Bernie Schmitt shares his love of 1970s music on Sunday nights
By Natalie Reidford
For many of us, the music we grew up listening to is our favorite. While we may tune in to stations that play newer songs, the decades-old hits still captivate us, bringing with them memories and nostalgia.
The same is true for Bernie Schmitt, but he took his love of music a step further and made a radio show out of it.
Schmitt, assistant professor of English at Vincennes Univeristy, always had the desire to do a ‘70s show. He was acquainted with Dane Foley, program director of VU’s commercial station, WFML, and Kevin Watson, general manager of WFML and VU’s student broadcasting station, WVUB. Watson invited Schmitt to meet him and talk about his idea.
Watson and Foley decided to let Schmitt do his show on a 30- to 60-day trial basis. They decided to test the public’s interest and also allow Schmitt to get a taste of radio production and determine if he wanted to keep going.
As it turns out, both Schmitt and the public enjoy the show.
The group decided on a recorded show rather than a live broadcast.
“It’s kind of a bummer (as far as) requests,” Schmitt said, adding that he may not get a request played for two to three weeks because he works in advance.
However, he prefers the recorded format because he’s not officially trained in radio broadcasting. He learned from listening to Foley’s show and other stations as well as doing internet research.
“I would like to try (a live show) sometime, I think,” Schmitt said, “after a year or two of doing it, if I’m lucky enough to be doing it that long.”
One of the challenges of putting together a radio show is matching up the songs, representing different kinds of ’70s music, but making the transitions smooth and knowing when to add commentary. He doesn’t want a lot of talking on his show, though he’s inclined to add a remark if he’s seen a band in concert.
“The thing is, it’s not the station’s music,” said Schmitt. “Everything that’s played is from my personal collection.”
How extensive is Schmitt’s personal music collection?
On a weekly 2-hour show, “I went from November (2020), when we started, until maybe April (2021) before I repeated a song,” Schmitt said.
So, what kind of a ’70s radio show is this, anyway? Does Schmitt play songs like The Carpenters, or is it more of an Alice Cooper type of show?
The answer is: Yes.
Schmitt’s collection covers most of the genres from the ’70s, including metal, disco, jazz, pop, Southern rock and crossover country. Listeners can expect to hear everything ranging from John Prine, Lynrd Skynrd, Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt to .38 Special and James Taylor.
Incidentally, you can also catch Schmitt playing one of his favorite Southern rock bands: Wet Willie, a Mobile, Alabama, group he saw in concert in Evansville with Lynrd Skynrd. “I nearly wore out their 8-track,” he said.
Schmitt has played about 75% of the number one hits from the 1970’s Billboard charts. He also enjoys playing songs that some listeners may consider obscure — “deeper cuts” from albums.
Each month, he has a featured artist, and he plays up to six songs by that group. Past featured artists include Elton John, The Stylistics, Aerosmith and the Bee Gees.
Why a radio show?
What makes a person want to do a radio show?
“Certainly, there’s some nostalgia for me,” Schmitt said. “I listened to AM radio all the time. Back in the ’70s, AM radio was ‘it.’”
As a child in the 1960s, he listened to Evansville’s WJPS on his grandma’s Philco radio. Noting that WJPS played the top hits of the day, he isn’t sure exactly why his grandmother tuned in — but he enjoyed the music. Later in the 1970s, listeners drifted to Evansville-based WGBF for their pop music until FM radio took over.
When he started his radio show, Schmitt believed he was playing music for his contemporaries. He soon learned that he has younger fans.
“There are a lot of younger people today who are listening to ’70s music,” Schmitt said. “There are 25-year-old people listening to Led Zepplin. So I’ve made it a point to announce the song and the artist before and after playing the song. But I always try to mention the year, and sometimes which album that song came from — because, in a sense, we’re educating a new audience.”
‘It’s all about the music’
Schmitt, who teaches English, speech and communications courses, isn’t aspiring to be Johnny Fever.
“I’m not trying to turn myself into a radio personality. I just wanted to play good ’70s music.
“I think there’s a lot of 70s music being forgotten and should be heard,” he said.
“There is a lot of great music from all eras — I love music of all kinds. But I don’t think anyone is doing a local, all-’70s program in our area, plus, I love this music because it’s from my era. I really appreciate the opportunity the management at WFML has given me.”