Radio Analog

Coast to Coast AM and Art Bell: The Soundtrack to My College Existence

My Radio Years

In the late 90s, I was a college student by day and a talk radio board operator/call screener by night. I worked for my local news/talk station running the board for the afternoon drive show and for the news broadcasts at the top and the bottom of every hour. When the talk show would end, I then moved over to the sports station next door and inserted commercials into various sporting events while doing any school work I needed to complete for the next day. It was a sweet gig. Low paying, mind you, but enjoyable nonetheless. I met lots of interesting people, and even though my studies took me down a different career path, I’ll always love my time spent in radioland.

My Old Nightly Routine

Often, I would find myself leaving the sports station late at night. Thanks Braves rain delays! On my way out, I would duck back into the news/talk station to make sure things were running smoothly for the night. I’d linger a bit, waiting for a certain host to take to the airwaves. That host was Art Bell and the program was Coast to Coast AM. I would hang around and listen to the thumping beat of the show’s opening theme, the theme from Midnight Express. I’d also stick around, off the clock, for the show’s first segment. There was something downright romantic about taking it all in there in the darkened studio, the only light coming from the soundboard and computer screen in front of me.

After the first segment, I would transition to my car, and begin my drive home. I’d stretch out my return commute a bit, taking the long way on purpose just to hear more of what Art had to offer while driving down deserted roads. I should point out that Coast to Coast AM didn’t offer any sort of subscription download service at that time. Unless I was willing to pull an all nighter, I was rarely able to hear every interview in its entirety.

Once I arrived at home I would put on my headset radio, you know the kind with the antenna that sticks up from one side, and go out for a late night jog. I did all of my exercising under the cloak of darkness back then. Anyway, I’d tune into Art and keep the party going as I ran around in the shadows, often times getting hellaciously creeped out by the subject matter of Art’s program which mostly dealt with the supernatural.

When I finished my workout, just before bed, I would end my day by logging onto Art’s website so I could checkout his web forum. I can remember a time in the early 2000s when his message board contained communications from the mysterious “time traveller”, John Titor. I can remember reading all of these posts in real time. Gosh, did I ever sleep back then? It felt like the most amazing time to be alive. Art’s site also had this cool Star Trek console visual theme at the time. I’m not sure why I remember that, but it’s stuck in my brain so there ya go.

My Life Today

I eventually earned my degree, left radio for software development, and switched to a less vampiric life schedule. Coast to Coast AM eventually offered a subscription service too, so I’ve been able to stick with the program off and on over the years. George Noory, the show’s current host, is a different animal to say the least, but he still scratches the itch so to speak. Streaming Noory by day isn’t the same as experiencing Art in the dead of night, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Spectre 4

Random Comic Friday: The Spectre #4

Today I’m introducing a new department at Sentimental Drift… Random Comic Friday! Yes, on select Friday’s throughout the year I will deep dive into my comic long boxes and pull out an issue at random and write a review about it. I will write the review with no real research into the context of the issue or the arc from which it was contained. I will simply take it all in like we used to back before we had the luxury of performing a Google search. Ah, the good ol’ days. Enjoy!

The Spectre 4

Title: The Spectre
Issue: 4 (vol. 3)
Date: March 1993
Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Tom Mandrake

Initial Impressions

I’ll go ahead and state up front that I’m a fan of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake having already read a few select arcs from this volume of The Spectre. The cover art from Mandrake depicts Corrigan, the host body for the wrath of God, in an agonizing posture, arms flailing with intense motion lines that lead back to the face of his parasitic co-pilot. We see the issue title “The Fall of Jim Corrigan” beneath him printed over a bed of screaming human faces. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty rad. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Plot Synopsis

Right out of the gate, we seem to be in a flashback sequence that gives us a glimpse into the origin story for this iteration of The Spectre. Jim Corrigan, the host body for said spectre, is recounting the tale of his death to Amy Beitermann, a character we will get to know more intimately throughout Ostrander’s run on the title. The detective talks of being encased in cement by some baddies and thrown into a river where he died and began his true life as The Spectre. In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, The Spectre is the wrath of God tied to a human host who seeks vengeance at every turn. Pretty sweet, right?

