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Dave Harris of Retro Rewind on Music’s Past and Radio’s Future

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Everything old is new again. It may be a cliché but the main reason these sayings hang around is there is a lot of truth to them. As we mature, the memories we make somehow get entwined with the songs on the radio; it only makes sense that we want to hold on to both.

In 1997, Dave Harris conceived a radio show that would highlight that music of his youth – the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Ever since, it's continued to evolve, grow, and survive in an industry that can be very difficult to maneuver in. On Saturday nights (from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern) you can tune into Retro Rewind, whether it be in the traditional way or through their website.

Earlier this week, we conversed by phone about the good ol' days and the exciting new future of radio, music, and the effect the Internet and social media has had on both, as well as Harris's songwriting partnership with Scott Grimes (American Dad/ER).

You launched Retro Rewind in '97. How has it grown or changed since then?

You know, that should be an easy question to answer but it's really evolved. I would say with the advent of technology, and the web really, it's kind of forced us to change a little bit. Obviously we still have our radio version of the show, but I think the Internet has some untapped possibilities right now.

There are a few shows that are just streaming or just doing the Internet and I think for a lot of stations or companies they are program suppliers, in layman's terms. I don't think anyone has really tapped into the Internet. Now we have iPhones and Blackberrys and a lot of shows and programming haven't tapped into that part. So, we decided to kind of evolve into that area. I think it's really starting to take off now.

In radio you're looking for an AQH, which is an average quarter hour and also time spent listening. So there are two things that you look for and we're getting a lot of that with the show on the web.

I know you've been running old shows, and then you zap it out on your Facebook and Twitter. So you have those opportunities you don't have with regular radio, that "well, we're just going to do this right now," for that captive audience.

That's right. We do try to have appointment listening, set a date with the listener to let them know about a certain something they might like. That's how it is, a lot of people are at home, or even at work in the office, and they're able to go back and listen to some of those older shows.

I think for us it started out as traditional radio, programs that you would hear on the weekends, but with, like you just said, with the Internet you can really cater to an audience. Every now and then I'll go live in the middle of the day just because.

If I see the interaction on Facebook or Twitter, which I think is important you know, to be involved and kind of interact with your audience or fans, it gives you the opportunity to do some things that I think you normally wouldn't do with traditional radio.

So, I think that's how we've evolved, just using the Internet as a powerful tool.

Do you think the promotional tools we've been talking about — Facebook and Twitter — have been paying off? Are you seeing exponential growth from it?

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of growth. Like I said, I think it comes down to this. First you have to have a product that they like, something that is appealing to a lot of people all at once, but it I think it really is growing with the social networks because it's instantaneous. It's really quick. It's right away.

If you have a fan-base that's already drawn into what you're doing, to be able to tap into that immediately and get results is very rewarding but it's also… you kind of have to be on your toes to take advantage of what's given to you. So, yeah, I think it's a very powerful tool. It's really helped promote us because it's word of mouth, you know.

We play a lot of songs that people have forgotten about or they haven't heard in awhile. That's what a lot of the comments that I get back by way of Facebook and Twitter say. Like I woke up this morning and there's four of five comments that people made saying, 'Oh my god, I haven't head that in years.' Of course I don't know what song they're talking about.

They don't include that in the note?

Yeah, but I can only imagine that it's something, you know. That's what we're looking for and for them to be able to tell their friends that they are listening or for them to say 'try this' or 'hear this.' It's very rewarding because it's instantaneous.

You talk about the songs you haven't heard in years, but it seems that those songs are hip again, or maybe it's just in my house. Do you think that's also a trend? That people are just turning back to that music?

The good thing about the eighties is I didn't hear the word potpourri until then, and I think that's what the eighties were as far as music. You've got the old school hip-hop sound. You've got the hair-band stuff. You got the new wave stuff.

The classic keyboard sounds that instantly identify a song as being from the eighties?

And the drum machines and stuff, like with the Cars, which is one of my favorites. That's what I was calling new wave. Everything is usually twenty years back, and I'll give you an example. When I was growing up in the seventies, Happy Days was a big show and it hearkened back to the fifties.

In the eighties, a lot of sixties acts were having hits. You had Gary U.S. Bonds having top twenty hits. You got Don McLean, of course he's mainly early seventies, but a lot of sixties acts were doing pretty decent in the eighties having some revisits there. The Beatles were having hits again off of reissues or medleys. Everything is in twenty year increments. So, right now were primed for the eighties.

