Heavy Metal Before the Internet - Part III: The Birth of "MetalMike".
Recollections by MetalMike
For most young metal fans today, there has never been a time when you couldn't just go on to the Internet and stream a new song, download an album or check out a band's live show on YouTube. Everyone has instant access to everything and the "next new thing" is a tweet or Facebook post or board post away. Even for someone like me, who has been around the scene for over 30 years, it is hard to remember what life was like before the Internet. Recently, I posted something about this very subject on one of the boards here at The Metal Crypt and "threatened" to write about what I remembered. Surprisingly, some folks actually expressed interest so I thought "why not? I'll probably forget it all in the not too distant future." So here it is; my memories of what it was like to be a Heavy Metal fan back in the days before the Internet, before the instant access and before genres were starting to be defined and it was all just "Heavy Metal." Read on...
As I transitioned from high school to college in the mid-80s, the magazines and word of mouth remained the most reliable modes of communication, along with the radio shows, though they were almost exclusively playing major label stuff by this time. Not that there wasn't good stuff on the big labels. I saw Scorpions (with Bon Jovi, and I can't tell you how pissed I was to realize they were actually pretty talented) Jun. 9th, 1984 followed by Deep Purple and Dio later that same year. Then it was Iron Maiden on the Live After Death Tour with Twisted Sister Jan. 15th, 1985 and then again on Jun. 2nd this time with Accept, followed by Priest in 1986 (with Dokken, I think), Dio with Megadeth and Savatage Dec. 28th, 1987 and Metallica with Queensryche March 16th, 1989. All these shows were at big arenas but I was also starting to hit the smaller clubs for more "underground" shows by the bands I was hearing about only occasionally on the Metal radio shows but frequently reading about in 'zines and finding in the import bins at my honey-hole record store. In my freshman year at college (1985-1986) a friend and I approached the manager of the campus radio station, a massive 1200-watt powerhouse (it barely reached 10 miles off campus, but there were a couple of fairly large cities in the circle), about doing a metal show. He looked down his nose at us, being the arrogant upper classman he was, and explained, in a very self-important tone, how he knew what was popular and how he'd broken Katrina and the Waves and their song "Walkin' on Sunshine" and how that had led to their signing a record deal. What a douche. I would have the last laugh.
While working over the summer of 1987, I happened to be listening to that same college station while working at a local factory. They normally played "new wave" or "alternative" rock, which tended to suck but not as much as the soft rock on the other stations. It was a Tuesday and, lo and behold, the noon hour brought to my ears the sounds of "The Blitzkrieg," a 1-hour Heavy Metal show. Who would have thought? Obviously, Mr. douche-of-a-general-manager was no longer there. The DJ was playing Poison, KISS and Motley Crue but it was certainly better than anything else that was on. AND he was playing tracks other than the hits. There's light at the end of the tunnel, I thought. I went back to school that year to find the show had moved to Tuesday night and my friend, who'd gone with me during freshman year to ask about doing a Metal show but who'd dropped out after one semester, was back and now the DJ. I started interning because, in addition to popular stuff (he was playing Guns n' Roses before "Sweet Child O' Mine" broke on MTV) he also played stuff like King Diamond, Overkill and Slayer. Another guy and I were constantly pushing him to play more Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament and stuff like that. We all brought our treasures from home to play and my 12" single of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" with their cover of Jethro Tull's "Cross-eyed Mary" on the B-side was extremely popular. Before the Internet, if you didn't actually own the physical recording, you weren't likely to hear the song unless it got played on the radio. Many times we would announce when we were going to play a certain song and admonish the listeners that it wouldn't be right if they were planning on taping the radio at that time. Yeah, we were frigging rebels. I wanted to DJ this show so bad but figured I'd have just get on the air somewhere and hope to fill in when my friend needed a night off. Another intern and I took the DJ class and both passed the test in Feb. 1988. I'm not proud, but I was more than a little loaded when I took the test, after hanging out at the campus bar beforehand, having turned 21 the prior month. I still passed so either I am clutch under pressure or the test was really easy. I'm guessing the latter. Anyway, a couple months went by and I continued to intern for The Blitzkrieg and did a few fill-ins on regular, "alternative" time slots, where I played some really awful stuff but snuck in as much Soundgarden, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies and such as I could. The nice thing about this station was that the playlist was almost entirely up to the DJ. The only thing you had to do was play new releases at certain times each hour, from a selection of albums determined by the program manager. I'd find the heaviest stuff in that pile then play some Crossover/Punk stuff until I had to play another new song. My shows were not what you would call "smooth."
