“You can come back baby, rock and roll never forgets.”
As anyone who worked at or listened to WRNW FM during the tiny station’s heyday in the 1970s can attest, rock’n’roll never forgets.
That much was clear recently as a handful of the free-form, free-wheeling station’s former DJs were joined by dozens of fans and friends to bid adieu to the rundown remnants of the studio’s onetime home.
The crumbling building where the scrappy station etched its name into vinyl history will soon be demolished to make way for luxury apartments and suites — a fitting coda at a time when terrestrial radio is being bulldozed by streaming media.
The June 26 gathering sponsored by River Journal was at once a reunion for the RNW diaspora, many of whom had not seen each other in nearly a half-century, and a celebration of the sounds the progressive station delivered to the faithful from 1973-1981.
It was a spot on the dial where listeners could hear everything from the Mothers of Invention to the Godmother of Punk. Where DJs could lower a microphone out the second-floor window and broadcast from the front porch. Where you might hear neighborhood dogs barking in the background, or the 5 o’clock whistle from a nearby construction site.
“This building wasn’t much to look at, isn’t much to look at today,” said former RNW stalwart Bruce Figler, standing outside the dilapidated Woodside Avenue shack. “However, what took place inside, that was something. Some of the most creative people in the world came out of here and what came out of here in terms of product was amazing.”
Figler recalled leaving the station for a high-paying dream job in New York City radio — and immediately regretting it.
“I hated it,” the rock radio veteran said. “I couldn’t do what I wanted, I couldn’t express what I felt, I couldn’t play what I wanted. This radio was what I wanted to do. Unfortunately it never fully paid, but back in the day this is why I got into the business.”
In 1977, long before he was “King of all Media,” Howard Stern was a nerdy neophyte installed as RNW’s program director with orders to move the music from “play whatever you want” into a “Lite FM” type format. Stern later immortalized the local station in his autobiographical 1997 movie, “Private Parts,” even filming scenes at the site.
Former program director Gary Axelbank called Stern the link between RNW’s two generations — the first led by groundbreaking DJs Meg Griffin and Joe from Chicago — the second when ownership tried to impose a commercial personality upon the station.
“This is what real radio is about, what personality radio is about,” Axelbank told the crowd. “Radio that people could relate to. If it’s raining, you play ‘Riders on the Storm.’ On sunny days you play ‘Summer in the City.’ When the consultants came in and formatted it, I couldn’t read from the cards because it just didn’t work.”
From his chair as RNW’s overnight DJ, Tom Jones had the freedom to play entire album sides, like The Grateful Dead’s 23-minute live recording of “Dark Star.”
“The station used to go off the air between 2 and 6, but I finally found an appliance store up in Peekskill who would sponsor the whole four hours,” said Jones, the self-proclaimed “Duke of Darkness.”
“I jumped at the opportunity to destroy my career by being on at the time of day when no one was listening,” Jones said.
The celebration was capped off by Mayor Steven Vescio proclaiming June 27, 2021, in honor of the station, whose call letters stood for “Radio of Northern Westchester.”
Across the street, while fans and DJs alike toasted the station at 105-Ten Bar & Grill, performers from The School of Rock House Band blasted out covers of 70s rock, dancers from Expressions Studio for the Arts danced along as RWN alumni hugged each other — and their memories — tight.