restricted access Freeform Radio Master: Dave Dixon on WABX
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404 9 deTro mıscel 405 ıT musıc lanea 406 ı t was 1967 and, if we were lucky, once in a great while we might hear something cool on AM radio—Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” being a harbinger of what was to come. In the autumn of that year, Detroit’s WABX-FM began broadcasting The Troubador, an experimental show, for an hour each week. For the first time we could listen to an eclectic mix of blues, rock, folk, and jazz all within the same program. And in stereo, no less. Within six months the X, as the station was known, was broadcasting similar programming for most of each day. For this listener, there was never any looking back at the limited, uneven, preformatted AM station offerings we had had to endure up to that point. (Remember the Zombies being followed by Percy Faith?) As an impressionable fifteen-year-old music hound, I would frequently call and have lengthy conversations with the DJs while ostensibly doing homework. John Small, who soon moved over to WKNR-FM, was always very welcoming. Then ABX added Dave Dixon to its staff; he would go Freeform Radio Master Dave Dixon on WABX Chris Morton Dave Dixon, 1969. © Leni Sinclair Collection. 407 Chrıs MorTon on to become the esteemed leader of the legendary “Air Aces.” Dixon had a “golden ear,” introducing attentive listeners to cross-cultural music on a worldwide scale. Only on his show could one be exposed to such gems as Paul Horn’s “Inside the Taj Mahal,”“Gandharva” from Beaver and Krause, Richard Harris singing “MacArthur Park,” and Harry Nilsson’s “The Point” (a complete LP side). In between, he might have mixed in a cut from John Mayall’s Blues from Laurel Canyon, some Savoy Brown (with original vocalist Chris Youlden), Cat Mother and the AllNight Newsboys, and a track from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad release.Toss in some Brian Auger Trinity (featuring Julie Driscoll on vocals) and Laura Nyro singing “Eli’s Coming” for good measure. Not to be overlooked, Detroit artists such as Frost (Dick Wagner), the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent), SRC, and the Stooges (Iggy Pop) would also be integrated into the mix. Often, Dixon wouldn’t play an entire track. Instead he would seamlessly blend portions of disparate genres into a cohesive audio excursion that might last an hour, interrupted only for an FCCmandated station-ID break. His instrument was comprised of matching turntables, a mixing console, and a headphone set. During his career, Dixon was fired from more than one station, being labeled as gruff and argumentative. While that very well may be true, to this listener—and frequent caller—he always had time to talk about music,share what he knew,and be an encourager.This was perhaps most important, for I had started on a voyage of musical discovery long before Dave Dixon and WABX, and I wondered why others didn’t seem to find music as important to their daily existence. Instead of snuffing out that desire, his unique ability as audio interpreter, alchemist, and promoter fortified my quest to be ever on the alert for recordings of interest. Today, the closest one can get to freeform programming in this style is college radio stations, which have limited range unless they’re also streaming on the Internet like WNMC in Traverse City,Michigan.While it doesn’t quite match Dixon’s artistry,the Internet’s Radio Paradise does a credible job of filling the void left by the demise of freeform terrestrial radio. (Albeit Dixon’s shows sometimes felt extraterrestrial.) Dixon left ABX in 1974. After ten years in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market, he returned to Detroit, where for several years he played the same type of unique music mix on public station WDET as he had during those heady days of the “Air Aces.” After a few years doing a talk show on WXYT in Detroit, Dixon died at home in May of 1999 at age sixty. His legacy is that of programming shows in the way that a painter chooses colors and textures, painstakingly and deliberately applying them on an aural canvas to provide much more than a fleeting impression. ...


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