A podcast preserving local radio history

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Last month, a former longtime music radio host launched a podcast project 20 years in the making.

For “The Jukebox: Radio Archive,” Mike Saffran, who hosted the all-request radio show “The Jukebox” from 1995 to 2000, used archived recordings. “The Jukebox” was originally broadcast from Oldies 98.9 WKLX, which later rebranded to 99BBF.

Saffran created the podcast using “airchecks,” which refer to the host-listener phone call requests and interactions that would play between songs.

“I’ve got all this history, which isn’t just my history, but it’s Rochester history because it’s a local radio call-in request show with all these people calling sharing with me what they were doing Saturday nights over five years of the show,” says Saffran. “Their lives, and everything they were sharing, every reference, was as much a part of the show as I was.”

Airchecks are used in the radio industry for performance reviews, demo tapes, or legal archiving purposes. A “scoped” aircheck, like the ones in “The Jukebox: Radio Archive,” refers to segments where only the host was speaking, typically providing commentary, a news update, or highlighting caller interactions. Taking phone requests and editing them in time for the next break between songs could be a frantic endeavor, but also energizing, Saffran recalls.

While radio shows typically have a set playlist, there are perhaps a few openings for listener requests, depending on the channel. Outside of the first 30 minutes of the four-hour block, when calls started coming in, almost all songs played on “The Jukebox” were requests.

“Oldies are already short, so from 11:00 to midnight, it can be something like 20 songs in that last hour,” says Saffran. “We had a lot of regular callers, loyal fans who called in every week wanting to hear some of their favorites.”

It was those cultural and locally historical references that stuck with Saffran ever since “The Jukebox” ended. In editing the old recordings and providing them as a podcast, he hopes even non-radio enthusiasts can find something valuable or personally interesting. For example, in one recent batch of shows he edited, there were references to high school graduations, popular music at the time like the Spice Girls, and more.

Beyond the bounds of “The Jukebox,” but on a similar line of thinking, Saffran also recalls the ice storm of 1991. Being on the air late at night, he, along with other radio hosts, were among the first people breaking news on the storm, which caused power losses and destroyed over 10,000 trees. He released early coverage of the dramatic event on his SoundCloud channel years ago.

“First and foremost, the technology radio comes from is amazing,” says Saffran, noting that 25-year-old tapes still hold up fairly well.

“And radio is one on one. It’s often one person, alone in a studio, talking to a listener who, more often than not, is alone. It’s a highly intimate medium,” he continues. “No other mass media is like that.”

While it is a more difficult period of time for radio now, Saffran believes its unique quality means it will never truly vanish; instead, it will just find a way to evolve. “The Jukebox: Radio Archives” is just one more block in preserving that experience of the past.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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