Posted on February 4th, 2005
Bishop, the host of "Friday Night Jukebox" on WEMC-91.7FM, is preparing to mark the five-year anniversary of the show that takes its listeners on a trip down memory lane – a musical journey back to the ’50s.
by Crystal Graham, The Augusta Free Press
Jim Bishop has been in the radio business for longer than he might care to admit. Bishop began making his own radio debut around the same time – when a much younger Bishop and his neighbor rigged up two turntables, a microphone, a makeshift console and a tape recorder, and, voila, the pair had created their own radio station.
"We’d take turns doing air shifts, spinning the 45s and chattering," Bishop said. "Every weekend we did a top 20 countdown, which was really cool, because we controlled the chart positions with the songs we liked most."
The playlist back then mirrors much of what Bishop digs out for his show today on Eastern Mennonite University’s public-radio station.
"Our playlist was largely made up of songs that in reality never made the top of the charts," Bishop said. "Which is why a lot of the songs from my personal collection that I play on ‘Friday Night Jukebox’ fit that category."
Bishop thinks the ’50s provided music that was fun, energizing and infectous – and what’s on the charts today, well, it lacks that certain something.
"Much of today’s music is depressing and creatively bankrupt – mostly moaning and groaning and shreiking – and lacking in harmony, heart and soul," Bishop said.
"Rap music is an oxymoron in my book," he continued. "I just can’t identify with it at all.
"But that’s probably what my parents said about ‘my’ music."
His music, the music from the baby-boomer generation, was something new – part of the developing scene in music, when rock-and-roll was evolving from gospel, country, rhythm and blues and jazz.
"When you hear this music decades later, you not only can sing along, but you remember where you were and what you were doing," he said. "The goal is to help listeners conjure up memories of some special times and special people in their lives from this ebullient era."
Growing up just north of Philadelphia, Bishop said many of the "street-corner harmony" songs ring a bell for him even today.
And he still has a place in his heart for his favorite artist, Duane Eddy.
Others that score high on Bishop’s personal favorite list include Lee Andrews & The Hearts, The Dubs, the Flamingos, Billy Ward & His Dominos, The Everly Brothers and Fats Domino.
Hearing the likes of those musical entertainers has been what’s kept Friday nights in Bishop’s calendar booked up for the past five years.
"I started the show the first Friday night in February 2000, and haven’t missed a week in these five years," Bishop said. "Although admittedly, I did a few reruns when I was on vacation."
The man known for his signature invitation for a guided tour down those cobwebbed corridors of time has something else to celebrate tonight.
In the day and age when entertainment shows come and go as quickly as the one-hit wonder’s shelf life, Bishop has proven that "Friday Night Jukebox" is here to stay.
"I worry that, out of the blue, I’ll lost my passion for this music and shut down the program," Bishop said. "I hope that never happens.
"I’m too old to be doing this in the first place, and in another five years, they might have to put me in a home," Bishop joked.
From his early days in his own fantasy studio, Bishop always dreamed of becoming a radio personality. At 59, he’s found a way to make his dream a reality and discovered a way to stay in touch with the music that shaped him into the person he became.
"I’m a sentimental slob, a nostalgia buff of the first order," Bishop said. "This music keeps me in touch with my roots.
"I had an incredibly happy childhood and adolescence, and this music played a major role in the process."
Join the celebration
Tune in to the "Friday Night Jukebox" fifth anniversary special starting at 10 p.m. tonight on WEMC-91.7 FM, Eastern Mennonite University’s public-radio station.
Bishop will be playing #1 songs from the ’50s, including the best-selling song each year from 1955 to 1959, according to Billboard magazine.