Radio documentaries, especially on commercial stations, have become an endangered media species.
"They take too long, they're too much work and they're too involved," said Jim Pastrick, an on-air personality and producer at WGRF-FM, 97 Rock.
That's one reason the station's two-hour documentary, "Shocking Moments in Buffalo Classic Rock History," broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, is so noteworthy. It was produced by Pastrick, narrated and written by John "JP" Piccillo and conceived by John Hager, the station's operations manager.
All three have been around the local rock radio scene for over more than decades. They didn't just report about classic rock history, but as Pastrick said, "we lived it."
The documentary was inspired by a story last year in The Buffalo News First Sunday Magazine, detailing the most memorable moments in local rock history. "That got us thinking about doing something," Hager said. The documentary is filled with events that are funny, tragic, poignant and silly. It includes nearly 20 segments, featuring interviews, commentary and music.
Among the most powerful is the murder of John Lennon, on Dec. 8, 1980. On that night a little known Irish band called U2 was playing the old Stage One club on Main Street near Transit Road. About 20 people came to the event, Mary Moser, who was there, says in the documentary. After the concert ended, Moser was talking to Bono, lead singer of U2, backstage. Then a patron who had too much to drink, came up and said, "Hey man, John Lennon's been shot."
Bono looked at the guy and said, "That's a sick joke."
Moser went home and turned on the television to hear news reports of Lennon's death. "It was not a sick joke, it was true." After Moser's words on the documentary comes Lennon's song, "Imagine."
A different atmosphere surrounds the segment telling how Jim Santella walked out of the studio in protest at the old WPHD-FM. It was 1972, and Santella, who now hosts a blues program at WBFO-FM 88.7, was upset because management cut the playlist and also wanted the on-air personalities to cut back on their speeches and political commentaries.
"That was probably my defining moment in radio," Santella said. He started his program by announcing it was his birthday. Then, after introducing a song called "Lather," by the Jefferson Airplane, Santella took a hike.
"You might say I was mad as hell and I wasn't going to take it anymore," Santella said, noting the song "Lather," was about refusing to grow up, "and I certainly was refusing to grow up in those days."
Other segments include the following titles: "Drug Busts at Rich Stadium," "Jim Schoenfeld's Singing Career," "The Who Cincinnati and Buffalo Shows," "QFM Jocks in Playgirl," "Allman Brothers at Aliotta's" and "Gregg Allman Detox in Buffalo."
"We put a lot of time into this documentary, and we're happy with the way it turned out," Hager said, noting it took almost a year from the planning stages to get it on the air."
Piccillo sees it as more than entertainment.
"People of my generation grew up with this music," he said. "But there are a lot of younger people who love this music but don't know its history. This is a way to tell it."
It was Pastrick's job, as producer, to tie it all together. Like a record producer, he had to combine the interviews, narration, stories and music, into a single package.
"You act as sort of an editor, thinking about timing, pacing and what inspired us," Pastrick said. "We love radio and we love this music. We want to get that feeling to the listeners."
Collaboration was a major part of making the documentary.
"We all enjoyed working on this," Pastrick said. "It allows us to be creative in a different way than doing an air shift."
One of Pastrick's goals was to add an "edge" to the project. "We wanted to have an edge that would sit well with a certain audience," he said.
Such stories as Lennon's death, the stabbing of a club owner by the Allman Brothers Band road manager, and the deaths of fans at a Who concert bring back painful memories.
"But it's all part of the story," Pastrick said.
97 Rock is facing a challenge from the Lake-FM 107.7, which signed on the air earlier this year and has impressive ratings. Both stations are dominated by classic rock playlists but are trying to find new ways and different programming to reach listeners.
While classic rock can sound tired at times, this battle benefits listeners. 97 Rock's documentary shows there are ways to breathe new life into an old format.