Cover image for Radio activity
Radio activity
Fitzhugh, Bill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2004]

Physical Description:
x, 306 pages ; 22 cm
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In his latest whodunit, Fitzhugh creates one of his most unforgettable characters, an FM classic rock jock who just might jump from the radio tower if he has to play "Stairway to Heaven" one more time.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Fitzhugh takes things down a few notches in his latest, which has more radio than activity. Disc-jockey Rick Shannon, rendered a hapless nomad by the heartless homogenization of corporate mass media, is at the point of selling blood or--worse--vinyl when a lil' ol' rock station run by a big ol' jackass hires him on as their new program director, replacing a man whose sudden disappearance and untimely incorporation into the red earth of Mississippi sparks an ambling amateur investigation, stirring up less than the usual quota of quirky characters and plot twists. The result is a kinder, gentler, more laid-back and consequently much less funny version of Carl Hiaasen. There are glimmers of down-home charm here and there, but the author's real enthusiasm is reserved for loving and lengthy descriptions of classic-rock trivia, play lists, song sets, and segues. Lacking the wit or heart of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity0 , Fitzhugh's story is upstaged by its own killer soundtrack, but that is in itself a recommendation of sorts for a select audience. --David Wright Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



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. Excerpted from Radio Activity by Bill Fitzhugh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.