Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Alice's Restaurant" - What's the Big Deal?

Every year a couple of days before Thanksgiving, it starts. It's slow at first, and then turns into a non-stop avalanche of phone calls. And no matter how many times a station runs promo announcements telling people exactly when it will be played, the calls still come.

"What time are you playing 'Alice's Restaurant?'"

Poor Arlo Guthrie. Don't get me wrong. I like Arlo. He's a part of American folk history, and honest-to-goodness he has recorded more than one song! His version of Steve Goodman's "City Of New Orleans" is among my favorite versions of the song. But for 364 days of the year, no one gives a rat's you-know-what about Arlo. Then, you get within a sniff of Thanksgiving and it's "What time are you playing 'Alice's Restaurant?'" You don't want to know how many phone calls radio stations get on this. One year when I was working Thanksgiving Day morning, I literally answered the phone with the times the song would be played that day. Not "hello," or "WNEW." Just the times that the song was being played. Kids are dying left and right in Iraq, we're spending BILLIONS of dollars a month over there, but dammit, we better get "Alice's Restaurant" on the air. Priorities, you know.

Mind you, this song - now 40 years old! - has ZERO significance in 2007. Wait - I take that back. Just like 40 years ago, we are mired in a war thousands of miles away in a place that I guarantee you many Americans couldn't find on a map if their lives depended up on it. But I digress. First, there's no longer a draft. Second, if you're not from the NYC area, you don't know the significance of Whitehall Street. And if you are under the age of fifty-freaking-two or three, there's an excellent chance you never went through a draft physical or won't understand many of the other dated references contained in the song.

One year, we had a program director at WNEW-FM who was trying to overhaul the station. He decided that we weren't going to play the song. This program director was an interesting sort of guy - no one had his home telephone number, which meant that if anything happened during off hours, no one had a means of getting in touch with him. So anyway, there's poor Ken Dashow on the air getting absolutely HAMMERED on the phone by listeners who are in a blind rage that a Thanksgiving is going to happen and WNEW-FM is not going to play this stupid song!

"It's tradition, man! How can you NOT play that song?!?!?!"

Long story short - Ken finally calls the station general manager at home who tells him to play the song. Wanna bet what went on behind the scenes on Monday morning when the PD and GM met in the hallway?

I'm all for tradition. We try to take the kids to the parade in New York every year. We gather as a family and tell stories and laugh. We tell each other how glad we are to have them in our lives. We don't need Arlo or anyone else playing in the background to make or break our holiday.

How's this for an idea - spend the $1.99 to download it to your IPOD and play the song non-stop.

So anyway, yes WDHA is playing "Alice's Restaurant" on Thanksgiving. 9 AM, noon and 6 PM. Far be it from us to mess with tradition.

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