I think the eighties got launched a little bit prematurely in the early nineties. Some of the shows and things and music because our age group really wanted that to happen. I think for awhile, just doing the show, there was a lull with the eighties because it just got launched too early.

People weren't ready for it?

Right, I don't think people were ready for it. Then it took off like gangbusters. Every commercial you see these days, like Geico remaking "Somebody's Watching Me," or movies coming out with eighties songs in the background. There's a lot of eighties.

And in current music you have a lot sampling, in hip-hop and other genres, that is coming straight from the eighties.

It's funny. I always think it's very unique because a lot of the hip-hop artists will use artists that you wouldn't think they'd be listening to. A lot of that is actually white, pop bands or rock. Tone Loc started it actually. "Funky Cold Medina" was part of a Foreigner song, "Hot Blooded." I think it's very unique and cool that a lot of the songs being sampled are by artists that you wouldn't think that artist would listen to. It's just an art form.

I have a lot of kids and there's a lot of TV today that I don't let them watch. But I do go buy Alf, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Silver Spoons; some of these shows that I know I can put a DVD in and just walk away.

A lot more family friendly than the stuff that's on prime-time now.

Right.

It just seems like it's still relevant. I chaperoned a field trip for my daughter's high school orchestra a few weeks ago. We went to Chicago and between the various stops all the kids were passing the time singing eighties songs. It felt no different than when I went on my high school class trips.

Absolutely. My kids are really liking a lot of it. And I feel kind of bad, because when I was growing up in the seventies, and of course the eighties, I use to listen to a lot of the current stuff that was out there. My mom would really keep it going, you know like The Eagles and all that stuff. The music my kids are growing up with is eighties. Part of me feels bad that they are listening to something they probably wouldn't normally listen to, but they genuinely seem to like it.

You shouldn't feel bad. That's the good stuff!

For a lot of moms that are listening to Retro Rewind, that's what they say, that they really enjoy sharing it with their kids. That's what it's all about.

I'm sort of in the opposite position with what I do. I get a wide variety of current music to listen to and possibly review. What I genuinely like is all across the board, but in the car this morning, driving my daughter to school, Working Class Dog is what we were listening to. That music is where I go when I'm relaxing.

Working Class Dog? Rick (Springfield) would like to hear that. He loves to hear those stories, and it's a great album.

It is a great album. I had the iPod on random, and one song from it came on and I told my daughter, "Turn on Working Class Dog, Mom's driving."

You can't go wrong with Rick Springfield. He's been a great friend of mine and the show's for many years. You'll get no arguments from me there.

Beyond Retro Rewind you have many songwriting credits, including several songs on the Scott Grimes album. Do you plan to continue working with him musically?

With Scotty? Yeah, Scott's my best friend. We go back a long time. It's been a real joy to watch his career blossom since I've known him. I've known him since right before Party of Five, right before he got that show. Of course, Party of Five really helped him and then he landed Band of Brothers and it took off from there. And of course there's ER.

A lot of people don't know that about Scott. We're talking about the eighties, and now an actor. You know, it's funny, Don Johnson and Bruce Willis both had top five hits back in the eighties. They're cool and all, and had good songs like "Heartbeat" and "Respect Yourself," but I just don't think they are very good singers. They're better at acting.

The music career was fed from the acting?

Yeah, but Scott Grimes is a whole different ball of wax. He's an incredible singer. He loves music. He would do music full time if that could pay the bills for him, but he's been singing since he's a kid. Just trying to give Scotty some props there, he's a great actor.

I think that's part of what I love about that album that "Sunset Boulevard" is on (Living on the Run). I recognize some of those eighties influences we were talking about earlier. ("Sunset Boulevard" video below)

That's very good. That was on purpose. A lot of those songs Scotty and I wrote in the early nineties, but we both still have that love of eighties music. It was very much influenced by some of the people we grew up with and love: like Bryan Adams, of course, that's Scott's favorite; REO Speedwagon; Styx; Journey; and that kind of stuff. So, yeah, it was done by design.

And those songs were very old. We had them for years and to finally get a chance to do something with them was a blessing. "Sunset Boulevard" has turned out to be a surprise hit for us. It was a top-twenty hit on the Billboard AC (Adult Contemporary) chart. It did quite well, sitting there right alongside Rob Thomas.

