Classic rock soundtrack for Bohmer's DPU swan song

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Retiring DePauw University Media Center Director Dave Bohmer (left) and WGRE Operations Coordinator Chris Newton discuss one of the Top 40 hits of 1968 during Bohmer's weekly music countdown show Monday morning on WGRE.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end ...

Not wanting his 20-year tenure at DePauw University to fade out like some ubiquitous 1960s song, retiring Media Center Director Dave Bohmer instead created his own rock 'n' roll magical mystery tour this spring.

And for the past 13 weeks, Bohmer has been making like WGRE's own Kasey Kasem, counting down the Top 40 hits from each year of the rock 'n' roll era, starting at 1956 and ending with 1969 when the weekly two-hour radio program concludes on Monday, May 5.

Dave Bohmer: Rock music, baseball fan.

"It's a fitting end," Bohmer said after Monday's 8-10 a.m. homage to 1968, "since 1969 is when I graduated from DePauw the first time."

This time, however, the 66-year-old Bohmer will be up on stage at the May 18 commencement, alongside other retiring faculty as members of DePauw's Class of 2014 parade past to pick up their diplomas.

By that time, he and wife Lynn will be all but moved into their new St. Charles, Ill., condo and second home in Michigan.

Bohmer's been putting a coda on his Greencastle and DePauw existence for a while now. He's wrapped up his United Way tenure, turned over the Putnam County Democrat Party reins to others and has sold his home on the northeast side of town.

He's even gotten rid of half of his old record collection "to appease the wife," donating the albums to the Rescue Treasures resale shop after compiling a musical library of 11,000 songs on his laptop.

In the process of downloading all that music, Bohmer got the idea of the radio show that has played out over DePauw's second semester.

"It started out as a hobby," he noted, but after coming across a book listing all the Top 40 songs through 2000, Bohmer decided to create the radio show at the urging of fellow rock music aficionado and retired judge Bob Lowe.

"Full disclosure," Bohmer said, "Bob Lowe got me started," noting that "any credit or blame" should be assigned accordingly.

Bohmer's sentimental journey began 13 weeks ago with the 1956 classic, "See You Later Alligator," which sounds like it might have been more appropriate for a sign-off, and will end next Monday with "The Age of Aquarius," the No. 1 hit of 1969 from the trendy musical "Hair."

That, too, seems quite fitting, Bohmer said, for the Baby Boomer generation from which he comes.

Yep, those were the days, my friend ...

Overall, 40 songs a week for 14 weeks have received campus exposure from Bohmer and WGRE Operations Coordinator Chris Newton, who started out training the retiring Media Center director on the control board and ended up playing sidekick on a weekly countdown show. Their two hours of music are interspersed with humor, commentary, baseball and music trivia and tidbits about Cleveland, Wrigley Field, Greencastle and DPU.

Monday just happened to coincide with the 65th birthday of WGRE (91.5 FM), long regarded as one of the best college radio stations on the planet. WGRE faculty adviser Jeff McCall popped into the studio to join the party, as did Larry Abed, DPU director of TV operations.

"It's been fun and it's a nice capstone to my 20 years at De-Pauw," Bohmer assures, noting that he never deejayed a show while a student back when WGRE was tucked into a second-floor corner of the Union Building.

"I did some (sports) play by play," he said. "I'm just glad no tapes of that are left over."

Looking ahead to his final show next Monday, Bohmer says the 1969 music scene is not nearly as wacky as 1968, which featured an eclectic mix of Top 40 tunes ranging from The Beatles to country ("Harper Valley PTA") to instrumental ("Classical Gas" and "Love is Blue") to Motown (Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding) and even the beginnings of heavy metal ("Born to be Wild").

Cueing up "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," Bohmer quipped that the wide-ranging movie title track "kind of describes the state of the Top 40 during this period."

Back in "the strange year" of 1968, the musical genres were all shoehorned into the Top 40 instead of climbing their separate charts, which certainly explains the presence of "MacArthur Park," "Fire" from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Bobby Goldsboro's sappy "Honey" on the same list.

"But the capstone of '68," Bohmer assures, "is, in my mind, the greatest rock song ever."

That would be -- drum roll, please -- The Beatles' classic, "Hey, Jude."

Bohmer also pointed to the poignant 1968 hit "Those Were the Days," a Russian tune turned into a British drinking song flavored with the influence of Paul McCartney and Apple Records and sung with gusto by Mary Hopkins.

It's an example, Bohmer noted, of a song that can affect you differently at different stages of your life.

"I'll say this," he offered. "As you listened to that song back then with your whole life ahead of you, it didn't have quite the same meaning for you as it does now."

Undoubtedly he means those fittingly haunting lyrics: "Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end. We'd sing and dance forever and a day. We'd live the life we choose, we'd fight and never lose, for we were young and sure to have our way ..."

Bohmer speaks excitedly about the musical menu for his finale, characterizing 1969 as the year Elvis came back with "Suspicious Minds," the psychedelic funk rock of Sly and the Family Stone emerged and Credence Clearwater had a chart revival.

"I've been telling him he's got the soul of a '60s disc jockey and he's had an affinity for it from the first show," Newton said of his radio sidekick and Media Center cohort. "He's had so much fun, he's gotta come back."

Bohmer laughed off that notion.

"It took a lot of energy to be a disc jockey back in those days," he responded. "It was all wax back then. You had to take the records off and put them on (the varying turntables). It was a lot of work."

Bohmer also assures he is not coming back after May 5.

"I could do the best of the '70s," he joked, "but some people might think that's a oxymoron."

Of all the rock music years that have been featured on the WGRE show, Bohmer says his personal favorites are 1961 and 1965.

In 1961, the Top 40 starts to see a heavy influence of rhythm and blues, he noted, with early rock 'n' roll in its heyday. Bohmer pointed to such artists as Dion and Del Shannon making their marks.

And 1965, he said, "is not just about the British invasion."

"It's the beginning of folk rock," Bohmer said, noting how The Byrds,

The Mamas and The Papas, The Lovin' Spoonful and others took off, The Rolling Stones found "Satisfaction," and while it also marked the "heyday of Motown."

So as the Bohmer record at DePauw begins to fade out, what does he feel is the soundtrack of his life?

"There is a lot of stuff from the rock 'n' roll era that I love," he said, finding it difficult to narrow his personal Top 40.

"There's 'The Book of Love,' and 'Get a Job,' and I liked the Everly Brothers a lot," he said. "And I was always a big Roy Orbison fan."

Those were the days. Oh yes, those were the days ...

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