PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Radio Free Charleston and The Swing Shift both present new episodes today on The AIR. You can also hear the return of Nigel Pye and Psychedelic Shack.  We’ll have changes to the schedule all week on our internet radio station. You can tune in at The AIR website, or just listen on this little embedded radio doohickey…

At 10 AM and 10 PM our latest Radio Free Charleston offers up another great hour of the best local music we can get our grubby little hands on. The show kicks off with brand new music from the reunited band, In The Company of Wolves. We continue with a mix of new and classic tracks from local bands, and we even feature a set of experimental music that might surprise regular listeners to the show.


In The Company of Wolves “Universal Breakdown”
Speedsuit “That’s When I Feel The Weight”
Poor Man’s Gravy “A Smoke and a Gun”
Johnny Compton “2 Mad 2 Fall 2 Drunk 2 Stand”
Sheldon Vance “This Round’s On Me”
Joe Vallina “Tiles”
Payback’s A Bitch “Do You Wanna Go Out”
Esmerelda Strange “Love Bug”
The Changelings “Xenoglass”
Renaissance “Lock In On Love”
Unawoman “In Pinks and Golds”
The Ruins “It Was No Use”
dog soldier “Goldtown Motel”
Farnsworth “Already Written”
The Irreplaceables “Digital Age”

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

At 2 PM, replacing Ska Madness, we finally witness the return of Nigel Pye and Psychedelic Shack. This week and next we’ll revisit the original four half-hour episodes of this showcase for Psychedelic Rock, but after that each week will see Nigel present an all-new hour of mind-altering and mood-expanding music from his home base at Haversham Recording Institute.

We hate to see Dexter Checkers and Ska Madness go, but Dexter had to give up the show earlier this year for health reasons, and the door is wide open for him to return as soon as he’s able. We are still ironing out the schedule for the replays of Psychedelic Shack, so keep reading PopCult for the latest.

At 3 PM stick around for a brand-new episode of The Swing Shift. Our most-listened to program, with loyal followers in Europe, China and India, celebrates the soon-to-happen Live On The Levee with The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. CPD opens and closes this week’s show, which also presents a wide assortment of the hottest Swing Music from the last century. Just check out the playlist…

The Swing Shift 048

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Drunk Daddy”
Casey McGill “Jump”
Dem Brooklyn Bums “One Good Reason”
Lily Wile and her Jumpin’ Jubilee Orchestra “Onion”
Indigo Swing “Hot In Harlem”
Pete Jacobs and His Wartime Radio Revuew “The Joint Is Jumpin'”
George Gee & his Make Believe Ballroom “Let The Good Times Roll”
Buddy Rich “Bugle Call Rag”
Donny Most “I Wish I Were In Love Again”
Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?”
Jack’s Cats “Ain’t Gonna Be Blue”
Swing Rocket “Fat, Scat, Bella and Mr. Blue”
Unsteady “One For The Road”
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Brown Derby Jump”

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 7 AM, Thursday at 7 PM and Saturday at 9 AM, only on The AIR. You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Check PopCult every day this week for the latest news on our new schedule for The AIR.

Monday Morning Art: Setting


During the month of July, Monday Morning Art will present a series of semi-abstract digital paintings. These are recent works I did to experiment with using new techniques and color palettes, all in an attempt to grow a bit as an artist, and also to depart from the last two month’s worth of cityscapes that I presented here.  I wouldn’t want to get in a rut, you know.

Today’s piece is an expressionistic stab at evoking a sunset. I suppose you could say that it was heavily-influenced by squinting and rubbing my eyes. Click the image to see a larger version.

Changes are coming to The AIR, starting today, which is roughly the second anniversary of The AIR becoming the internet radio station arm of this, the PopCult blog.

You can tune in to The AIR at the website, or on this handy embedded player.

To mark this annivesary (and to shake things up a bit) we are making some changes to the schedule. You’ll get to check back each day this week to see exactly what those changes are, but today we can tell you that every Monday, for at least the rest of the Summer, we will program Monday Marathons, allowing each of our music programs 24 hours to shine all on their own.

Beginning at 7 AM Monday, and running until 7 AM Tuesday, each week will bring a full day of one of our specialty music shows. This week, to ease the transition, we are programming a full day’s worth of Prognosis, hosted by either Herman Linte, or yours truly. Going forward, you will be able to find out what our Monday Marathon featured program will be by reading the blurb which will accompany Monday Morning Art here in PopCult each week.

