Do you ever have a day at the office like this? For legitimate work-related reasons, I Googled the name of a woman who is a mental health counselor, trying to get her contact information. To my surprise, I learned that she apparently used to be a DJ on an AOR radio station here in Raleigh in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Which set me off on an online reading tangent. There actually is a Wikipedia entry about WQDR, which I know as a country station but which started life as Raleigh’s first AOR station. It drops the names of various disc jockeys I remember, some of whom can still be heard on local radio, most of whom have moved on to other things. And then I discovered the blog Blade’s World. This is where I have spent half my day.
Bob “The Blade” Robinson inspired me to write this High Hat essay a couple of years ago. A longtime rock DJ in Raleigh, Blade had his station, WRDU, suddenly change formats on him, from classic rock to country. This was a mildly depressing development for me; for the Blade, it was heartbreaking. He was faced with a dilemma. He liked his co-workers, didn’t want to leave Raleigh -– hell, we all need to have a job -- so he tried to keep working under the new country format. He lasted a week. This newspaper account of his abrupt on-air sign-off got me to thinking about the decline of rock music on FM radio, and its effect on me as a music fan. Also the figure of the rock DJ, his passion for music, the intimate bond he could form with listeners, his role in the community. My article ended up being about the rock station I heard as a teenager, but it started about being directly about Bob the Blade.
I wouldn’t even say I’m a fan of Bob the Blade, I just felt like I knew him. I've heard his voice on a pretty regular basis for 20 years now, often just him and me in my car. I admired his quitting due to "artistic differences" back in '06. He's back on the air in Raleigh now, but I don't tune him in every day; I'm more of an NPR guy now. Anyway, his blog sucked me right in. He’s a slacker in many ways, exhibits the taste for parties and girls and odd hours that originally helped attract him to the radio business. But now he’s a middle aged slacker, eying his own mortality, examining his relationships present and past, snarking about the industry he's spent his life in. There’s an intriguing self-awareness and honesty at work in that blog.
Here are the surprising things I learned about the Blade. He has a brother who has a disabling mental illness, whom Bob helps care for. Under the man’s-man exterior, Bob is a decent, patient, caring guy. (Actually, family and pets represent a lot of the blog’s content.) Also, he’s a pretty good writer. I say that a little grudgingly – I enjoyed his blog more deeply than I expected to. Frankly I don't always share Blade’s musical taste, I have to say I figure I’m "smarter" than him (I spent more years in school, certainly), but he’s a better writer than I am. He just has a good way with a story. Also a pretty good way with a camera.