By Sean Botti
Recently, I noticed a “For Rent” sign on the storefront window of Birdman Sound. It had been a fixture in the Glebe for more than 25 years. As I stood there, reminiscing about the first time I had visited the store, I wondered if this was the end or just another beginning. So, I did what any self-respecting person with a smartphone would do—I did some internet searching, found the owner John Westhaver’s blog and (bonus) his podcast called Friday Afternoon Cartunes (FAC). I chatted with John over Facebook Messenger and found out he’d also moved on from his long stint with CKCU radio. I was curious to know more about what lies ahead for him, especially during this pandemic.
Who needs four walls anyway, when sound waves are meant to travel?
Running a brick-and-mortar retail operation “served its purpose”, but felt a bit antiquated said John, who shared about the closing of Birdman Sound. Who needs four walls anyway, when sound waves are meant to travel?
John, a self-described “pusher of music,” has been spinning sound over shortwave radio since the 80s. John described how he wasn’t content to pre-record his show for CKCU and mail it in. He ultimately decided to cut ties with the community radio station. He has no regrets though. His CKCU show never “made him.” He’s happy to play in other people’s “sandboxes,” but there were “many leaks in that sandboxes” in his opinion over the years, and he decided to move on to doing his own thing: Enter, the Friday Afternoon Cartunes podcast.
I’ve been doing this since I’m a kid, why would I stop now?
John spins records from his own collection, and metes out his vast knowledge of the underground music scene both locally, and abroad. There is no algorithm deciding what plays next, only curated songs that John seems compelled to share. When I asked him what keeps him motivated to continue, his answer is simple: “I’ve been doing this since I’m a kid, why would I stop now?”
John is constantly learning about new music, and this love of learning comes through in the show. Sometimes maybe a bit abrasively, but the guy knows his stuff. He’s unapologetic and doesn’t really care if people like the show or not. He does his own thing.
FAC is streamed live on Facebook between 4 and 6 pm, and then uploaded, ad-free to YouTube within a day or so. His buddy Wayne Coulis, operating out of Wayne’s World, handles the technical side. The show is streamed west of the “Nation’s Capital,” and usually starts with the hosts welcoming members of the underground music community who are tuning in. There is a community feel to the show, and there seem to be many long-time listeners that participate each week. It’s comforting to hear John and Wayne discuss Ottawa weather, or whatever local beer they happen to be drinking that week, before diving into underground music.
I love the psychedelic background display that adds to the weirdness of the show. Wayne’s dogs, Heffe and Lebowski, are often mentioned, and sometimes make a slobbering appearance. I asked John who has the better taste in music, Heffe or Lebowski? He said that in this case, it’s Heffe, who is older and therefore wiser when it comes to music. Good answer.
The show is kind of a spiritual experience. People gather once a week for a little musical enlightenment, and John is there to help guide the way. The show is done free of charge. No admission fee required. Just an open mind is needed. It’s reassuring that people like John and Wayne are still out there, doing their thing, and enriching the musical community in Ottawa. It’s a public service in my view. Music is healing, especially during the pandemic. I love the fact that I can listen to their shows on YouTube while I’m busy with my newborn son. I can get into the deep shit, while I’m changing diapers.
Every now and then, the hosts mention how they received a “Fakebook” warning about content. As a listener, it’s fun, because you don’t really know when the show might get the boot because some algorithm decided they infringed on a copyright. It’s a rebellious way to go. What happens if Facebook shuts the show down for good I asked? John has plans aplenty.