Sunday, May 25, 2008

Glen Jones - Still Standing, 7 Years Later

This was originally posted on my MySpace blog (remember MySpace?) to mark the 5th anniversary 2 years back, but as it's Memorial Day weekend, I can't help but remember the amazing accomplishment of one Mr. Glen Jones. Enjoy the piece and, by all means, check out some of the broadcast:

This weekend marks the 7th anniversary of Glen Jones' incredible 100 hour radio marathon of WFMU. Some of you may have heard about this when it happened, maybe you're just hearing about it now, but all I can say is that it was an tremendous experience. Glen Jones, host of WFMU's Sunday afternoon "Glen Jones Radio Program featuring X-Ray Burns" took on a dare from station manager Ken Freedman when it was reported that the world's record for the longest continuous radio broadcast had been broken by someone in Great Britain, going over 73 hours nonstop. Jonsey (as he is called by many) saw in this the opportunity to make radio history and bring the great days of crazy DJ stunts (although Jonsey was very serious about the whole thing) back to radio. Once the whole thing was agreed to and DJs cleared their schedules, Jonsey and the rest of the station played the event up for several weeks while few in the mainstream media paid attention (although The Today Show interviewed Jonsey just before it began). Then came the big day, 5 years ago today, when Glen took to the microphone at 9am and announced "They aint ever getting me outta here!" and played Richard Kiely's version of "The Impossible Dream". I remember pulling into a Hoboken parking garage to hear the start of the show, knowing that when I got out of work later that day, Jonsey would be there to guide me back home. And a few hours after that, I would be there to help guide Jonsey.

If you know anything about WFMU then you know that volunteers run the station, with only a few full time staff members. All the DJs are volunteers and to get anything done on the station you're going to need volunteers. This weekend's marathon being a massive undertaking, volunteers were needed like crazy and I was more than happy to be one. In order to get the official stamp from Guinness, you needed to document the entire thing, with logs, videotapes, and audio recordings, so I was down as a logger (writing down everything Jones played and when he took mic breaks) for a few hours on Friday night. It was a huge kick for me to hang out in the FMU studios with Jonsey and the rest of FMU crew (Ken and Scott Williams doing the lion's share of the other work) and when they asked if anyone wanted to stay a while longer and help with some extra work, I gladly raised my hand. My three-hour shift ended up being a six-hour one, and I even got to help pick out some music for Jonsey to play. Guinness had some crazy rules that had to be adhered to no songs over six minutes, 15-minute bathroom breaks were only allowed once every 8 hours, every song had to be either intro'd or outro'd, and we all made sure they were.

I woke up Saturday morning and took my radio Walkman with me on my jog just so I didn't miss a moment of the marathon. As a fan of Jonsey and the station, the entire thing was such a huge kick for me that I gladly volunteered for more shifts throughout the weekend and spent another three hours there on Saturday evening. I would have been there on Sunday, too, but I was throwing a small barbeque for friends that day, so that was out of the question. But what did I have playing in the background at the BBQ? Glen Jones, of course.

As the marathon went on, Jonsey was becoming deprived of sleep more and more. Even though he didn't begin to partake in any kind of caffeine until 24 hours in, he was doing pretty good for someone who hadn't slept in a long time. (A local doctor would stop in to check on Jonseys condition and if she began to raise any objections, the plug would have been pulled on the whole thing.) Jonsey did various interviews throughout the weekend with people like Gene Simmons of KISS, boxer Chuck Wepner (the inspiration for ROCKY and one of Jones' idols), Penn Jillette, and former FMU DJ Vin Scelsa. Jonsey wanted to know if they could get his hero, Bruce Springsteen, to call in, but he was apparently away for the weekend, and there were rumors that Bush might call in once Jones broke the record (the word was that he was aware of the event). When the time came to break the record at 10:33am on Monday morning, the FMU studios were packed with press (CNN aired the moment live), staff, volunteers, and, well, me. I sure as hell wasnt going to miss this for the world, was I?

It was one of the greatest moments in the history of radio as far as I was concerned. You know how Queen once sang "Youve had your time, youve had youre power, youve yet to have your finest hour" in the song "Radio Ga-Ga"? It may not have been radio's finest hour, but it was way up there, because here you had a small band of outsiders, mostly volunteers, at a listener supported, commercial-free station just outside the biggest radio market in the U.S. and they showed them how radio should and must be done. It was radio with heart, done strictly for a love of the format, of the art form and it was something that youll never, ever get anywhere else. Glen Jones had shown them all how radio was really done.

So once the record was broken and the hoopla began to die down, there was Jonsey, still at the mic. What had been joked about was something that Jonsey was actually very serious about: He wasn't just going to break the record; he was going to obliterate it. Jonsey was going for 100 hours. Now think about that. 100 hours means no sleep for four day straight. No sleep from Friday until Tuesday. No sleep til Brooklyn. And Jonsey was serious about it, too. He intended on making it all the way until Tuesday at 1pm even if it killed him, that's how much this whole thing meant to him. And after getting energized for a bit after breaking the record, Jones began to get tired again by Monday afternoon. He was being fed, getting massaged, and getting quickie naps during slightly longer songs, but you could tell that Jonsey was really having a hard time of it. I went to bed Monday night fully expecting to hear "JM in the AM" when I woke up. But I didn't want to. And I didn't.

Having pulled into the Hoboken parking garage on Friday morning looking forward to the long Memorial Day weekend ahead of me, it was more than a little strange to pull in on Tuesday and still have Glen Jones on the air. Jones sounded completely out of it and you could hear fellow DJs whispering things for him to say and Jonsey just repeating them. When I got into work there was an e-mail from Scott Williams announcing that Glen was "Still Standing", intending to go as long as he possibly could and that more volunteers might be needed. I once again made my services available and would tell co-workers about the marathon. But at around 1pm another e-mail announced that Glen Jones had indeed packed it in after 100 hours.

Jonsey apparently was starting to lose it, beginning to think that he was in one of the brainwashing scenes from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and it was decided it was not a good idea to keep him going. A bed had been set up for him on the top floor of the station and Jonsey plopped right on it and was expected to be there for a very long time. But strangely enough, Jones woke up after only two hours and, convinced that he wasn't going crazy, went back on the air to recount the marathon that had just passed. He quickly began to get tired again and was whisked off to a warm bed while news of the marathon stretched throughout the world. Pretty much every major news outlet reported the event and every FMU DJ sincerely praised Jones. As well they should, since it raised the profile of the station dramatically, as the entire broadcast was heard the world over on the Internet (the archives can be found on the link above) and made Jones a local legend. After a few months, Guinness officially certified the event (a plaque still hangs on the station's wall) and it was all set to be in the next edition of the book when some jerk in Sweden (I think it was Sweden) went and broke Jones' record by going to something like 102 hours. Early last year a DJ in Florida tried to take it to 115 hours and I don't know if he made it, but I know that the event wasn't as well covered as Jonsey's marathon. Its a hell of an accomplishment, not just to be up that long but to keep the spirit of radio going for that long. It may just be a crazy stunt to some people, but when someone tries to do something like that, theyre keeping real radio alive, if only for a while. And I feel like I know what real radio is thanks to Glen Jones and WFMU

1 comment:

Steve Barton said...

I remember the event fondly, listening on the internet in Atlanta. Jonesy was my gateway into FMU, hearing him and X-Ray on a car radio in 1992 when the Army had me posted to Fort Hamilton. Thanks for your service to WFMU and thanks for the first-hand report! All the best, Steve Barton, Dunwoody, Georgia