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Little of This, Little of That

Local deejay explores world of free-form radio.

Every Monday at noon — top of the hour — on a local radio station, the sound of a radio tuner searching through FM stations is broadcasted. Running up and down the dial, bits of song melodies and news reports rise from the static just long enough to be audible before disappearing. It’s a sound familiar to radiophiles: The common thumb-and-finger turning the dial for the right song or station; searching deep within the frequencies. Suddenly, it halts — an imagined needle rests — and a voice comes over the air.

"Wait a minute," it welcomes, bedded by the opening of some deep-cut, up-tempo show tune. "I think you’ve found it." For the next eight minutes, or so, a parade of voices cooing with love, powered by pop-orchestras, runs its course segueing without pause.

Of course, this isn’t commercial radio, as much as the searching needle isn’t real, just a fabrication for effect or affirmation that the program to follow is beyond the dial. Ted Little’s show, "Jukebox Oldies," a Fairfax Public Access internet radio program which "airs" every Monday afternoon, 12-1 p.m. on WEBR, www.fcac.org/webr and Cox Cable 30, is a journey through jazz standards, show tunes and early rock-n-roll rarities. Most importantly, it’s a variety of songs strung together, the likes of which probably never heard en mass — at least not in this age of radio programming.

"Jukebox Oldies" is as fluid as it is obscure in track selection. It spans enough genres to even make XM’ers and Sirius customers flip between at least two or three channels for equal variety — terrestrial radio would be sans sponsor with this deejay’s track selections.

Little, who has worked in radio throughout the Washington, D.C. metro area since the mid-1970s believes commercial radio is "not as free-form as it used to be because a lot of it is computer programmed based on focus groups."

"You always had to have good ratings to stay on the air and keep your job, but I think it's gone a lot further than that now," he said. "That's one thing that attracted me to the station I'm at now, because you can play anything you want to — as long as it's not going to get us in trouble with the FCC."

IT’S NOW 12:10 P.M.; the show tunes have acquiesced to something new. It’s a three-song block of Robert Goulet — best known by many of today’s Top-40 youth as Quentin Hapsburg, crime boss in the 1991 hit "The Naked Gun: 2 1/2." But long before starring in movies, Goulet dealt with microphones and Little gets straight into it with little introduction. Starting with the popular tune "All Or Nothing At All," he then follows it up with the lesser known "Concentrate On One Thing At A Time," and "The Blues Are Marching In."

It may have been years since a Goulet record has seen any kind of rotation, but this is internet radio — the overshadowed technological predecessor of the hemorrhaging satellite variety — or, the "freedom machine," as Little refers to it.

It’s a wonder which strange rabbit-hole within the iTunes store one can find the obscurities Little serves up each week. But he wouldn’t know, this internet deejay doesn’t own a computer.

And that doesn’t discourage him from working within the format. Inside Little’s third-floor condo in Oakton, a bedroom-turned music studio makes for a lesson in the evolution of audio devices. Employing a turn-table, reel-to-reel, tape deck, CD player and CD burner to create segments for his radio show, Little spends a good portion of each week queuing up tracks to fit a tempo and mood for the show — music predominantly purchased in vinyl format from area thrift shops like Fairfax’s Record & Tape Exchange and Yesterday’s Rose.

"I do a lot of jazz standards and I do a lot of rare stuff that most people probably haven't even heard of," said Little, who got his start in the radio business volunteering for Georgetown University’s WGTB as a law reporter. "I go into thrift shops and I just pick stuff that looks interesting. I'm looking for everything, whatever catches my eye."

Little says he usually purchases five to six new records each week, going through each one, track-by-track, in search of some forgotten gem.

"There might be only one track that I like," he said. "I write them down on the album, that way I have everything written out, including what the tempo is."

IT’S NOW THE MIDDLE of the hour, 12:30 p.m. or so, and Little switches the mood, slowing down tempo and tone with a few selections from Anne Murray’s catalogue — a pop-country singer who had a few crossover hits in the early-1970s with "Snowbird" and "Danny’s Song," not to mention she was a regular guest on the late-‘60s "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour." Little, again, reaches for a selection of deep-cuts, most notably, her folksier version of "Killing Me Softly."

Following the Murray selections, Little takes the microphone for one of his listener-participation segments. It’s a "Mystery Soundtrack" game — three selections from an unknown Broadway show. A segment sponsored by Fairfax’s Cinema Arts Theater in Fair City Mall, the business helps Little fund the prizes — one of many occasional non-music segments for the show.

"Somewhere around the halfway point I like to do movie or Broadway themes," he said. "What I'll do is I'll play tracks from a show and if [the listener] can name the show, they'll win the soundtrack."

Over the years Little has also stepped outside the realm of games and interviewed artists like Tommy Newsom, The Ventures and Glen Campbell, who he remembers was "like talking to an old friend, he was just so easy to talk to."

Looking to expand his segments, Little is now soliciting the help of area writers, or generally opinionated people, who he hopes can add a new dimension to the show.

"I'm planning to do a news magazine section that can include comedy, parodies of commercials and observations," he said. "Pretty much anything — as long as it's interesting."

MUCH OF LITTLE’S CREATIVE inspiration in radio, he says, comes from his earlier mentor, Allan Prell. The two were colleagues at the former 1310 AM WFCR "The Wheel," where they worked on the show "Dateline."

"We actually matched up area singles and there were 23 marriages that resulted from the show," remembers Little.

But as a graduate of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, long-time guitar player and teacher, Little made his way back, 16 years ago, to spinning records — this time at the Fairfax-based WCSX, which later became WEBR when it re-formatted for internet radio in 1996.

Little maintains that it’s the freedom of choice which drew him to the station. With an expansive record collection, the deejay can choose at will.

For the remainder of Monday’s broadcast of "Jukebox Oldies," Little featured his own personal musical preference, finishing the eclectic hour with selections of very early Elvis — more deep-cuts from the Sun Records years with the Jordonaires.

"Commercial radio was getting so formatted where you had to read liners and play specific songs," said Little. "When I started here, we were very intrigued with the idea of this 'freedom-machine.’ It was the freedom that attracted me here."

Tune in next week, Monday, April 16, 12-1 p.m. on WEBR, www.fcac.org/webr to hear Ted Little’s "Jukebox Oldies.