The Alternative Alternative

And the NPR borg takeover of a radio station that, in so many ways, helped shaped the person I am today.

Starting at noon today, June 26, WUSM, a radio station broadcasting out of what in urban legend is a college campus designed for the worship of satan, will cease to exist in its current form.

Six months ago, the NPR conglomerate purchased via what can best be described as fiat the rights to the signal from the University of Massachusetts. It’s a heap of bullshit, which is better desribed in detail here.

It’s a travesty on so many levels.

This post is a wake of sorts, a celebration of what once was. Because shit changes. And I believe in giving credit where credit is due.

Because frankly, without what was, pre-2006, WSMU, FM 91.1. North Dartmouth, I might not be writing to you today. I might be doing something completely different. I might be wearing pastels…

Okay, yeah, not a chance. But WSMU, and my involvement with it, was integral to the person I am today and the friends I still consider people I would fight a pack of wild badgers to save.

I started college in late 1989 at what was then Southeastern Massachusetts University, now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a space-age concrete compound jutting out of the land a smidge south of whaling-centric port town of New Bedford. Legend states the architect, Paul Rudolph, designed the campus around a central pentagram. But frankly, the real hellraising was happening on the second floor of the student center, which housed what was, at the time, the real hotbed of action and power: the college radio station.

I started my foray into broadcasting reading the news, which spewed reams of side-punched, perforated paper all day long out of an AP Wire machine located in the hallway. I’d dig through the miles of dead trees looking for interesting stories to read with a girl who was so friendly it scared me: Lori Ann Mullin. Her sunshine smile and happy demeanor terrified me, the black-clad art student. But I couldn’t resist her good nature, and found myself actually smiling once or twice. (It might’ve looked more like a grimace, or perhaps the face babies make when they pass gas. I can’t be sure so many years later…)

When my parents pulled me from UMass at the end of my first semester and forced me to attend UNC I rebelled, putting the U.S. mail through its paces. I’d hide under my blankets in my room with my round, pink 1980s tape recorder, telling her everything that was going on in my life, mailing the resulting cassette tape miles away to my beloved Massachusetts. She’d respond with a tape of her own, usually consisting of her radio show on WSMU.

The second I got the chance I moved back to North Dartmouth, living above the Mr. Tux store across from the North Dartmouth mall, in a room with no windows. In typical 19-year-old early ’90s fashion I decked it out in skulls, lace and a huge Joy Division poster, keeping the Cocteau Twins on constant replay on the turntable.

I met Mark DelLima my first semester as well, when we sat next to each other in figure drawing class. My first words to him? “You’re doing it wrong.” Mark and I have shared everything at some point or other in our lives: coffee, smokes, laughter, pain, DNA, not necessarily in that order. (His was the last face I saw when I flew away from San Francisco. I still wonder if I made a terrible mistake: I miss that “fucking stupe.”)

Anyone alive in the 1990s will remember the parties my roommate, Amy Dermont (perhaps the most tragic passing I’ve yet to experience in my life. Rest in peace Amy), would put on. She knew literally everyone, especially if those in one of the countless bands in and around the North Dartmouth/Providence/Boston triangle. Bands would converge on our barely habitable abode, and my friends and I would sit in my blackened cave, smoking Marlboro reds, drinking shit wine and talking music.

Always music.

I was the asshole deejay who bucked tradition in the early morning slot, bringing the signal up at 6 a.m. not with a smooth, mellow track to get the morning off to a slow start but the loudest wall of sound I could come up with at such an inhuman time.

I’m talking Chris Cornell humping the stage in nothing but jeans shorts and combat boots, hair and sweat flying, lungs expanding before releasing the feral, human equivalent of rough sex on a bed of nails.

The fact that I had a car and Amy made the deejay list meant I saw more bands than any single person should. Name a band touring in the early- to mid-’90s and I’ve probably seen them, or have forgotten I did.

I used to flip through the rolodex in the station office, calling Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening or, famously, Ian Mackaye, who immediately informed me I was saying his name wrong. (Touche.) In short, my early 20s were a time of complete assholery and debauchery combined with some of the most earth-shattering sounds coming out of the speakers at the time.

And it saddens me that the only way to listen now is online.

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