Thursday, May 15, 2008


I grew up in the suburbs of North Jersey. Like most suburbs, growing up in my hometown was a cross between a Modern Lovers song and a JD Salinger novel. But there was one factor which made my teenage years slightly more cooler than, say, yours: the fact that WFMU was located less than one mile from my house.

91.1 WFMU is a North Jersey institution. It started in the 70's on the campus of the now-defunct Upsala College in East Orange. It broke free from campus control and became a completely free-form radio station. DJ's and hosts are allowed to play whatever they want, however they want to play it. WFMU's strident independence has always given it a cult audience. That cult has grown larger and larger through the years to the point where now one of its flagship shows -- The Best Show, hosted by Tom Scharpling -- is a staple of the alt.comedy nerd diet.

My Sunday's were spent listening to Bill Kelly. I listened to close to 50% of Glen Jones successful attempt to shatter the Guinness record for most consecutive hours DJing one Labor Day weekend a few years back. I listened to Ken Freedman. I got grounded for staying up to 2:30 a.m. so I could listen to "Happy Talk" when I was a freshman in high school. I've been to the record fairs. I lamented the move from their decrepid studio in East Orange to their new digs in Jersey City. I even volunteered there a few days one summer when in college, stuffing T-shirts into boxes in a disgusting, musty basement.

But I didn't come to appreciate and love WFMU until a little bit later on in life. I discovered WFMU for one primary reason -- it was an outlet for me and my metalhead friend Justin to perfect the art of the on-air prank phone call.

Getting on the air at WFMU was incredibly easy. Unlike other radio stations, there was no delay or screener. You called up, the DJ answered and if it was a talk show, you were immediately on the air. All of their talk shows were fair game for our sub-Jerky Boys tomfoolery -- I even once got on the air saying something dumb on the notoriously boring Jewish-American affairs program "JM in the AM."

The show most in our crosshairs, however, was Chris T's "An Aerial View." The show aired on Friday a few hours after school let out. And for months, we would spend hours taking turns calling and saying the stupidest, most inane 13-year-old prank phone calls possible.

This all culminated one night my freshman year of high school. The show was around Valentine's Day. And Chris' topic that day was love. People were supposed to call up and talk about love. Justin and I would call up and say something like the following in a sing-songy voice, which Chris would immediately hang up on:

"I'm in love with a dog named Puddles!" (Click.)
"I'm in love with a three-legged cow!" (Click.)

I had to abruptly end this phone call barage as my uncle picked me and my younger brother up to go see Wayne's World, which was opening up that evening in theaters. On the way there, I continued to listen to the show.

CHRIS: "Hello, caller."
JUSTIN: "Hey, Chris, I think my girlfriend... I
think... I hope she loves me."
CHRIS: "Why do you think that?"
JUSTIN: "She gives me meathook sodomy."

My uncle nearly drove off the road after hearing that, which he found funny probably because I think he had a Cannibal Corpse album.

Our calls would continue over the next few weeks. Until, one evening, my phone rang. I answered. The person on the phone asked for my mother.

Immediately afterwards, my mother called for me to come into the kitchen. I was immediately grounded. She had just gotten off the phone with someone from WFMU, who called to tell her they had our number from the station's Caller ID and that I had been making repeated prank phone calls to their station.

Years later, my younger brother would end up as an editor for the popular WEIRD NJ family. His bosses hosted shows and were frequent guests on WFMU, and my brother scored an invite to an event with a lot of WFMU staff. One of the people in attendance was Chris T. from "An Aerial View," whose show became incredibly
popular and awesome through the years.

My brother then told him the story about my prank phone call barage until someone from the station called my mom and I was grounded. Chris T. started laughing. He remembered that incident fondly.

He called my mom. And not just that, but he also recorded the call. And then he played it on his show.


Rob said...

Pretty awesome.

Anonymous said...

Another example of Gregg's excellent story-telling skills.

Chris T. said...

I wish I could say this story is true but it's not. Since Gregg posted this entry I've gotten a few e-mails asking if I have an aircheck of this show and for the life of me couldn't remember EVER calling a listener's mother - even a crank caller's mother.

As much as I'd like to take credit for that, I just confirmed with Ken Freedman, WFMU's General Manager, that it was actually Gerard Cosloy - future record executive - who phoned Gregg's Mom and recorded the call, later playing it on the air. Gerard had filled in for me on "Aerial View" (not "An Aerial View") a bunch of times and I suppose had gotten fed up with the cranks (I just hung up on them and kept going - acknowledging a crank is the worst thing you can do).

Gerard was suspended for that stunt, since it was a big no-no to pull listener phone numbers off the Caller ID and an even BIGGER no-no to tape someone without his or her permission and play it on the air.

According to Ken, it was a great show, the one where Gerard finally came into his own on the air. As Ken says, "Too bad it was his last".

Gerard Cosloy said...

I hate to take issue with Chris T. -- - a person I greatly admire and one of my own heroes in broadcast (Deborah Norville finishing a close second), but some portions of this story are incorrect.

It is true that I filled in for Chris on "Aerial View" on at least one occasion, and it is also true that I tangled with some prank-y calls on said show.

While I did indeed reveal one of the prankster's numbers (via the auspices of caller ID), I neither called their mother nor tape recorded any phone call. I only gave out said number over the air after warning them that's just what I'd do if they kept calling.

Later, I was told by station management the caller's parents were getting calls from other listeners in the middle of the night, and they'd threatened to contact the FCC (!) over this violation of their privacy.

I was suspended for a month.

Much as I appreciate Ken Freedman's 2nd hand praise, I'll submit that my own program had no shortage of listeners and I had "come into my own" (hands? hat? condom?) several years prior.

My stint subbing for Chris T. was not my last show on WFMU. I did at least 2 more episodes of my own program after my suspension, at which point I quit the station.

I did, however, return several years later and did a number of mid-week fill-in shows for various WFMU dj's.

Finally, I take exception to Chris' description of me as a "future record executive". At the time of my WFMU suspension, my day job at co-owner/moaner of Matador Records was exactly the same as it is today. It's kind of a romantic notion that ratting out Chris' profane listeners was the launching pad to an even bigger gig in the entertainment business, but it simply wasn't the case.

best wishes,
Gerard Cosloy

Anonymous said...

man, sure was a real hipster bitch-fest going on here!