SAVE THE METAL ZONE

About a month ago I was just browsing through the names of users on myspace, looking for people that I might have known (hey, I live in Greenville Alabama, what else have I got to do?), when I came across someone in Tuscaloosa called Dave “The Metal Guy.” He had a picture of himself with Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, so out of curiosity I wanted to see who it was that would refer to himself as “The Metal Guy.” When I clicked over there I found that he does a metal show on the radio station at the University Of Alabama, WVUA-FM. He referred to it as the “longest running specialty show of heavy metal in Alabama.” Suddenly I was very familiar with what he was talking about. I knew because as it turns out I knew that very show. I was the guy who started it back in 1982/83. Once upon a time I went by the radio name of Ace. Sort of a tribute to Ace Frehley.

Now over the years I had heard that the show had continued to exist from time to time. Someone had told me it was still going as late as 1996, but that was all I knew about it. No other details about it found me. When I graduated from the University back in 1984 I only made a few trips back to Tuscaloosa. None beyond 1985. So naturally I was interested in contacting Dave to find out the details of the story of the shows survival. I was impressed with what he told me.

It turns out, much to my surprise, that the show didn’t have but three hosts between me and him. A grand total of five over 24 years!! Perhaps even more surprising to me was the fact that I knew all of them. Of course It stands to reason I would know Patricia, the girl to whom I passed the torch. She was followed by Tom “the Metal Warrior” who I also knew. Strangely enough, he and I were a members of the same Fraternity. I know what your thinking…you didn’t think they let long haired heavy metal rockers into fraternities at Alabama. Well they don’t. I was an aberration. Literally the only one. It probably had a lot to do with the particular frat. Delta Sig. If you look for it now you won’t find one of their chapters at Alabama anymore. Who knows, things like this may have had something to do with that. But thats another story. Probably the most shocking of the cast of characters who would become the host was Pat Seigler. Shocking to me because I would not have thought he would still be there in 1986 to do the show, let alone continue it till 1993! He was from the state of Washington so he was far from home. That meant he was at the University for 10 years. I’m thinking “professional student.” C’mon Pat, find me and tell me the story here! It was at that point 1993 that Dave took over and he has been there ever since. No, Dave lives in Tuscaloosa and has graduated so he is not a “professional student.” However being from Tuscaloosa to begin with, he had the unique distinction of having heard every version of the show.

For those who don’t know, and anyone who cares, I can remember exactly how this show was given birth. It was the fall of 1982, (Could have been the spring of 83 but I don’t think so), that graduate student and WVUA manager Jon Peterson approached myself, and my friend and fellow communications student, Eric Stewart about doing an all heavy metal radio show on Friday nights. It was Peterson’s idea to put specialty shows on from 9-12 every night. The rest of the time the station ran a rotation of Album Oriented and college rock. Several genres were represented in the specialty shows from reggae to blues to punk etc., but Friday night was the night chosen for metal. I can remember being somewhat apprehensive about doing the show on Friday nights. My fear was that everyone would be out partying and no one would be listening. I should point out that this was a golden era for partying at the University Of Alabama. The drinking age was still 19 and, to be honest, If I wasn’t doing the show, I would have occupied a spot in “The Booth” like I did every other night. Yes, I mean EVERY other night. From 6-9 all the draft you could drink for $3.00 followed by as much as 8 for 1 shots of mixed drinks afterward all night………..Utopia?

It turns out I was wrong to worry about the show being on Friday night, as it was a resounding success from the start. Really, the only one of the specialty shows that could claim that, although the punk show did well and was also well done. We called the show “The Heavy Metal Experience” as Eric was quite the Hendrix fan, and we even had us a cool slogan: “Home taping is killing music and so are Eric and Ace.” After one semester Eric didn’t want to do the show anymore so I continued on by myself until I graduated.

This was probably the best time to do a Heavy Metal specialty show. The “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” was peaking with bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard still climbing in popularity. I was getting regular requests for bands like Venom, Tygers of Pan Tang, Angelwitch and Demon. It seems looking back as though this show was a great introduction for all the bands that would later be the supergroups of the 80’s. I played Metallica, Anthrax, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Queensryche, Dokken, and a host of others while they were still independent unsigned acts with barely a record out. Metal was on an upward spiral and all those bands and many more would go on to sell millions of records. Kerrang magazine, the leading European metal magazine at the time, even gave the show a mention in its pages. That credibility went a long way to getting some of the metal record labels to start sending some records. Otherwise, for the most part, the show was built around my record collection. Fortunately, a sizable one. WVUA even sponsored an air guitar contest and an air guitar show and the audience that showed up for these events was primarily the audience for the metal show.

