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Radio Activity


Radio Activity

In his previous novels mystery author Bill Fitzhugh has used
various industries as backdrops for his stories, including pest
control, biotechnology, organ transplantation (both human-to-human
and animal-to-human), country music, and advertising. In RADIO
ACTIVITY, his latest effort, Fitzhugh sets his sites on the radio

Rock and roll deejay Rick Shannon has seen better days. Media giant
Clean Signal Corporation (a jab at real-life media monster Clear
Channel) has gobbled up the radio station that had provided him
with gainful if less than glamorous and far less than artistically
satisfying employment. His vast and precious record collection
turns out to be worth far less where he is, in Bismarck, North
Dakota, than it would be elsewhere, which is exactly where Rick
would like to be. So when he is offered the seven-to-midnight shift
on classic rock station WAOR in McRae, Mississippi, he packs his
stuff into his pick-up and heads for yet another radio gig, his
fifteenth in twenty years.

What Rick finds in McRae is ultra-smarmy WAOR station manager Clay
Stubblefield. Clay informs Rick on his arrival that he has already
been promoted to program director, the position having been vacated
thanks to the disappearance of notorious cokehead Jack Carter. Rick
accepts the news with something less than full enthusiasm. But a
man without a paycheck is easily swayed.

At Clay's invitation Rick moves into Carter's abandoned mobile
home. After settling in Rick finds a reel-to-reel tape, apparently
hidden by Carter, of a telephone conversation between Stubblefield
and an unidentified man. The blackmail-worthy chit-chat on the
tape, coupled with Carter's sudden absence, leads Rick to suspect
that Carter may have been using the tape in an ill-fated plan to
siphon cash from the unctuous Stubblefield. Rick's growing
curiosity about Carter's fate and the truth behind the tape proves
as powerful a lure as the abundant blue eye shadow preferred by
Traci, WAOR's deliciously trashy receptionist.

The story that ensues deftly combines all the necessary ingredients
of a first-rate murder mystery with a remarkably detailed and
fascinating dissertation on the definition and nature of classic
rock, the current state of the radio business, and the
homogenization of America as big media's search for the
all-important mass audience dilutes what's left of local and
regional color to the muddy charcoal gray of the asphalt parking
lots that are rapidly becoming the dominant feature of the American

Fitzhugh's reputation for memorably off-center characters and
crisp, comical dialogue is fully in evidence here. But having come
of age in the era when AM top 40 began to give way to FM
album-oriented rock (it was called underground or progressive music
back then), I was particularly enthralled by the remarkable detail
in which the music of the era was discussed. Fitzhugh, through
protagonist Rick Shannon, mentions bands and songs that I haven't
heard since I was a teenager, and the effect was an odd mix of
nostalgia for those times and anger at what bean-counters and
market research types have done to rock and roll. A couple of
recent newspaper stories about the wildfire success of satellite
and Internet radio coincided with my reading of RADIO ACTIVITY, and
the thought of the pending demise of whatever rock and roll radio
has become added an extra dimension to my enjoyment as I rooted for
Rick Shannon to solve the mystery of Jack Carter's fate and make a
success of the truly classic rock format he has devised for

RADIO ACTIVITY offers plenty to satisfy mystery fans and music fans
alike. The research into the history of the music of the late
sixties and early seventies rivals that of the technical research
that goes into Tom Clancy novels. But the information is blended
seamlessly into the story, or more to the point, into Rick Shannon,
which makes his character all the more interesting. And Rick is but
one of a menagerie that includes good ole boys, cranky roadhouse
waitresses, bent cops, assorted local ne'er do wells, and some
eccentric good guys for balance. In Fitzhugh's hands crime doesn't
pay, but it rocks, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 23, 2011

Radio Activity
by Bill Fitzhugh

  • Publication Date: March 29, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0380806371
  • ISBN-13: 9780380806379