In May 1981, a brand-new syndicated radio show called Rockline made its debut on the American airwaves. I would discover this show several years after that, but little did I know that I would become a part of its history. You could say that it’s been a long, strange trip. Last updated December 17, 2016.
From the Beginning
It was 1985. Dire Straits was getting their money for nothing, and Aerosmith was doing it with mirrors. One of the local radio stations became a new affiliate of Rockline, a live, weekly, call-in radio show that let the audience interview rock musicians. I thought it was pretty cool. It was Mark Knopfler’s 36th birthday.
Unfortunately, since it was live from Los Angeles, it was on late every Monday night on the east coast. The local station didn’t always do a good job of promoting the artists who were coming up that week, and I couldn’t stay up late every week just to find out who was going to be on the show.
When I got to college, however, I was able to listen every week, partly because staying up late was a requirement of being a college student, but mostly because Rockline was one of the few shows that featured current and classic rock artists. During that time, I became quite attached to the show, and tried to call in once (and failed in the attempt).
The Times They Are A-Changin’
In 1990, I discovered the Internet, learned how to use email and Usenet. The interface was text-only, but I thought it was a great way to communicate, collaborate, and share information (and to meet girls, but I digress). On Usenet, there were many music oriented discussion groups. People would talk about their favorite bands, and post news and rumors. There were some groups that had to do with radio and radio shows, but nobody was really posting about Rockline (unless a really big name was going to be on). I still had to rely on the local affiliate for that information (which was hit or miss, but a little more hit than miss).
A couple of years later, I found a mailing list where people posted about upcoming live radio performances, such as concerts and interviews. Nobody was posting anything about Rockline, which often had live performances in the studio. Since I was listening weekly anyway, I started posting upcoming guest lists there. I also kept track of their affiliate list as well, simply from listening to the show. Mailing list members would ask me what station had the show, and I’d send the list. Sometimes I’d trade tapes of shows. It was fun posting on Tuesday what was just announced the previous night.
Message in a Bottle
I kept posting to the mailing list for about a year. In the meantime, the World Wide Web helped bring pictures and sound to the Internet, making it text-only no longer. I had a rather clunky web browser, but it got me around and helped me learn HTML. In November 1994, I created a personal web site with the free storage I had with my Internet Service Provider. The Unofficial Rockline web site was born. It featured the upcoming guest list and affiliate list, all without me having to mail out anything (but I still posted updates to the mailing list). The site only had a few images, but the content was very useful. Anybody in the world could see it at any time.
Towards the end of 1995, I got an email. It was completely unexpected, and nothing I could have anticipated. The producer of Rockline had been checking out my web site, and thought that I might be interested in helping maintain their area on AOL. I had no idea what this would entail, or even how AOL content worked (I was still learning things about HTML), but it seemed like a cool idea, so I took it. I figured I could handle it… and my day job… and maintain my web site… not to mention keep posting to the mailing list.
In January 1996, the AOL area of Rockline/Modern Rock Live was “mine.”
Dazed and Confused
Things were taking their toll on me. Work was keeping me busier than ever with bizarre and complicated projects. My web site wasn’t getting much attention. To top it off, I was getting tired of the AOL area, and that was only after a few months. Not only was there content in the area that needed to be updated, but message boards had to be monitored, and emails needed to be answered (a lot of them). If I knew there was going to be this much to it, I might have reconsidered their offer. I got a phone call that summer from one of the guys at AOL who noticed that things had kind of gone downhill (to put it mildly) in the area. So, I told him that it was much more than I anticipated, then they went about finding a new maintainer. This left me free to concentrate on my day job, and give my web site a bit more attention than it was getting.
I kept my unofficial Rockline site going. I still liked the show, and the site helped me learn more about HTML and other web-related technologies. Occasionally, I’d get an email from an AOL user about something, and I’d ask them why they didn’t use the Rockline area on AOL. Their reply? They liked mine better. It gave me a little incentive to keep things going.
The AOL area closed sometime in 1997, which meant everyone, including the lawyers, was looking at my site again. I improved its appearance, expanded it, created a database of past guests, and added a message board where visitors could trade tapes with each other. Trade being the keyword here, sales were explicitly prohibited (lest someone might violate copyright laws).
Oh, I wasn’t kidding about the lawyers. When Rockline was acquired by AMFM, a then-subsidiary of Chancellor Media, I got this email from the producer:
There has been quite a lot of conversation about you from Chancellor legal and execs. I think I have successfully convinced them to leave you alone. Your website is terrific. Much better than it used to be. Looks great. If you experience any problems with them, let me know. Hope all is well with you.
Music was changing. Actually, it had been changing ever since “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” By the late 1990s, I recognized only about half the names of the bands coming on Rockline. In January 1999, the show expanded to two nights, Monday and Wednesday, to accommodate both current and classic artists (Mondays for current, Wednesday for classic). This made things a little more difficult on me, as I had to keep up with two shows per week instead of one, but there were people on the Internet willing to pitch in for the nights that I couldn’t hear the show. In the years 2000 and 2001, I even got a little help from the new staff at Rockline. They had no official site yet, but they would pass on guest lists and affiliate info to me, and I’d post it on the site. They loved it.
For years, I had wondered when Rockline would get around to putting up an official site. In February 2002, I stopped wondering, as that was when their own official web site went online. For the first time, I didn’t have to listen to the show to find out who was coming up the following week, I could just… go to their web site. With this new turn of events, was my site still needed? I had things they didn’t have, like a message board and a FAQ (frequently asked questions list). I actually hadn’t planned on running my web site this long, as it only started out as an HTML learning tool. But, visitors still came to the site, so I kept it going.
With the official site in full swing, I didn’t have to listen to the two shows every week just to hear who was coming up the following week. I’d skip nights where I had already heard the show or wasn’t keenly interested in the band.
Somewhere along the line, I was really wondering why I was keeping the unofficial site going. I wasn’t being as creative as I used to be with it, and I wasn’t getting the same enjoyment either. I felt like I was “phoning it in.” Copy/paste. I was ready for something different. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew that I was ready for it.
End of the Line
I started retiring various sections of my personal web site in 2005, and got around to retiring the Rockline section that summer… over 10 years after I started the site… nearly 20 years since I first heard Rockline. Rather than let some of the content disappear, I sent the FAQ and database of past guests to the folks at Rockline, in case they had a need for the data. My Rockline listening diminished as the summer turned to fall and winter, but I’d visit their site to check up on them, and see what was going on.
A few years passed, and their site went through a few more redesigns. They got some use out of the database of past guests I had given them. I could tell they used it as a starting point “Archive History” section on their site. The show ended its run in 2014. Bob Coburn passed away on December 17, 2016, after a long battle with lung cancer.