18th ÉCU Film Festival 2023
Feast Your Ears:
The Story of WHFS
(Left) musician Bruce Cockburn & producer Jay Schlossberg (right)
Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 is a feature length documentary film that will take you on a trip back to the '60s, '70s and '80s when "free form" progressive FM radio was in its heyday in America. Broadcasting from "high atop the Triangle Towers" near Washington, DC the legendary & beloved WHFS was more than just a local radio station - it was the voice of a generation. Hear from local, national and international musicians, the ‘HFS deejays, record label veterans, journalists, historians, fans and more as they reflect on a time when the music united a tribe who spoke out via the radio waves about war, equality and a time of great social, cultural and political upheaval.
Following is an interview with the Director and Executive Producer of Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3FM, Jay Schlossberg.
Hi Jay, it is a pleasure to talk with you, how has everything been going?
Life’s been good to me so far and the pleasure is all mine!
Congratulations on having your feature documentary Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM, part of the 18th ÉCU Film Festival 2023 in Paris, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of films?
Thank you very much! I am thrilled beyond measure. This is just the first of what we expect to be many laurels coming up in 2023.
How essential are festivals like ÉCU in creating a genuine platform for independent films and filmmakers?
ÉCU and other festivals like it around the world are a key component to both getting a film seen, and sold, to the widest posible audience.
When did you first hear of WHFS 102.3 FM?
I became aware of ‘HFS in the early 70’s as it was, far and away, the best FM radio station in the DC area and I was the perfect age….a teenager!
Can you tell me how Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM came about? When did you realise you wanted to turn this story into a documentary feature?
In April of 2014 a local vinyl record store was celebrating “Record Day” on April 20th and I heard they were having a panel of former ‘HFS deejays (WHFS 102.3 FM went off the air in July of 1983). I was out of town but when I returned I saw a photograph of the panel and there they were: Josh, Bob “Here”, Damian, Weasel, Cerphe, John Hall, etc and thought, “OH! This would be a great story to tell about them, the station and the era!” PING!.....the lightbulb went off.
Was it cathartic for you looking back at the history of the station as well as the Summer you spent working there?
Absolutely. You could say from already being a fan then working there for a short time and being a long time listener, it became more than just the tired expression “soundtrack of my life.” It just became integrated in my DNA!
How influential was this time on the creative direction a young Jay would take?
Legendary! I learned so much about so many different kinds of music I’m sure it affected me when I started to play and write my own songs. But it was really the central heartbeat of a much larger community tying together the social, political and cultural upheaval of the times. Along with the nightclub scene everyone found out where to buy records, hip clothing, head shops, organic food stores, where to get that new stereo, waterbed and so on. They even had a ride board, housing board, lost dogs & cats, concert calendar, etc. All of this, and so much more, from a 2300w FM station on the 2nd floor of a residential apartment building in a sleepy suburb of DC.
"There is an era, that is gone now where the deejay was an artist reflecting back to us, live and in person, what was happening in the world."
What was the biggest challenges you faced making Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM?
Time! I own a very busy and successful video crew booking company (we provide top “local” crew & gear around the US and in 114 other countries) helping our clients who can’t, or don’t want to, fly crew around the world and want them in the city where they’re filming. In fact many of these crews, about a dozen or so, were very helpful because I was able to hire them to be part of the project…I trusted them all explicitly and they did an amazing job! As well my editor, Dick Bangham of RipBang Pictures, had other projects for renowned US based musical acts like Little Feat and Nils Logren always popping up. So we had to find the time when one or both of us were not overwhelmed with other work!
During your research did you discover anything about the nation and the DJs that made you go ‘what the…’?
I learned more than I can share here but one thing I did not know was that many US cities had stations like ‘HFS. NY, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, LA, etc. doing “free form progressive” radio. This means, essentially, the deejays could play whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to with no playlist and no corporate suit monkey’s telling them what was okay. Most of these stations either changed to AOR (album oriented rock that was programmed) or completely went another direction. Somehow, WHFS 102.3FM, kept this fire burning as a commercial station until July of 1983 far longer than just about any other station like it in the US. It was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most beloved and legendary FM radio stations ever to grace the airwaves.
When making a film like this how flexible did you allow yourself with your interviews and the story you wanted to tell?
Very flexible as I had to adapt to different kinds of musicians, some comedians (yes they played comedy) as well as the deejays, surviving former owners, employees and so on. What was amazing to me was how many of these artists said “yes” to being in the film so quickly! They remembered how they were treated by the deejays when they visited the station when playing in town and how much, and how many, of them said ‘HFS, as small as it was, became an integral part of their “making it” in the industry. Some of them include UK based Joan Armatrading and US musicians such at Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Jesse Colin Young, Terry Adams (NRBQ), Paul Barrere and Bill Payne (Little Feat) and so many more.
Looking back what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM?
The process of creating a documentary feature film will likely take longer than I think!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Actually no and this is my first one! While I’m a big fan of documentaries, and watch them all the time, this was a bit of a surprise! I decided I was going to do it then gathered up some people to be part of TeamFeast who were smarter than me about the process and how to get it done!
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Yes of course and this is something I’ve done intentionally. When someone asked me “what’s your logline on the film?” I said “It’s a free form progressive feature documentary film about an historic free form progressive commercial FM radio station.” So we tried to have the film flow at times much like a great set of songs a deejay might play.
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmakers?
Know it will take longer than you think.
Research, research, research.
Have a great time and let your creative juices guide you!
And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from Feast Your Ears: The Story of WHFS 102.3 FM?
There is an era, that is gone now where the deejay was an artist reflecting back to us, live and in person, what was happening in the world. They could make us laugh, maybe cry, inform us about the culture, the politics or, you know, just string together a bunch of songs we didn’t know we needed to hear or simply to have a great time listening!