“Every time someone wants to do this, the universe gets in the way,” lamented Dave from the Grave during the latest of several phone conversations meant to set up an interview with him. I, evidently, am not the only KCSBer to attempt a first-hand investigation, nor the first to hit snags. These plans always derail, according to Dave, whether by organizational snafus, scheduling troubles, or natural disasters.
This time around, blame biology for the delays: Like all too many of us this season, he’s caught one of the viruses going around. The freakish element is that, unlike most victims of the usual winter infections, Dave rarely leaves his house. A daily schedule dominated by listening to KCSB indoors turns out to be an imperfect bulwark against transmissible illness; Dave suspects he caught the bug from a visiting friend.
He left first notice of this in my voice mail, saying he had bad news and good news. The bad news is obvious. The good news is the cache of old notebooks that he reported finding. They are perhaps 30 in number, containing various notes, remembrances, favorite song titles, and music references to follow up; all filled, of course, while listening to KCSB. This massive handwritten record of one man’s prodigious listening habits would certainly come in handy during our interview — should that interview ever come to pass.
I resolved, in the meantime, to use this windfall of extra preparation time wisely. Unless all those cops-and-killers movies are wrong, one cannot truly know one’s quarry unless one is willing to become one’s quarry, to get inside their head by doing as they do, by living as they live. Alas, financial and social obligations preclude the possibility of my never leaving home and, hence, the earshot of my trusty radios ever-tuned to 91.9 FM. But I could stay up all night long — in theory, anyway — immersing myself in the distinctive vibe of KCSB’s graveyard-shift signal.
Though a KCSBer of seven years’ standing—especially one who joined the station during his hit-the-books collegiate days—might be presumed to have already pulled several all-nighters with soundtracks courtesy of the station, this was my very first. (Blame it on the fact that I never felt such a need to study that I’d delay sleep for a second in order to do so.) Having first put myself in the right jittery, aware frame of mind with cup after cup after cup of cheap black tea, I flipped on my radio at midnight, dropping right into the middle of a show called Discotheque Effect.
A continuous mix of extended dance tracks, the program fit both the hour and my mood. The slow, subtle variations and the seemingly infinite beats created the feeling that my KCSB journey into and through the night was already well on its way—chugging along to trance-inducing Euro-rhythms and occasional announcements from a DJ who seemed to call himself “Dirty Dumbo.” Whether or not that was really his nom de air remained unclear, since he wasn’t in the habit of turning the mic up loud enough to be understood, but it wouldn’t surprise me. What he spun — raps about breakfast, productions sampling the score from The Lion King — evinced a wacky sense of humor.
Such levity became important when I realized that, unpromisingly, I was already growing sleepy. I faced at least six more hours before earning the right to honestly say that, like our friend Dave, I had known what it was to listen to KCSB all night long. Imagine my joy, then, when 1 a.m. brought the night’s first big surprise: There’s a new old-school show on the station!
KCSBeat readers will remember the devotion I expressed to the genre when I profiled Ray Ramos Jr.’s long-running Jammin’ a Little Old School in January. These Old Memories, hosted by an interestingly-accented young fellow named Miguel, carried me through the next couple wee hours with the likes of Kashif, Central Line, and the Ritchie Family. Pondering my eternal gratitude, I figured I’d lay down on the floor, just for a few minutes.
Only with the aid of a media entity like KCSB could one inadvertently nod off to Patrice Rushen and wake up hailed with the rapid-fire shards of Yngwie Malmsteen’s epic, guitar-shredding metal. But as far as wake-up calls go, could there be a more immediately effective one? It so happened that I’d slept my way into Fists & Horns, the responsibility of a character the schedule calls “PistolPete.” As 5 a.m. neared, the ever-more-distorted guitars lent the night — the painfully early morning, really — an increasingly surreal air.
As the clock ticked on and the official legal ID, which the FCC requires KCSB to air at the beginning of the day, faded out, things got indie. Not “indie” the shorthand for “independent,” exactly, but “indie” the aesthetic sensibility: Elliott Smith, Ben Harper, Placebo gone acoustic.
Normal as this may seem, it came as a surprise; the official schedule had led me to expect a solid block of Christian rock from 5-7 a.m. But as is common practice on KCSB, other DJs will often substitute for absent programmers and perform a stylistic 180 in so doing. On this station, the expected piles on the unexpected, which piles on the semi-expected, constructing an intriguing hall of mirrors, even more intriguing if the sun’s only just rising.
The home stretch came in the form of that venerable Sunday-morning institution, Minister Matthew Brown’s Better Way Gospel Hour, though by that point I’d been rendered too disoriented by sheer tiredness to receive any sort of enlightenment. But it proved a suitably uplifting end to my all-night FM odyssey, and I now possess an infinitely better understanding of the mindset of round-the-clock listeners like Dave.
Lesson learned: If you can listen to KCSB and don’t feel like sleeping, drugs are unnecessary. A natural high’s just a turn of the radio dial away — or a natural trip, more precisely. If this is what Dave from the Grave experiences on a nightly basis, I’m in for one heck of an interview. Assuming it ever happens.