City Slang Reads: Rockin’ Down the Dial

Aug 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm

OK – I’m introducing a new feature to City Slang. Every Sunday (news-permitting), I’ll be reviewing a book about local music. As you can see, this will rather imaginatively be called City Slang Reads. The books won’t necessarily be new releases, although they will be where possible. But if, like me, you’re often hankering for more information about Detroit music across the eras and genres, you’ll hopefully get use from this blog.

First off is David Carson’s Rockin’ Down the Dial: The Detroit Sound of Radio. Carson’s other book, Grit, Noise & Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock ’n’ Roll is a fave of mine, a fantastic read detailing Detroit rock through the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s. I got through that book in just a couple of days. Rockin’ Down the Dial took me a little longer.

That’s no slight on Carson. The book is beautifully written and packed with entertaining anecdotes about the main players and pioneers in early Detroit rock radio, from Casey Kasem to “Frantic” Ernie Durham and many, many more. It’s fascinating to read about the phase from AM to FM, about the constraints held over the guys (although not a whole lot has changed there), and to read about the way radio adapted and changed as the music around them did the same. The brutal truth is that the radio DJs aren’t quite as compelling subject matter as the musicians that they would spin. Almost, in some cases, but not quite.

Still, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants a truly rounded knowledge of the history of Detroit music.