American Studies Alumnus Tunes In to Early 70s Radio

276868_276530712369652_702603388_nDo you ever wonder why radio stations play the same tired songs over and over again? Or why we’re forced to listen to talk shows while we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic? In “Early ‘70s Radio: The American Format Revolution” (Continuum, July 2011), University of Texas at Austin alumnus Kim Simpson (Ph.D. American Studies, ‘05) shares insight into how commercial music radio evolved into what it is today.

Providing a comprehensive analysis of a transformative era in pop music, Simpson describes how radio stations began to develop “formats” in order to cater to their target audiences. As industry professionals worked overtime to understand audiences and to generate formats, they also laid the groundwork for market segmentation. Audiences, meanwhile, approached these formats as safe havens where they could reimagine and redefine key issues of identity.

In his book, Simpson describes the era’s five prominent formats and analyzes each of these in relation to their targeted demographics, including Top 40, “soft rock,” album-oriented rock, soul and country. The book closes by making a case for the significance of early ’70s formatting in light of commercial radio today.

Simpson recently sat down with ShelfLife@Texas to talk about this time of transformation in commercial radio, his fascination with Billboard’s top music charts – and what’s next.

What motivated you to write Early ‘70s Radio?

First of all, I’ve been a pop music junkie as long as I can remember and keep updated Billboard chart reference books at my bedside. My wife can verify this. When my idea hatched sometime in the late 90s to explore this subject, I’d been keeping “factoid” notes on various hit songs – even the ones I hated. Once I’d gathered up notes about every Top 40 song in 1972, I realized there was much more going on during the much-maligned pop music era of the early 70s than mere silliness.

I had also made the discovery around the time that the radio pages of Billboard during the early ‘70s crackled with commentary and general unrest in a way you didn’t see in other eras. Researching Record World and Cash Box, the other two big music biz trades of the day, bore me out. I’d discovered that the early ‘70s represented a very distinct “moment” in both radio history and American culture that certainly deserved its own book.

How did you conduct the research for Early ‘70s Radio?

Because Billboard had such an impact on how I was now hearing the music of the era, I felt it was a good time for someone to incorporate the trades a bit more aggressively into pop music historiography. Their absence probably has to do with factors like their glaring business orientation, mistrust in the chart ranking process, and their unfashionable “top down” aura in a field more geared toward social history. Another definite factor is that they’re a real pain to find. I had to go to the Library of Congress to leaf through an uninterrupted early ‘70s run of Record World, and luckily the Dallas Public Library was one of few places that held Cash Box.

The ephemerality of so much music business source material can really be maddening, so I’m hoping that this book can demonstrate its usefulness, to some extent.

What’s next?

Something that requires more record listening, which is where the energy is for me. An encyclopedia-type companion guide to the hit songs of the early ‘70s would be the logical next step. This would allow me to take full advantage of all of my notes and geek out in a way I couldn’t really with “Early ‘70s Radio.” I could shine the spotlight on songs I love but didn’t talk about, like Liz Damon and the Orient Express’s “1900 Yesterday” and Sailcat’s “Motorcycle Mama.” Think anyone would buy it?

(From left)  KUT's Rebecca McInroy, Jay Trachtenberg, and Kim Simpson at the Early '70s Radio "Views and Brews" event at the Cactus Cafe on October 24.

(From left) KUT's Rebecca McInroy, Jay Trachtenberg, and Kim Simpson at the Early '70s Radio "Views and Brews" event at the Cactus Cafe on October 24.

About the author: Kim Simpson is a radio show host for KUT’s Sunday Folkways. A critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and guitarist, Simpson taught university courses in pop music and published articles in American Music and Pop Matters. In 2007, he served as a consultant for the Peabody Award-winning rockabilly radio documentary “Whole Lotta Shakin’”. His 2009 CD Mystery Lights: Solo Guitar has appeared in national TV shows and commercials, and his song “Looking for That Girl” (credited to The Mad Dukes) charted in a number of radio trade papers in 2006. Simpson also works in the administration department in The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law. For more about his work, read his blog Boneyard Media.

Texas Book Festival Begins this Weekend

1197052_texas_gov_house_at_austinUniversity of Texas at Austin faculty and alumni authors will share their expertise on topics ranging from the fate of Savannah during the Civil War, to mapping a career path, to the culture of Texas barbecue at the 2009 Texas Book Festival Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at the Texas Capitol and surrounding areas.

