Somewhere along the line during my college years, a stack of The Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, began being delivered to Transy on weekdays. James was usually good for picking a copy up and bringing it back to the room. One evening in the fall of 1985, he threw that day’s issue my way, pointing to the Letters to the Editor section. It contained a call to action of sorts, from an undergraduate with a memorable name: Kakie Urch. Entitled “Radio Free Lexington,” the letter noted the absence of a student-run radio station at UK, and asked, “why not us?” We soon discovered that Urch had struck a nerve. My recollection is that over the next few months, she penned several editorials appearing in the Kernel, laying out her case and a vision.
At this point, I wandered north and west to Illinois, but James stayed in Lexington to work on a master’s degree in computer science at UK, and he would give me periodic updates on Urch and company’s quest. In March 1988, WRFL (get it?) went on the air, frequency all the way over to the left at 88.1. Their first song, the result of a poll: “C’mon Every Beatbox,” by Big Audio Dynamite. Over their first four years of existence, I would tune in on those few occasions when I was in town. Eclectic was one word for their ethos, pretty much as you’d expect for any university radio station.
When I moved back in August of 1992, I leased an apartment on the southeastern side of Lexington, about a thirty-minute drive from my office at Georgetown. For the next year-plus, WRFL was a regular companion for both portions of my commute. Even though a decent percentage of what they played was not exactly my thing, there was enough of interest to keep me coming back. Let’s take a look at a few songs that RFL threw my way back then.
Mudhoney, “Suck You Dry”
Here’s a band of ground-zero grungers, straight out of the Sub Pop/Seattle scene. This was the first single from Piece of Cake, their first major-label release. Did I mention that a decent percentage of what RFL played was not exactly my thing?
Ween, “The Stallion Pt. 3”
These guys went on to become cult favorites, but I think they were a little too out there for me. Nonetheless, I was taken in by this distinctly oddball semi-running gag (Parts 1 and 2 appeared on their previous album, while parts 4 and 5 came several years later). Also heard Pure Guava‘s single “Push Th’ Little Daisies” a few times which, come to think of it, may explain why I didn’t pursue Ween any further.
Giving due credit: you’re reading this piece now because of a tweet last night by friend-of-the-blog Kurt Blumenau. Got me thinking about the old days…
During my brief stint as a WTBU DJ I was introduced to the truly unhinged "The Stallion Pt. 3," which is still my favorite of theirs.— Kurt Blumenau (@kurtblumenau) May 28, 2020
Fuzzbox, “Pink Sunshine”
Hearing something so poppy, even if was three years old, was a welcome contrast to much of RFL’s playlist. Known in their native England as We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It, these four women started off much more punkish. For their second (and final) album Big Bang!, they enlisted the aid of Liam Sternberg on three tunes, including “Pink Sunshine.” It and two other songs on Big Bang! went Top 20 in the UK, but only “Self!” scratched the Modern Rock Tracks chart here (alas, I overlooked it in last October’s MRT post). At least as of a few years ago, vocalist Vickie Perks was still in the biz, fronting an Americana all-female band called ViX and her MsChiefs (who had their own take on “Pink Sunshine”).
Shonen Knife, “Twist Barbie”
My fave discovery from this era, a rockin’ trio of women from Japan. “Twist Barbie” is all kinds of awesome, although the song of theirs you’re most likely to have heard is an earnest cover of “Top of the World” on the Carpenters tribute album If I Were a Carpenter.
I moved to Georgetown at Christmas break in 1993; without those sorta-extended trips in the car, listening to RFL became a much less frequent pastime. But Radio Free Lexington is still very much a thing in my neck of the woods, thirty-two years old now and counting. And Kakie Urch? She’s an associate professor at UK, in, you guessed it, their School of Journalism and Media.