The Spectre 4 Page 2

Anyways, after his drowning death he is cast into Limbo where he sees the murdered dead, all begging for vengeance. Jim asks The Spectre about his killer, a man named Gat Benson. He asks the physical embodiment of the wrath of God why this man gets to walk away scott-free after killing Jim. Jim can’t fathom the reasoning behind such an injustice. The Spectre goes on to explain that this is no longer a concern for Jim. Of course, Jim becomes angry at this notion and implores the guy in the green hood to reconsider on behalf of the friends and loved ones left behind after his death. After all, Benson might come for them too!

We then cut to a scene where we see Jim’s fiance, Clarice, wandering around asking Jim’s partner Waylon where the heck she might be able to find Jim. Apparently she and Jim were going to announce their engagement the night he was killed. As one might expect, they run directly into Mr. Big Bad himself, Gat Benson!

Jim, watching from Limbo, begs The Spectre to intervene and save the two. The Spectre just sort of says “Nah son, don’t worry yourself, Benson will eventually pay for his crimes”. Jim will have none of this and tells the Spectre that he’s seen little of God’s justice in the world. Jim demands justice right now!

So yeah, this ticks The Spectre off royally. How dare Jim not wait for God to meet out justice on his own schedule! As punishment, Jim is told he is not worthy of heaven or hell. His spirit must walk the Earth bound to The Spectre until he is able to “understand why people choose the paths they take”.

Back to the scene on Earth, Gat Benson is regulating all over Clarice and Waylon just as Jim shows up, Spectre powers in tow.  

The Spectre 4 Page 7

The Spectre 4 Page 10

As you can see, Jim melts Benson into a pile of goo after his fiance Clarice is murdered at the hands of the goon. Clarice sort of floats up to heaven but then sort of… doesn’t? It’s hard to tell what exactly happened. Maybe Jim brought her back with his new Spectre powers? This pisses Amy Beitermann off big time as she tells Jim to leave Clarice alone and let her die.

The Spectre 4 Page 12

The Spectre 4 Page 14

I have to say, I agree with Amy on this one. Corrigan just goes on to break the engagement and dump Clarice after this whole fiasco. Clarice was happy in heaven… now he’s going to bring her back to life and dump her? Wow, that’s harsh. After this exchange the Spectre just sort of rages out and goes off about how he was sent here to confront evil in the world and see that it’s punished. He then, in a creepy sequence of panels, shoots himself into Amy in order discover what evil lies inside of her.

The Spectre 4 Page 15

We are then presented with Amy’s life story, framed as a fairy tale. We learn that her ex-husband Ted slept around and gave her AIDS. Without knowing it, Amy had passed it on to other men after her marriage ended. Jim and The Spectre fight over what should be done to Amy for her sins. In the end, Jim fights back his past feelings of shame and seeks forgiveness from Amy. She says she’ll forgive him if he can first forgive himself.

The Spectre 4 Page 24

My Thoughts

This issue really has that special 90s feel to it and not just because of the HIV/AIDS references. The art from Tom Mandrake is a prime example of the era’s overall look and feel. It captures the visual aesthetic found in other books from DC’s dark line like the early Hellblazer issues with scratchy art from John Ridgeway. Ostrander, having studied at seminary, was also a nice fit as the writer for the series. In this run he seeks to explore questions involving God’s seemingly passive role in seeking out justice for the abused and victimized. He also explores sin and guilt at a personal level without coming across as heavy handed. Ostrander handles these themes well without alienating people of faith, or those who remain skeptical.

I would recommend the issue to anyone who enjoys a touch of the supernatural in his or her comics. For me however, The Spectre vol. 3 falls into second place overall behind the late 80s series by Doug Moench with early issue art by the great Gene Colan. So yeah, check out The Spectre vol. 2 first, and then if you’re still into the character, give the Ostrander run a try.