More than 200 writers will showcase their books, including a host of authors from our university. Some of the presenters include:

Author: Jeffrey Abramson, professor of law and government
Book: “Minerva’s Owl: The Tradition of Western Political Thought”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Oscar Casares, assistant professor of English
Book: “Amigoland”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Jacqueline Jones, the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and Mastin Gentry White Professor in Southern History
Book: “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Kate Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services
Book: “You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Lifestyle Tent (10th and Congress)

Author: Lucas A. Powe, Jr., professor of law and government
Book: “The Supreme Court and the American Elite”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American Studies
Book: “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Cooking Tent

Author: Mark Weston, UT Law alumnus (moderated by ShelfLife@Texas contributor Laura Castro)
Book: “Prophets & Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.014

The Texas Book Festival was founded in 1995 by former first lady Laura Bush to promote reading and honor Texas authors. Sessions are free and open to the public. Proceeds from books purchased at the festival benefit the state’s public libraries.

Visit this site for a full list of festival authors.

Book Offers Diverse Perspectives on African American Religious History and Life

New-Black-GodsIn the wake of the Great Migration, anthropologist Arthur Huff Fauset set out to learn more about the African American “sects and cults” springing up in northern cities. More than fifty years later, “The New Black Gods” reassess Fauset’s work, the organizations he studied and the state of African American religious studies today.

“The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religions” (Indiana University Press, 2009) was edited by Harry Ransom Center Curator of Academic Affairs Danielle Brune Sigler and Edward E. Curtis IV.

Taking the influential work of Fauset as a starting point to break down the false dichotomy that exists between mainstream and marginal, a new generation of scholars offer fresh ideas for understanding the religious expressions of African Americans in the United States. Fauset’s 1944 classic, “Black Gods of the Metropolis,” launched original methods and theories for thinking about African American religions as modern, cosmopolitan and democratic. The essays in this collection show the diversity of African American religion after the Great Migration and consider the full field of African American religion from Pentecostalism to Black Judaism, Black Islam and Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement. As a whole, they create a dynamic, humanistic and thoroughly interdisciplinary understanding of African American religious history and life. This book is essential reading for anyone who studies the African American experience.


Career Counselor to Discuss “You Majored in What?”

Liberal Arts Career Services Director Kate Brooks will read and sign “You Majored in What: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career” (Viking, 2009) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 7 at Barnes & Noble, located in the Arboretum shopping center on Research Boulevard.

Brooks, who has been guiding students to successful careers for more than 20 years, points out that many college students feel a sense of comfort in thinking that their major will lead them directly to an ideal career path. While these reasoning methods are logical, they could find themselves lost when they venture into the working world.

Steering away from the dated career assessment tests and structured job-seeking manuals that guide career seekers on a direct path from major to occupation, Brooks encourages readers to wander off course and embrace the chaos.

“Foreign Language Major in the Workplace” course illustration by Samuel Martinez.

To help students find their true calling, Brooks created the Wise Wandering system to show students how to turn the chaos of their education and life experiences into a fulfilling career through mapping techniques, experiments and storytelling.

With an emphasis on the mathematical chaos theory, she illustrates how the path to a career can be thrown off course by a key element: the butterfly effect. The concept, built around the premise that little things can have enormous effects, illuminates how seemingly insignificant events can significantly alter a student’s career path.

An interesting read for college students and recent graduates of all majors, the career guide offers a practical and unique approach to discovering new opportunities and finding a final professional destination. Students enrolled in Brooks’ course, “The Liberal Arts Major in the Workplace,” use the book as a guide for their wandering journeys.

Read Brooks’ top 10 tips for landing a job

For more career advise, visit Brooks’ Psychology Today blog Career Transitions.

Did you end up in a job that doesn’t have anything to do with your college major? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

New Book Highlights Work of Photographer Fritz Henle

In Search of Beauty, book coverUT Press and the Harry Ransom Center have jointly published the catalog “Fritz Henle: In Search of Beauty,” a retrospective exhibition of the life and career of the noted 20-century photographer.

The edited book includes commentary by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger, who also curated the current exhibition of Henle’s work.

A contributor to such magazines as LIFE and Harper’s Bazaar, Henle had a distinctive style that was characterized by a unique combination of the realistic and the romantic. The catalog reproduces 127 of Henle’s black-and-white and color photographs, and covers the entire range of Henle’s work, including significant items from the photographer’s archive and family.

The exhibition, on display at the Ransom Center through Aug. 2, features more than 100 photographs, including images of 1930s New York, Mexico, and Paris; nudes; and portraits of famous personalities.

View a slideshow of images featured in the exhibition, or view a video preview online.

Is Narcissism Destroying Your Marriage?

In Greek mythology, Narcissus’ obsession with his reflection in a pool of water ultimately led to his death. For thousands of years, the cautionary tale has served as rich fodder for artists and philosophers, and even became the basis for Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of narcissism.

UT alumna Lisa Leit (Ph.D. Human Ecology, ‘08) further explores the psychological concept in “Conversational Narcissism in Marriage “ (VDM Verlag, 2008), which examines how narcissistic attention-seeking behavior in communication affects marital stability.

