MANCHESTER, Vermont — The radio station that's shaped the greater Capital Region's music scene for over three decades broadcasts from a house that's as alternative as its music.
Tucked away amongst retail outlets and luxury hotels of Manchester, Vermont, the WEQX house is an anomaly of sorts. It’s chock full of vintage recording equipment, platinum records and band paraphernalia. Autographs from artists like Mondo Cozmo line the walls and a cat (who goes by mulitple names, all inspired by legendary musicians) roams the hallways.
Jeff Morad, the program director for WEQX, said that the house has become a tourist attraction in itself. After all, the legendary Elm Street home is where the creator of the station, Brooks Brown, started it all when he first broadcasted a Linda Clifford song at 10:27 a.m. on Nov. 14, 1984.
Morad has been the PD for the past few years, and his voice (a cross between a punk rock artist and a down-to-earth surfer) is one of the most identifiable on the station. He’s the morning drive host, but he’s also out in the community, attending what’s got to be a record-breaking number of shows per year.
Throughout his nearly 10-year career at the station — he started as a part time DJ in 2007 and eventually was able to go full time in 2009 — Morad has seen the house go through tons of change, from the recent exterior renovations to the addition of the Studio BB, where EQX House Sessions are held. But the station itself hasn’t changed a bit, and Morad is okay with that.
"I think the universe wants this place to succeed," Morad said. "I don't ever see me leaving this place because there just can't be anything better."
Morad took some off-air time to talk with the Gazette about life on the radio:
Q: Why did you get into radio?
A: I was one of those kids that had their little handheld radio under their pillow. There was something extremely fascinating about radio and I was obsessed with music. I wrote lyrics to songs on my bedroom furniture and on the walls. I had no idea what I was going to do through high school. I went to college [and studied business]. Then I was just sitting in my dorm room one day, listening to the college radio station and I was like "I could and should do this." So I called the radio station [and] asked how that DJ got on the radio and they were like "we have meetings, just come to a meeting." I went and the program director of the college radio said "Hey, we need this shift filled. Anyone want to volunteer?" and I was like "I'll do it." That was it! No looking back from there. I fell in love with being on the radio. I went to Cape Cod to spend a summer at a buddy's parents' beach house and decided to send my air check tape (which is like a DJ's resume) to the radio station there. I ended up getting a paying radio gig so I didn't leave Cape Cod for about five years or so. Never went back and finished college.
Q: Well it's definitely better than paying student loans.
A: Yeah! I have a problem with going to places on vacation because I don't come back. I left Cape Cod to go to Colorado for a vacation and decided to move out there and got a radio gig. I was out there for nine years. I think I lost my love for radio because I was working out there for CBS and it killed me. There was no creativity involved. It was just meetings and B.S. and eventually I was on a morning show where we didn't even play music. So I decided to move back east. I was aware of this place and it being independent and it being cool. I relentlessly called here for a job.
Q: What was your first impression of the place?
A: Uh-oh. It kind of shattered my dreams a little bit. I knew about this radio station on the other side of the country and I was like this place must be Cinderella's castle or something. Over the last three or four years, we've done a ton of work on this place. The paint was peeling, the sign was crooked, the place was full of trash. I showed up for my interview and the person that set up the interview with me wasn't here.
Q: How did you adjust then [transitioning to WEQX]?
A: The first time I turned on the microphone I [knew] this is music that I love, that I'm passionate about. I don't have to B.S., I don't have to pretend that I like where I'm at. So that kind of blinded me to everything else. It was like it was Cinderella's Castle all of a sudden. Is that a place? Cinderella's Castle in Disney?
Q: It might be? We'll just call it that. Obviously, the place has physically changed a lot since you got here. Has the culture changed at all?
A: No, not at all. The guy [who] built this place and ran it and owned it passed away [four] years ago. He was tough, but for all the right reasons. He wanted to protect his brand and he demanded a lot from the employees. Mimi (the general manager) is a sweetheart and she's very calm and collected and thinks things through. She's the world's best chef. It's real family here and that's extremely comforting.
Q: How have you seen the local music scene change?
