When my mother
called to say, "They're having a fund-raiser at KNTU.
Which of their albums do you want me to buy?" I immediately
started a list.
If I couldn't remember the exact title, I asked her to look
for albums by the colors on their covers: "There's an
early Chick Corea with a yellow sleeve. And look for a Count Basie
record on Pablo where he wore a green plaid shirt and a blue cap.
Whether I knew the exact names or not, I'd played them all
dozens of times when I was a DJ at the station.
For four years, I was at KNTU almost daily. I became close friends
with my fellow volunteers and co-workers. Some were there for the
credit, others for the company and the music. Ten years later, I
still have friends from the station.
And I have my memories of the late Smith Hall. I remember the rattle
of the glass doorknobs and the view of Mulberry Street through the
wired windowpanes. The air studio, where food was forbidden, often
smelled like lunch. And in that room, towering over the DJ booth,
were the tall, dark racks of albums.
Even in the early 1990s, when we only had a few dozen CDs, our records
didn't get much play. If a DJ had a choice, most often he or
she would play
Besides the fact that compact discs were new technology, they were
clean. KNTU suffered a fire in the late '80s, and most of the
music that survived was covered with a thin layer of black dust.
Despite that, I loved playing the albums. I read the backs of the
covers and the inside sleeves. Then, most CD cases didn't have
booklets or artwork.
On the other hand, by reading old reviews and liner notes from Blue
Note and Fantasy,
I learned about jazz and the musicians I was playing.
Then there were the burnt albums. The covers of records that had
been salvaged from the fire in Smith Hall were varying shades of
charcoal, smoky grey and bark brown. I never knew the exact number
of albums entirely lost, but it was a loss big enough to be well
known in the jazz world.
While I was still a student, I met the now late, legendary saxophonist
Joe Henderson in San Francisco. We were at a crowded cocktail party,
but when I mentioned that I worked at KNTU, he stopped in mid-sentence
and said, "Oh, how are you? I remember that you had that terrible
fire and all those records burned."
If our losses meant something to Joe Henderson, then the albums that
meant something to me were worth saving.
My mother arrived early on the day of that 2001 fund-raiser and was
surprised that she wasn't the first.
Most of the crowd appeared to be listeners rather than students,
but everyone was helpful. If someone found an album another person
was looking for, they'd pass it along. She spent three hours
digging through the dust, looking at flaky labels and singed covers,
blackening her white T-shirt.
When she'd had enough, my mother dusted herself off and paid
Russ Campbell, my former station manager. He helped her load the
boxes into the car.
Over the last few years, I've carried the albums to my apartment
in New Jersey by stashing them in my luggage a few at a time. It
took several trips to get them all.
From 88.1, my mother brought home 88 albums.