @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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