Smurfing Sing Song

Wait… That’s a Cover?! – “You’re a Pink Toothbrush” by The Smurfs

I had stacks of records as a kid. Some of them made sense, like the single about taking a walk down Alphabet Street, the street with 26 houses. Others not so much, like a random single for “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. We were big MASH fans, what can I say? I guess our house was just too mellow for Edwin Starr’s “War”. Anyway, with myriad options available for my listening enjoyment, one album rose to the top of the heap and logged several hours of playtime on my Fisher Price rig. And no, I’m not talking about the debut album from the Rock-afire Explosion. At this point those guys were still playing smoky pizza joints searching for their big break. The record I speak of was Smurfing Sing Song by the Smurfs released in 1980.

Smurfing Sing Song Cover

Smurfing Sing Song Back

The album was riddled with songs that would get stuck in your head for days. One track, however, went beyond being a minor nuisance and actually began to haunt me. It was written from the perspective of a toothbrush who had just discovered the love of his life. It was titled “You’re a Pink Toothbrush” and it chronicled the unrequited romantic affection felt by one lonely toothbrush toward a newcomer to the bathroom. I had always assumed this was an original tune, but recently learned the shocking truth about its origin. It’s actually a cover of an old song from the 1950s made famous by performer Max Bygraves. Damn, now I know what Millennials must feel like every time they discover a new song, tv show, or movie.

Here are both versions of the song along with the lyrics. I like to give credit where credit is due. Anyway, I need to track down a 45 of the original now because that’s the kind of OCD I’m cursed with each day.

You’re a Pink Toothbrush

(Irving Halfin / Dick James / David Ruvin)
Max Bygraves – 1955

You’re a pink toothbrush
I’m a blue toothbrush
Have we met somewhere before
You’re a pink toothbrush
And I think, toothbrush
That we met by the bathroom door

Glad to meet, toothbrush
Such a sweet toothbrush
How you thrill me through and through
Don’t be hard, toothbrush
On a soft toothbrush
‘Cause I can’t help loving you

Ev’ry time I hear you whistle
(Whistling)
It makes my nylon bristle
(Whistling)

You’re a pink toothbrush
I’m a blue toothbrush
Won’t you marry me in haste
I’ll be true, toothbrush
Just to you, toothbrush
When we both use the same toothpaste

(Instrumental Break)

Ev’ry time I hear you whistle
(Whistling)
It makes my nylon bristle
(Whistling)

You’re a pink toothbrush
I’m a blue toothbrush
Won’t you marry me in haste
I’ll be true, toothbrush
Just to you, toothbrush
When we both use the same toothpaste

MST3K Satellite News Scattered Issues Featured Image

Mystery Science Theater 3000 in My Mailbox: Satellite News Printed Editions!

As a teen, I fell in love with the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Like countless others before me, I discovered the program while lazily scrolling through my cable offerings one night. As usual I landed on a B-movie, however I soon noticed three small silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. Clever riffs and pop culture references, many of which I didn’t get at the time, smacked me in the face, and I became intrigued.

I kept watching for a few minutes and eventually noticed the figure that most closely resembled a human rose to his feet. He picked up one of the “creatures”, the one seated immediately to his right, and left the theater. The third mysterious being followed suit. At that point, I was transported through a strange portal that terminated in some sort of counter top amidst a giant space station. The mystery deepened.

I watched as my moviegoing companions came into full view. Who was this guy? And were those robots? My questions would eventually be answered in later episodes. I would go on to learn that the sleepy eyed human was Joel, a custodian for Gizmonics Institute who was shot into space by evil scientists. He was blasted into isolation in order to watch bad movies as part of an experiment. His friends, Crow and Tom Servo, were robots he had built to keep him company. The premise was simple, elegant even. Joel seemed nice enough and the robot puppets, Tom and Crow, instantly resonated with my inner Henson fan. I knew at that moment I would be a fan for life.

