Sep 10, 2009

Heaven's Got a New DJ

Paul Bain is someone that many of you may not immediately recognize but in NYC radio circles he was a legend of country music. I met Paul back in my college days when I was the sports director at WFUV which was a student-run station then that filled in the off-hours with block programming run by mostly volunteers and alumni. Paul was one of many of the shows that fell into the block format. "Let There Be Country" was an amazing weekly trip into the heart of country music, never pop. "Country music by Country artists," was Paul's mantra and it was amazing. Paul Bain died this week and he was so good to me when I was in school and had plenty of advice for a young guy who wanted to get into the radio biz.

"You should all go to the middle of nowhere and just find your own voice. Right now, you're all doing bad imitations of New York sportscasters." Bain once told me. And he was right. I loved that he was brave enough to call it as he saw it.

But what I'll most remember about Paul was his resiliency. After suffering a heart attack, Paul jumped right back into the DJ booth even though he could barely talk. He'd have some of us staffers fill in for his ailing voice while he selected music and even wrote bits of what he would normally say for folks who'd be the on-air fill in hosts.

After WFUV switched from student run to an NPR affiliated station they brought in a new format and several new "professional" staffers and began the push to move students out of the on-air roles they had been playing. A lot of feelings were hurt and besides students feeling like they were being treated badly, many of the volunteers who had been providing free programming for the station for years also felt snubbed. What's worse is that management decided that they weren't going to tell the volunteers until the last minute out of fear of reprisal.

Dave Connors, who was my college roommate and who is now deceased as well, got wind of the firings and knew that Bain had been planning a very special show in a few weeks. He also knew that the show would never air as they were going to can Paul the week before. All that work was going to go for naught, until Dave brought Paul into a studio and told him the bad news. He was going to be fired.

Bain's reaction was such a classy move:

"Really? Well, OK. I'll move some of what I planned up a week and do a great last show. But it's OK. They don't want me on the station? That's fine. I'll go home and take my wife to the movies. Not a big deal. Look I just had a ling road back to health--this is nothing. I'll survive."


What I loved even more was his reaction when General manager Ralph Jennings offered him a consultancy gig the next day:

Bain: "So let me see if I've got this right...You're saying that my music isn't good enough to be played on this station, but now you're offering me the opportunity to consult with you about the music that you should play on the station? Is that right?

Jennings: "Yes."

Bain: "Dr Jennings, thanks for consolation prize but I think I'm a lot better than that and I'm going to take my music elsewhere."

And he did:
Paul moved to WFDU and stayed there for years with his weekly show Let There Be Country. For years they tried to get him to be the daily morning show host and he continually turned it down.

"You don't want me in the morning! I'm grumpy and angry and half-asleep! I'd be a disaster!"

Paul was a man who knew himself very, very well.

WFDU bills his program as "New York's longest running country show." May it continue in his memory.

A tip of the cowboy hat to a great guy who I'll always remember as a teacher and a great friend.

And that kinda reminds me of a song:


Fran said...

Sounds like a great man- may he rest in peace.

I love how you always note the people who have touched your life, it is a gift that you can do that with such eloquence.

sweetE said...

Thank you for your paean to Paul Bain. I was very fond of him. Paul was loyal to his friends and country music; kind; honest and self-deprecating. I can hear his raspy distinctive voice in my head. I miss him.


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