Central features of narcissism include a need for admiration and a lack of empathy, which may have damaging consequences for a relationship. Drawing upon social exchange theory, Leit and co-authors Deborah Jacobvitz and Nancy Hazen-Swann, found that conversational narcissism chararacterizes 78 percent of marriages and may ultimately lead to divorce.

Leit is a staff member of the Department of Rhetoric & Writing where she serves as a program coordinator for the Undergraduate Writing Center. She also has a private practice as a mediator, specializing in family dispute resolution. Learn more about her work at

Stay tuned for a series of ShelfLife posts about love, relationships and sex coming up this this week. We’ll write about Psychology Professor David Buss’ “Dangerous Passion,” Journalism Professor Robert Jensen’s thoughts on pornography, Betsy Berry’s popular English course “Literary Marriages from Hell” and philosopher Robert Solomon’s reinvention of romance.

What’s on Your Nightstand, Tom Zigal?

To kick off the new year, ShelfLife asked Tom Zigal, mystery author and chief speechwriter for UT President William Powers, to share a few reading recommendations.

Zigal is the author of the critically acclaimed Kurt Muller detective series set in Aspen, Colorado. His latest book “The White League” (Toby Press, 2005), explores a coffee magnate’s descent into the political underworld of New Orleans.

Zigal earned a bachelor’s degree in English from The University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in creative writing from Stanford University.

Keep reading to find out what books have recently spent some time on his nightstand.

“The Film Club” (Twelve Books, 2008) by David Gilmour

This is a delightful memoir by a father who allows his sweet but unhappy son to drop out of high school if he agrees to watch three movies a week (of his father’s choosing) and discuss them.

My son is in college now, but there were times when I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to do something alternative to make his high school education more meaningful and rich. We watched movies, too, read books, and went on a trip to Cuba, just like Gilmour and his son.

As his son struggles with adolescence, the middle-aged Gilmour loses his job and also struggles with his own career in broadcasting and film criticism. Movies keep them talking to each other in hard times. This book is one of the nicest surprises of 2008. I liked it so much I’m going to write a fan letter to the author.

“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” (Riverhead, 2003) by ZZ Packer

When ZZ Packer was teaching at the university last fall, I met her at Julio’s, her favorite café, right before the presidential election and found her to be incredibly charming, funny, and fluent in all things political. So I bought her debut collection of short stories, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” and was delighted by her vivid language and the illuminating sensibility she brings to the African American experience in post-civil rights America.

Packer is in her mid 30s and grew up in a vastly different world than her literary predecessors, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. She is concerned with racism and sexism, of course, but as they are manifested in a more evolved society in which black women attend Yale (the title story), teach in inner city schools, and struggle to live penniless in another country; and young men are sometimes not as “politically committed” as the older civil rights generation expects them to be. Everyone who voted for Barack Obama—and everyone who didn’t—should read these engaging stories.

“Out Stealing Horses” (Picador, 2007) by Per Petterson

This novel, translated from Norwegian and the winner of numerous accolades, came highly recommended by two of my writer friends who rarely steer me astray. I was not as dazzled as they were.

“Out Stealing Horses” is the story of a man in his late 60s who returns to live in an isolated cabin in the deep woods near the Swedish border in order to spend his final years pondering his boyhood there. He ponders a lot. And walks his dog in the snow. Makes breakfast, chops wood. Ponders more, usually with a dose of self-pity and longing to understand his father.

To be fair, Petterson’s technique of weaving three different time periods (1945, 1948, and the present) is quite effective. I just wished I cared more about this solitary man and his gloomy ruminations. By the end of the book I wished I knew exactly what had happened to his father and the married World War II resistance woman who loved him. In all the Nordic darkness and wintry claustrophobia, a ray of clear narrative light would have helped.

“City of Refuge” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Tom Piazza

There have been numerous excellent nonfiction books and survival memoirs about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but few novels (James Lee Burke’s “The Tin Roof Blowdown” comes to mind), perhaps because the unbelievable incidents that actually took place do not require fanciful acts of the imagination to explain them.

In “City of Refuge,” Piazza does an excellent job of capturing the sights and sounds of the hurricane winds and massive flooding, especially as it destroyed the Lower 9th Ward. He follows two families through their travails and subsequent relocations to Houston and Chicago.

I found the Williams family (a black family who moved to Houston), far more compelling and sympathetic than the Donadlsons (a white couple who moved to Chicago), as they bicker about whether to return and raise their children in New Orleans. The Donaldsons’ struggle comes from a place of comfort and privilege, with fallback options, whereas the dispersed Williams family members struggle to find each other and stay together, make a living, and keep the faith in a difficult new environment. Kudos to Piazza for his thoughtful depiction of one of the greatest tragedies of our time.