With Monday’s being otherwise occupied, Prognosis will be moving to a new timeslot, which will be revealed later this week. Tomorrow we’ll take the wraps off of one brand-new program, and bring you new episodes of two of our returning favorites.

It’s our way of celebrating our anniversary without making too big a deal or begging for money. It’s sort of a soft anniversary anyway, since The AIR was around before as “OnTheAIRadio,” and before that, way back in 2014, this little internet radio station began life as “Voices of Appalachia.”

But it’s been two years since The AIR had its mind-meld with PopCult and became completely under my cult-like dictatorial powers. Tune in and find out how I have managed to entice a tiny international audience to listen to this station!

Sunday Evening Videos: New Paul McCartney

One of the risks of taking a vacation when you write a blog like PopCult is that really cool stuff will happen while you’re away from the computer, so you have to wait until you get back home and catch up with other work before you can mention it.

Case in point: While I was exploring the grand tourist traps of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Sir Paul McCartney announced the release of a new album this September, and unveiled animated lyric videos for two of the songs. Die-hard, and casual Beatles fans have probably already seen these several times, but I’d be remiss in my PopCult duties if I didn’t tell you about them here.

The new album is called “Egypt Station,” sharing its name with McCartney’s cover painting, and evoking a sense of an exotic trip as a loose concept. The lead single, which you can see above is “Come On To Me,” a crunchy rocker that recalls elements of “Spies Like Us,” and “Got To Get You Into My Life.” Below you will find the video for “I Don’t Know,” a slower ballad in the mold of many of McCartney’s previous compositions.

At right you can see the new album cover, painted by Sir Paul, side-by-side with an early 1980s album cover by his former Beatle cohort, George Harrison.

I just put these two together because the color schemes go so well together. George’s “Gone Troppo” album cover was created by Bonzo Dog Band drummer, “Legs” Larry Smith.

It’s been an eventful few days, as McCartney appeared on Carpool Karaoke (seen at the bottom of this post), confirmed that work on a deluxe reissue of The Beatles “White Album” is well underway, and found himself in the middle of a PR stunt as Damon Albarn accused Kanye West of trapping Sir Paul into appearing on his 2015 album, just to use his name.

Ironically, Albarn made that accusation on the same day that his new album dropped, betraying a little more West influence than he’d probably want to acknowledge.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 141

With our three-month excursion into the depths of our FestivALL archives concluded, we now return to our chronological presentation of classic episodes of Radio Free Charleston, picking up with our massive fifth anniversary show, from July, 2011.

For our fifth birthday in 2011, Radio Free Charleston attempted the impossible. We recorded 12 performances in two days, combined them with animation and film, and had the show posted two days later. Clocking in at an hour, ten minutes, RFC 141 brings you music from Mother Nang, HarraH, 600 lbs of SIN, Linework, Andy Park and The Kountry Katz, Holy Cow, Jeff Ellis and Sasha Colette, Disturbing The Peace, Stacee Lawson and Remains Un Named. You’ll also get to see a music video for Pepper Fandango, directed by Eamon Hardiman. Dumpstar Productions brings us “Celebritol.” We have a trailer for Diana Curry’s film, “Creature Of The Night.” Frank Panucci provides us with the short film, “Magical Car Keys” and two pieces of animation, “No Running” and “Blue Dome.”

Of special note, this episode was filmed almost entirely outdoors, in severe heat, years before I had been diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, but years after it had first mainfested itself. That disorder leaves me extremely susceptible to getting sick when I’m in the heat for a prolonged time. At the time, I wondered why I felt so bad for the week after shooting all this stuff. Now I realize how much I was putting my health in danger to produce this show. So enjoy it here on video. I’m never doing this again.

It was a pretty epic show. The original production notes can be found HERE.

Next week marks the seventh anniversary of this fifth anniversary episode of the show. To celebrate this we had planned to hire Jeri Ryan, the actress who played “Seven of 9” on Star Trek Voyager, to make an appearance at a local branch of Fifth/Third Bank to sign containers of Half and Half while we played Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” but we couldn’t make the numbers add up, so we just reposted this video. Officially, the first video episode of Radio Free Charleston debuted on Charleston Newspapers server on July, 4, 2011, but the truth is it was actually up and running on June 30. So happy damn birthday to us. Maybe I’ll make a new episode sometime this year.


