Hey, Mr. DJ: How Dave Pratt Curated the Soundtrack to My Teen Years
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I just finished binge-watching the new Netflix series GLOW and am feeling nostalgic. Not for French-cut leotards or legwarmers or sky-high bangs and perms, all of which I rocked. I’ve been thinking about the '80s, of course, but more specifically about the “heavy” metal music of my formative years, spent like almost all 48 of them, right here in Phoenix.
Whether blasting from the speakers of my friend Rick’s souped-up Chevy Nova or the speakers of the boom box nestled safely in its own inner tube on the Lower Salt River, the soundtrack of my teenagehood was curated almost exclusively by a loudmouthed white guy who could’ve been my dad. I tuned in to 98 KUPD and Dave Pratt at every opportunity, eager to hear my favorites, often with a carefully poised finger over the record button of a cheap sound system, blank cassette tape in the deck.
Dave Pratt was the most famous person I “knew,” and he was talking right to me, developing his narrative (I remember him being from Elko, Nevada. Why did I need to know that, and why do I remember it?), waiting for my phone calls (inevitable and constant busy signals), eager, too, to play my request or give me two tickets to see Foreigner.
He was my conduit to Van Halen and may as well have been David Lee Roth himself to this 14-year-old. I kept my Red Card safe in my Velcro wallet and roller-skated on Friday and Saturday nights to all the songs I first heard on his show.
Here I am / Rock you like a hurricane…
I’ve got nine lives / Cat’s eyes...
All aboard! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Softly you whisper / You’re so sincere
You’re the right kind of sinner / To release my inner fantasy
Shooting at the walls of heartache / Bang! Bang!
I crushed hard on Dave Pratt (or at least on his voice), delighting in his sexual innuendos and the way he whipped us into frenzied followers. Yes, I went to a Red Card Fourth of July party at Big Surf one summer where girls threw their unmentionables on the stage — at Dave Pratt. At a radio DJ! We Red Card carriers were like some kind of shallow, teeny-bopper cult, and Pratt was our David Koresh.
My older brother, who’d quit high school, left home, and become a full-fledged punk by then, was way too cool for Dave Pratt. He hated him as much as I loved him and did a mean impersonation — in both senses of the word. My brother was much funnier and played infinitely better, purer, heavier music, but I did not listen to or realize that then.
Today, I can’t name a single DJ in this town. Pratt has turned to the internet. And where did all the morning show billboards go? Bill and Beth, anybody? All I know about morning shows these days is that if I hear Story Corps or a Robrt Pela theater review on KJZZ, I am late for work. If I listen to music in the car, I’m doing the curating.
Or am I? Years ago at a dinner party, I asked a friend about the music playing. She was streaming L.A.’s KCRW. Public radio music that’s not jazz or classical? By now we didn’t just have CDs, we had iPods and iTunes, and just when I thought – or rather didn’t think about radio anymore — I converted back.
I tried, but the excellent, esoteric KCRW felt a little snooty and inaccessible to me. I don’t remember how, but I found an excellent, earthy public radio station out of the Twin Cities and joined a different, kinder, gentler cult, where, even though I’m 1,700 miles away in Arizona, I’m down with the local scene, and, depending on the day, feeling superior to or jonesing for Minneapolis weather. When the unthinkable happened — Prince died — oh my god, I was with my family.
Without a Dave Pratt in my life, I likely would have never banged my head. I mean, I barely did as it was. I’m not cool. Never have been. I still need someone to curate my listening. I know what I like when I hear it, but, yeah, I recognize that I really do need a DJ, or, in contemporary terms, a host. There’s an authentic intimacy to playing music for someone else, to hosting a stranger in your house, however virtual.
Def Leppard and Debbie Harry, they’re part of my narrative, and cheesy though it is, the soundtrack of my life. The GLOW actresses in full Aqua Net bounce off the ropes and slam each other to the mat to these same tunes, and I’m transported right back to that hair, that angst.
But if I’m tapping my toes to Shovels & Rope or hopping around in my clogs to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down during magical little shows at Crescent Ballroom, it’s because hosts Mary Lucia or Mark Wheat or Jill Riley (and Brian Oake — the morning show!) at Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, gave and give music to me the way Dave Pratt gave me Heart when I needed strong women to sing to me.
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