After programming our VCR to record the show for a few weeks, no easy feat mind you, I caught on to the “fan letters” portion that aired at the end of each show. I hastily jotted down a note of approval, complete with a sketch of Joel and the bots, and fired it off to the good folks at the MST3K Fan Club in Hopkins, MN. Unfortunately, my letter was never read on the air. I do know that they received it, however, because about a month later I received the following unexpected treat in the mail:

MST3K Fan Club Card

Yep, I became a card carrying member of the MST3K Fan Club, member #15670 to be exact. After getting my introductory package from the show, I ordered a T-shirt from the merchandise catalog and let the world know of my fandom. I must have worn that shirt a hundred times. It eventually started to fall apart so it had to become a dust rag for my mom.

Anyway, I settled in and kept watching and recording the show each week. I thought that would be the end of my interactions with my favorite show. I was wrong, however, because down the road I received another piece of mail. I remember it clearly. It was a Saturday morning, I was finishing up my bowl of whatever sugary cereal was en vogue at the moment, when my dad slapped this little gem down on the breakfast table beside me:

Satellite News Holiday 1992

It’s hard to describe the feeling of excitement that coursed through my body at that moment. It was kind of like the first time I saw a Paula Abdul video, only not so pervy. More editions of the Satellite News would follow over the years. Classic segments like “Scraped From the Cutting Room Floor” by TV’s Frank and serialized fiction from Crow T. Robot standout in my mind as favorites. Sadly, the newsletters eventually stopped showing up, probably because it made more sense to move the show’s newsletter to the web. Satellite News continues online to this day and makes for a great daily read. Their Twitter account is a nice way to stay on top of things too.

One More Thing

One year I also received a postcard promoting the MST3K “Turkey Day” marathon. This beloved marathon ran on Comedy Central each Thanksgiving in the early 90s. If you look closely, you’ll see where I checked off the episodes I wanted to tape. Also it looks as if I tried to update the start times for my time zone… incorrectly. I hope I didn’t miss out on anything. Bless my heart.

MST3K Turkey Day Post Card

MST3K Turkey Day Post Card Back

Rock-afire Explosion

My Birthday with The Rock-afire Explosion

Looking back, there are three birthday parties from my childhood that stand out in my mind. The earliest one being my McDonald’s party. Yep, before today’s numerous birthday party options became available many parents just set aside some time at the local burger joint. And you know what? It was awesome. We played games, one of which involved trying to drop straws into a paper cup from a predetermined height, we ate burgers, and we just sort of ran around the place. Hey, it was a simpler time. The next memory would have to be my skating rink party. After all, it was the 80s and that was what we did. I remember trying not to fall down, and I remember the arcade games that were available. Double Dragon seemed so cool, edgy, and adult to my little 8-year-old eyes. Lastly but not leastly, I remember my Showbiz Pizza birthday party and the robotic rock band that melted my face as I munched on my slice of pepperoni with cheese, The Rock-afire Explosion!

Rock-afire Explosion Logo

After my party, I remember becoming obsessed with the animatronic band. I even tried to create my own makeshift robots in my bedroom to no avail. After giving up on a future in robotics, the art student in me eventually decided to simply draw each band member’s likeness on paper grocery sacks. I would then convert these sacks into costumes I could wear by cutting out arm holes, eye holes and a mouth hole. A photograph exists of me and my sister wearing these abominations, but since I wish to remain on speaking terms with my sister, I’ve decided to withhold them from the site.

Anyway, getting back to the party, I was the birthday boy so that meant I was to be presented with a free gift from the house. I think you can guess what I probably received, right? After all, if it was a rubber coin purse displaying the Showbiz Pizza logo or some such nonsense, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. Indeed friends, it was the premiere album from what I had just decided was “like, totally my favorite band of all time”! Behold dear reader… Gee, Our 1st Album by the Rock-afire Explosion on vinyl!

I don’t think a day went by in the late-80s where I didn’t spin this bad boy on my small Fisher Price record player. I’m convinced this album is what first introduced me to the music of Billy Joel, The Doors, and Elvis Presley. So, I owe it a lot actually. Thankfully someone was able to digitally preserve this classic and post it up for the common good on YouTube as well. Enjoy!