The PopCulteer
June 22, 2018

It’s time for a rambling, stream of consciousness edition of The PopCulteer. Your loyal correspondent has just come off two consecutive extremely fun road trips, but walked right into a buzzsaw of paying work as soon as he returned, so that’s why you haven’t seen any coverage of those here yet. This week’s images will attempt to relate to what I’m writing, except for the photo at right, which is a Jennifer Garner bobblehead, spotted at Goodwill.

The plan is that next week I will tell you all about The Marx Toy Convention, my trip to Pigeon Forge and a giant bookstore in Knoxville, and the final official GI Joe Convention here in PopCult.  Also next week, on the second anniversary of The AIR becoming our sister internet station, The AIR will see its schedule shook up a bit, with some shows going on hiatus, new ones coming in, and many shows moving to new days and times. I’ll also tell you about that later in this column, with more details next week.

Today I need to acknowledge that, once again, June has nearly wrapped up and I have not found the time to interview my friend Emily Haynes about what it’s like to live with a serious case of Myasthenia Gravis. This is on me and the insane schedule I made for myself this month. Eventually, I will rectify this. June is Myasthenia Gravis awareness month, and yours truly has this particular auto-immune disorder, but my case is so mild that I feel I can’t really write about it authoritatively.

However, I am still learning, and one thing that I’ve been noticing over the last few months is how much the heat affects me. With a pretty ominous-looking heatwave looming this weekend, I find that I’m adjusting my schedule to avoid outdoor activities–more so than usual. I was planning to take in “Paradise Park” for one of its final two performances this weekend, but I really don’t think I can handle the heat. I’m also looking forward to seeing The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies at Live on the Levee later in July, but if it’s over 80 degrees that evening, I’m going to have to skip it.

On my recent travels I had the luxury of being able to go from one air-conditioned environment to another, without being stuck out in the heat too long. The issue is not how I feel when I’m out in the heat. It’s how sick it makes me feel later. Since I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, I have been very lucky not to have had a day where I don’t feel like getting out of bed…until I tried doing work in my yard recently. The next day I was in full-on zombie mode. It was not a good feeling, and I intend to avoid that as much as possible.

Aside from that, things are going quite well in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. PopCulteer. If it seems like we’re not getting out as much as we used to, it’s because of the heat. It’s nothing personal.

On the topic of great things you can do that I have to skip because they’re outdoors, Rubber Soul will be performing a Court Street Concert at the mall today at 5 PM. They’ll be taking requests for your favorite Beatles tunes starting at 4 PM. Details are HERE.

There were a couple of passages this week that need to be noted.

Harlan Ellison, noted writer and critic and larger-than-life personality (seen right), died peacefully in his sleep yesterday morning at the age of 84. The favorite writer for many people while in their teens, Ellison achieved legendary status in Speculative Fiction and Criticism. His influence extends to many of my favorite writers. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family and many, many friends and fans. I know that this is a huge blow to a lot of fine people.

Ellison’s behavior was not always admirable, and much of his work does not age well when you read it later in life, but if it grabs you at the sweet spot, just while you’re attaining maturity, it will stay with you forever.

We lost Bizarre TV this week. I told you about the passing of Mistress Rhonda last January. The Roku Channel she ran single-handedly, had been on autopilot since last October, and sometime late last weekend the channel finally ceased to exist. It’s not known if it was her server being taken down, or some other contract running out, but we did know this day was coming.

Sometime in the next month PopCult will run a guide to Roku channels that come close to carrying on the Bizarre TV legacy.

Of course, we also lost Toys R Us this week, which I wrote about yesterday. This is one of those situations that I think will turn out to be a positive in the long run. I can’t imagine that the intellectual property will not be sold to someone who will open up new stores with the Toys R Us name. Meanwhile, this has opened the door for the return of KB Toys, the establishment of Toy City, and dozens of existing retailers who will greately expand their toy offerings in time for this holiday season. It’s time to remember that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” and “opportunity” is the same–even if that’s just some urban myth, and the symbol that people get tattooed on their arm really means “shinbone.”

You may have noticed the new header image here at PopCult. It’s one I put together over two years ago, and just this week I realized that I’ve had the ability to change it myself for over a year now. I feel it’s a better representation of what I write here, but I’m probably going to switch it out again at the end of August. I didn’t realize how much the text would cover up the image, and hide Betty Page and The Batmobile in the process.

