Music Post: Howard Dicus, rock jock

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Howard at age 14, in the ninth grade, in 1967.

In 1970, when I did high school news for WNAV Annapolis, Md., while entering my own senior year in high school in Pasadena, Md., my goal was to earn the station’s next weekend disc jockey shift. I wanted to be a disc jockey. Instead, I was lured into news. 47 years later, news remains my trade. But for the past 11 years I have played classical music Saturday mornings on Hawaii Public Radio.

It has amused me to describe this as coming full circle, since at HPR, as at WNAV, I am working for free. But when our producers on “Sunrise” asked us all to come up with bucket list items we could achieve on the air, and when another choice fell through because of the cost, it occurred to me that I may be a jock but I am not a rock jock, and technically that’s what I aspired to at age 17.

I very slightly achieved it at my second radio job, one that paid actual money, at WYRE Annapolis, a rock station where I did the morning news. Program director Dennis Constantine wanted the news people to seem like part of the musical spirit of the station, so we were allowed to “talk up the vocal” of the record after the news. I might do this six times a day, but it was a gas to do it. Talking up the vocal – speaking over the instrumental introduction to a tune but making damn sure you’re done before anyone sings – was deejay 101 in those days. Bad jocks would flap their jaws and annoy the listener. Good ones would add to the energy of the music.

But my next job would be anchoring on an all-news station in Washington D.C., and then for 20 years I worked for three radio networks, AP Radio, Mutual News, and UPI Audio, in that order, and when I returned to local radio three years before relocating to Hawaii it was another all-news station. Not only was I miles away from rock radio, rock radio was miles away from where it was in 1970. Jingles once abounded; now they’re used sparingly. Jocks rarely talk up vocals because a computer plays both the music and the voice introduction, and it’s easier if they aren’t overlapping. The kind of jocking I wanted to do at age 17 hasn’t existed for 20 years.

Yet when we began talking of bucket lists, I thought it would be fun to jock for an hour on 107.9 Hawaii’s Kool Gold, especially if they would let me play the music I would have played as a rock jock back in those years of my youth. Billy V put me in touch with Dita Holifield and Darah York, general manager and program director at KKOL, a Salem Media property with studios in Kalihi not far from HawaiiNewsNow. They were agreeable, even enthusiastic, and put me in touch with Bart DaSilva, whose work I’ve admired for years. I sent a playlist of hits that were big in my teens and early twenties, not knowing if they would accept it or insist I follow some other playlist made by someone else. Darah agreed to all but two of the louder tunes I suggested (mentioning, however, in passing that she loved both tracks) and Bart, ever the rebel, played those two anyway. So every tune I suggested, got on. Bart even let me talk over the introductions a little, though I tried not to overdo it.

Music is a time machine. I played an hour of earwigs from high school and beyond: Motown, late Beatles, bands that played Woodstock, and the two tracks that almost didn’t get on, “Whole Lotta Love” and “Roundabout” (thank-you, Chris Squire, for all the hard work.) We played “Bernadette” for Bernadette and timeless core repertory, as they say in classical music, like “Gimme Shelter” and “Good Vibrations” and “I Am the Walrus” and “Reeling in the Years.” (Thank-you, Walter Becker, for all the hard work.)

A caller playfully requested “Do You Think I’m Sexy,” suggesting I sang it in the shower. We played it. But in truth, when one rises at 2 a.m., one does not sing anything in the shower, in deference to the neighbors. I don’t even like Rod Stewart, mostly because someone at Anne Arundel Community College played “Maggie Mae” incessantly on the student union jukebox. (Although someone else incessantly played “Rock the Boat” by the Hughes Corporation and I unaccountably still like that.)

My grateful thanks to Dita and Darah and Bart for helping me cross off an item on my bucket list. I had a blast. Now if I can only get jingles for my public radio program….

A brief report on Howard’s stint on 107.9 Hawaii’s Kool Gold will air some time this week while “Sunrise” is on the road.

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