Radio Activity

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When a DJ stops showing up for work at WAOR-FM, Rick Shannon moves back to Mississippi to take the night shift. No sooner than he settles into the job, Rick finds a mysterious reel of tape that just might explain what happened to the missing DJ. His curiosity piqued, Rick starts poking around and soon finds himself going down a road littered with extortion, arson, murder, and an FCC violation that makes Howard Stern look like a Cub Scout.

Before you can say "Stairway to Heaven,"...

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Overview

When a DJ stops showing up for work at WAOR-FM, Rick Shannon moves back to Mississippi to take the night shift. No sooner than he settles into the job, Rick finds a mysterious reel of tape that just might explain what happened to the missing DJ. His curiosity piqued, Rick starts poking around and soon finds himself going down a road littered with extortion, arson, murder, and an FCC violation that makes Howard Stern look like a Cub Scout.

Before you can say "Stairway to Heaven," Rick finds himself wading through a swamp of suspects, including a tough divorcée who rents construction equipment, a former local beauty pageant queen (Miss Tire & Auto Parts), WAOR's general manager, and the president of a local personal finance company who has peculiar ideas about collateral and who just might be part of the feared Dixie Mafia.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In five previous novels that stretch back from 2003's Heart Seizure to 1998's Pest Control, Fitzhugh has proven that he can feed off the bottom of American culture with the best of them. His latest social entertainment passing as a mystery is set in the creepy, cheesy but also strangely touching world of FM rock radio, as veteran disc jockey Rick Shannon leaves Bismarck, N.Dak.-fired in a housecleaning by a new corporate octopus owner called Clean Signal-for a job as the night man on WAOR in McRae, Miss. He arrives to find that station owner Clay Stubblefield, a former college football star of local note, has changed the original offer. WAOR's program director, Captain Jack Carter, has just disappeared, so Stubblefield offers Rick that job-at a salary to be worked out if Shannon can ever pin him down. Also, the promised spacious apartment near the studio for $300 a month turns out to be a shabby trailer home where the missing employee used to live. Shannon, with no place better to go, accepts both offers, and then decides to find out why Captain Jack (who turns up dead) hid some sexually explicit audiotapes among his vast collection. The mystery parts move along briskly, but what really gives the book its vitality is the obvious love that Shannon (and presumably Fitzhugh) have for classic rock music of virtually every persuasion. 5-city author tour. (Apr. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fitzhugh (Heart Seizure, 2003, etc.) draws on his experience as a 1970s disc jockey for this likable suspenser that's also a serious celebration of the glory days of rock. Rick Shannon, a rock deejay, has just been laid off by his Bismarck, North Dakota, station after an ownership change-and, at middle-age, Rick wonders whether he's got a future in a radio business characterized by standardized playlists and corporate encroachment (familiar complaints, but they bear repeating). Still, beggars can't be choosers, and he accepts an offer from a small station in McRae, Mississippi, only to find that general manager Clay Stubblefield, a slippery good ol' boy, has pulled a bait-and-switch: the new gig is program director, but Rick, no pushover, insists on keeping the late evening show he was promised. He's replacing the legendary "Captain" Jack Carter and living in his trailer in the woods. But how come the Captain disappeared without taking his fabulous record collection (an opening teaser shows him being shot and buried)? Rick decides to play sleuth, helped by a tape the Captain had made of Clay bragging about sexual indiscretions and hinting at felonies. Was Jack, a notorious coke user, blackmailing people named on the tape? Presenting himself as a p.i., Rick tracks down a couple of Clay's conquests and learns of arson, insurance fraud, and a second missing person. He also has a predictable fling with Traci, the sex kitten receptionist, while working hard at defining the station's new classic rock format (rock fans will enjoy agreeing or disagreeing with his choices). Rick's sleuthing gets a big push from Clay's alienated wife Lori, who tells all she knows, and from a timely tornado thatreveals a skull in the woods. It's not long before the bad guys are rounded up and Rick is on his way to a better gig in Gulfport. The suspense isn't edge-of-the-seat, but it simmers nicely and dovetails surprisingly well with the world of jocks at the station. Agent: Jimmy Vines
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380977598
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/30/2004
  • Pages: 352

