Check out an old Press clipping of RadioBypass DJ Ralph Rasmussen, and how he just wanted to hear the music!
"...from my radio days. This is from a magazine that was called Camm.
The article is from their May 1990 issue." - Ralph
The DJ Chicago musicians want
At 3:30 AM sometime, take a listen to what Chicago radio offers you. You can hear Paula Abdul (for the millionth time in the last hour), Madonna, David Benoit, baby face, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Bill Haley and the comments, and probably everything you really don’t want to hear. Flip to WVVX 103.1 FM. What’s that, you say you hear Slaughter? And now that’s hear Raddaka on the radio? Who in their right mind is playing Raddaka? They are not signed – they don’t have a contract with a label.
The lunatic bringing you that homegrown, unsigned Chicago rock mixed with the nationals is Ralph Rasmussen. Rasmussen has been in on the programming of the overnight - early morning shift practically since the beginning - at least, once VVX’s nighttime format changed into what it now is, just about five years ago.
Within a few months of the programming change, Rasmussen became the producer. “I have never ever planned on being on the radio. I was always into the behind the scenes thing. What I cared about was checking out the music.”
What prompted Rasmussen to go on the air was completely unplanned. The regular DJ, John Gorney, was taking the evening off for his birthday, and the daytime sales person was going to come in and fill the shift for the night. "He ended up being too big when 1 AM came, because he’d been up all day doing the sales thing. Five minutes before showtime he buzzes me on the intercom - he was in his office, just laying down on the couch, napping – and he says, “Ralph, man, I’m too tired. You got to do the show tonight.” I said, “you can’t do this to me!” I was freaking out. The show was in five minutes; I’d never talked on the radio before.
That first show was awful. I was so scared. I listen back to it the next day and thought, “wow, this is pitiful.”
The sales person, who is something akin to the assistant station manager, listened to the tape as well. He was impressed considering that Rasmussen had no training and virtually no warning or preparation before going on the air. He said, "I think he did pretty well, have you ever thought about being on the air?” When Rasmussen told him that he didn’t really think so, the sales person just said, “well, we’ll see.”
At that time, the show is just Monday through Friday, but the possibility of getting Sundays did exist. "Sure enough, a short time down the road, we were able to get Sunday nights. It was a perfect time to get Rasmussen doing one night a week. Schedules were switched around a little, and he ended up doing Friday nights. “I started doing it and it worked out OK. I started getting a little more comfortable with it. I didn’t feel like I was a DJ. I didn’t have that deep DJ voice. I didn’t know the music and I believed in the music we were playing.
I have to give Scott Loftus credit. At that time, he had previous radio experience. He was helpful in that Dash this was probably the best advice I've ever gotten. What he told me was, "when you turn the microphone on don't think that there are people listening to the radio. Picture of your girlfriend and your best buddy whoever you're really comfortable talking to - focus in on that one person. Picture yourself just sitting down on the couch with your best friend, just talking. Whatever you've got to say in your mind, say it to that one person. It’ll make you sound great on the air and it’ll make you much more relaxed. That’s what I did. I pictured my best friend when I turned that my gone. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel nervous anymore.
Eventually, Gorney decided to leave the shift to pursue other avenues. "He was given a chance to do a more blues - oriented show, which is something that he's really into. Anyway, they offered me the job full - time because I knew the musicians and I knew the music. So, I decided to go ahead and do it , And I’ve been doing it since.
"My purpose is kind of twofold, actually. What I like about working at VVS the fact that I can play Chicago bands. That's my number one - THE most important reason. Primarily, my main goal is to support Chicago. If it got to the point where I was told, "well you could still play hard rock but you can't play any more Chicago bands, it would be a tough decision for me to make because nobody else is gonna let you play Chicago bands, but there's also nobody else who's gonna let you play hard rock.
"Secondly, we can play the style of music that we're playing that nobody else will touch. Radio in this town tends to be very stagnant, very repetitive. You flip through the dial - you listen to five or six different stations and they could all be the same station. But if you land on our station, there’s no question that there’s something different going on here.”
For a long time, it seemed that there was very little going on in Chicago. The clubs were booking top 40 bands and a lot of clubs that used to thrive in the late 70s and early part of the 80s have since shut their doors.
"During the latter half of the 80s, it's gotten better and better," according to Rasmussen. "It seems like the at end of each decade, Chicago gets healthy. Now we’ve got Enuff Z’nuff who’ve certainly received recognition around the country – even around the world. I think Trouble’s going to have really big things happen for them with this new album.
"Since about ‘88, it's been getting better. A lot of the clubs are booking hard rock and metal lights now. They're giving original acts a chance to play.”
Now that the bands can play their own material in their own styles, the club scene has been picking up. There have been a few label signings (Enuff Z’nuff, Trouble, Jewel Fetish’s MCA publishing deal) and numerous showcases for different labels as of late.
"I think the codes are starting to wake up. We've always had a problem in Chicago. There's not an A&R guy who's just gonna stop at a bar on his way home to come and check out a band because they're not here. Except for the Illinois Entertainer, there were no other music magazines promoting Chicago bands. There wasn’t radio until VVX started doing the local bands thing.
"The keyword we've been missing is networking. It's like everybody's starting to pull together now. The media and the clubs are starting to get smarter, working with each other, starting to pull together. That's making us more recognizable. By everybody locking in, it makes you a much more viable place to be.
"Oprah Winfrey - people don't realize this but her opening those Harpo studios is going to bring coast people to Chicago. Even though it doesn't directly affect the music community, it will win the coasts find that doing business in Chicago isn't such a bad thing. All the labels have their film divisions and they’ll see that Chicago isn’t a bad place to be.”
Not only does Rasmussen see Chicago being recognized more through the joining together of print media, radio, and the film/television productions, but he sees that area bands can do a lot to help the cause as well.
"I see some Chicago bands that just want to think that they're the greatest thing and ignore everybody else, but then I also see a lot of Chicago bands that are trying to help other Chicago bands, which is what they do out on the coast. They support each other. If you get away from ‘the band A wants to blow band B away,’ mentality and just say, ‘yeah, band B is good,’ and everybody supports each other, it only makes it healthier. End it makes others take it more seriously. If everybody who has any level contact says, ‘yeah, we got a lot of great bands in the city,’ it’s only going to make it stronger, it’s only going to help everybody including yourselves.”
When Chicago and her bands get the recognition they deserve, what time does Rasmussen den see for himself? "Bald and broke," he answers, laughing. “It’s really hard to predict. Radio formats come and go with the wind. I'd like to see being able to program whatever cutting edge music will be 10 years from now. Ideally, I would like to see myself with a major radio station in Chicago dealing with a 24 hour a day cutting edge format, whether that be Metallica, Soundgarden, whatever, with doses of hard rock - Sabbath, Aerosmith, and all of that. Of course Aerosmith is still cutting edge if you listen to that new album.”
Listen to Rasmussen's show when you have the chance. There is more than a good chance you will hear some of the cutting edge music up tomorrow on his show today. Go on - get a jump on the rest of the country.