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Date Posted: 11:23:25 06/15/13 Sat
Author: WTK
Subject: Re: John Demchak
In reply to: Jay Farrell 's message, "John Demchak" on 13:08:40 06/14/13 Fri

Jay, my hat is off to you for making these discoveries! I never thought to try googling John Demchak, as he passed away before the internet became what it was becoming. (Which is a shame. John would have loved the internet! Can you imagine what he could have done with it?) I never saw that Win Fanning column before, and I’m not surprised that he mentioned the lesson in “How to Play the Strutchma,” which is one of the funniest things I have EVER heard on radio. Fan-winning radio indeed!

Oldies Dave can’t be blamed for being baffled, and John would have been pleased. It seemed as if the response John most desired from anyone listening to his radio projects was bafflement. The short explanation is that “Radio Hoffnung” was a parody of international shortwave broadcasts, but that’s like saying “Ulysses” was about strolling the streets of Dublin

It occurs to me that I first met John 40 years ago this summer. I was talking to the import record buyer at Heads Together, when the topic of radio came up. He told me I should meet a friend of his who was puttering about the fringes of WDUQ. A few days later, my phone rang and John Demchak was on the other end. It wasn’t a long conversation as such things went – only about 4 hours – but the next thing I knew, I was helping him produce a special edition of WDUQ’s “On the Rocks” titled “Rock Bottom,” featuring the worst rock records of all time. This was harder than it sounded; it’s one thing, say, for a prog-rock snob to gather up a bunch of bubblegum records. That wasn't good enough. We were after the worst bubblegum qua bubblegum, or prog qua prog, and so forth – the most entertainingly terrible stuff of all. That project was my break in big-time radio. We then worked together on other, equally baffling, projects for “On the Rocks.” The program’s young student announcer aspired to nothing more nor less than becoming the next Jimmy Roach, and we were making him do tightly scripted programs on Captain Beefheart or bizarre German rock bands. One week we aired the entire LP “Mekanik Destruktiw Komandoh” by Magma, the French operatic-jazz-rock band that sang in a language of its own invention.

It wasn’t long before saner heads prevailed at WDUQ and we were driven out, but a couple of years later John and I both found ourselves at WYEP, where John held down a program from 3 to 9 a.m. Sundays. Later he added a friend named John Wilson, and the program became “Radio Two” – with a recorded audio logo of Ken Wells, then WIXZ’s PD, booming “RAY-DE-O TOOOO!” in the world’s biggest echo chamber. John anticipated the “world music” fad with a segment he called “Waking Up Internationally.” Imagine someone turning on the radio at 7 a.m. Sunday and being greeted by records like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd2YslDKwmc

Later, in the 1980s, John produced and anchored a Sunday afternoon magazine show with a cast of thousands for WYEP called “Radiance, a Program of Gay Sunshine.”

I’m sure to be forgetting a lot – and at WYEP, many of the best bits happened off the air – but John did, indeed, touch many in the radio business, especially in public radio, providing enormous amounts of inspiration, mentorship and encouragement. I think it was Larry Berger who described him as “a large man with a heart and spirit to match.” Thank you for everything, John. Save a seat for me at the celestial House of Chiang.

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