Saturday, September 12, 2009


Switched On by Emma Peel

by Wayne Robins

Last night I was cruising the Reciva Internet radio aggregator looking for some exotica to take my mind off Colorado being crushed by…Toledo! The possibility of a 0-11 football season for my former school exists; so by “exotica,” I don’t just mean music, I was looking for the distraction that many years ago could only be provided by specially cultivated mushrooms.

In my teens I was briefly a ham radio operator, but became more permanently fixed on SWL-ing: short wave listening. The ease and accessibility of audio streams from every corner of the globe has made SWL-ing nearly obsolete, and after 40 years, the tubes on my Hallicrafters S-108 receiver have finally burned out.

Whenever I go to Reciva, I start by looking for the hard stuff: Iran, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands. I wasn’t getting any such streams, so I reduced the level of challenge, and got some decent Middle Eastern music, on Radio Salam Lyon, France, 91.1 FM if you’re in the neighborhood having lunch, say at Restaurant Paul Bocuse.

I clicked around some more and nailed some palatable if tame jazz streamed from Russia, Jazz, checking out Ray Brown and Herb Ellis’ “Blues for Junior” and Oscar Peterson’s “Satin Doll.” After a few more minutes I entered “The Cave,” a fairly cool program on funk-flavored www.4ST The host, whose name I didn’t catch (nor did I readily find on the Web site), was focusing on bass players, and nailed some decent tracks from Stanley Clarke (“Justice’s Groove” from the 1993 movie, “Poetic Justice”) and Bootsy Collins’ “Munchies for Your Love.”

And then I had my eureka moment. After clicking through some ordinary pop stations in Australia, I found the program “Switched On” hosted by DJ Emma Peel on
PBS 106.7 in Melbourne. PBS 106.7 has a positioner most stations would flee from: It calls itself “Home of Little Heard Music.” Not home of the hits, not “your alternative nation” not “thunder down under,” but “home of little heard music.” And my magnet for little heard music late Friday night was Emma Peel—in her own time zone, the program is heard from 1 to 3 p.m. each Friday, reason enough to start the weekend early. Peel’s a Go-Go dancer, club DJ, promoter-with-the-mostess—but mostly she has impeccable feel for the rarities of fascinating nooks and crannies of 1960s and 1970s music, specializing in latin soul and jazz, boogaloo, cinematic European jazz, blaxploitation and stuff that just sounds good. She turned me on to a character from the 60s named Charles Wilps and his track “Beautiful Bald Woman”; a selection from Italian composer Piero Piciconi’s soundtrack to the 1969 film “Colpo Rovente”; and some excursions into Serge Gainsbourg’s cult concept album, “Histoire de Melody Nelson.” Peel’s thick accent—along with my daft hearing and the need to keep the speakers low so not to disturb those sleeping in the house—to me was part of the charm. At every music break, I turned the speakers up, trying to penetrate the pronunciation, as if fighting static on the old Hallicrafters S-108.

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