Friday, May 29, 2009


Rick Shannon is a middle-aged disc jockey who's worked in 15 markets in 20 years. He's been in radio since Imagine and Sticky Fingers were new, has seen the heyday of AOR radio as it morphed into Classic Rock, and watched Clear Channel--um, "Clean Signal"--buy up radio stations all over the country and use market research and focus groups to homogenize radio so that it's safe for everyone.

As Radio Activity begins Rick has lost another job--as the night jock at KBND-FM in Bismarck, North Dakota. We meet him as he's trying to sell off some of his most prized possessions, including a first pressing of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn which is signed by the entire band--including poor, crazy Syd Barrett!--for gas money. After accepting thirty bucks for his treasure and giving the rest of his box of albums to the down-on-his-luck formerly great DJ hanging around cadging quarters and smokes outside the used record store, Rick heads back to his apartment to find a job offer waiting for him.

Even though he's as much as convinced himself that it's time to get out of radio, Rick gets in his truck and drives the 1600 miles to McRae, Mississippi, only to learn that in addition to being bumped to his nightmare time slot of morning drive time (Rick's an evening jock), he's received a dubious promotion. He's now program director, and he gets to program with complete freedom within the Classic Rock format.

Trouble is, Rick was offered the DJ position because the jock before him stopped showing up to work, and it's not long at all before he realizes that foul play is involved. Thus emerges PI Buddy Miles (a pseudonym cadged from a former Jimi Hendrix drummer), tentative and bumbling but able to get the job done.

The action unfolds amid amazing deep catalog play lists and endless discussions of how to define classic rock (the Band's Last Waltz is designated the end of the era--although whether the actual concert or the release of the album and film a couple of years later remains to be determined--but the beginning of the era is only loosely defined as 1963), and if you have any interest at all in the music of the time you'll be scrambling to dust off your turntable and haul out your vinyl records.

Bill Fitzhugh is a funny, funny guy, and a damn good writer. Radio Activity is highly recommended as a smart, quick read which, though it goes down fast and easy will leave you full and satisfied.

1 comment:

Ashley said...


My name is Ashley Bridge; I work for Coral Press, an indie publisher of Musical Fiction.

Not only do we publish musical novels, but we are also becoming a prominent source for all things musical fiction. To that end, we have launched The Charts – our list of the Top 40 Musical novels of the past few decades compiled by Kellie D. Brown, author of The Annotated Bibliography and Reference List of Musical Fiction.

As part of our list of Top 40 Musical novels, we’ve included comments on the books from prominent bloggers. We’re pleased to let you know that we are referencing your blog and including a link to this post.

We hope you’ll check out The Charts at And we’d love it if you created a link back to Coral Press:

All the best,
Ashley Bridge