The Current Generation of Oldies Tapes

Editor’s note: WREK is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by what is effectively an all-volunteer student staff. While this usually includes live on-air ‘talent’, the wee hours of the morning are covered by a collosal automation system (named “George P.” for historical reasons) that includes a few large reel-to-reel tape decks. These decks play “oldies tapes” in a rotation that usually takes a month or so to repeat.

Mark Mitchell worked at WREK from 1982 to 1986, which included service as Music Director and Program Director. This was at a time when WREK’s programming philosophy (its ‘sound’) was undergoing a significant change.

In a recent submission to our historical staff database, Mark mentioned producing “a hell of a lot” of oldies tapes. I let him know that we were still using them, more than ten years later, and he added the insight below

We made all those oldies tapes out of necessity more than industriousness. The previous set of tapes were exclusively 60’s and 70’s rock, mostly of the Grateful Dead/Procul Harum/Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young school, sort of laid-back hippie stuff.

The philosophy at the time those tapes were made was that this music was “like blue jeans – it goes with everything”. When I became PD I and the music directors at that time (including the legendary Jon Kincaid) decided to scrap this idea and make the oldies tapes similarly diverse to go along with the regular format. This was rather controversial at the time, and it certainly did make the sound of the station a lot different and perhaps more challenging than ever. (Though for me personally nothing was more challenging than listening to a lot of the extremely mediocre mellow rock on those old tapes.)

Those old typed lists generally contain the initials of the people who made the tapes, mam=Mark Mitchell, jfk=Jon Kincaid, ad=Arthur Davis, and dtl=David T. Lindsay. (David never worked at WREK but he was a friend of mine who wrote music reviews for Creative Loafing and had an incredible record collection.) And, of course, Jon and I developed the habit of giving each tape a name, sometimes a theme, sometimes a testament to how we spent the earlier part of the evening, and once even a dig at the tape we were replacing (“Goodbye Yellow Biff Rose” – refering to a particularly poor selection on the tape we bulked that night.)

When we made the new tapes we simply bulk-erased the old ones and taped right over them. Our budget was tight back then and we didn’t think we could afford to keep the old tapes around and buy 60 new reels. This was also controversial, though I had little sympathy in that case and we did make sure to save all the old typed lists (I hope they are still around somewhere.) I never saw the big deal – I certainly wouldn’t fret about any or all of the tapes I worked on being recorded over. They served their purpose, and they were but a tiny fraction of the beautiful music in the world. They had their shot, and now let’s hear what the next guy has to say.

I’m sure there were many other people who contributed to the tapes whose initials I don’t recall.

Mark Mitchell (, Feb. 1997

Edited by Chris Campbell, Feb. 1997