Meet the Author

Bill Fitzhugh is the author of seven novels. He still has all of his original organs and plans to keep it that way until the very end, at which point he is willing to let the doctors divvy them up among anyone (with the exception of politicians) who might need them. However, he makes no promises about the quality of his liver. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and all of her organs.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Radio Activity

Chapter One

It was hard to say which looked more depressed, the seventies-era shopping center or the man pulling into its parking lot. Both had seen brighter days, though in fairness it had to be said the man wore it better than the shopping center.

He called himself Rick Shannon and there was a semitragic, end-of-the-line aspect about him. Time had chipped the youthful cockiness off the outside, but some of his underlying swagger remained. There were men Rick's age who envied his thick head of hair; others envied his freedom. The two things Rick had plenty of, freedom and hair, the currency of the sixties. But, like the songwriter said, the former was just another word for nothing left to lose. The latter, well, Rick could still lose that.

There were more weeds than cars in the parking lot. Half the storefronts were boarded, the rest were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rick parked his truck. This was exactly what he swore he'd never do. But here he was. He killed the engine and sat there, staring at the dashboard. The gas gauge. Empty. Same as his wallet. He mumbled, "Fuck."

Rick was unemployed again.When he worked, he worked in radio. He'd grown up listening to AM, when "Yesterday" and "Satisfaction" were Top 40 hits, when radio was all about singles. But his first job was on FM,during album-oriented radio's heyday. He'd been the youngest jock at the station when Imagine and Sticky Fingers were new. A few decades later Rick was doing the night shift at KBND-FM, Bismarck, North Dakota. Rockin' the Sioux State at 99.9. The pay was adequate and Bismarck was, well, it was more like every other city these days. The same franchised fast food and twenty-screen cineplexes lining indistinguishable main drags, town after town. Rick had worked in dozens of cities. He'd seen it everywhere. Homogenization was just a sign of the times.

Especially in radio. More stations owned by fewer corporations. Consultants and music researchers conspiring to make everything sound the same. And they weren't even looking for songs people liked. The research was geared to find songs people didn't dislike. That's what they played to keep listeners until the next commercial break. That's what so much of radio had become.

So Rick had been playing all the rock radio clichés until Clean Signal Radio Corporation bought the station and broomed the staff. It was Clean Signal's fifth station in the market and it showed. All sense of community had vanished as the satellite feed bounced in voice-tracked jocks from Chicago and Florida.

As he had walked out of KBND's studios with his final check, Rick had thought about how media watchers in the fifties had predicted that television would be the ruin of radio. He wondered if anyone would appreciate the irony that radio had killed itself.

Rick mailed tapes and résumés all over the country and spread the word on the grapevine. He was available. A rock-steady pro with production skills, on-air talent, whatever. Rick tried not to dwell on the fact that he and all the other DJs of his era were like silent movie stars at the dawn of the talkies. By and large their skills didn't transfer to the new iteration of the medium and they would soon be forgotten and replaced as things changed.

And now Rick found himself parked outside a storefront under a sign that said: b-side vinyl -- we buy and sell used tapes, cds, and lps. It was either this or start bouncing checks.

Rick looked down at his arm. He knew that big fat vein, blue and pulsing, was a potential source of revenue, a renewable resource he could tap again and again. But he also knew plasma didn't fetch much, and besides, that had always seemed to Rick like such a sure sign of having reached the last resort. He couldn't bring himself to check in there. Not yet anyway. So he had tapped his record collection instead.

Looking up and down the sidewalk in front of the shopping center, Rick saw only one person, a man who looked to be in his sixties. His shopping cart brimmed with indistinguishable bundles, folded cardboard boxes, a water jug, plastic bags filled with crushed cans. His face was sunburned and peeling as his cracked lips wrapped around the mouth of a bottle.

