The 96 Wave special events van's rotating lights were flashing all over Ocean Boulevard when I showed up for the mighty Meat Puppets gig at the Windjammer last Saturday. The IOP club was damn close to full capacity as local rock band Red Handed finished their opening set. Throngs of Pups fans, young and old, gathered around the stage and across the main room as the Kirkwood Brothers casually walked on stage, plugged into their amps, and confidently kicked into their fast-moving opening number ("Sam" off their album Forbidden Places).
Hearing and seeing Curt and Cris together again on stage was a hot blast from an almost-distant past — an "alternative rock" era from over a decade ago. And it was all thanks to another character from that time — former Charleston disc jockey, station exec, and music enthusiast Woody "The Woodman" Bartlett.
Bartlett is based in Wyoming these days. He owned and managed 96 Wave in the late '80s and '90s before selling it to Apex Broadcasting out of Alabama. The Woodman is perhaps best remembered for hosting the early episodes of the weekly Sunday night show "Cutting Edge" — and for organizing several WaveFest concerts in the mid '90s. He made a big homecoming reunion out of the weekend.
"The Meat Puppets are the best example of 96 Wave music and attitude while me and my band of rock evangelists were running the station," Bartlett told me last week. "This past winter, Rob Cressman [a former 96 Wave program director] came out to visit and we decided that a reunion would be cool."
Several DJs and old-school scene supporters congregated for what Bartlett and Cressman deemed "The Reel Years Reunion." The weekend included a cruise on the harbor, cocktail parties, sports bar beer sessions, a get-together out at longtime DJ Uncle Miles Crosby's Uncle's Place in Walterboro, and a grand finale at the Windjammer featuring a live set from the recently-revived Puppets.
"This is the fifth or sixth Puppets show I have been a part of in Charleston," Bartlett said. "There was no arm-twisting or begging, although I would have if needed. The band loves Charleston and they are just good dudes who respond in kind."
Many of the current 96 Wave staff were on hand for the show, milling around in black Wave T-shirts. A handful of old-school Wavers stayed congregated toward the back corner, laughing about old times, trading stories, and catching up. The generation gap was obvious.
"Back in the day, Woodman Productions would present all the new underground stuff before the station would begin to play the tunes," remembered Bartlett.
While current "Cutting Edge" host Bryant Stowe still brings in tons of new underground rock and college radio music, the station shook things up over the last six months with a few adjustments in format. Things at Wave sound more "Active Rock" and metallic these days.
And more shake-ups at Apex may be on the horizon. News came into City Paper last week via a radio message board that a complex switcheroo may be in the works for Apex Broadcasting in which they may move, swap, or sell their stations or frequencies with two other companies, Miller Broadcasting and NextMedia Broadcasting. It seems complicated. From the FCC applications, it looks like Charleston could lose Apex frequencies 96.1 FM (96 Wave) and 107.5 (Cat Country) and the city could get a new station frequencies at 95.9 FM and a more powerful ones at 101.7 FM and 107.3 FM.
Meanwhile, it looks like the Apex-owned entertainment bi-weekly Graffiti Magazine may have just published their last locally-produced issue. Reports point to a new syndicated production out of Charlotte. Could the Apex machine already be heading out and away from Charleston and such cool music events as the Meat Puppets' beachfront concert? It remains to be seen. Stay tuned.