Last Collector Standing: Les Aaron of the Point's New Music Sunday on T. Rex and His DJ History
The number of chain record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops as well as for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. (Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? E-mail us.)
With his familiar British accent, DJ Les Aaron has become an unlikely St. Louis radio staple. His long-running New Music Sunday program has survived multiple station changes, and now finds its home on The Point (105.7 FM) every Sunday at 7 p.m. While musical fads have come and gone, Aaron has found his niche in doing one fantastic thing for the Gateway City: turning people on to new music. Aaron was the first person I ever heard play the Ramones on commercial radio way back in the mid '90s. I still remember how exciting it was to hear "I Wanna Be Sedated" on Aaron's retro lunch program and rushing out between high school classes to buy Ramones Mania.
For decades Aaron has introduced local radio listeners to new music. This week Last Collector Standing aims to find out the albums that have been most important to him throughout his career. We met at the The Point's studio at Union Station where Aaron reminisced about the world of commercial radio, his platinum Cranberries album and his love for Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Last Collector Standing: During your 21 years of hosting New Music Sunday, have you witnessed changes in the radio business?
Les Aaron: Drastically. [Laughs] Unfortunately, for the worst. When I first came to St. Louis I was on WMRY. We still had vinyl when I went there, which was '86 when I first came to St. Louis. It was a station started by Mark Klose, obviously a St. Louis legend, and it was freeform radio back in those days. We had 3,000 albums in the library, and when Mark gave me the job he said, "Play whatever you like." This was all vinyl. If it had a little white wax mark through the track that meant there were swear words -- so you couldn't play it -- but anything else you could play.
Nowadays, everything is on the computer. Some DJs get a little bit of freedom to put something [unique on]. New Music Sunday is fantastic for me, because it's my hour. Nobody tells me what to play. Even the program director doesn't tell me what to play. Tommy Mattern leaves me completely in charge. I play whatever I want, as long as it stays in the same basic format of alternative rock.
There are [far fewer] positions for DJs these day, because a lot of the time slots have been voice tracked. On a lot of stations, it's morning and afternoon drive which are the only [slots] that actually have DJs on them. Other than that, everything's computerized, and of course, the corporatization means that there is a playlist of two or three hundred songs. It's basically the same thing that everyone else is playing around the country in the same format. It's nothing like it used to be when I first came here.
Over the years, what has been the ongoing response to New Music Sunday?
It's always pretty consistent. It had its heyday before the Point came along. It's 21 years old, --The Point is not that old. For three years it was on Hot 97, which was a top 40 station. I made my name as an alternative rock DJ at WMRY, because of the freeform format and the 3,000 albums. They had things like the Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode. Nobody else knew what that stuff was. I was playing a lot of that stuff because I was from Britain. When WMRY went away, I went to Hot 97 and said, "I would like to play this stuff and would like to have a specialty show doing it."
They gave me one hour originally. I started playing R.E.M. and stuff like that, because this was '89. It was so popular that within a month it was two hours, and within a couple of months it was four hours. Back in those days, because there was no alternative radio station, people were absolutely in love with it.
[I was playing] the Sundays all the time. When the Sundays came [to St. Louis] they sold out Mississippi Nights basically on plays from New Music Sunday. The people down at Mississippi Nights would call me and say, "Front 242 is going to be here tomorrow night. They've only sold 50 tickets. Can you play them tonight, Les? Can we get them to get in touch with you on the show?" Then about half an hour later Front 242 is on the phone and they're talking to me. I do a little spot on them and the next day the show is sold out. It was just so popular.