By Doc Lawrence

My childhood days in Atlanta were largely centered around the magnificent live rhythm and blues programming from WAOK, a white-owned radio station that introduced me to the magic music of Ray Charles, Little Richard, Louis Jordan, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown, The Drifters, and, of course, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Each afternoon, I’d race from school to hear Piano Red play his own songs and sing the lyrics to such music like “Right String Baby, But the Wrong Yo-Yo.” WAOK was owned by Zenas Sears, a good and decent man I got to know when he was older, hadsold the station, and I had lost my innocence.

The great R&B station and the disc jockeys who were so much fun are long gone, and beyond my own priceless collection of recordings, I never thought I’d hear anything like WAOK again. The so-called “oldies” stations, which years ago I learned to despise, offered nothing—then or now—remotely creative, and my America was becoming more vanilla by the day.

One morning, in 1997, I tuned into a station in Atlanta, WGKA, because their format was classical. Instead of the usual fare of Mozart, I heard Little Richard blaring out “Slippin’ and Slidin,” one of my childhood favorites. The live program was hosted by Brian Eagan, and was called THE RHYTHM CLUB. For three glorious years, I, along with many other listeners, called in R&B requests to Brian, often believing I could submit ones he either didn’t have or didn’t know about. My litmus test was Wilbert Harrison’s “Don’t Drop It,” complete with lyrics like “I’ll let you keep it tonight if you hold it real tight.”

Eagan, of course, found and promptly played it, giving the radio audience a college-level discourse on R&B and the importance of this music in popular music culture. “From childhood in San Bernardino, California,” Eagan told me during an interview, “where I first heard this great music on the radio, I felt joy and knew this was way beyond the ordinary. I genuinely believe this is vital American music.” Thus, the enthusiasm was born which Eagan continues sharing with his growing radio audience.

While THE RHYTHM CLUB was born in Atlanta, it transferred quite easily to Amherst, Massachusetts where Eagan, who is enrolled at the University of Massachusetts as a graduate student working towards a Masters degree in history, broadcasts his show from the university station, WMUA-FM. The show, which in response to audience demands has been extended to three hours, features Eagan’s recordings from his collection of vinyls, tapes and CD’s accumulated since his California days.

The format is vintage Brian Eagan. Requests are expected, and within the constraints of time are honored. The easiest way to request is by email, which allows Eagan some lead-time to locate a particular recording. However, there is call-in number and the host will answer it personally.

There is a Brian Eagan beyond THE RHYTHM CLUB and graduate school. As a radio professional, Eagan has garnered almost a dozen industry awards including being honored by the Massachusetts Association of Broadcasters as the “Air Personality of the Year,” in 1996. Radio observers believe that Eagan, already a solid veteran, has a career that will take him to the top of his profession. Satellite radio? A syndicated radio show? Those are interesting questions, and I’m willing to wager Brian Eagan will become a household name in radio.

THE RHYTHM CLUB serves several functions. First, as Eagan wants it to be, it is a source of enormous entertainment. Next, because of Eagan’s vast knowledge and music library, it is very educational. Heritage isn’t as important in popular culture today, largely, I believe, because of media ownership concentration and homogenized, often mindless programming. THE RHYTHM CLUB preserves the cultural contributions of Rhythm and Blues and continues to bring it into the cars and living rooms of more listeners and new audiences.

If you’re looking for a way to lose those hot weather blues, and if you enjoy toe-tapping music and lyrics sure to turn a frown into a smile, tune in to THE RHYTHM CLUB. Access through the internet is easy. Go to www.wmua.org or www.masslive.com/wmua/audio - or click the image to the right. The show is each Saturday from 9 p.m. until midnight, Eastern Time.

 

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