In part two of my interview with broadcaster and author Gregory Alexander, we further examine Alexander's eighteen years on the radio in Chicago as "Professor Moptop" at WXRT, the power of the radio medium as a vehicle for breaking artists like The Beatles, as well as his favorite Beatles album and song. Promoting the Kickstarter for his new Textbook Beatle Project, Professor Moptop hosts a screening and critical analysis of the 1965 Beatles film Help! at 1PM on Saturday, February 11th at the Deerfield Public Library...
In an era where fans can find new music via the click of an app, with only a couple of keystrokes, on YouTube, in a podcast or via any number of streaming services, discovering it on the radio has become, by and large, a lost art.
But until about the early 2000s, as the internet exploded and download services like Napster irreparably changed the music industry playing field, radio was king (and artists anywhere from The Beatles to Nirvana reaped the benefits). If you couldn't afford a record, or later a cassette or compact disc, you found new music on the radio. And the only way to hear it again was to keep listening.
WXRT, one of the few places on the FM dial where music fans in Chicago can still find new music at the local level outside of the pop spectrum, harks back to an era when disc jockeys acted not just as a friendly voice but as trusted and informed musical tastemakers and trendsetters.
Over the course of nearly twenty years at 93.1 on the FM dial, it's an approach to craft that Gregory Alexander has taken to heart, putting both his love of music and depth of knowledge to work Sunday mornings as "Professor Moptop" on XRT's "Breakfast With The Beatles" program.
That respect for relationship with the listener, attention to detail and all encompassing devotion to subject is a radio mentality that suits Alexander well as he makes his initial foray into publishing, having recently finished the writing of his first book.
The Textbook Beatle Project sets itself apart from a crowded Beatle field not just because of its unique "textbook" format but by virtue of the fact that it features an in depth look at the roots of "The Fab Four."
It's an examination that begins as John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet in 1957 - a moment Alexander lovingly refers to as "the dawn of time" - that runs through 1964 (stopping along the way for exploration of the Beatles themselves in their earliest incarnation, their "British Invasion" contemporaries, four UK LPs and more). Such a focus on a specific period of time leaves room for the possible evolution of the book into a series.
Self-publishing the Textbook Beatle Project, Alexander continues to promote a Kickstarter campaign he hopes will cover proper design, photography, editing, layout, lawyers, incorporation and more. Just like his textbook is appropriate for Beatle fans of any level, so too is his Kickstarter which features a creative array of donor incentives.
As the clock continues to tick on a Kickstarter that ends in less than a week, Professor Moptop will host another event in his "Beatle University Live" series this Saturday, February 11th with a critical analysis and screening of the 1965 Beatles film Help! (1PM at the Deerfield Library). Now in its fourth year in Deerfield, the annual event will feature music examples and in-depth discussion of both the album and film.
In part two of our conversation, Alexander and I further discuss the level of difficulty involved in self-publishing the Textbook Beatle Project, the importance of radio in exposing The Beatles to an American audience, his eighteen years on the radio as Professor Moptop and much more. An edited transcript of that conversation follows below.
(To read part one of this interview, click here: http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-at-night/2017/02/interview-gregory-alexander-wxrt-professor-moptop-kickstarter-textbook-beatle-project-help-college-of-dupage-mcaninch-part-one/)
Q. What’s your earliest memory of The Beatles?
Gregory Alexander (Professor Moptop): The very, very first… It was a little bit before John Lennon died. So we’re probably talking when I was around six or seven years old (figuring out that there was a difference between The Monkees and The Beatles). And then we heard that John Lennon died. At the time, we thought it was John Lemon.
After he died, we knew it was a big deal because grown men were crying. Usually, you don’t see that type of stuff. You knew that something bad had happened. So I knew that there was an importance to the whole thing.
Q. Who turned you onto The Beatles at that young of an age? Did you find them yourself or did someone point you in that direction?