A: It comes and goes in waves. It's cool to watch it happen because when I first got here from Denver, I will say there wasn't a very good local music scene and then all of a sudden all these bands started to rise up like Phantogram and Wild Adriatic and Northern Faces. It was fun to watch them play for 20, then 50 then 100, then 300, then 700, and then they're gone and they're no longer a local band. It's starting back at the bottom. The local music scene is mind blowing and amazing. Large venues are packed with local bands and fans, and then they've [the bands] outgrown that and they go on national and international tours and now those bands are rising up.
Q: What do you do when you don't like a song that's playing?
A: Thankfully there are no songs that I don't want to hear. It’s funny because we recently installed security cameras all over the whole place and I’m used to dancing and just getting over taken by the music. But now I turn around and I’m like “Someone is probably watching this right now.”
Q: Have you ever fallen asleep between sets or songs?
A: Yes, absolutely. But not here. It was when I was when I was working at a top 40 radio station. If it was a 3 minute and 45-second song, I would set my alarm for three and a half minutes, put my head down on the counter and catch a little three and a half minute nap.
Q: Besides the Listener Advisory Board, what are some of the ways you decide what songs go on the air?
A: Every Tuesday we sit and open up this folder of songs that have the potential of making it into regular rotation. We honestly listen to them all and then discuss them afterward and listen to each others’ opinion on them. We’ve got Luke, who is the super-picky nerd [and] music fan. You’ve got myself, who is very easily pleased. Like I realize that every single one of those songs is better than I could do. Then we’ve got Keller who is a very middle of the road music fan. We try to bring in as many people as possible. We also look at the national chart, with a grain of salt. But we look at it because we develop relationships with bands and labels and we like to see bands be successful. So if we see a song that’s about to make the top 20 in the charts or something, we’ll help them out and give it an extra spin.
Q: Do you feel like the station is shaping or influencing the local music scene?
A: Just last night at our Battle of the Bands, I was talking to the mother of the brother-sister duo called Bathrobe Robots. She was saying that they were the kids with [EQX] under their pillows and that it shaped their taste in music. They would go buy the albums they heard on the radio and then develop their own music style from it. They’re from the same town as Phantogram, and they listened to Phantogram [growing up], and it’s surreal. Now they’re being played on the radio station they were formed [by]. That also happened with Phantogram. Right before they exploded, they played Pearl Palooza and Donna, who is from the same town, did the stage introduction for them and Sarah when she got on stage said "I can’t [expletive] believe that Donna Frank just introduced us. The DJ that I grew up idolizing.”
Q: On average, how many concerts do you go to every year?
A: I keep a running list. A few years ago a friend challenged me to see a concert a day. So ever since then, I started a list just to keep track of it and last night was number 207 for the year. I count the amount of bands I see.
Q: When you’re out in public and people match your voice to the person they listen to on the radio [how do they react]?
A: A lot of times I forget that I’m on the radio and I just think people are looking at me because I have something on my face or whatever. But I’ve heard it a billion times and it’s the same inflection every time “Jeff?”
Q: Have you gotten used to that?
A: I mean, it’s like every time I see an EQX bumper sticker on someone’s car [I’m] like “Family! We’re fighting the good fight together!” So I’m always thrilled that someone listens and has the same taste in music. I know we’re going to have good conversation because we like the same music.
Q: Do you ever spend the night here [at the EQX house]?
A: Yeah because I live in Albany and the winters can be kind of rough. I have to be here pretty early in the morning. Sometimes we just like to have slumber parties. There’s a great bar across the street.
Q: When did the "See ya!" sign-off start?
A: It's a very old school radio thing I think, to have a sign-off. One day I just did that and then the next day I did it and it's still going. Now people love to mock me for it and I'm flattered by that.
One memorable call
Over the years, hundreds of people have called into WEQX to request songs and win tickets. Most callers are just happy to be on air or to win tickets to an upcoming show. But Morad has also received a handful of strange calls. The following on-air conversation occurred after one caller won tickets to a local show. (Needless to say, Morad’s light-hearted joke went unappreciated):
Morad: [You’re] on early EQX, it’s all glory for you sir or madam. Is it sir or madam?
Caller: Madam. What day of the week is this show?
Caller: I actually have that off. I was going to pass it on but ...
Morad: Do you just pick up your phone and dial for things, just willy-nilly ‘I don’t know what I’m calling for but I’m calling!’
Caller: You are such [beep]. Have [beep] day. You're a [beep] and you’re rude. Bye.
Morad: What? Well, I guess she doesn’t want the tickets then.