September 23, 2011

WFUV & SiriusXM Host Dennis Elsas
By Joey Odorisio 
 

Dennis Elsas

A New York radio fixture, Dennis Elsas spent over 25 years at the Big Apple’s legendary WNEW-FM. During his run, Elsas had the opportunity to interview a number of music legends, including Pete Townshend, Elton John and most famously, the late John Lennon. Elsas has archived many of his biggest interviews online at DennisElsas.com, and is using them as part of a presentation, titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets.” Elsas can currently be heard daily on Fordham University’s Non-Comm WFUV, and SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl channel, and teaches a class on radio and music at Fordham as well. Elsas chatted with FMQB recently about his course syllabus, his career and how ‘FUV keeps him plugged into the music of today.

Let’s start with some of the topics you discuss with students in your class at Fordham, The Rock Revolution in Music and Media.
The Rock Revolution in Music and Media is a Graduate Course I’m teaching at Fordham University that ranges from transistor radios to iPods, AM to FM through the rise of MTV, Elvis to The Beatles to Woodstock and beyond. We explore the technologies, personalities and artists of the music of the ‘50s and ‘60s and how it changed our world and still influences our lives today.


What are your students’ impressions of the Rock music and media of the past?

We’ve just started the semester so I’m only beginning to get a sense of how familiar this group of mostly “twentysomethings” is with rock history. We’ll cover the broad elements outlined above, but also explore the following:

          Even if you grew up with rock ‘n’ roll, you may have forgotten just how dangerous the music was originally perceived to be. The song “Rock Around the Clock” and the film Blackboard Jungle are ancient history, but by showing how it’s used under the movie’s opening credits you can see how that cultural divide was born in the ‘50s and keeps repeating itself through the decades.
          There’s a great story to tell explaining how progressive rock radio emerged in the mid- 60’s because of accidental timing. The FCC’s 50/50 rule had just mandated that AM/FM combos could no longer simulcast identical programming on both frequencies.
          As owners looked for new formats to fill the airtime, the music scene was changing.  Rock albums had started to be more than just a collection of singles. At the very same time that a major social and political revolution was unfolding (the ‘60s), a new media outlet of expression was becoming available. Rock on FM was born, and at least initially, with less restrictions and the freedom to experiment.
          Of course, television’s role changes dramatically from appearances on Ed Sullivan and dancing on American Bandstand to The Monkees and Midnight Special.
          And as the ‘70s morph into the ‘80s and cable TV transitions from a simple delivery system to new opportunities for developing programming, the rock video emerges as more than just an extra promotional tool into a whole new art form and channel.
          Over the months I’ve spent creating the course, it amazes me how much I’m learning about a subject that’s always been a part of my life.

What are the students’ opinions on radio?

I haven’t conducted an in-depth analysis yet of how the students interact with radio. However, the good news is a majority of the class is still listening to our medium, mostly in the car or online.


Tell our readers about the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets” event…

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets” is a live multimedia presentation that I designed to showcase audio and video highlights from some of the favorite artist interviews I’ve conducted, including John Lennon, Elton John, Pete Townshend and Jerry Garcia.

          The program begins with my memories of growing up listening to New York’s great Top 40 DJ’s, helping to build my college station just as FM radio was starting to change and only a few years later becoming music director and on-air personality during the “glory days” of WNEW-FM. I’m still talking with great artists at WFUV and SiriusXM so the program continues to evolve.  My next show is in NY at 92YTribeca on Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
          It grew out of my extensive personal and online archives. When I started my website a few years ago, I wanted to develop a site where I could share some of my favorite rock experiences. My interview with John Lennon was well known among Beatle fans and historians, but I knew there was a lot more to explore. Once I figured out the best way to highlight my favorite clips and combine it with a brief story about the interview, I began to compile the online archives. It’s designed to accommodate any new or re-discovered material as it becomes available. In addition to the audio and video, there are also some wonderful old memos, letters and photos.

Tell me about your two different airshifts on SiriusXM vs. WFUV. What’s it like to be on the air ten hours a day on two different stations and formats?

It’s great to be on the air every day with two different radio gigs that compliment and contrast each other. My weekday afternoon show (2-6 p.m.) at WFUV gives me the creative freedom to blend current bands like Fleet Foxes and The Decemberists with a wide variety of longtime favorites and connect to a highly appreciative audience.

          Plus there are many opportunities to conduct in-depth interviews often combined with live performances, ranging from artists like Elvis Costello to Ben Folds to Gregg Allman.
          Hosting the daily morning shift (6 a.m. - noon) at SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl (Channel 26), I’m sharing great musical memories with a passionate national audience and keeping up with artists I’ve played through the years. Both stations provide the rewarding experience of reuniting with long-time listeners. And I never could have predicted that Robert Plant would become a crossover artist, as I play his new Band of Joy on one station and Led Zeppelin on the other.
 

[[eQB Content by Joey Odorisio]
 



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