PM: I got The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles Hits as a Christmas gift - which was a nice gift but it didn’t really get my interests going in The Beatles. That happened about ten years later. But, in that time, I always liked them and always paid attention to them.
I kind of discovered them on my own (by the time that I was in about fourth grade or so, when MTV was a big deal). I was probably about eleven. It was the 20th anniversary of The Beatles landing in America and being on Ed Sullivan. And MTV was playing The Compleat Beatles and stuff like that. I was interested in that.
I always would keep them on on the radio and then as soon as I started driving, shortly after, is when I really got into them. By then I had cassettes that I would make from the CDs that I would buy. So I would listen and listen and listen and listen and read and read and read and read and just try to accumulate as much as I could about The Beatles.
Q. As the first wave of the British Invasion hit, in America specifically, what do you think it was that allowed The Beatles to stand out so strongly in that class and resonate so soundly at that time?
PM: A lot of that is the development of them past the first wave of the British Invasion. Because they continued to set the trends. Whereas a lot of the bands that tried to follow them doing the pop stuff were able to do it pretty well in terms of “She Loves You” - but weren’t really able to follow them into Rubber Soul and Revolver.
Freddie & The Dreamers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Gerry & The Pacemakers – plenty of these bands were very good and very successful but they just didn’t advance far.
They’re all covered in great detail in the [Textbook Beatle Project] as well.
Q. I’ve heard Terri Hemmert say that she got into radio because she wanted to, pardon the pun, meet the Beatles. What is it about broadcasting that drew you in?
PM: A lot of this is because of The Beatles – why radio seemed like so much fun. There’s a lot of great interviews.
Because when The Beatles would go to a town, they wouldn’t just stay in the hotel, they’d visit the radio station. Every time, you’d see everyone having fun. Even The Beatles were enjoying this.
It just seemed like a good environment.
Q. In addition to being on a label like Capitol (in America), radio was really instrumental back then in breaking new artists in a way that it no longer is today. You kind of just hit on it but how important was radio exposure for a developing artist like The Beatles in the 60s?
PM: Keep in mind, back then, if you didn’t have the money to buy a record, there was nowhere else to hear it other than the radio. You have dozens and dozens of choices now. But, back then, you had to wait for them to play it on the radio. And as more and more people called up and said, “Play The Beatles! Play The Beatles!” the radio stations would comply and play them more and more.
Then of course they would get more and more hits.
And it just snowballed bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
Q. What's your favorite moment of your eighteen years on the radio as Professor Moptop?
PM: When I got through four parts of “A Day in the Life,” and then listened to it all together – because this was four [consecutive] weeks of about six minutes a week talking about it.
When I listened to [all four of those segments in a row] back to back to back to back, I thought to myself, “This is really something that I would enjoy as a fan.”
I thought that was a highlight because I thought that all of the elements [were] well-explained.
Q. You’ve portrayed Professor Moptop for eighteen years on WXRT and, in that time, the radio industry has changed radically (as has the music industry and the publishing industry). How daunting of an idea was it to want to put out a book at this particular point in time?
PM: It is pretty daunting. There’s obviously a large possibility for failure. However, if there’s any success whatsoever, even if it’s small, I’ll be able to capitalize on it and [turn it into] future books and events.
Q. How familiar were you with Kickstarter, and the idea of crowdfunding, before you dove into it?
PM: Quite frankly, very little until I started doing research around October or November [of 2016].
I finished the book. I finally had all my thoughts out into the book that I wanted. I took a week off and then immediately started researching Kickstarter and GoFundMe. There’s a lot of different ones and I ultimately settled on Kickstarter. I had asked some friends in music that had had some luck with it. I read a lot of comments and it just seemed like that was the right choice.
Q. Speaking of your Kickstarter, the Professor Moptop archive is an incentive option for fans and listeners to obtain there. That sounds like an immense amount of material - a treasure trove for fans of "Breakfast With The Beatles." What exactly does that archive contain?
