Rush’s first job at 16 years old was as a deejay for his hometown radio station.
Later he merged his love of radio and politics into his famous show.
Hear musical stories in Rush’s own words below and create your own Rush Playlist.
The Pretenders – My City Was Gone
“Rush, how did you pick your theme song?”
Well, we pay a license fee every year to EMI, which is a licensee. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sings the song, and there’s an interesting backstory about that. But the way I chose the tune, I gotta go back to Sacramento in 1984. In October 1984, when I started what became the EIB Network at KFBK Sacramento, I was told that, because of program requirements, I had to open each hour with a theme song. Now, I had been a disc jockey. I had worked at news stations. I had never, ever, used a theme song.
The last person that ever used a theme song on the radio was Arthur Godfrey. They just didn’t exist. There was no such thing as a theme song, but I learned it was a staple of talk radio. It was just something that the programming gurus wanted. (interruption) Oh, yeah, I liked Arthur Godfrey. In fact, when I was younger my brother David couldn’t say “Arthur.” He called him “Odfrey Godfrey.” I could always pronounce Arthur.
At any rate, they told me, “You need a theme song.” Okay, so I tried a bunch of different things. I tried some songs by Men At Work. That didn’t quite do it for me. By chance, I happened to be listening to music and heard My City Was Gone by The Pretenders.
Now, this is October of 1984. Back then, it was the height of controversy to say the word “condom” on the air. You may not believe that, but, as recently as 1984, saying the word “condom” was controversial. (It didn’t take much to rile people up.) My audience in Sacramento was a very devoted, conservative, sophisticated bunch; and I was told, “You might want to pick a classical theme as an opening like William Buckley used on Firing Line.” I said, “No, that’s not me. I’m not gonna phony this up.”
So I decided I would pick something that, if people were to learn the lyrics, they would be the antithesis of what they thought I was. My City Was Gone is a song that bashes real estate developers. You know, I’m big time conservative. I support real estate development. Here I’m choosing as a theme song a song that rips them to shreds, but I didn’t really pick it for the lyrics because I don’t play the lyrics. I picked it simply because it had an unmistakable, totally recognizable bass line, and it was so unexpected.
It was the last thing that this highly sophisticated, conservative audience in Sacramento would ever associate with a conservative program. So it was part of being unpredictable, part of doing the unexpected, and the fact that I just happened to like it. All those three went into the decision. Now, when I came to New York and started the program nationally, that changed a lot of things. EMI and Chrissie Hynde had never heard of me in Sacramento and they had no idea I was using it. But when it shows up on 500 or 600 radio stations and I’m playing more than 10 or 15 seconds of it (which is more than fair usage), then they want a piece.
But in my case they didn’t want a piece. They didn’t want me to use it. So EMI got hold of us and said, “You can’t use it anymore. We will accept no amount of money. There’s nothing you can pay us. You just gotta cease and desist.”
The regular listeners of this program will remember that we went through a two or three week period here with different theme songs. We had to dump it. Then one day Chrissie Hynde appeared with Scott Shannon on the morning show at WPLJ, which was our FM counterpart to WABC in New York. She appeared there as a guest and Scott Shannon told her what happened.
She was no fan of mine. You know, Chrissie is a big feminist and animal rights wacko and all that, but she had no clue that the song had been denied usage and she’s telling Scott Shannon that her parents love my show. So, in the end, we played tape of that ’cause the EMI people had told us that Chrissie wanted no part of me using the song. Well, here she is saying she didn’t care. She told Scott Shannon of PLJ that she didn’t care and her parents were fans so we got that tape, that audio; we played it for the EMI people, and the song came back to the program. We pay an annual fee — which is fair, proper — for usage.
But, like everything else with this program, it was not part of a grand strategy. It wasn’t part of a long, well-conceived marketing plan that had various steps that had to be implemented at various times. It was all just spontaneously put together based on the fact that I was able to (for the first time in my broadcast career) do a radio program the way I wanted to do it, the way I thought would work without being told I can’t do that or shouldn’t do that or whatever. I’m just one who followed my instinct at every step of the way.
Neil Diamond – You Got to Me
I used to play this song in my early days as a deejay. This is some of Neil Diamond’s best stuff. I forget the exact year, but it’s the mid-sixties. Snerdley doesn’t believe he missed this back in its day. It’s in the Thank the Lord for the Night Time era. Quick, where’s Neil Diamond from? Brooklyn. Now, I realize that those of you 25 or 30, it just doesn’t sound that good. It doesn’t sound that high-tech. You’re laughing at the lyrics. The days of masculinity.
Sir Douglas Quintet – She’s About a Mover
I was 14 in 1965 and I used to listen to this song before Babe Ruth League baseball games. I’d get psyched up and ready to go. These guys, they sound like a California group, but they’re actually from Texas.
Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb
I once worked at a radio station in suburban Pittsburgh, McKeesport, WIXY, “Wixie.” They called it “Solid Rock and Gold.” I called it “Salted Rot and Mold,” ’cause it’s an oldies station and the playlist was so small you got tired of the music after six weeks. This was one of the stations I got fired from, and the stated reason was that I played “Under My Thumb” out of rotation too many times. At least that’s what they told the newspaper.
It was the first time I got fired. I called my dad.
“I got fired.”
