It’s now the last hour of WLUP’s existence as a radio station, at least as I’ve always known it. It’s changing formats at midnight tonight, and it will apparently continue on at a different frequency and on the internet. So that’s something, I guess.
Listening to “Stairway to Heaven” for the final time on 97.9 FM in Chicago is surely a bittersweet experience. It’s an awesome song, that I’ve written about before in this space, but it has an otherworldly sense that lends itself to moving on to the other side, whatever that looks like. A radio station in Albuquerque once announced a format change by playing “Stairway to Heaven” continuously for 24 hours. No such dramatics for the Loop, though. It’s on to the next song already.
Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is exactly the type of 80s rock that I’ve always come to expect on the Loop. Life has moved and changed a thousand ways since 1986, when I first started listening to the Loop, but the music can always take me back to that time in my life. Not too many things have that power, after all.
Next up is Lynrd Skynrd’s “Freebird.” If there’s a better song to encapsulate what the Loop is (or what it was? I’m still not sure just yet) I don’t know what it is. There’s a live version of “Freebird” where the audience is calling out for the song and the singer asks “What song do you want to hear?” And when they played it, the crowd went nuts, just like they always do.
About 15 years ago, give or take a few years, I was having dinner at a restaurant in East Lansing, Michigan, and a couple of college kids were playing some live music. To be a goofball, I called out “Freebird!” and they obliged me by playing the entire song. It’s moments like that one which make me proud to be a rock and roll lifer, along with those who’ve listened to the Loop over the 41 years they’ve been on the air.
The guitars at the end of “Freebird” are a wondrous thing, aren’t they? I’ll hear them again after tonight, but they take on some added bite knowing that this is the last time on a space where I’ve always expected to hear them.
REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)” is up next. I don’t feel fine that the Loop is ending in a half hour, but here it comes, so why not embrace it? If I live to be 100–and I won’t–I’ll never be able to sing this one correctly all the way through. I may get 70% or so of the words right on a good day, but that won’t keep me from continuing to try…birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, Boom!…. What a ride it’s been through the years.
An addiction rehab commercial is playing now. Rock and roll and addiction have always seemed to go hand in hand, and so many brilliant artists have been snuffed out as a result. Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty….and so many others. So this commercial seems fitting. Now there’s an iPhone commercial playing. Nobody could have ever seen something like an iPhone when the Loop went on the air back in 1977. How far everything has come since then! Lowe’s Hardware is up next. Kudos to them for getting in on this farewell party. And the Eagles are coming back to Chicago this fall, apparently. Minus Glenn Frey, of course. How many times have the Eagles been played on the Loop over the years? The mind reels at that thought.
Commercials are over, now back to the music. Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” leads it off. The programmers are pulling out all the stops down the final stretch, aren’t they? The bell is tolling for a station I first heard as an 18 year-old college freshman, but as the song lyrics say, “time marches on.” And so will the Loop, once the midnight hour arrives.
Rush’s “Limelight” is up next. Living on the lighted stage approaches the unreal…All the World’s a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers…This is another one that will always be played on the radio somewhere, but thousands of plays later, and it won’t be found where it seemed like it would always be.
More commercials up next. Coffee made by homeless vets (a worthy cause, for sure). A male enhancement pill that calls itself “viagra on steroids” (and this is the perfect place to reach the market for such a product, amiright?) Another Lowe’s ad. There’s just 15 minutes left until midnight. Time for two songs, maybe three. Let’s see how they bring the curtain down. And unlike at a rock concert, pulling out the lighters and yelling for more probably won’t work this time.
Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” is next. Where to begin with this? I bought the Crue’s album of the same name on vinyl back in 1983, as a high school freshman. They hadn’t yet become what they would later on in the 80s, but they had a sound that would define the decade for me. Guns n’ Roses, Ratt, Poison, Twisted Sister, and a hunderd other bands that nobody remembers wanted to be half as good as Motley Crue was.
Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” brings us to the doorstep of the end. I’ll possibly never hear this one on the radio ever again, because Iron Maiden was never quite commercially popular, but the guitars and the vocals are something that isn’t for everyone, anyway. Anyone who considered the Loop their station loved it, though.
And here we are. The end of the hour, and the end of an era. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” brings it all home. These three songs seem determined to tweak the Christian music that’s coming to take the place over once this song is finished. But let’s ride the “devil’s music” off into the sunset, shall we? As the late Bon Scott sang, Don’t stop me!
WLUP, 97.9, Chicago’s rock station…over and out.
Thanks for all the memories through the years.