PM: What you’re going to get… From about – I think I might’ve started it in 2010 – I started going week by week with track one from the first album and did one [track] per week. Around Revolver, I started doing two [segments] on certain songs. For the White Album, which I’ve been talking about for well over a year [on WXRT], it’s been two parts for most of [those songs] as well.
So there’s around 300 segments right now [from] Professor Moptop. I’ll edit each of these together by album so you can listen to a presentation of Professor Moptop designed to listen to with [each] album.
Q. That’s an awful lot of material. For fans who choose that Kickstarter incentive, what formats is it available in?
PM: Yeah. Primarily, these will be shipped via flash drive. We can burn CDs. And it’s even easier to just send the MP3s.
Q. For this Kickstarter project, you’ve also worked with graphic artists, amongst others, to put together some cool contribution incentives. What are some other items that are available?
PM: Steve Gibson is one of the graphic artists. He designed the 45 label that we made as well as the stickers and Moptop poster. There’s the “Professor Moptop teaching a class” print that he made.
PM: This year, we’re talking Help! and then we’re going to watch the movie in the library. We listen to a lot of music examples and discuss the history and influence of each song.
I’ve done this a couple of times. Last year, I discussed the unreleased Beatle songs from along the way. The year before that we did Sgt. Pepper's. The year before that, we did Rubber Soul. So this is now the fourth one that I’ve [hosted] in Deerfield.
I enjoy that because you start to recognize some of the faces of people that have come from year to year to year. And when you get their specific opinions about what they liked about this song (or which song is better or if they’re a John person or a Paul person or a...) you get a pretty good handle on what type of music they like.
Q. I know that, being in it, we can have a tendency to look at the radio broadcasting industry negatively sometimes but, when it’s at its best, what is it to you that can still be great about radio as a medium?
PM: When you get a direct note from someone saying that something specifically impressed them – they were happy to hear about the barking of the dogs on “Hey Bulldog” or had never heard a certain story or the demos from “Cry Baby Cry.” Just when you know that someone’s really listening close and getting something new out of it.
Whenever I’m talking, there’s always a musical background – whether it’s symphonic Beatles or a bluegrass version or an acoustic guitar… I used Ramsey Lewis at one point. And one listener said, “Oh, it was great to hear the Ramsey Lewis background stuff!” That means they’re listening closely. They’re paying attention and they’re getting it.
I enjoy that a lot. When you connect with someone.
Q. A couple of quickies here to close things out... Who's your favorite Beatle?
PM: John is my favorite Beatle. George is my favorite solo Beatle. Paul is my favorite living Beatle. And Ringo is my favorite Beatle I’ve met.
Q. What’s your favorite Beatles album?
PM: Rubber Soul (but the American pressing).
Q. Mono or stereo?
Q. What’s your favorite Beatles song?
PM: “Across the Universe”
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Saturday's "Beatle University Live" event in Deerfield below)
*** Once again, in the interest of full disclosure, I worked with Greg Alexander between 2001 and 2008 as a producer of WXRT's annual "Rampant Beatlemania" broadcasts. To hear more from Greg and I, join us this weekend on the radio as we feature The Beatles on a special edition of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" - Saturday at 10AM eastern on WHFB (streaming at whfbradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app - just search "WHFB") and Sunday at 3PM central on WIMS (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the free TuneIn Radio app - just search "WIMS").***
Beatle University Live (Help! A Critical Analysis)
Hosted by Professor Moptop
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Deerfield Public Library
920 Waukegan Road
Deerfield, IL 60015
1PM - 4:30PM
Tags: 93XRT, Breakfast With The Beatles, Brian Epstein, British Invasion, Chicago's Finest Rock, Deerfield Library, Ed Sullivan, George Harrison, Gregory Alexander, Help!, John Lennon, Kickstarter, Liverpool, Paul McCartney, Professor Moptop, Revolver, Ringo Starr, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Terri Hemmert, Textbook Beatle Project, The Beatles, The Fab Four, WXRT, XRT