One More Thing

If you were also obsessed with the Rock-afire Explosion as a child, I must direct you to the following documentary. It tells the story of a small town disc-jockey who acquired his own Rock-afire Explosion, and then tweaked things a bit to have them perform new set lists. It’s a bit of a bummer, but it beautifully illustrates the urge we all feel to remain young and to keep certain things from our own childhood alive. It’s well worth a watch.

Official Site: http://www.rockafiremovie.com

Feel free to share your childhood birthday memories in the comments section below as well!

Dark Wave to the Rescue! Part 4

I sure hope I’m right about finding solace in the abyss because that’s exactly where The Cure’s 1982 release Pornography fixes its gaze. To those only familiar with The Cure’s radio friendly releases, I say buckle in. Robert Smith is about to give us an education. People don’t toss around the term “goth” when speaking of The Cure because the band once wrote a song about falling in love on a Friday. The band won that moniker because they put together this freaky little musical suicide note and scared the crap out of suburban moms and dads everywhere. Let’s proceed, shall we?

January and February with The Cure’s Pornography

As the dead of winter lowers my seasonal depression to a critical level, I reach for my copy of Pornography and once again drink in the album art. I see the band’s name in a new typeface along with the album title, Pornography. Below this information, I find a nightmarish image of the band. Reds, violets, and blacks dominate the color palette. Fitting for an album about death and sorrow, no? The visuals let the listener know immediately that Robert Smith wanted this album to be an unbearable experience. It dabbles in the obscene and finds a fitting name in Pornography. Its lyrics exploit and expose. Its instrumentation is chilling and unrelenting. It quickly becomes apparent that this recording was crafted by a man well acquainted with depression and personal suffering.

So… are you ready to dig in?! I should note, if you think we are going to be able to ease into this one, you are wrong. The album’s first song is about to repeatedly beat you about the face with your own mortality for six minutes and forty-one seconds.

One Hundred Years

It doesn’t matter if we all die.” What a way to start things off, right? Pornography goes beyond Faith’s fearful realization that death is imminent. Instead, it opts to hurl itself toward its own demise willingly at 90 miles an hour. The opening track, “One Hundred Years”, begins with an up tempo drum beat and then launches into a bending guitar riff, packed with enough sustain to make Nigel Tufnel jealous. In January, everything has a tendency to seem pointless to me. I never want to start anything new, always hoping the motivation will eventually arrive when the weather improves. “One Hundred Years” is a song that helps me pass the time and survive the “everything is futile” phase of my depression. “Over and over we die. One after the other. One after the other. One after the other.

A Short Term Effect

“A Short Term Effect” is written from the perspective of a man ready to die. Burial analogies run rampant, along with an analogy referencing a radio or television set that is no longer receiving a signal. “Cover me with earth. Draped in black. Static white sound.” It’s also impossible to escape the nods to suicide. The lyrics depict a harrowing scene of a friend finding a lifeless body of a loved one. “Scream as she tries to push him over. Helpless and sick. Jump, jump, dance and sing.” Here we see some poor soul begging the universe to once again reanimate the recently deceased. While I’ve never entertained suicidal thoughts, I’ve certainly had my dismal moments. Most often, early winter seems to trigger these thoughts for me.

The Figurehead

Robert Smith has said in an interview that this song is about guilt. In “The Figurehead” we find a man on the edge, feeling as if he can never be redeemed for his past sins. “I will never be clean again.” The song also illustrates those moments where depression and guilt can break the mind, causing the afflicted to act a bit nutty. “I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year.” As the new year begins, I too find myself thinking of the poor decisions I’ve made or things I’ve done that have hurt people in unimaginable ways. “The Figurehead” captures the unclean feelings that often overwhelm me, and it reminds me that I am not alone in my grief.

