WDBS: Duke Broadcasting 1969

The Fun Stuff 

As College students, we thrived on music. Music empowered our thinking and played to our politics along with our desire to break the stifling social mores of the 1950s.

The 1960s were also a time when musical icons were virtually in reach and not the untouchable superstars of today. We felt as though they spoke for us, that they were one of us and were truly an integral part of us.

For example, Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Ponies gave a lawn concert where the student body could sit at their feet. The Beach Boys gave a concert in a warehouse and then danced with the Duke girls when they finished. Hopefully that’s all they did: just dance, dance, dance. Pete Seeger sang at the Duke vigil and then mixed with the crowd. Janis Joplin gave a concert and then pleasantly agreed to an interview at the campus radio station, WDBS. After she sobered up. 

At some point, one of my roommate Arthur’s connections got him an hour-long spot on the station at a time when beside Jazz, Classical, and Be-bop, the most radical music being played were the banal love ballads of The Beatles or the inane tunes of Herman’s Hermits, while the ballads of summer freedom and surf bumming were belted out in endless succession by the Beach Boys

The power structure running the programming was principally represented by conservative, preppy Frat boys who had little desire to let the radical, freaky hippie elements get their hands on a radio microphone.  Conservative broadcasting was the backboned cultural history of WDBS.

Somehow Arthur slipped under someone’s radar screen and came up with the idea of combining a talk show with an agenda that would play some of the more radical music of the times such as the protest songs of Bob Dylan or the endless psychedelic modulations of groups like the Grateful Dead. Their song “Alligator” running at  over sixteen minutes long was destined to break the mold of the more typical three-minute sentimental rhapsody.

Arthur was also a great advocate of the traditional blues represented by the old black masters Muddy Waters, Big Momma Thornton, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. He also liked the hard driving electric blues of the new wave White groups epitomized by the likes of John Mayall or Paul Butterfield.

As such it became Arthur’s personal mission in life to raise the musical consciousness of Duke University.


(WDBS: Duke radio control room circa 1969)

Even the bad-boy Rolling Stones, although established, were somewhat anathema and did not enjoy the same reputation of the clean-cut mop heads; or their copycat spin offs.

Hymns about Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter did not juxtapose well to a subliminal reincarnation of a Willie Dixon song about a wayward little red rooster who is having a sexual dalliance in another hen house, when instead he should be taking care of business at home.

When the Stones toured and gave a concert at Raleigh, it did not even sell out. Arthur begged me to go to the concert with him, but I waffled because at that time I was a Beatles fan. I was stupid about it, or temporarily depressed; stayed home instead and then had to suffer through the recapitulations of how great the show had been. Now you cannot even come close to getting a Stone’s ticket, even if you can afford it.

For the intended radio spot, Art recruited Buck and me to join him to create a humorous side show routine that would satirically poke fun at local or national society as well as to promote the music we liked. A few radical political agendas were also on the table.

Buck portrayed a character known as “Funky Farm Fella.” You can imagine how that went down on Tobacco Road.

I do not recall Art’s or my character portrayals, but only vaguely remember that I probably had little to say as I undoubtedly championed the cause of ‘dead air time.’ Playing the long version of the Grateful Dead’s “Alligator” was great. No one had to talk, and as far as I was concerned it would have been just as easy to play uninterrupted music.

Art could spontaneously run his mouth, whereas I could not. But then again, he was in pre-law and I was in pre-med. He liked to talk and he liked to hear himself talk. Enough said. Lawyers are bad enough just by practicing their craft, but when, God forbid they go into politics, there has already been plenty of time to practice saying nothing of substantive content in twenty-five thousand words or more.

But the campus hierarchy, the sponsors, and the local citizens were not yet ready for self-reflective mind expanding humor, long psychedelic songs, protest music, black blues, and white blues; all being accompanied by offset timing of cornbread corn-fed homegrown commercials.

Local businessmen who were less than sympathetic to the cause of racial equality, integration, or ending the Vietnam war were not too keen on the overall content of ‘The Funky Farm Fella Show.’

After several broadcasts, the hate mail poured in, the sponsors revolted, and the conservative preppie Frat boy in charge of programming shit his pants when our broadcasts ruined his relaxing Scotch and cigar evenings at home. He lost no time giving us the old Vaudeville hook. Lateral arabesque and Exit stage left.

I could have cared less. Having worked at the station had allowed me the opportunity to meet Janis Joplin when she gave a concert on campus, and if nothing else was an experience I could use to beef up what was a very slim resume for Medical School applications. Not that the Dean of admissions would have cared much about the Janis part.

Since there was not enough airtime behind us to generate the campus support needed to launch a sympathetic protest, we went out with a simple little whimper. Nor did we possess the courage to commandeer the microphones, lock ourselves inside the studio, and go out with an atomic SWAT team bang.

One exposure to the Billy-club wielding, tear gas heaving policemen had been sufficient for me to let the cause of free speech linger for others to champion.

  • Hey Funky Farm Fella; did ja abber ebber see a mule?
  • Nope; Nabber. And while yer at it I’d sure ‘preciate another helpin’ o’ them fine home cooked mountain oysters.
  • Cummin’ right up bub. Fried pig balls, along with some fine grits, okra, and hushpuppies, too. Ain’t nothin’ like it on God’s green Earth.

Well, he’s got him a house on the hill

He plays country records till you’ve had your fill

He’s a fireman’s friend, he’s an all night DJ

But he sure does think different from the records he plays.

Well, he don’t like the young folks I know

He told me one night on his radio show

He’s got him a medal he won in the war

Weighs five hundred pounds and  sleeps on his floor

He’s a drug store truck drivin’ man

He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan

When summer rolls around

You’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

(Gram Parsons and Roger Mc Guinn)

From the article: “Remembering WDBS” by Jeff Miller: Duke 1968-1970 www.geocities.com/wdbs56ol
Red Neck http://www.bangitout.com

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