One of the changes on The AIR next week is that we will begin featuring “Summer Monday Marathons” every Monday, for 24 hours beginning at 7 AM, we will program a marathon of one of our musical programs.

This is a fun way to let new listeners sample our shows, and it allows me to skate through the weekend without having to record a new episode of Prognosis, which I am still hosting while Herman Linte is otherwise occupied.

Prognosis will be moving to Thursdays at 3 PM, and Radio Free Charleston International will move to Fridays at 1 PM, as the lead-in to Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. We’ll unveil other programming changes on Monday.

And that is going to wrap up this unplanned and disorganized PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features, and stay out of the heat. I under the heat index this weekend will approach 415 degrees.

The End of Toys R Us…For Now

As of Friday, Toys R Us is dead…for now.

The 70-year-old retail chain is the latest victim in the long-running Private Equity scam wherein investors in name only buy a company with borrowed money, transfer the debt to the company they bought, drain it of all its worth, and then let the remnants be liquidated in bankruptcy court.

This will not be the last time this happens. Soon the Bon Ton retail empire, which locally includes Elder-Beerman, will follow suit, for exactly the same reasons.

But Toys R Us, as we know it, will cease to be this week. Many stores have already closed, while a few will fizzle out before the weekend.

By next year, a new company will own the name and will begin opening new stores, hopefully with competent management and no plans to sell out to Wall Street vultures.

Bloomberg reports that Jerry Storch, the former CEO of Toys R Us, who was fired in 2013 for making the company too profitable for Bain Capital and their co-conspirators to pull off their “Producers” style ponzi scheme, has been working with several investors on a plan to relaunch the retailer in the U.S, assuming they can purchase the intellectural property rights out at the bankruptcy auction at the end of July.

Storch is the man to lead the revival. Under his leadership TRU grossed nearly a billion dollars a year. Unfortunately the company was saddled with so much debt that even at that level they could not dig their way out. I wrote about the horrid business practice of leveraged buyouts that brought down Toys R Us last year.

With a clean slate and real capital behind him, Storch could very easily bring Toys R Us back as a stronger retailer than it had ever been before. That is, if he and his investors can win the auction.

It’s entirely possible that Walmart or Target could buy the name, just to slap on their toy department so that nobody else could use it. There are also murmers that other big box retailers may pursue the name so that they could rebrand parts of their stores into Toys R Us locations. At this point nobody knows what the bidding process will entail.

It’s also possible that MGA Entertainment’s Isaac Larian, who tried to salvage some of the existing stores in a failed bid, might be involved in some way.

One thing that is probable is that, if a Toys R Us revival does happen, it’s not likely to be in the same locations. The real estate is being sold off in a separate auction, and it’s unlikely that investors can come up with enough money to buy both the intellectual property and the physical locations. Doing so would saddle the company with too much debt to get off to a good start.

We may see a revived TRU launch in malls, much like the old KB Toys business model, because there is so much available retail space in our failing former meccas of retail. We could also see Toys R Us open in former Bon Ton locations, like Elder Beerman, which would be novel, considering that the same liquidation firm is handling both of their going out of business sales. At this point it’s all speculation.

Regardless of what happens, it’s pretty likely that the Toys R Us name will live on in some way, shape or form. I would imagine it’s even possible that there may be some use of the name before this Christmas season, if only online.

The one thing that we do know for sure is that other competitors are already starting to spring up. Party City announced earlier this week that they will be leasing 50 former Toys R Us locations this year as “Halloween City” (which we have seen in Teays Valley and Parkersburg in the past) and that instead of closing on November 1, those stores will convert to “Toy City” and remain open through the holiday season. I’m hoping that they decide to do this with all of their Halloween City locations, since fifty stores is really not that big a deal. I’ve also heard rumblings that Spirit Halloween stores may follow suit.

We also know that KB Toys plans to open hundreds of pop-up locations in malls all over the country, with the door being left open so that the best-performing of those stores could potentially remain in operation year-round. Strategic Marks, who successfully revived Hydrox and other brands in the past, has wisely partnered with mall operators for this project. FAO Schwarz is also poised for a return on a smaller scale, with a hunt underway for a new Times Square location and several smaller stores planned for airport malls.

The issue with pop-up stores is that they lack the buying power of major retailers and will either have higher prices or a different selection of merchandise as a result. I actually like the idea of having retailers cozying up with smaller toymakers as it could make things much more interesting in the long run. That’s the silver lining in this cloud. With so many new players in the toy retailing game, there are much more opportunities for small toymakers to get their feet in more doors. We already have Walgreens as a major player with exclusive action figures from Hasbro’s Marvel Legends and McFarlane Toys Walking Dead lines.  It could get to be fun for collectors making toy runs again.

