"Vinyl Experience" Host Paul Cavalconte Browsing Record Bins at Rough Trade in London
Photo courtesy Paul Cavalconte
Photo courtesy Paul Cavalconte
When I visited commercial radio station WRXP in New York City back in October, one of the things that impressed me was word that they were starting up a vinyl-only show on Sundays. The show premiered in late October and has aired 6 episodes so far on Sunday mornings.
Thanks to much to the host of "The Vinyl Experience," Paul Cavalconte, for taking the time to chat with me over email about this unique radio show. Although I was disappointed to learn that he wasn't actually hauling his vinyl to the radio station for the weekly show; it made sense when I found out that this is more a matter of fulfilling the specific goals that he has set out for the program. Since it's only an hour a week, he's crafted it more like a magazine; with features designed to help instill a love of vinyl. One might call Paul the "vinyl evangelist," as he's working to both educate people about vinyl and encourage vinyl listening.
To learn more about the show (airing from 9 to 10am Sundays in New York City and on the WRXP webstream) and take a look at playlists, see Paul's blog on the 'RXP website.
As I talked with Paul he shared with me his college radio past, his love for vinyl, the intricacies of putting together his show, and his hope that through the show he'll be able to encourage more people to pick up and listen to vinyl records.
On to the interview:
Spinning Indie: How did the Vinyl Experience Radio Show come to exist on RXP.
Paul Cavalconte: It began as my web page. Leslie Fram, who is also our Program Director, challenged me to come up with the on-air equivalent. Originally I thought it would be a feature, one vinyl-only song, but she said "you need to do a whole show on this." When I set about putting the demo together, I realized that this show needed to be carefully planned and produced so as to convey what I have learned and wish to share. So winging it as a live free-form hour of spinning turntables doesn't cut it--as much fun as that can be, meeting the goals I have set for myself is more fun!
Spinning Indie: Tell me about the first show. What did you play and how did people react?
Paul: I have had wonderful response so far, and you can check out playlists on my Vinyl Experience web page at 1019rxp.com, and also "The Vinyl Experience Radio Show" on Facebook. The first song on the first show was Pearl Jam "Spin The Black Circle."
I like to begin each show with a song about records or "the vinyl experience," such as Squeeze's "If I Didn't Love You," Ryan Adams' "Majick," The Kinks' "Juke Box Music," Todd Snider's "Vinyl Records." I have debuted new single-only tracks by Arctic Monkeys, David Gray, local artists like Locksley and Black Gold. I've done focus pieces on classic stuff such as the alternate mixes on the mono late Beatles albums; the back story and ongoing influence of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," tied in with the reissue of the original British album. Sometimes I'll throw historic stuff in, such as audio on commemorative records released for the Apollo 11 Moon landing, JFK's assassination, etc.
Spinning Indie: Are you mainly playing music from your own collection? Does RXP have a vinyl library?
Paul: We are building a library of new releases and some catalog stuff, and I certainly draw on my own collection for much of each weekly show. Eventually, I would like to see RXP put vinyl into active on-air duty, or to use the vinyl aspect in imaging the presentation of library classics, but we'll need a setup for that, because.....
Spinning Indie: How many turntables does RXP have?
Paul: None! I am not playing records live on-air and I don't intend to! There are a few practical reasons. First off, all broadcasting is now entirely digitally transmitted, from the console to studio-transmitter link, to on-air audio processing and finally the transmission itself..... so the analog texture one experiences listening to records on a home Hi Fi system cannot be exactly recreated --that's why I like to say "DO try this at home.
That said, I do feel that some psychoacoustic aspects of the analog listening experience do translate--better midrange definition, better bass pitch, more palpable imaging. Vinyl dubbed to digital sounds like vinyl, but with the glassiness of digital superimposed over it; master tape commercially cut to CD sounds like something very different.
Interestingly, digital recordings mastered to vinyl sound digital--as vinyl is a very faithful and transparent medium, despite the signal-to-noise improvements in digital. I also do believe that the "substrate awareness" factor of a palpable medium--stylus drag through the groove and the occasional pop and tick--adds to the analog psychoacoustic effect, and this does translate to digital as well.
I dub all analog sources from my own audiophile home system, and edit and assemble the show using Adobe Audition on my computer, set for the highest possible resolution manageable. It is very sensitive and responsive. If the tubes in my preamp and my vintage Neumann microphone are not sufficiently warmed up, I can hear it on the recording! I can certainly hear the differences in cartridges I use, and I believe that astute listeners can pick up on this, but it is not specifically what I'm aiming for!
Most importantly, I want the show to evoke the vinyl listening experience and encourage people to seek it out in their own lives. I want to detail the culture of records and how albums are a body of pop literature. I want young listeners to build the kind of relationship that I enjoy with records and through that, a better understanding of music. So it goes way beyond audio geek-dom, which is a very minor consideration, even though I have a lot to say about it!
Spinning Indie: Why do you think that vinyl has a future?
Paul: We will always need "hard media", and vinyl--along with CDs--are that. Both older and new generations are enamored of vinyl--for one, nostalgia, for the other, discovery. I do believe that the sonic advantages of analog will win fans over, but that must be properly presented. The quality of vinyl playback equipment has improved greatly over the affordable commercial stuff out in the market back when vinyl was the only game in town!
Spinning Indie: What do you love about vinyl?
Paul: Vinyl is sensual. It has a feel, look, even smell (the sweetly musty book-smell that libraries have) and most certainly a sound. That sound is truer to life for me, despite the many disadvantages of vinyl playback...but anyone can learn to hear through those small distortions and deeper in to the music than squeaky-clean but one-dimensional digital will ever allow.
Spinning Indie: Are you aware of any other commercial stations with vinyl-only shows?
Paul: Quite a few stations (mostly AAA and Oldies) do vinyl segments featuring one or two special songs, or a "Turntable Thursday" type all-day feature...some track entire albums for effect. "The Vinyl Experience" is (as far as I know) the only longform American broadcast radio show about the culture, story and sound of vinyl records. It surely is the only one addressing technical aspects, offering Vinyl News and "Turntable Tips." It is an on-air magazine, more so that a feature, and that's my concept!
Spinning Indie: Do you have a college radio past? If so, at what station?
Paul: I sure do! I went to Fordham in The Bronx, New York and I owe my career to WFUV. When I was there (1979-83) students had much more air time and power. It is public radio now, with some student involvement, but mostly a paid professional staff.
Spinning Indie: Anything else?
Paul: I am always looking for new music and --sticking with the concept of the show--if it is on vinyl, I will consider playing it. The show right now is rooted in library and major label releases, but I would love to break a little Indie music too.
I'm also soliciting listener participation through our "Virgin Vinyl" feature, where you tell us about your "first time" --with a record, that is! I'll also ask visiting artists what LP was their first, or changed their lives. I'm planning personal appearances through Record Store Day, and naturally, sponsorship of the show by vinyl-related purveyors who might not have considered radio as an advertising option before.