When Don Joyce of the band Negativland passed away in July we learned that the group is in the process of archiving the 34-year catalog of its Over The Edge radio show, anchored by Joyce since the very beginning. Now the first stage of the project is public, with 941 episodes of the program available at the Internet Archive.
A live freeform collage show that’s been on KPFA in Berkeley, CA since 1981, Over The Edge is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t heard it. It’s best to quote a description penned by Joyce himself:
“OTE’s weekly themed mixes are made live and spontaneously on the air from a variety of formats and equipment used to do live sound cut ups and collage while mixing, including the frequent use of the now long dead analog technology of radio broadcast cart machines. On each themed episode of OTE there is a plan and there is no plan. Existing within the parallel universe of the Universal Media Netweb, the OTE mix consists of found sounds of many kinds from many sources put together on the run as the continuous audio collage progresses, along with live electronics (often from our Boopers), live sound processing, and all sorts of recurring themes and characters.”
A Negativland fan since college in the early 90s, I had heard of Over The Edge and for years pined away to actually hear the show. A few years after graduation I borrowed from a fellow community radio DJ a few air check cassettes of the show that the band sold by mail-order and learned the wait was worth it. I was also jealous of Bay Area radio listeners who could just tune in their radios every Thursday at midnight to experience and partake in (they take live callers, with the instruction “don’t say ‘hello’” because when your phone stops ringing you’re on the air) the sonic chaos.
When KPFA started its first live stream in the mid–90s I tied up my phone line on the occasional early Friday morning at 2 AM (I lived in Central Time) to tap into the barely AM-quality stream that I could siphon through my dial-up connection. I’m sure I sometimes fell asleep before my ISP would dump my multi-hour connection.
Negativland then started releasing edited Over The Edge CD compilations that let me get my dose with comparative ease. One of my absolute favorites remains Dick Vaughn’s Moribund Music of the 70s, an all-too-skewed-but-accurate send-up of classic top 40 radio culled from shows in which they also staged a put-on for unsuspecting listeners by playing soft rock moldy oldies like “Bill, Don’t Be a Hero.” That disc only gets better every time I listen to it.
The very medium of radio is frequent fodder for Negativland, as easily heard in the archive. My podcast co-host Eric Klein has heartily recommended shows in the occasional series “How Radio Was Done” (there are 106!). There is also the mirror series, “How Radio Isn’t Done” (only 22 episodes). Starting with the first episodes in these series are probably as good a place as any for the uninitiated to get their start with Over The Edge.
Frankly, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the influence of Negativland and this show on our post-modern media environment. Over The Edge was really the site of some of the first mash-ups and mass broadcast of remix culture. Millions of YouTubers and DJs owe a debt of gratitude, whether they know it or not.
My enormous gratitude goes to the members of Negativland for taking on the herculean task of sourcing, digitizing, cataloging and uploading these 941 shows. As I continue to slog through my own comparatively minuscule archive my respect for their accomplishment only grows. Big thanks also go to the Internet Archive for hosting the Over The Edge archive, along with millions-upon-millions of other audio programs, videos, documents and other content that otherwise might be forever lost, but is now accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
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