Rick took this as a reminder that things could be worse. He got out of his truck and walked around to the other side. He opened the passenger door and looked at the box filled with rare albums, including an original UK version of Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, signed by the entire band. Rick had promised himself that he wasn't going to part with that for less than two hundred. Of course, more than once he'd made the promise that he'd never sell any of his records, but things change.

Rick picked up the box and kicked the door shut. As he approached B-Side Vinyl, the homeless man made eye contact and extended a hand. "Help out a fellow record buff?"

Rick paused, a sympathetic look on his face. "Sorry," he said, shrugging with the heavy box in his hands. "Trying to get some together myself."

The old man gave a nod. "Don't sell 'em all," he said. "Hang on to something, you know, just in case."

Rick smiled and said, "Thanks for the advice." He pushed the door open and stepped inside. The bouquet of cardboard, dust, and vinyl welcomed him. Nothing else smelled quite like a room full of old albums. The cobwebs in the corners of the store spoke volumes. There were no other customers, just the owner sitting behind the counter reading a magazine. He lowered the magazine and looked over the top of his glasses. "Cleaning out your attic?"

Rick set the box on the counter and said, "Something like that."

Radio Activity. Copyright © by Bill Fitzhugh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Magnum P.I. goes to work at WKRP In Cincinnati

    Okay, that headline might be stretching the premise a bit. But there's no arguing that Bill Fitzhugh's, "Radio Activity," is a better comic murder mystery than what a real combination of those two TV shows could muster. And that's because Fitzhugh gets the details of working in the desperate world of small-town media right. Radio Activity is that rare book that offers a true-to-life depiction of a piece of Americana that's all but disappeared from the landscape - the radio station run by flesh and blood disc jockeys who live and breathe rock 'n' roll music. When itinerant deejay Rick Shannon takes over as program director at a small Mississippi town's FM station, he sets out to resolve the unexplained disappearance of his predecessor while taking his best shot at revitalizing the station's market share. Shannon's leisurely investigation regularly takes a comfortable backseat to his romantic entanglements and comic run-ins with his patchwork quilt of a staff and his cagey, good-old-boy boss, Clay Stubblefield, the station's owner. And that's okay because Shannon could be a funnier but less resourceful cousin to Magnum P.I. And the unromanticized portrayal of subsistence-wage work performed by the radio station's diverse, impassioned staff, from teenagers honing their on-air shtick to older deejays desperate to stave off the end of their careers, is more painfully funny than most episodes of WKRP.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2004

    Great suspense

    In 1970s Bismarck, rock and roll deejay Rick Shannon loses his job when his station is sold. He is despondent and concerned about finding work in a changing business climate in which corporate intrusion has led to one size fits all play lists and patter must be politically correct as defined by big brother owner........................... Desperate to remain in the field, Rick accepts work as the late evening host Buddy Miles in McRae, Mississippi. However, upon arriving in town, he learns that the station¿s general manager Clay Stubblefield expects Rick to serve as the program director. Rick agrees to stay on as program manager only if he also receives the night spot replacing local legend 'Captain' Jack Carter. Though the reader ironically knows, Rick wonders why the Captain left town without taking his valuable record collection. Rick investigates what happened to his predecessor helped by a tape that the captain took of Clay implying sexual misconduct and potential illegal drug activity. If Rick is not careful he might learn the hard way how the old boy method works on interfering outsiders...................... This is an engaging look back at an era in which radio is changing from local to regional and national. The amateur sleuth aspects of the tale are fun though the tension is more of a slow dance than a hustle. Rick is terrific as the outsider while Clay and his cohorts give southern living a sinister name. Bill Fitzhugh furbishes an insightful tale starring a fine protagonist who deserves a second gig from his new haunt in Gulfport.................... Harriet Klausner

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