The Star-Democrat from Easton, Maryland on May 22, 2005 · Page 28
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May 22, 2005

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The Star-Democrat from Easton, Maryland · Page 28

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Easton, Maryland
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Sunday, May 22, 2005
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Page 28
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By DAVID HEALEY Special from The Cecil Whig A few years back, Martin Q. Blank got tired of listening to the same old songs on the radio. Most people would have just changed stations. He started his own radio show instead. Now, every Friday night, 17,500 watts of FM power spill far beyond the Eastern Shore’s fields and tidal rivers, bringing music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s alive again. Neil Young. Duran Duran. Men At Work. Pure Praire League. Blank rocks on, devoting one hour to each decade. “I would have listened to the show that was on earlier tonight but I just got released from prison,” he says, speaking into the microphone with a nasal Delmarva twang. “Anyhow, we’re gonna go ahead and kick into the show right now. With no further ado, here we go. Hoo-Yeaaaaah!” Is anybody listening? The phone rings. It’s a new caller from Baltimore, asking him to play something by Loudon Wainwright. Then a regular listener from North East checks in. This is community radio, so the only reward comes from someone calling up to say thanks or to chat. It’s these calls that have kept Blank going on the air since he began his “Nighshift” show in 1997. The show is broadcast from WKHS 90.5 FM at Kent County High School in Worton. From the start, he followed the advice of fellow WKHS disc jockey Charlie Coleman: “‘Don’t just play the hits,’ he told me. They can hear that every single day. Play the more obscure tracks that you don’t hear any more. They’re listening for songs they may have forgotten. The music is the most important thing, rather than the DJ playing it.” The callers often help fuel the show. “They turn me on to so much I don’t know about or that I forgot,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Man, I haven’t heard that in years.’” Some nights he doesn’t take requests but does a special show. That includes his annual “Miami Vice” night featuring songs from the 1980s TV series. Another recent show was made up entirely of soundtracks from ‘80s movies. He reaches deep to find that gem from the B side or that one- hit wonder. At 32, this DJ is barely old enough to recall the ‘80s, let alone the ‘70s, but he knows the music, and he has his favorites. “I could do a whole show on Led Zeppelin,” he said. “If I was stuck on a desert island with a Walkman and unlimited batteries, my choice of music would be Pure Praire League. The first two albums are incredible.” He’s also a big fan of Men At Work and U2, but not so much the most recent album. Listeners don’t always share his enthusiasm for groups or artists. He once did a whole show on The Police. “It wasn’t very positively received.” Fans send him some music, but mostly he relies on eBay and bargain bins to round out his play list. On a recent Friday night, he showed up at the studio carrying cases filled with CDs. The cramped radio studio seemed to get smaller, hemmed in by glass walls smudged from the greasy fingers and noses of the high school students who broadcast from there during school hours. “His CD collection is massive, and he somehow manages to lug the whole thing into the studio every week,” noted regular listener Steve Randall of Baltimore. Contrary to what listeners might think, Blank says he puts “very little” planning into his three-hour show. “On Friday afternoon I pick maybe 10 songs from the ’70s,” he said. “As they’re playing and the calls start coming in, that’s when I start to pick the rest. I like to keep it loose.” Between blocks of music he drops hints about his singleness and availability, sending songs out to various female listeners. He admits that he has met some women thanks to the show, but nothing that has turned into a steady relationship. Born and raised in Chestertown, Blank graduated from Kent County High School. He works the graveyard shift as a security guard at Heron Point retirement community. He now lives in Crumpton, not far from the well-known antique auction yard. He calls himself a non-descript, average guy. Reluctantly, he owns up to the fact that Martin Q. Blank is not his real name, but a radio moniker borrowed from John Cusack’s character in the 1997 film “Grosse Pointe Blank.” He prefers that his real name be kept under wraps. According to station manager Steve Kramarck, WKHS is the most powerful station on the Eastern Shore, coming in loud and clear in a 50-mile radius from the high school. The signal reaches Baltimore, Easton, Dover, Newark, and deep into Pennsylvania. The station is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN (88.5) in Philadelphia, which provides programming when local shows are not on the air or when school is not in session. Kramarck admits to being a fan of Blank’s Friday night show. “I think the first thing that makes it special is that he’s very enthusiastic. The second thing is that the guy knows his music. Sometimes we sit around and talk about music and he can destroy me with his knowledge.” It’s hard to know how many listeners are out there, Kramarck said. Even if thousands of people aren’t tuned in, somebody must be listening because the phone at the station seems to ring constantly. For Blank, it’s all about the music — and the callers. His fans include Don and Lisa Biggar in Galena. “The first Friday night we caught Blank we were a bit in shock, it was absolutely wonderful,” Don Biggar wrote in an e-mail. “He played about five of our all-time favorite songs in a row, then three more killer ’70s songs before he said a word. My wife and I sat there looking at each other the whole time, rockin’ in the kitchen, like we had just entered radio nirvana.” Most Friday nights he has 10 to 15 calls from listeners. He mentions the station phone number several times. He has his regulars like the Biggars who check in and if he doesn’t hear from them, he worries. Not without good reason. He recounted the story of one regular caller, saying he was in love with her voice. According to Blank, her voice was so sexy, “It made the hairs stand up on your arms when she spoke over the phone.” The two always talked about meeting, but never had the chance. Then, his regular caller with the sexy voice died unexpectedly. They never met face to face. For now, Blank plans to return to the airwaves every week. “When it stops being fun, you stop doing it,” he said. “If there are a hundred people out there listening, then it’s well worth my time.” LIFE C THE SUNDAY STAR MAY 22, 2005 IN THIS SECTION NATURENOTES....................................PAGE C2 CELEBRATIONS....................................PAGE C3 CROSSWORD........................................PAGE C6 SHORELINES........................................PAGE C8 PHOTOS BY CHARLIE CAMPBELL Michael Coleman, aka Martin Q.Blank, on air in the WKHS studio in Worton April 22. TUNEDIN Martin Q. Blank turns Friday nights into a ’70s, ’80s and ’90s party with his Nightshift radio show Michael Coleman brings his own music collection to the studio each week. “The first Friday night we caught Blank we were a bit in shock, it was absolutely wonderful....” DONBIGGAR