There was a time when “disc jockey” was atop my list of future professions. Fifth grade, I wanted to be Casey Kasem: host America’s Top 40, play Prince and Janet Jackson. But college radio, while invaluable and a general blast, debunked my hopes. There was no future. At the turn of the century, a career in terrestrial radio was going the way of the daily newspaper.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule.
To that end, 24-year-old Ian Graham is my hero.
Even given the recent boon in choice across the Columbus dial—from an the old-school hip-hop juggernaut at BOOM 106.3 to everything WCRS and Radio614 have done—his show, “The Rock and Roll Radio Show,” broadcast weekdays from 3-6 p.m. on WQTT 1270 AM, has reverted back to a time when radio was the centerpiece of how we collectively learned of new music. It was dangerous to a degree. But in a culture of choice over chance, the uphill climb to convert listeners back to the random thrills of terrestrial radio still come with diminishing returns.
“I’ll be the first to admit that terrestrial radio is not very relevant,” says Graham. “The only time anyone listens to it is in their car—if that. There’s a lot of great local radio in Columbus, but I don’t think it’s being utilized in the right way all the time. I understand that there are different layers to it, so it becomes hard to really do what you want.”
That sentiment didn’t stop the Marysville native from pursuing a dream that started with playing an Odd Lots mixtape that included the Swinging Blue Jeans’ infamous “Hippy Hippy Shake” on loop in his youth. Since as long as Graham can remember, he’s been attracted to the classics of forgotten radio in the ’50s and ’60s, and the constant cycle back to the “garage” aesthetic. Declining higher education and formal training in exchange for real-world experience, he eventually coaxed the duo responsible for “Marty and Doc in the Morning,” whom he met at the Union County Fairgrounds, to allow him to intern at the local station. Seeing Graham’s dedication towards all of the mundane tasks that went on behind the scenes, and his insatiable urge to become a tried-and-true radio personality, the station’s owner thought it would be a good idea to allow Graham on the air.
“Mark Litton, who has been in broadcasting for almost 50 years, thinks of what I do with a ‘why not?’ mentality,” says Graham. “In a lot of ways, it’s going back to the way it was. Pandora and Spotify are so narrow in what they play and frankly, it’s a little unhealthy in developing taste.”
But that was two months ago. Let this be a cautionary tale.
As popular as the show has been since Graham started “The Rock and Roll Radio Show,” his aspirations took another turn. As of this writing, thanks to what Graham calls “changes the owner may or may not be being making to the station” his show has been dropped, much to the dismay of the loyal fan base he’s acquired. There’s a possibility they’ll have him back, but on the condition he can raise the sponsorship money to fund his salary. A good thing isn’t always a sure thing, unfortunately, such is the fickle nature of terrestrial radio.
Those who unknowingly stumbled upon his 3-6 slot, discovered through “interaction” with their radio (or the archaic practice of scanning the dial), were likely stunned to hear Black Flag in the same playlist as Bo Diddley, especially with the nostalgic “AM tinge” that Graham is convinced is sonically how we should be hearing a lot of the garage rock that is currently en vogue.
Despite the setbacks, and somewhat nervy panic that comes from being off-the-air, Graham isn’t phased. He knows his mission is far from over. He’s an outcast with an enthusiastic voice who needs a megaphone.
“I take my persona mostly from Alan Freed, who was known as the king of the ‘moondoggers,’ up in Cleveland during the mid-’50s.” says Graham of his inspiration. “He was instrumental in changing the public’s perception of rock and roll or race records. He was the reason people discovered these records. Mark understands that my main goal is to bridge what came before with what’s going on now.”
In that regard, Graham’s “The Rock and Roll Radio Show” is two-pronged. During his tenure at QT1270 he has reached out to pioneers like Tommy James and Sandy Nelson for interviews, raised awareness of Columbus’ own contribution to the ’60s garage pandemonium by bringing light to The Fifth Order and The Dantes, but he’s also invited in local bands including Raw Pony to perform live in the station’s cramped lobby and championed singles by Psychic Wheels in the spirit of Wolfman Jack. It’s truly Graham’s infectious fervor for the music he plays that has led to his success.
His dedication to the craft is starting to reap dividends. Starting this month, WQTT 1270 will move to the FM dial as 98.7, increasing his reach and hopefully his terrestrial audience. Graham will also be coordinating and then broadcasting live in-store shows at Used Kid’s, wanting to emulate the spirit of free-form stations like WFMU and KXLP—stations with a reputation outside of their immediate range. Overall, Graham’s efforts have at the very least created a “body of work” that’s hard to ignore. Even if the populous isn’t listening now, eventually they’ll come around.
“I don’t foresee radio dying, just like there will always be landlines,” concludes Graham, almost philosophically. “In case of emergency—if the wi-fi is down—you can break that glass.”