'Beatnik' Hosts Are Still Early to Rise Four Years Later, Show Remains College's Wake Up Call

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Author: Amy Brais Staff Writer

It’s 8 a.m. While most of the Middlebury College campus is probably still fast asleep or just waking up, three students sit in the WRMC studio on the third floor of Proctor, preparing to conduct a radio show as Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5″ fades into the background. For four years, Bedknobs and Beatniks has graced the Middlebury airwaves and after a series of combinations of hosts James Meader ’01.5, Pete Nestor ’02 and Josh Howe ’02 have fashioned a program that combines humor with substance in order to create what is seen by many as a true public forum.

The show began in the spring of 1998 when Nestor decided that he wanted to do a morning radio show. He approached Meader’s roommate and asked him if he would be interested in doing a show; he wasn’t. Though his roommate had no interest in working with Nestor, Meader happened to be in his room at the time and expressed his desire to participate in the project. At the time, WRMC did not have the same grid schedule of continuous programming that it currently does. This condition allowed the two to attain a desirable morning slot for their program. Meader came up with the name Bedknobs and Beatniks for their show, and the two friends embarked upon what would become a four-year endeavor. “We tried to create a Prairie Home Companion-type variety show,” Meader explained.

In the fall of 1999, Howe started his own show entitled The Josh Howe Indie Hour. Howe’s show ran five days a week, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., right before Bedknobs and Beatniks. On his show, he played music and provided early morning listeners with the news. Oftentimes Meader and Nestor would have Howe on their show afterwards as a guest co-host.

When the regular hosts both left for semesters abroad in China in the spring of 2000, Howe was the logical choice for a host to continue the show in their absence. Mike Tremblay ’02 and Brian Deese ’00 joined Howe on Bedknobs and Beatniks, upholding the show’s format of music, news, discussion and banter. This successful combination would not prove to be permanent as Howe left for a semester abroad in Australia during the fall of 2000, and the show once again found itself in new hands. Though under the same name, a new morning host maintained a very loose association with Bedknobs and Beatniks during that semester, and aired the show only twice a week.

But in the spring of 2001, Bedknobs and Beatniks made a stellar comeback and entered into what many loyal listeners might consider its golden era. Howe, Meader and Nestor came together officially for the first time. Howe undertook the responsibility of producing the show, operating the board and answering calls. Headset clad Meader and Nestor settled comfortably into the adjoining studio room where they sat around a table with their microphones. The show aired from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., and the hosts began incorporating some weekly events, such as a musical guest every Thursday. They saw this as a great way to showcase talent from the College and the community and have members of major campus bands and solo artists perform on the show. Last spring the show even entertained a rather unorthodox group of musical guests: a local first-grade class. On musical guests, Meader aptly remarked, “They make our show look good.”

This fall the show has continued in the same vein as last spring. The three hosts made a slight shift in time (the show currently airs from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) in part to accommodate the sleep habits of Nestor, who is notoriously late. Howe and Meader often find themselves playing a game of, “wake up the co-host,” usually prefaced by a Paul Shaffer-inspired song. When asked if he felt any performance-hindering animosity from his consistently prompt co-hosts, Nestor jokingly replied, “I feel resented at times, but I never hold back.”

The show usually opens with conversation between Howe and Meader and evolves into anything from a heated discussion of current events to their comical findings when they typed their respective names into Google Search on the Internet, with the inevitable arrival of Nestor somewhere in the mix of things. Meader, who is captain of the Debate Society, a group in which Nestor also participates, finds that his experience in debate translates well into what he does on the show. Howe conceded, “Meader basically holds the show together.” In regards to his own involvement, Howe expressed how much he enjoys doing the show. “It’s like having a fifth class that you really care about.”

The hosts find that their show has increased in popularity within the last year. Whereas in the past they might have gone an entire show without a caller, they now find that they get at least one, and usually many more, on a given day. The show has even cultivated some regular callers, including “Voodoo Ed,” a local character filled with interesting stories and musical stylings and Associate Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Cason, who will often call from his cell phone while driving to work to comment on the show and give a casual traffic report.

Many Middlebury students have made Bedknobs and Beatniks part of their morning routine. Sam Dabney ’02 happily reported, “I listen to their show every day.” Atwater Commons Dean Scott Barnicle, a listener for three years, enjoys the subject diversity of the show. “I’ve heard them talk about everything from the hottest character on Gilligan’s Island to racial profiling as a result of Sept. 11. They’re not embarrassed by their intelligence, but they’re not showing it off. I’ll miss the show next year.”

The future plans for Bedknobs and Beatniks are at the moment indefinite. Meader will graduate in February. Howe and Nestor are hesitant to continue the show without one of its founding members, and the three are currently considering their options for successors.

Meader concludes, “For all but one semester at Middlebury, I’ve been up before 8 a.m., sitting in that studio five days a week. It has in many ways defined my college experience.”