Cold

The instrumentation for “Cold” gives off an evil vibe. The lyrics once again deal with death, this time seeming to focus on the death of a loved one. “A shallow grave. A monument to the ruined age. Ice in my eyes, and eyes like ice don’t move. Screaming at the moon. Another pastime. Your name, like ice into my heart.” This song is a perfect fit for the chill of late February with its many references to ice and the coldness of death.

Pornography

The last album of The Cure’s dark trilogy fittingly ends with another title track, “Pornography”. Wow, this song is unsettling! It begins with garbled voice recordings. It’s hard to make out what is being said and often some of the speech sounds reversed. Strange scratches and scrapes ring out and an overall feeling of uneasiness grows in the heart of the listener. Is this what death is like? Holy crap, are we dying?! I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever survived all six and half minutes of this track.

Anyway, the speech fades out and we are met with a tribal sounding drum beat. It sounds as if a horde of demons is coming from the shadows to carry us away to the devil’s inner sanctum. We eventually hear voices again, shouts, and maybe animal noises? About three minutes in we realize there is a synth bed playing in the background as we are being marched to our doom… and then Robert Smith sings. He sings of death, suicide and the vanity of existence. “In books, and films, and in life, and in heaven, the sound of slaughter. One more day like today and I’ll kill you. A desire for flesh and real blood. I’ll watch you drown in the shower.” As dark as this all sounds, the song resolves in sort of a hopeful way. I find this small glimmer of light inspiring as I sit in late February, wondering if spring will ever come. Robert concludes by showing that he still has an inner determination to persevere. “I must fight this sickness. Find a cure. I must fight this sickness.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series dealing with my personal struggles with SAD and greatness of The Cure’s early 80s trilogy. Please check out these records if you haven’t. I glean something new from them with each listen.

Sentimental Drift’s Top 3 MST3K Creature Features

Just getting started with the classic television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000? Perhaps you were recently exposed to MST3K while browsing Netflix and wish to dig deeper into the original iteration of the program? Or maybe you’re already a bit of a fan and wish to unearth some fun episodes you can share with a friend? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, have I got a list for you!

Below you will find my list of the top three campy, silly, creature movies that aired during the original run of MST3K on the Sci Fi Channel. Being a fan of the creature genre, and honestly anything schlocky from the 80s and 90s, I can say with authority that these flicks are worth your time and attention. I avoided the Comedy Central era when making these selections even though I discovered MST3K during its third season, and my love for the early years runs deep. In my opinion, the cast really dialed in the riffing during the latter years. I think these picks from seasons 9 and 10 might make for a better viewing experience for those unfamiliar with the show’s premise.

These episodes are available online from various sources like Amazon, eBay, Netflix, and maybe even YouTube. So kick back, crack a cold one, and kill your next Saturday afternoon in style with Mike and the bots!

The Top 3 MST3K Creature Features

  1. Episode 904: Werewolf – In this 1996 direct-to-video release, a group of archaeologists uncover what appears to be the skeleton of a werewolf. One worker is scratched by the skeleton and begins his transformation into the “yetiglanchi”, some sort of shape shifting Navajo being often taking on the form of an animal. Highlights include: the casting of Joe Estevez, Mike transforming into a “werecrow”, and the acting prowess of Adrianna Miles.
  2. Episode 907: Hobgoblins – In this raunchy take on Gremlins, furry little, troll-like monsters run amok at a movie studio. It’s up to security guard Kevin and his friends to stop them. This film, directed by Rick Sloane, has developed a bit of a cult following since appearing on the show. I would recommend owning an unMiSTied version. It’s that much fun. Highlights include: rake fighting, premarital sex, and disgusting dive bars.
  3. Episode 1006: Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues – In this sequel to the 1972 film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, a college professor and a group of his prized students travel deep into the Ozark Mountains to capture evidence of the Boggy Creek creature. Directed by, and starring, long time indie filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, this film is one I can watch over and over without it growing stale. Highlights include: Old Man Crenshaw, the little creature, and Tim.

Feel free to share your favorite creature episodes from MST3K in the comments. For example, I know Pod People could have easily made this list as a representative from the Joel years. I’d love to hear from you!