Radio Killed the Roneo Star?

Radio Killed the Roneo Star?
Carl L. Hager By

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Recently I began doing a series of short CD reviews with WJSU-FM 88.5, a station broadcasting from the campus of Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. The opportunity to do it came along within days of learning that KABC's parent company, Cumulus Media, Inc., had pulled the plug on the last remaining AM radio jazz programming in Los Angeles (yes, the very same town that nicely fills the Hollywood Bowl each year for the Playboy Jazz Festival). It seemed like a chance to stop complaining about the lunacy and do something.

True, a short radio program on a Mississippi radio station might not do much right away to offset the misguided thinking here in the City of Angels, but you never know. Radio waves are magic. In addition to carrying some NPR programming as part of their affiliation, WJSU distinguishes itself by being the Magnolia State's most devoted jazz station. If John Grisham is ever driving south of his farm in Oxford out on Highway 61, or on I-55 as he heads toward Jackson (the state capital) and wants to listen to some music from fellow Mississippians B.B. King, Lester Young or Mose Allison, as he mulls the plot line of his next novel, his best bet is to tune in WJSU. Sure, he could spend hours loading his iPod with all his faves, after spending other hours online finding them. He could spend even more time compiling an All-Hank Jones or All-Milt Hinton playlist. Or he could just flip on his car radio and tune in WJSU-FM.

There he could listen to the big, wide world of jazz, including podcasts of the CD reviews I've been doing for WJSU's "All Things Social" program with host Gina Carter-Simmers, and maybe hear something new:

He might hear my review of Frank Walton Sextet's The Back Step (HanWal, 2011) recorded in 2001 with the fantastic pianist James Williams, shortly before his death. Or he might hear my discussion/interview with the host about Lorraine Feather's Tales of the Unusual (Jazzed Media, 2012)—I contributed liner notes on the project, so this one is not really a critical review. In fact, Bay Area readers will note that I take her song "Traffic and Weather" so personally that I told the host the song is a commentary on life in Los Angeles (certainly true for me and many Angelenos) when it actually describes a slice of Lorraine's life in San Mateo County.

Radio Killed the Roneo Star?

"Roneo" was not a competitive series of events like sword-fighting, hojo-roping and horsemanship for rogue samurai. Nor was it Nabisco's first attempt at creating the bestselling cookie in U.S. history. It was, instead, the nickname given to the Roneograph, a trademarked name for the best-known brand of a crude little office machine called a mimeograph. Mimeographs, or mimeos (or Roneos) for those of you born after 1970, was a type of copying equipment developed when A.B. Dick licensed the patent in 1887, and subsequently produced one of the million things Thomas Edison had invented, as a cheap, simple solution to a problem (at least until someone else could figure out how to solve it Nikola Tesla's way, without going broke or crazy).

The mimeograph eventually came into widespread use around the turn of the century, and for 80 or more years was a smelly-but-inexpensive alternative to offset printing for people who wanted to produce handbills or schoolchildren's homework assignments. For Bill James, it meant the freedom to disseminate the graphs, statistical charts, and wittily incisive analyses bound into his handmade copies of The Bill James Baseball Abstract, a publication that ultimately revolutionized the game. For the rest of us writers, the machine provided a way to fill the world with our sentences, couplets, sonnets, essays, articles, stories, tracts, tomes, novels and novelettes. Historically, you could place its significance in terms of written communication approximately between Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440, and the Xerox Corporation's introduction of the photocopier in 1959.

Somewhere in the mid-1980s the price tag on the new copiers started dropping as Mssrs. Jobs and Gates came along with their personal computers and those glorious delete keys, and a few years later dropped again, precipitously, when reliably functional computer printers started appearing.

But it was in 1995 that the proverbial shit hit the fan. When the internet was finally commercialized, this blue little planet tilted on its axis until our culture reached several tipping points at once. The most important, of course, being that point when writers—Percy Shelly's poetic fifth column of unacknowledged legislators—realized they could finally write, print, distribute and take over the world.

Nobody told them they should hire a few editors and fact-checkers to lend a hand, but that's a different story.

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