“I played a song too many times.”
He was never gonna understand that. A, he couldn’t understand playing a song too many times, or, B, why one would get fired for doing it, other than the bosses were always right.
Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
Not true. I end up satisfied most every day after three hours hosting broadcast excellence — and I know you do, too, listening to it.
Mannheim Steamroller – Chip Davis
You really have to listen to Mannheim Steamroller in stereo. If you love Christmas music, this is a nice twist on it. It’s all instrumental, just beautiful, beautiful treatments of great Christmas music and some of their own original creations as well.
I first discovered Mannheim Steamroller in 1985 while in Sacramento, interestingly enough, watching NFL playoff games. They played it as bumper music and I fell in love with it very quickly. I have a bit of an emotional attachment to it.
It happened to be some of the first Christmas music I, by happenstance, happened to be listening to upon learning of the death of my father. I’ve had this emotional connection. I was on an airplane, 40,000 feet, looking out the window. I thought I was looking at heaven.
“Silent Night” particularly — it’s on their first Christmas album — first time I heard it to the end, the crescendo of strings, or not strings, but the replication of strings, actually brought tears to my eyes. We always close out our Christmas show with this version.
Tone-Loc – Funky Cold Medina
A well-known rap impresario, who I once met during a Rush to Excellence Tour somewhere near a paper mill in South Carolina. I only know that because of the smell. It was in Charleston, South Carolina, and he was staying at the same hotel I was. I was coming out of my room and ran into him in the hall. I said, “Hey, it’s Tone-Loc. I play your tune in my bumper rotation.” He looked at me like I was from Mars, but thanked me. It was in the early days. Where is he now? Where am I? Right here at the EIB Network.
Donna Summer – Love to Love You Baby
Donna Summer died, 63 years old, of cancer. We grew up with her, Snerdley. It really is sad. I met Donna Summer one time on an airplane. After the flight took off, she and her husband came up and introduced themselves. They were, quote, unquote, friends. They were one of us. That’s what they wanted to come tell me. They were as nice as they could be. I was sitting there in awe. She was tall, beautiful, and dressed to the nines on this flight. Her husband is also a singer.
During her big string of hits, the disco era, I played those records on the radio. You listened to ’em; I played ’em. When I was in charge of producing the games, Kansas City Royals, I played Donna Summer stuff, pregame between innings and so forth. Yeah, there was a guy in the business department at the Royals that just had a crush on her that wouldn’t stop. He would talk about nothing but Donna Summer. And nobody knew she was sick. Well, people knew that she was sick, but not that it was as advanced as it was.
But, yeah, she was a committed Christian. She was one of us. She was a right-winger. She came to hate the smut on the radio. She was not a fan of rap music at all. Do you remember the song, “Love to Love You, Baby”? Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho. Love to Love You, Baby. Oh. It was controversial back then. She was a pioneer. There’s no question.
Al Wilson – Show and Tell
I love this song. I was a struggling young disk jockey in Pittsburgh in 1972. Al Wilson once called the program and talked to us!
Lou Rawls – Dead End Street
This guy was so great. He had an album called The Hawk, about the cold wind in Chicago. What a song that was. I listened to that stuff back when I was 16, 17. What a voice. He’s a great, great singer. Like Otis Redding, that guy is so unappreciated, other than by those who listen to the music.
Love Unlimited Orchestra - My Sweet Summer Suite
Ahhh, the music maestro, Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. You know, a wonderful genre of love songs passed away when Barry White passed away. What a set of pipes. And Barry White was great for fat guys everywhere. You, too, could wear a white suit, have a glass of white wine with the sexiest looking babe sitting next to you happy as she could be. I mean, it could happen to you, it could happen. Barry White made it possible.
The Happy Organ - Dave "Baby" Cortez
This song is from 1958. I was seven in 1958. We have people in this audience, 25, 30-year-olds, they’ve never heard this. Do you realize what this must sound like to them? This has gotta sound like Enrico Caruso on a 78 rpm record my grandfather played to me when I was ten. Brian, you probably think this sounds like the worst, old, antique piece of crap — and, to me, this is a part of my childhood. This is one of the tunes I wanted to play one day on the radio.
It always fascinates me, people hearing things from the past. I saw a newspaper story the other day about how all the holiday movies out now are basically just rehashes. The same ones have been playing for 50 years, and it was about how the parents of today tell their kids, “Hey, kids, do you want to watch the Christmas movies that your mom and I watched when we were your age?” and the kids are going, “No way!” (laughing) The parents sit ’em down to watch it and it’s Charlie Brown. It’s the animated Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. (interruption) What? Yeah, they still watch ’em, right? They still do, ’cause those are timeless. Those are actually timeless.
Telstar - The Tornados
This is one of those songs, I’m 11 or 12 years old, I’m listening to it on the radio wanting to be the guy on the radio one day playing the song. It was a song dedicated to our first satellite after Sputnik. It’s a British group called The Tornados. It’s like 1962 and it’s a forerunner to techno music. That’s exactly what it was, a forerunner to techno. Except this has a melody that you can kind of hum along to, makes you happy. Tornados and Telstar, dedicated to our first satellite that we put up there after Sputnik.
In the Midnight Hour - Wilson Pickett
Wicked Wilson, back in the pre-rap days. I loved the pre-rap days. I just did.