We wrote that in like twenty minutes, just goofing off back in 1999. That song was six years old before it was even a hit. And it's nothing that we put a whole lot of work into, like I said. It was something where we were goofing off and wrote it very quickly.

I think we've written better songs since then, so I hope that "Sunset Boulevard" doesn't go down as our biggest hit. We've got stuff much better than that.

So you are going to get back in there and put something else out?

Oh yes. We've been working. We probably got about 50 songs that we've written since then, but right now Scott's got a great opportunity. He's in London making a movie (Robin Hood) with Russell Crowe, who is an old friend of his.

You know John Stamos has become a friend through Scott and the association there and he is a music lover. It's fun to see John and Scott perform together.

I've seen some of those videos on your site. They're awesome.

Yeah, that's just us goofing off. Just being idiots. Just having fun. It's a blast. It's always a blast.
We're really anxious to get back to it, but I won't see him until August. He wanted me to go over to London with him for awhile, but you know, I got six kids and twins on the way. I couldn’t leave my wife.

Oh my. You're busy just with your family aside from everything else you have on your plate.

[Laughs] I'm bored a lot. But yeah, I just couldn't go. So, I won't see him until August or September, but that doesn't mean we couldn't write. We've done that a lot. I've only lived in LA since late '04 so a lot of our writing was done during trips I took out here, or over the phone, or back in the day through fax machine. We sent ideas that way, if you can believe that.

Wow, yeah. With the technology we have now, it seems that would be very hard to do.

Yeah! Yeah, it was back in the day.

"Did you get my fax?"

"Yeah, did you get mine?"

"No."

Yeah, so now it's all about MP3 and video-phone.

Is the only songwriting you do working with Scott or do you do your own or collaborate with others?

I do my own too. I used to not and the same with Scott. There's something about the writing partnership. A lot of it is that we feel so comfortable together because we know each other so well. When you write it's very personal and you have to let your guard down a little bit and expose yourself.

Scott is my main songwriting partner, but I'd like to do some writing with Joe McIntyre (New Kids on the Block) for one – he's a buddy of mine. I've done it with other people, but there's this comfort zone with Scott. We finish each other's sentences.

That's a great trait for friends, but to be able to take that to a creative level, where you're on the same wavelength and can keep each other on the path, that is special.

That's exactly how we feel about it.

I have written solo stuff, as I said. I did a lot of that when he was making Band of Brothers because he wasn't around to work on anything with me. So, it turned into some solo work. That was pretty rewarding there, but there's nothing like being able to work with your partner. I prefer that.

Getting back to the show, what are some of your plans for the future with Retro Rewind?

Like I said before, it's fun doing the show and having it on the radio, and if someone is a fan they know when and where to hear it, but honestly the Internet is becoming something. It's more than 'on demand' it's 'right now.'

People want to get it right now. So, I'm hoping we can evolve and expand the show and have it spread. Like I said, there aren't a lot of shows or programs that are big on the Internet, yet. I think we're doing something very unique. It's turning into a word-of-mouth thing. What I mean by word-of-mouth is people are letting their friends know about it – that it's something that is happening right now and you need to check it out now.

That's the beauty of Twitter, I think. Twitter is just instantaneous.

Beyond that, especially for you I think, is if you send a tweet that you're going to go on the air in say ten minutes, like I've seen you do, maybe only ten percent will retweet it, but the number of people you get your message to, compared to older forms of traditional advertising, is really amazing.

It's a whole different ball of wax. It's a challenge to be able to evolve on the Internet. I just think that's something we are taking very seriously and would like to conquer. It's world wide. The thing about that is I'm getting emails from Germany, Holland, Mexico, Canada — well of course that's a little closer to home — but like Argentina, Sweden. Then there's the time difference. For a lot of those countries, the time it is there when they tune it; it's very humbling that someone a whole other time zone away would make the time to tune in, and listen, and keep it there. It may be afternoon for us but it's one in the morning for them. That's bizarre.

I think that's one of the advantages to you being able to rebroadcast the older shows over the Internet: people all over the world get another chance to catch something they may have missed.

Yes, that's true and that's what a lot of them are saying. The thing we don't have set up, or carved in stone, is a way for us to schedule to stream older shows. We're still trying to evolve that.

Have you thought about archiving the shows? You wouldn't want them for download, but maybe a file that would stream?

Like an on demand? That's a good question. We're thinking about what's the best way to do that. It would almost be an on demand thing, yeah.

