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.”