The Song That Changed Everything

Sometime we wait years for something wonderful to happen. And then when it does, one little thing — a song, for example ­–can make all the difference.

by Christopher Kent

When I first moved to New York City, I believed that something was waiting for me there — something wonderful that would change my life forever. I assumed it was fame and fortune that awaited me. As it turned out, the Big Apple would bestow countless gifts upon me — just not the ones I was expecting! And, as it turned out, the greatest gift of all depended on a song.

It all began on a Sunday night in early September. At the stroke of midnight, something totally unexpected happened.

Lynn, a remarkably tall young woman who earned her living as a freelance graphic artist, had been working all evening in her Upper East Side apartment. Outside her window, overlooking First Avenue, the sound of taxis and the occasional heavy truck rolling by echoed off the buildings across the street; like most New Yorkers, she had long since become oblivious to the sound. Instead, she paid attention to the radio. She had on her favorite station, New York’s only commercial jazz station, WRVR. It was at the stroke of midnight that her familiar routine was abruptly altered.

“That was Spyro Gyra’s latest,” said the DJ as the recording faded out. “Coming up next, we have….” there was a confused pause… “Waylon Jennings?” Lynn sat up, stunned. Clearly, the DJ was equally stunned. And then…on came Waylon Jennings, singing his latest country hit. Uncertain what was going on, but with a strong suspicion that she wasn’t going to be happy about it, Lynn continued listening. On came another country tune, and another.

It wasn’t until the following day that she found out what had happened. The huge American corporation Viacom had purchased the radio station, and, unhappy with the amount of advertising revenue it was pulling in, had decided it might make more money as New York’s only country music station. They had sent a truck to the studio that afternoon, and without telling the DJ on the air, they had simply removed all the jazz recordings and replaced them with country records. Having already selected his choices for the evening, the DJ had no idea that he was about to lose his job…until someone handed him the Waylon Jennings record at midnight.

Since WRVR had been New York’s only commercial jazz station, this was a serious blow to the artists whose recordings had been getting airplay. Without it, they had no media outlet for their work in one of the major music centers-not to mention jazz centers-of the world. Unlike those artists, Lynn’s income didn’t depend on the station playing commercial jazz, but she was angry and upset that a corporation had simply blown the jazz that she loved completely off of New York radio. It seemed like the stereotypical corporate, mean-spirited action, done to increase the bottom line without any concern for the artists or the listeners who tuned in every day.

Lynn soon found out that New York’s jazz artists weren’t going to take this lying down. For starters, they had already planned to picket in front of the Viacom building that Wednesday. Lynn decided she would join them. An unusually tall young woman-standing 6’3″ in her bare feet-she thought she’d put her height to good use, helping to make an impression with the others who came to protest.

The Viacom building was a tall structure on the corner of 6th Avenue and 48th Street. That Wednesday turned out to be sunny and beautiful. Lynn rode her bike downtown, but when she arrived she realized she’d come early; no other protesters were anywhere to be seen.