To be honest, I wish there was a way we could make them a download, so people could take them on-the-go with their iPods and such. You can't really do that with royalties. I know that from being a songwriter myself. The artists – the songwriters – need to be paid for their art.

So, we can't do it like that, but we can certainly stream it for them.

One of the things I enjoy about the Retro Rewind site is the video interviews with so many retro hit-makers. What are some of your personal favorites?

I think Lionel Richie is a great interview. He's very down-to-earth and a good ol' southern boy like myself. He just appreciates people. He's just very genuine. How you see him in our interview is how he is. He's done our show a few times, so you can see how comfortable he is if you watch that interview. He's our artist of the month right now.

We've got five segments of that interview and I think two have been made available to the public now. We're rolling them out one a week. We're just sitting there on the couch yapping about music. It's very comfortable. I really don't like to call those interviews; I call them conversations, 'cause we're just sitting there talking.

And I think this is one of the reasons people like my/our style of interviews. I try to ask the questions that the average fan would if their mind wasn't blown that they were sitting there with that artist, you know what I mean? That's why I think it's appealing to a lot of people because they are thinking, "That's what I want to ask."

And it turns just into a conversation. I make up my question on the fly. I do have a mental note of where I want to go, but I kind of let the conversation dictate to where we're going to go. Lionel is one of those.

Dennis DeYoung from Styx is a longtime, dear friend of mine. Those are always good interviews because they are very honest. Some of them can be goofy, like with Weird Al, but what would you expect from him? I gotta be cornball.

Sometimes when I interview my friends it's a little different. Like, Rick Springfield and I are longtime friends. It's an easy interview, but sometimes I'm asking them questions that they damn well know I know the answer to. It makes me think sometimes that they are thinking, "Why are you asking me this?" My prayer is that they understand what I'm trying to do. I may know the answer to this, but Suzie might not.

Right you get into those situations where you have to ask questions you know the answers to for your readers – well, for me it's readers, for you it's listeners.

Exactly. I have a lot of memorable interviews, but my style is just very laid back, and it lifts those artists up. I would never put them in an (awkward) situation. Like, for example, if I ever get to interview George Michael, I'm not going ask him about 'what the hell were you thinking in a Beverly Hills bathroom'. I would never ask Michael Jackson about allegations. Any situation where there's any controversy with these artists, like Lionel's had his challenges in the public eye or even Rick about eight or nine years ago there was some issues, I just stay out of that stuff. It's always about what they're doing now, giving the product a big push.

Even though we're talking to artists from the eighties and nineties and sometimes seventies, and yes we want to know the history behind "Jessie's Girl" or "Hello" from Lionel Ritchie, but we also want to talk about the new stuff they're doing because a lot of these artists don't get the press these days to talk about the new stuff.

Kenny Loggins is another great friend of ours and he has a children's album coming out for Disney in July. Thursday we're going down to interview him and catch it in HD. We really pride ourselves in promoting the new stuff from these artists.

So to answer your questions we interview a lot of artists, but a few stand out. Some may stand out because it's someone I really admire and it's my first time talking to them. I have to say, anymore that's pretty rare because I've done a lot of these acts for a long time.

The beautiful thing is they talk to each other and the word spreads because they travel in the same circles. We've got a good rapport with these artists. Sometimes they talk and it helps us land interviews.

I mean, Lionel Richie is an Oscar winner and a Grammy winner so when we try to arrange interviews with some of these artists who we don't have a longstanding relationship with and they see that… like with Bobby Brown, we don't know Bobby Brown but we're going to sit down with him partly because he's seen our interview with Lionel and to him that's a big deal. He figures we must be cool if we can talk to Lionel.

And now with Bobby, that kid's been in the news a lot through the years and we certainly won't go there.

It's all about the music.

And so it should be.

Retro Rewind's official website is packed full of goodies, including the interviews we conversed about, a store, directions on how to listen to the show on your iPhone or Blackberry, and (of course) a link to stream the show. You can also send requests and hang out in the chatroom when a show is on the air.

If that isn't enough to fill your hunger for the seventies, eighties or nineties, you can befriend Dave Harris or become a fan of the show on Facebook.

Want to know when Dave decides to stream an old broadcast in the middle of the day? Then make sure to follow him on Twitter.

For more information on his songwriting partnership with Scott Grimes and to hear some MP3s and see some cool pictures, please check out their MySpace page.

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