David Luckin is worried about the mess on his desk. Shuffling piles of paper, pushing stacks of CDs aside, he clears a spot for my tape recorder. What he seems not to realize, perhaps because he has spent the last decade surrounded by so much stuff, is that his entire office, and his studio, too, look just like his desk. Towers of CDs fill his shelves, banks of vinyl records lean in long rows against his desk, boxes of promotional materials crowd the floor.
The walls are covered as well. Posters of Bob Marley, James Dean and ’50s-era Elvis gaze down from on high. One entire wall is adorned with vintage record album covers. There are tons more in his broadcast studio, filling every available nook, cranny and crevice. Kitschy memorabilia, model classic cars, even a Maltese Falcon replica — it all colludes to create a kaleidoscopic timeline of music, movies and America’s obsession with celebrity.
Luckin is an obsessive himself, boasting an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and film. He has a particular fondness for early rock-’n’-roll and film noir, but he’s also enamored of current European lounge and downtempo modern music, which comprises much of his show, “Electro Lounge.” The specialty program celebrates its 10th anniversary on Dec. 7.
Airing on WJCT 89.9-FM from 9-11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, “Electro Lounge” is Luckin’s baby. As the station’s music director, Luckin plays a role in all of the musical programming for the station. But “Electro Lounge,” well, that’s all him — literally. Originally designed as a one-hour ethereal “space” music show airing every Saturday evening (first called “NightFlight”), Luckin’s program expanded over time to become one of WJCT’s hippest — and most listened to — original programs.
As the always-mellow Luckin frantically cleans his desk, he rattles off the names of artists on various CDs as he stacks them neatly to one side. “Bing Crosby scatting with Duke Ellington, Camera Obscura’s new album, Bob Dylan re-release …” For the moment he is satisfied with a small gulf cleared on his desk. I set my tape recorder down in the space provided and press the little red button.
Two hours later, Luckin is still talking.
“When people would ask me, ‘What kind of music do you play?’ I used to say, ‘space music,’ ” Luckin says about his original program “NightFlight.” “The space music I’m referring to was usually more on the late-night, dreamy [side]. I used to say it was space music with a beat. When ‘Electro Lounge’ started [in 2003], and I had two hours every night, suddenly I’m dropping in Pink Floyd and Johnny Cash, and the show really expanded. When ‘Electro Lounge’ came along, it became much more eclectic.”
Anyone familiar with the inner workings of public radio — hell, publicly funded anything — knows that paying for programming is not a cheap proposition, so it begs the question: How does one suddenly go from one night a week to five, with expanded time allotted into the wee hours of Sunday morning?
“Tony Allegretti walks in the door and says, ‘If I brought you $20,000, can you make this show five nights a week?’ He found a sponsor in Springfield, when the whole revitalization of Springfield was happening. … I’m a product of the real estate boom.”
Allegretti, a Jacksonville mover and shaker who has managed many special projects, including founding the First Wednesday Art Walk and co-founding the Riverside Arts Market, made it possible for Luckin to realize his vision: a show that focused on downtempo world lounge music with branches that reach into classic rock, big band, reggae and dub, and traditional and acid jazz, coupled with classic commercials and special-edition shows from his favorite artists.
In a word, Luckin is making daily mix tapes for his friends — his listening audience — to enjoy.
“I brought the music back. The music was all going away,” says Luckin, referring to the programming shift that occurred back in 1999, when the station eliminated its daytime classical music programming and went to its current all-news-and-talk format. “We have a split personality [at WJCT]. Half our day is news and information, the other half is all music.”
Luckin was instrumental in bringing classical music back (in the form of the program “Performance Today,” which airs 7-9 p.m. weekdays) while expanding the nighttime lineup with new-music programs like “Indie Endeavor,” “Blues Horizons,” “String Theory” and others. And Luckin has always been a supporter of the WJCT staple “This is Jazz,” hosted by jazz historian Bob Bednar, which complements Luckin’s sometimes-jazz-heavy “Electro Lounge.”
A former broadcast journalist, Luckin often layers his programs with historically significant bits — commercials and interviews from musical or political icons of the past — creating an odd juxtaposition between the new and the old. He rarely answers to the suits, so he is at liberty to create his own wonderland of music, as long as he observes FCC rules and regulations.
“Eighty percent of ‘Electro Lounge’ is new music,” Luckin says. “Like today, I am going through all of the new music that I bought or has been sent to me, and I’m picking what I think will be good. I don’t get a playlist — you know, ‘Here’s the Top 10, and you gotta play the shit outta these songs for the next week.’ Nobody tells me what to play. … I can play Santana or the Thievery Corporation or the Sneaker Pimps, as long as it’s on the chill side. That umbrella of downtempo [in any genre] means it’s chill.”
That’s Luckin’s only personal criterion: It has to be mellow — music meant for chilling out after a long day at the office or the ride home after a Saturday night of hard partying. Luckin grew up with underground college radio, and in the age of Internet streaming, he wants to keep that ethic alive. He still considers himself a DJ, in the classic sense of the word.
Pulse of the People
“We are all about our community,” says WJCT’s programming and news director Karen Feagins, “and so to have someone who is here thinking about what someone who in Jacksonville is interested in hearing, exposing people in our community to the music he gets from all around the world, it’s so important. I also think it’s crucial to have shows like this, where he brings in local artists, and has them sit right here in the studio and perform. It’s got a connection that’s missing from so much of corporate radio.”
Luckin has made a habit of bringing in local artists to both perform on his show and to host a portion of “Electro Lounge,” playing their favorite tunes while talking about music and the community. Local musicians and bands that have appeared in the past include violinist Rebecca Zapen, the rootsy ensemble Canary in the Coalmine, avant-folk duo Lee Hunter and Arvid Smith, singer Lady Daisey, pop duo Flagship Romance, songwriter Grant Nielsen and (full disclosure) me.
“I like the diversity,” says Lady Daisey (aka Daisey Traynham), who performs both as a soloist and with her husband Batsauce (aka Brit Traynham). “The soul, the funk. I like that David really knows his music. Not just the songs, but also the history, the artists, the juicy stories that go along with each one. He’s not just a DJ, he’s a music historian.”
It’s a formula that has paid off over the past 10 years.
“You know what I really try to do?” Luckin asks. “I just like to play nice music. I know that sounds sappy. Music that connects with people. I’m old-fashioned like that. To me, I’m doing radio. I’m not playing songs as much as I’m making radio. I don’t know if people will get that, but everyone here who produces a program, we have a reason why we play everything.”
Luckin says his purpose is to expose his audience to the newest music while building bridges between the latest artists and their predecessors. He can’t help it, really. Having been in radio for so many years, he draws these parallels naturally. In so doing, he brings in listeners from all age groups and lovers of all music genres.
“You look and you see how they influenced so many people,” says Luckin of the older artists he features. “So I’m always gonna play Miles Davis, I’m always gonna play Billie Holiday, I’m always gonna play Frank Sinatra, I’m always gonna play Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Marley. To me, they were so influential, I can never forget the roots of where we all came from.”
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of “Electro Lounge,” Luckin is releasing a CD with his favorite cuts from the show’s past, due out in February of 2014. And the Dec. 7 anniversary program will include highlights from past shows. It’s all part of keeping the show at once current and archival.
“To me, maybe it’s because I’m a journalist,” Luckin says about his tendency to bridge the past with the present. “You really need to know the history.”