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Documentary looks at the golden age of FM radio

Roger King at Loyalist [1]

Director-producer Roger King is all smiles before the screening of his documentary I Am What I Play at Loyalist College’s Alumni Hall on Wednesday night. Photo by Brock Ormond, QNet News

By Brock Ormond [2] 

BELLEVILLE – The heyday of FM radio was brought to the big screen at Loyalist College’s Alumni Hall on Wednesday night.

Roger King [3]‘s I Am What I Play [4] looks back on the peak period of FM radio from the 1960s to the 1980s and the careers of four major disc-jockey personalities of the era: David Marsden of Toronto, Charles Laquidara of Boston, Meg Griffin of New York and Pat O’Day of Seattle.

Director and producer King was present to introduce the movie. He stayed around afterward to take a wide range of questions from  the audience.

Rick Kevan [5]

A lot has changed in the radio business since the 1970s and ’80s, but the biggest has been the automation process, says Rock 107 weekday afternoon host Rick Kevan. Photo courtesy of Rock 107.ca

FM radio was starting to rise at the time when AM was dominant, he said: “AM was so big that FM was considered an afterthought … it didn’t make much money and they were pretty much told to do and say what they want.”

The documentary got a solid reception in test screenings, which allowed him and his production team to move forward, he said.

“We’ve gotten a great response from people who have seen the film who are not radio diehards. They don’t work in radio – they don’t even really care that much about radio, and they still appreciate the film.”

Locally, two rock radio DJs remember the fun days of radio depicted in the film.

A lot of 1970s and ’80s radio traditions, like reading live commercials, have died out, said Rick Kevan, a weekday-afternoon DJ and host at Rock 107 [6] in Belleville. Now, he said, “Everything’s canned. It’s produced. And I’m kind of glad, because it just sounds better that way.”

The biggest change in music radio today is the automation process, Kevan said, explaining that the computer shuffles up playlists for DJs instead of DJs picking their own music like they used to.

Greg Moulton [7]

Picking your own music and using character voices are two lost traditions of radio, said Rock 107 weekend host Greg Moulton. Photo courtesy of Rock 107.ca

Greg Moulton, a weekend host at Rock 107m, called the automation process “the most different thing” about his job since he broke into the business.

“When I started, my favourite part was picking the music,” he said. “You usually played your favourites, but you weren’t supposed to.”

Character voices are also a dying tradition in radio, Moulton said. “It was a lot of fun. A lot more personality was involved back then – there’s still personality

involved now, but now there’s more song sweeps (uninterrupted series of songs), and a lot of the personality and the character voices get kind of lost.”

Kevan and Moulton both say that students who aspire to work in radio should be persistent. It’s also important to “have fun on the job,” Moulton said.

Here is a video report on the screening from QNet News reporter Megan Pounder [8]: