By Tony Sokol
Prog rock, or progressive rock, has been a staple of FM music since free-form radio began. Sure, it gets its share of abuse: The head of the record label at the center of HBO’s Vinyl ripped Jethro Tull’s Passion Play off a turntable and smashed that album across a conference room table to make way for the punk revolution. Martin Prince on The Simpsons gets some of his most painful wedgies after just a few bars of lute playing. Oh and Sting’s lute work didn’t win him any humility awards. “Keep it prog,” his former Police-man Stewart Copeland once urged fans.
WFDU is keeping it prog with DJ Bob Konig, whose show “Prog Rock Lives” continues to spin the platters that sent high school band geeks and music theory majors into measure-counting reveries. (Wait, The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” opens in seven? I can’t find the one on this Brand X tune. How does Robert Fripp do that with his fingers?)
WFDU, which you can find at 89.1 on your FM dial, is the commercial-free radio station that has been broadcasting out of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, since 1971. The station recently launched its latest format RetroRadio, which promises to air the kind of music New York City-area rock and roll fans used to hear on WCBS-FM.
Bob’s Epic Prog Rock Show, which airs on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 7p.m., is “all about Progressive rock featuring the artists you remember from the Prog era of the 70s and todays great talent that you might not know,” reads the official show description. The host, who also assembles a daily Local Spread of rock shows on Facebook, features artists like Yes, ELP, Genesis, Rush, Flower Kings, Gentle Giant, Moon Safari, Frogg Cafe, IZZ , 3rDegree, Pink Floyd, Glass Hammer and “so much more.”
Bob took off his headphones for a few minutes to fill Live and Undead in on what’s going on in that sound studio in Teaneck.
Konig “loves all kinds of music, from Classical to Rock, Jazz, Blues, Country,” he says. He admits that he’s “not really into hip hop or rap.” He’s been involved in the music industry since the mid-eighties, doing sound, roadie work and promotions for local and national acts. He’s a music fan, not a musician himself. The DJ doesn’t play any instruments. He “can fake it, but was never really good at it.”
The life-long music aficionado “found Prog music in the mid-seventies from listening to WNEW-FM and PLJ before they went to top 40.”
Prog is known for “the different time signatures, long songs, and unique song structure.” Starting with “The Nice and King Crimson, which were most famous as being the first.”
Konig “was always fond of the sound, especially the keyboards.” And also because of the immersive effects of songs that go beyond the three-minute pop song limitations.
“I’m into the long songs, 12 minutes or more. Some songs I listen to are up to 76 minutes long,” Konig says and laughs.
When asked which bands are considered to be the best in the genre, Konig answers “some will say Emerson Lake Palmer, Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd.” But his personal favorites are “ELP, Floyd, Rocket Scientists and Asia.”
The DJ says there isn’t much difference between jazz rock and prog rock. “Both change time signatures Plus there is a wide different variety of Prog music. Konig keeps himself immersed in music. When he’s not doing his “two shows a week on Tuesdays 4 to 7 p.m. doing Prog and now on Sunday nights from 8 to 11 p.m. doing freeform like the old days of WNEW-FM,” or doing “lighting for bands,” he goes out “three to 4 times a week to see local bands (any kind of music).
“If I am not doing stage lighting I see national bands. Prog bands are my favorite but will go to just about any show. I worked for the band Asia as a photographer for many years and some of my pictures have shown up on different CDs from other Prog bands. Music is my passion and will go out as much as possible to see it.”
All that time spent with musicians doesn’t mean he talks shop with them. “Mostly when I talk to a band member, we talk about everything else besides music. They get asked all the time about music, so as their friend I always shy away for music talk,” he says.
Bob says the young musicians paying their dues in clubs aren’t getting lazy in their chops.
“There are many new bands out there,” he promises. “Prog never really went away. It just does not get airplay that often. Some of the bands that came out in the 90s and 2000s are still going strong today: Spock’s Beard, Glass Hammer, Izz, which is local out of the New York City area, 3rdegree out of N.J., Heresy out of the Pennsylvania area, Frogg Cafe out of the New Jersey and New York area So many to choose from.”
Konig took the FDU gig “as a volunteer job that I love. Mostly for being able to play the kind of music that I would want to hear. If you listen to the station they play a variety of styles from Blues to jazz to top 40 from the 60 and 70s We have 3 HD channels. HD1 is RetroRadio during the days, and from 4 p.m. on every day is different. HD2 is mostly Jazz and Blues and HD3 is classical music 24 hours a day.”
WNEW-FM had a big influence on the all-around musician’s friend. But certain DJs caught his attention.
“I would have to say Allison Steele, Scott Muni, Dan Neer, Dennis Elsas, but also listen Jonathan Schwartz doing his Frank Sinatra show back in the 80s.”
Bob started on WFDU “as a fill-in to help my friend Robbie Morh on his show on Friday afternoons. Then he asked me to co-host it with him. The station manager heard me and asked if I was interested in doing my own show and, if I did, what kind of music. I said Prog. He loved the idea because, in the New York City area, nobody was playing it.
“So I got the Tuesday gig. Then on about Dec 10 I was asked if I wanted another show on Sunday. A similar type of show with Prog and a mix of music like WNEW.FM did in the late 60s and early 70s. I was like, Yes for sure as that was the style of music I grew up on,” Konig says.
“I just want everyone to listen to different styles of music,” Konig says. “I pick and choose depending on what I calls I get. Sometimes it is on the smooth quiet types, other time it is the heavy style like Dream Theater or Within Temptation. Other times I might want, or my listeners want, to hear Classical Prog Bands that play with Orchestras.”
In closing we asked whether the inventive mother of sonic invention Frank Zappa was a prog musician or novelty songwriter with a Looney Tune sense of orchestration.
“Frank Zappa is in a league all his own,” Bob laughs. “He is Prog, Jazz, Rock, Classical all thrown in to one. You will not hear a lot of his music on the radio as it contains foul language. Some of his music is quite spacey, long songs and different time signatures that change from one minute to the next. I love his music but have to be careful of what I can or cannot play for FCC rules.
You can hear Bob’s Epic Prog Rock Show on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. or anytime you want at www.wfdu.fm.