In May of 1988, my friend left The Blitzkrieg on short notice and I was up! Shit! Most of the other shows I'd done were just playing records; I didn't have to actually speak on the air. My first show rolled around and, damn, was I nervous. I'm sure I sounded like crap and my voice, which isn't the lowest to begin with, probably sounded like I'd been huffing helium all afternoon, but it was fucking AWESOME! Here I was, playing the music I lived for and it was being heard and appreciated by literally thousands of people. OK, it was probably more like dozens of people, and even that's optimistic, but the phone rang a few times with requests and I was on top of the world. I couldn't wait for Tuesdays and, if it wasn't enough that I got to play my favorite music, soon labels like Metal Blade and Roadrunner were reaching out to me, and other college Metal DJs, realizing we were the perfect outlet for their music since major market radio stations wouldn't play their stuff. They began sending me new music every week along with press releases on upcoming stuff and I couldn't wait to share this information with the listeners. And when something new came out, it usually had a "suggested" track for radio to play. Fuck that. I'm playing something else. I wanted to provide not just the best Heavy Metal but a service for the listeners by letting them hear more than one track so they could decide if they wanted to buy an album (again, pre-Internet days, you couldn't go to a website and stream or download an entire album and decide if you liked it afterward, you had to shell out some dough up front). We did crazy things, because we could, and no one in a position of authority was listening. When King Diamond's Conspiracy was released in August 1989, I played a different track every week starting with side A so, at the end of two months, I'd played the whole album from start to finish. Speaking of "side A" this was before the dawn of the CD so I started playing everything on vinyl. We had two turntables and I had to have one going and one queued up with the next album and there was a real art to fading the first one out and bringing the next one up. There were a LOT of brutal segues (transitions from one song to the next) in those days. The other DJ and I (we split the two hour show), joked and laughed and quoted Monty Python and stupid stuff like that but generally tried to follow the stations rules, the ones that suited us at least, and played killer Heavy Metal. Other DJs, who had started calling me "Metal Mike," visited the studio during our show and were shocked at how much the phone was ringing with requests and how we'd often get people calling for 10 minutes straight when we gave something away. We started to realize we were getting to be a pretty popular event. A lot of the callers were high school (and younger) kids and when we heard that the Friday night DJ was leaving we jumped at the chance for a weekend slot when our audience would be more likely to stay up until midnight. The management acquiesced to our request and gave us additional two hours, until 2 a.m. Four hours of pure, Heavy fucking Metal. We mocked the big market shows and called our show the best alternative Metal ANYWHERE! Arrogant bastards, weren't we? Our pre-recorded introduction featured snippets from Savatage's "The Dungeons are Calling," Megadeth's "Peace Sell...", Iron Maiden's "Killers," Metal Church's "Start the Fire," M.O.D.'s "True Colors," "Overkill's "Wrecking Crew," Voivod's "This is Not an Exercise" and, the coup de grace, Metallica's cover of "Blitzkrieg," which remained the name of the show. Shit, I'd listen to a radio show today with a promise of music like that. One of the few playlists I saved, from August 1990, showed I played songs from Vicious Rumors, Anacrusis, Vio-lence, Forced Entry, Pantera, Helstar, Mordred, D.R.I., Anthrax, Killing Time, King Diamond, Death Angel and Annihilator in the first hour. Thrash was certainly at its peak.
There were some funny things that happened during my time hosting Blitzkrieg, both on and off the air. For instance, the bathroom was about 12 miles from the studio. Seriously, it was at least 150 yards away, down two flights of stairs and through a door with a combination lock that was there to prevent people from wandering into the studio while someone was on the air and making a racket or worse, stealing a bunch of albums. This usually wasn't a problem since I had a partner most nights and was only "on" every other hour. However, my partners weren't always there and four hours is a long time to go without a bathroom break. That's what "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Suite Sister Mary" were for. I could put one of those songs on, run down to the head and be back in plenty of time to queue up the next song. One night, flying solo, I let Iron Maiden take over for a bathroom break. When I came back into the studio, I started putting records away (you had to leave the studio neat for the next guy or they'd misfile your stuff) and had the speakers turned low. The phone rang and a frequent flyer asked me if I was listening to the song. I said no, why? He said it had been skipping for the last several minutes. I turned up the speakers and, sure enough, the needle was hopping back over the same groove over and over. Son of a bitch. I went on the air and fell on my sword. Another time, a local band we played a lot was hanging out in the studio and another new local band, who weren't that great and hounded us constantly to play their songs, showed up outside the studio. We were only allowed one guest in the studio, a rule we flaunted repeatedly, unless it suited our purposes, as it did in this case. The studio was on the third floor and looked out onto a courtyard on campus. There was a thin coating of snow on the ground below and the new band had walked out their name, trying to get our attention. I can't remember the name of the band but they put their initials in the snow, "RFD." I asked who the hell these guys were and before anyone could give me the real name, someone said "hey, look! It's Real Fucking Dumb!" We left them out in the snow. Funny how a little power can turn you into a dick. Finally, my most infamous moment happened when I was flying solo again. I had just played something from Suicidal Tendencies' How Will I Laugh Tomorrow...When I Can't Even Smile Today album and was trying to read back the songs from the set I had just played. I got to the Suicidal song and had stupidly put the album sleeve out of reach and facing away from me. I desperately tried to recall the full album title. I fumbled a couple of times before getting exasperated and blurted out "I can't say the fucking title." On the air. Whoops. Fortunately, the station manager wisely never listened to my show!
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