The Graveyard Shift: WKCR

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During finals, people stay up late and then talk a lot about how late they stayed up. But there are some people who stay up all night, every night—not just when they have a Sustainable Development paper due. In a three-part series we’re calling the Graveyard Shift, Bwog hangs out with people ’til dawn and gets sleepy. Below, Erin O’Brien spends the night at WKCR listening to Sun Ra.

On Tuesday nights, while you are likely asleep in your suite, or possibly burning the midnight oil in Butler, the Night Train is chugging along in Lerner. In the wee hours of the morning just after Election Day, Sweet Willie Roll Bar leans back from the mic and starts talking excitedly about the artist now playing on the airwaves.

“This is the Sun Ra song I was talking about. It is so ridic!” He is talking to his intern, a freshman by the name of Spencer, who has his nose buried in his studies while oversized headphones cover his ears. The Sun Ra song is called Lanquidity, and it is, Bwog confirms, pretty ridic.

We are in what is called the master control room of the WKCR radio station, located past a buzzer and up a flight of stairs on the 114th end of Lerner. It is 3:30. Sweet Willie, a.k.a. junior Willie Avendano is presiding over his show “Night Train.” This is his third year hosting the show. Willie is also the head of the Latin Music Department, and his knowledge of music is encyclopedic. We are just on the tail end of Psychedelic Hour, which runs from 3am to 4am. In an adjoining soundproof room, Anabel or Ace, the future station manager and head of jazz, is studying, while bespectacled Hambone lolls on the floor. They call this room the “moo aquarium.”

DJ names mean a lot at WKCR. To have a nickname bestowed upon you is a great honor, as programmer Amalia laments she has not received one as of yet. Ben Young, the director of broadcasting and operations for the station, is the only one that seems to control the nickname-giving. His nickname is Ham Beauty Apparel, or HBA.

It is now 4 a.m., and Ace and Hambone come in to bid Willie a good evening. He proudly declares to Ace: “The Train is riding hard.” Hambone cracks a knowing smile as he steps through the door, “Keep the dream alive.”

Willie has another hour to go. After detailing the better points of a song entitled, “Free Your Mind, and Your Ass Will Follow,” he returns to musing about Sun Ra. Apparently Phil Schaap, their adviser and general Svengali, had a slightly harrowing experience with the musician several years before. Schaap, also known as El Varshkar, apparently was hanging with Sun-Ra one night in his tour bus, and unfortunately fell asleep. Upon waking, he realized the vehicle was in motion, and much to his dismay he surmised he was in Massachusetts. He was able to convince Sun-Ra to take him back to New York and Columbia by bribing him with the promise of his favorite flavor of ice cream.

The clock strikes 5 a.m., and the sun has not yet risen. The Night Train has come to a stop, and now the Daybreak Express is getting ready to hit the track. Willie starts the day off with some Miles Davis, as Charlie Hack a.k.a. Shak Attack, comes in to take over the decks. Before heading off to home and bed, Willie stops to chat with him about rapper Sam I Am. Willie emphasizes his words with his hands as he raves, “He’s so ill dude.”

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  1. Anonymous  

    that was really well-written, thank you for sharing

  2. Anonymous  

    willie's the man

  3. Anonymous

    is hambone a virginia ham?

  4. Anonymous  

    SWRB, Ace, Hambone, you to bits. The wonders of WKCR are truly some of the best kept secrets at Columbia.

  5. impressive  

    this article is fantastic. it should be in the magazine, not on bwog

  6. This is a fine article, but...

    ...I have been checking bwog routinely since 8 PM, searching for a new article to appear. I THOUGHT BWOG NEVER SLEPT. POST SOMETHING. PLEASE. OR SOMEBODY WRITE SOMETHING INCREDIBLY OFFENSIVE ABOUT BARNARD OR THE C5, just PLEASE give me some RELIEF from studying. I have resorted to googling pictures of funny animals. FUNNY ANIMALLLLLSSSSSS

  7. Anonymous  

    1) people listen to jazz?
    2) people listen to the radio?
    3) people listen to jazz on the radio at 4am?

    This is definitely blog worthy, but I'd say you would want to do a story on the 2 listeners who are strange enough to be regular listeners...

  8. Anonymous  

    sun ra isn't hyphenated

  9. Anonymous  

    HBA=Health and Beauty Aid.

  10. Anonymous

    owned Bwog. how about covering someone from Spec, since they stay up all night too?

  11. Anonymous  

    Hey I found his playlist from that night:

    East Of Underground Walk On By
    East Of Underground Smiling Faces Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968-1974
    El Michels Affair Walk On By; Shaft Truth and Soul Presents: A Tribute to Black Moses
    El Michels Affair Shimmy Shimmy Ya Enter the 37th Chamber
    Solomon Burke Get Out Of My Life, Woman
    Aretha Franklin You Can't Always Get What You Want
    Cookin on 3 Burners Feel Good Inc.
    The Daktaris Give It Up, Turn It Loose
    Lee Moses California Dreaming Time & Place
    Soulive Eleanor Rigby Rubber Soulive
    Lena Horne & Gabo Sabor Rocky Racoon
    Eddie Hazel I Want You (She's So Heavy)
    Raphael Saadiq It's A Shame
    Yesterday's New Quintet Presents Sound Directions Wanda Vidal; Fourty Days The Funky Side of Life
    Yesterday's New Quintet You've Got It Bad Girl Stevie
    Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones You've Got It Bad, Girl
    Stevie Wonder Bang Bang
    Aloe Blacc Billie Jean Live in Studio
    Aloe Blacc Femme Fatale Good Things
    Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra Girls On Film
    Chicago Afrobeat Project Superstar #7 (A) Move to Silent Unrest
    The Whitefield Brothers Lullaby for Lagos Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti
    Karl Hector & The Malcouns Toure Samar Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti
    Amnesty Can I Help You? Free Your Mind: The 700 West Sessions
    Sun Ra & His Arkestra Lanquidity Lanquidity
    Gil Scott-Heron The Bottle Winter in America
    Roy Ayers Ubiquity Time & Space
    Return to Forever Earth Juice Where Have I Known You Before
    Randy Watson Experience Morning Bell (ft. Donn) Exit Music: Songs for Radio Heads
    Weldon Irvine Turkish Bath In Harmony
    Weldon Irvine We're Getting Down Spirit Man
    Weldon Irvine Deja Vu Time Capsule
    Black Merda Good Luck
    Sly & the Family Stone Trip To Your Heart
    Funkadelic Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow
    Mulatu Astatke Yègelié Tezeta Ethiopiques Volume 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974
    Mulatu Astatke ft. Belaynesh Wubanta And Assegedetch Asfaw Alemiye Psych Funk 101
    Kukumbas Respect Psych Funk 101
    Ofege Adieu Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock and Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria
    Amanaz Sunday Morning Africa
    Witch Black Tears Lazy Bones
    Young Jazz Rebels Slave Riot, Part 1-3, Before; Slave Riot, Parts 4-6, After; Black Freedom Slave Riot

  12. The French Connection  

    You go Willie-Coco! As Soul Security Will's co-conductor of The Night Train, I would like to personally invite you to come down when I am hosting (that would be alternate Wednesdays), o ye of strong heart--it's raunchier but certainly just as funky.

    Colette \TFC\ Mac.

  13. Harmony Hunter  

    This train ride sounds great, but how do I get to Harmony from the train station?

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