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In the Jeff-92 rotation: A 50th anniversary edition
Ahead of Friday’s celebration of 50 years on the air from the halls of Jefferson High School, here’s a look at how an oldies format continues to evolve. Because your ‘90s is their oldies
Thanks to sponsor Stuart & Branigin for support to help make this edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project possible.
Back in school at the start of the week, Lafayette Jeff teacher Jamie Long asked one of his morning Radio and TV classes who was coming Friday afternoon for the open house honoring the 50th anniversary of WJEF, the school’s student-run radio station.
There would be cake, he assured them.
“Who’s ready to party with the class of ’72?” Long asked.
A voice came from the back the room: “What? At the nursing home?”
Nice one, on the way out the door to work on end-of-semester video projects. (See details about Friday’s open house below.)
To be fair, Jeff-92 has continued to evolve from its easy listening format beginnings when William Fraser – “as in eraser,” as the legendary teacher would tell students – got the station going under the WJJE call letters. First song at 91.9 FM dial in January 1972: “We’ve Only Just Begun,” by the Carpenters. An easy rock format followed before giving way to the oldies label in the days of Randy Brist, who taught the Radio and TV program from 1984 to 2018.
“I like to think of it as, William Fraser built the ship, Randy Brist christened it and I’m just trying to keep it afloat,” Long said. “I think we do OK.”
But as the definition of “oldies” advances over time, Long and his classes continue to add songs to catch eras that have moved on.
So, at a student-run, not-your-typical-oldies station that concentrates on the ‘50s through the ‘80s, how does a song make the cut to be loaded into a rotation that already includes 4,000 one-hit wonders, deep cuts and pop standards?
“Very carefully,” Long said. “I don’t want people to think we’re overhauling the station. Because at Jeff-92, we’ve got a pretty good thing going here. It has to have a certain Jeff-92 thing about it, if that makes any sense.”
Now seems as good a time as any to play that game: As Jeff-92 celebrates 50 years, what are the most recent songs added to the rotation?
Long, again, brought 11, these making Jeff-92 debuts since the end of October.
11. “The Man Who Sold the World,” Nirvana (1993)
Nirvana turned the David Bowie song into a minor hit from the “Live on MTV Unplugged” record. “What I’m doing is beefing up the ‘90s,” Long said. “I play one ‘90s song per hour as we start to incorporate the ‘90s in the mix. But I don't want to go overboard because, like with anything else with this, I want to slope it up slowly.” The new ‘90s additions started with 200 tracks put into rotation right after the end of the 2021-22 school year, with the general cutoff in the 1994 range. Even then, Long said he had to start tossing more ‘90s tracks into the playlist, because even with 200 songs, “they repeat a lot.” Why this Nirvana track? “It’s a little more radio friendly – Jeff92 radio friendly – than most of the other Nirvana songs,” Long said. “It’s kind of up our alley as far as tempo, sound …” And David Bowie. “And, yes,” Long said, “there’s that throwback to David Bowie.”
Which gets us to …
10. “The Man Who Sold the World,” David Bowie (1970)
“If we’re going to have one,” Long said, “we’re going to have the other. We don’t have enough Bowie, the way it is.” His personal choice between the two versions? “Bowie. Definitely,” he said.
9. “Wrap It Up,” The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1986)
A cover of a Sam & Dave original from 1968, the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ single went to No. 50 on the Billboard charts in 1986 as the Austin, Texas, band – featuring Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother, on lead guitar – had a platinum record moment. Long said Rick Carter, an assistant in Lafayette Jeff’s Radio and TV program, is fan and suggested the track. “It represents the ‘80s quite well, getting away from the Men at Work, Culture Club, Prince, Madonna kind of ‘80s stuff. It’s that bar rock from that time that doesn’t get represented enough.”
8. “Walking in Memphis,” Mark Cohn (1991)
Mark Cohn won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1992 on the strength of this track. “It really encapsulates that early-‘90s radio sound you heard all the time,” Long said. “I’ve gotten as much applause as complaints for that one. I think it has its place in the vast tapestry that is Jeff-92. It’s a song that has earned its stripes.”
7. “Run-Around,” Blues Traveler (1994)
John Popper’s group went to No. 4 and won a Grammy in 1996 for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. “Kind of that alternative to alternative at that time was Blues Traveler,” Long said. “It wasn’t the Seattle sound. But they still had an edge to them that wasn’t all in your face, grungy sound. I always liked it.”
6. “Hook,” Blues Traveler (1994)
Off the same Blues Traveler album, “Four,” that produced “Run-Around.” “Why not?” Long asked. “It’s two good songs by one good band. And we didn’t have any Blues Traveler in the catalog before that. So, there you go: ‘Hook.’”
5. “She’s Not There,” Santana, (1977)
The Zombies’ original version of “She’s Not There,” a single that hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1964, has been in the WJEF catalog for years. Carlos Santana found his 1977 cover in heavy rotation on album-oriented rock stations in the late-‘70s and into the ‘80s. Long says: “Rick and I were looking for songs by Santana that you don’t hear very often. Plus, it’s a cover of a song that plays in heavy rotation on our station.”
4. “Beautiful,” Carole King (1971)
The song, deep in the trove of hits from “Tapestry,” lent its name to the Broadway show dedicated to Carole King’s music. Long said WJEF already had 10 to 15 of King’s songs in rotation. “I just like this one, too,” Long said. “You can’t go wrong on Jeff-92 with more ‘Tapestry.’”
3. “Overkill,” Men at Work (1983)
This one, from the Australian band that produced the chart-topping “Down Under,” made it to No. 3 on the charts in the early days of MTV. “They only had a couple of albums, but I never could get enough of them,” Long said.
2. “Songbird,” Fleetwood Mac (1977)
This one, from Fleetwood Mac’s mega-selling “Rumours,” went into rotation shortly after Christine McVie died Nov. 30 at age 79. McVie wrote “Songbird,” which appeared as the B-side on the Fleetwood Mac single for “Dreams.” “Call it an homage to Christine McVie,” Long said. “Great song.”
1. “Got a Hold On Me,” Christine McVie (1984)
“Got a Hold On Me” was the first single off McVie’s self-titled second album. Long said: “We didn’t have any of her solo stuff, and it only seemed right. Right song, right moment.”
IF YOU GO: The open house for WJEF will be 4-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, in the William S. Fraser Radio & TV Center at Lafayette Jefferson High School, 1801 S. 18th St. (Not, as suggested, at the nursing home.) Enter the school through the doors facing 18th Street or through the school’s South Canopy off Hiatt Drive. A program honoring Jeff-92 will start at 5 p.m.
Thanks, again, to sponsor Stuart & Branigin for helping make this edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project happen.
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