An extreme coincidence

When I was the station manager at my college radio station (Carnegie Mellon, 1988-89), we came up with this programming concept called Massive Music Weekend. The idea wasn’t exactly new – it had been tried three or four years earlier – so I can really only take credit for helping to revive it. The concept was straightforward: for somewhere between 48 and 72 hours, we would play 30 minute blocks by the same artist. The artists were selected by the individual DJs and were, in keeping with the spirit of the station, hopelessly eclectic. The order was random, creating an effect of local coherence within a wider incoherence.

In order to boost support for the idea, I personally volunteered to take one of the 4:30-5:00 am shifts. The band that ended up being assigned to this time slot was the Pastels. Though a well-regarded Scottish indie band, the Pastels were definitely not on the WRCT radar. They only had one album to that point, which few of the DJs had played, and 8 or 9 UK-only singles that the station didn’t even own. Their modest output aside, they were simply too polite-sounding to generate much station-wide interest. But as my personal record collection was heavily overrepresented by twee UK-only singles, this was an easy choice.

Fast-forward 20 (possibly 21) years: I’m in my living room talking with a friend. Our conversation turns to the current status of college radio in the iTunes era. I remembered a quote from a recent New York Times article which reminded us that college radio was never that important to begin with: “Because of the internet”, he said, “you still have the same 25 listeners – it’s just that now they’re all over the world instead of all in the same city”.

Our conversation made me think it would be fun to throw on a college radio station in the background. First we tried my local station (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), then my friend’s (Rochester Institute of Technology), then the very famous WFMU (which I thought was affiliated with Fairleigh Dickinson, but is actually not a college radio station) that reaches the New York City market. None were playing anything good. Next we tried my friend’s alma mater (Michigan), and finally Carnegie Mellon.

A Massive Music Weekend was in progress! And the very next band up was…The Pastels.

I’ve estimated the odds of randomly turning on my old college radio station and catching a repeat of one of my own shows from 20+ years ago to be in the neighborhood of 100 million to 1. We’re talking Powerball odds.

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