There was one event above all that stood out to me as showing just how powerful this show had become. There was a campus church group that arranged to have a seminar on campus on the dangers of rock music. I first became aware of it when I saw posters all over campus emblazoned with the words “Rock and Roll Hell” ( at the time a current KISS song!), and a picture of a young Jim Morrison. I had been to a few of these things before and knew that they pretty much amounted to only a small group of people preaching the evils of rock music to people who don’t actually listen to the stuff. So being a generally mischievous personality, I couldn’t resist giving this seminar some free publicity and encouraging the listeners to show up at this thing. I said I would be there and they should be there as well. They did not let me down. When I got there no seats were still available. This was one of the larger lecture halls on the campus that held a few hundred people. You could tell that the presenters were not prepared for such a “partisan” audience. It was a rather humbling experience to realize that I had made that happen. There is still a girl here in Greenville, who was a student then with the organization that put that seminar on, who gives me dirty looks to this day. It was one of the better seminars of its type and some of what they said even lingered with me enough to be the subject of Babylon Mystery Orchestra’s second record:”On Earth As It Is In Heaven.” The bottom line is that “The Heavy metal Experience” was popular and the audience, as all heavy metal fans tend to be, was dedicated and loyal.

A lot has changed since then. Heavy Metal went on to peak in the late 80’s and I am sure the show never lost a bit of its popularity through those years. However metal took quite a hit with the grunge movement in the early 90’s. It became, essentially, an underground form of music again. This is where Dave comes into the story as he inherited the show when metal was at its lowest period. That the show survives to this day is a testament, I believe, to his willingness to stick with it. I believe it would have been easy for WVUA to just let the show drop if he hadn’t stayed with it past his graduation. A show like this one can only be done well by someone who is willing to buy a lot of music. Although I know the labels send him way more music than they sent when I was doing it, you still have to have a sizable personal collection or the show won’t have all the elements that draw people back time and again.

Now I hear that after all this time, and with heavy metal music back on a big upswing, that WVUA is considering dropping or moving the show. This probably stresses me out the most because I have just recently rediscovered the show and really for the first time listened to the thing. Its a totally different experience to hear it than it is to do the show. Thanks to the “magic” of internet radio I can listen to it. That is one thing I am truly envious about. I wish we had that back in 1983. I am sure the novelty of a metal show in deepest darkest Alabama would have been irresistible to the preconceived notions of metalheads worldwide. I know it would have attracted attention. Maybe the strangeness of that wears off after 24 years. However Dave tells me that people from all over the world are at some point listening and let him know. Does anyone really believe the proposed replacement of a rap show would have any lure beyond the guys doing the show? Lets be honest. Have you ever heard of a rap artist toiling away for years putting out records that barely sell enough to keep him going? Heavy Metal has literally thrived on such artists. From Jag Panzer to Iced Earth and way beyond. What purpose does it serve when a noncommercial radio station starts devoting too much time rap music which only glorifies the “bling.” Rap music already dominates commercial radio and video stations. Does Kanye West need this too? Here’s the deal though: A rap show will have a smaller audience than the metal show. Rap music can be heard everywhere. People wont stay home to hear it. There is not, from what I have seen , anywhere near the sense of “community” that has long been developed in the metal world. that is what builds an audience for a specialty show. And yes, I will go ahead and say it. All that rap stuff sounds alike anyway. So there!

The metal show has proven itself over the years. Tamper with something that isn’t working and leave it alone. Now if Dave were not willing to continue I could see how there could be a problem. That problem may in fact arrive in the future. I am sure he won’t do it forever. But even then, an attempt should be made to find someone with a sizable collection of heavy metal records to try and keep it going. Most students currently at the University were not even born when the metal show started.

The shows survival over a generation speaks volumes about its quality over time. So why not on Friday nights at 10:00 give it a shot the way I do. Go to http://www.newrock907.com and listen to it. Dave calls it “The Metal Zone” these days. Even though I know they are now in a different studio, the show still has that sound and feel that makes me picture what it was like to be there 24 years ago. A good blend of old and new, popular and obscure. Done the right way, where the music is the focus, these shows are hard to beat.

Just to set the record straight. When the show started none of the other DJ’s at the station liked this type of music. New wave was the big musical movement. The powers that be, aside from Jon Peterson, didn’t give it a chance. The Talking Heads were going to change the world. If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times: “David Byrne is a genius.” That was important music. heavy metal was already a dead genre. Who got the last laugh?

Sidney Allen Johnson

aka

Ace

P.S. For anyone who remembers the original show and, subsequently, me. Let it be known that I am not entirely a bitter old metalhead.Though I am back to living in Greenville Alabama with 2 cats 2 dogs and a grumpy old man (my not so well father). There is good news…. I just saved a bundle on car insurance by switching to Geico….And I still have ALL of my LONG hair. I survive intact so I win! See http://www.babylonmysteryorchestra.com for proof. Pat! Tom! Patricia! Where are you? I’m talking pictures here. I never surrendered. Manowar would be so proud. DEATH TO FALSE METAL!!!!
Sunday, January 29, 2006

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