In addition to pop up stores and such, Walmart and Target are expanding their toy sections starting in August, and Walgreens is aggressively expanding their already-growing toy department in time for Christmas. Other retailers: Kohl’s, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Cabelas/Bass Pro Shops and TJ Maxx are also ramping up their toy offerings this year. Even Kroger is rumored to be getting in on the act.

So while there’s some sadness for the end of an era, I’m guessing that the toy industry will have record sales this year as toys are available in more retail outlets than they’ve been in for decades. I also expect Toys R Us to be back in 2019. In essence, I don’t come to bury Toys R Us, but to praise it. This chapter has a sad ending, but the story is not over.

The photos accompanying this post were all taken in the last week at various Toys R Us locations in Chattanooga, Barboursville and Charleston.

Wednesday on The AIR you can tune in at 1:30 PM and 7 PM for a brand-new edition of Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle. Listen at the website, or on this embedded player…

Today Michele tells you how to meet your guides and angels. If your spiritual path leads you to seek help from other realms, in this program you can learn about the helpers appointed to lead you along your journey, and find out the ways that you can contact them.

Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle can be heard Wednesday at 1:30 PM and 7 PM, with replays on The AIR Friday at 9:30 AM and Monday at 12:30 PM.

At 2 PM Beatles Blast presents a look at The Beatles and The Blues. Beatles Blast can be heard Wednesday at 2 PM, Thursday at 11 AM and 9 PM, Friday at 5 PM, and Tuesday at 9 AM.

At 3 PM Wednesday on Curtain Call Mel Larch presents an encore of her recent two-part salute to comedy on Broadway, with a warning that these shows are not necessarily safe for work.

Curtain Call can be heard Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 7 AM and 8 PM and Saturday at 5 PM.

Stay tuned all day, every day, for incredible music, thought-provoking talk and gut-busting comedy exclusively on The AIR. And check out the full schedule below…

If you are a regular reader of PopCult, you may have noticed that this blog was offline for a few days last week. The Tech Gurus here at the Gazette-Mail were making some much-needed upgrades, and as a result, the blogs were out of commission for a day or three. Since I did not know this, and had prepared several day’s worth of PopCult in advance before I left town for a grand adventure, I decided to re-present part of what I’d planned for last week. Last Wednesday was West Virginia Day, and I scheduled a marathon of Radio Free Charleston, presenting great West Virginia music on our sister radio station, The AIR. Since I am still recovering from my grand adventure and could use some extra time before I begin telling you all about it, here is a revised West Virginia Day Marathon, scheduled for Tuesday, June 26. Enjoy.

Radio Free Charleston is in the forefront Tuesday on The AIR. Starting a 9 AM on June 26, The AIR brings you 16 hours of local, West Virginia-centric music. You can tune in at The AIR website, or just listen on this little embedded radio doohickey…

Radio Free Charleston is, of course, West Virginia’s longest-running program devoted to WV-based music of all types. Currently the exclusive home of RFC is The AIR, and to mark West Virginia Day we’ve programmed thirty straight hours of local music. This is not just stereotypical hillbilly hoedown music. You will hear Rock, Metal, Progressive Jazz, Pop, Fusion, Prog Rock, Retro-rock, Rap, New Age, Soul, Cabaret, Art Rock and just about any genre of music you can imagine. The closest we get to Country music is some of the Americana, but the point of Radio Free Charleston has always been to showcase the divisity and myraid talents that our state harbors.

Among the music you’ll hear during the marathon are classic tracks from recent years, brand-new music, and hidden gems from deep in the 30-plus year RFC Archives. Tune in and find out that there’s so much more to our state’s music scene than song-storyin’ about the hill and ballads about coal mine disasters. It’ll give you hope for our future.

This RFC marathon starts at 9 AM Tuesday morning and runs until 1 AM Wednesday morning. You can hear a weekly mini-marathon of Radio Free Charleston every Saturday at Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

Monday Morning Art: Blue City #4


During the month of June, Monday Morning Art will present a series of four pieces called “Blue City.” These numbered works are all inspired by a recent trip to New York on a sunny day where things were particularly bright and blue. Each piece was created using a slightly different style.

Click the image to see a bigger version.