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Q107’s Uncle Johnny Talks About WRQX Getting Sold and the Glory Days of DC Top 40 Radio

Screenshot from a vintage Q107 commercial.

When the news broke last week that local radio station WRQX (currently known as Mix 107.3) is being sold and will become a Christian channel, many Washingtonians of a certain age had the same reaction: Q107! In the 1980s, top 40 station Q107 was a local phenomenon, spinning an amazingly broad mix of genres while papering the city with its distinctive black bumper stickers. In a fit of Q107 nostalgia, we called up the station’s Paul “Uncle Johnny” Michaud, whose 6 to 10 PM time slot and distinctive on-air patter made him a superstar among DC pop-music fans at the time. Now retired and living in Florida, he was happy to chat about the glory days.

Does that news that WRQX is being sold mean much to you? It’s been a long time since it was Q107.

It means a lot to me! [Laughs] Radio has changed so much and there’s just not that personal connection that we used to have anymore. It’s no surprise at this point, but I’m sad to see it happen to a place that was such doggone fun and meant so much to people.

Why was Q107 such a good station back in the ’80s?

It was local as all get-out. When we started we came in and really whooped it up with the kids, and we took those kids and grew with them. And we were all over town, all the time.

I remember that black Q107 van being everywhere.

Oh, the death mobile. Yeah, you’re gonna go out in this thing and you’re gonna get people to stop and you’re gonna give them money.

Right, if you had the Q107 bumper sticker on your car you might get pulled over by the van and win something, right? That was the way it worked?

Yeah. We didn’t have to pull people over. People would dart in front of you and then hit the brakes. It was an exercise in self-preservation, driving that thing. We had that and a spotter vehicle for a while, a Pontiac Fiero. Everybody took a turn in the van every day. We were everywhere, and we did promotions that were really humongous. “What are we doing this month?” “Oh, let’s give away a house. We haven’t done that.” You could win a house!

What about the format? There’s nothing like that now, where you could hear, say, “Islands in the Stream” followed by “Let the Music Play.” It was all over the place in a way you wouldn’t hear now.

Yeah, we played what worked. We weren’t afraid of stuff like Gary Numan, that song “Cars.” I jumped on songs like that and did parodies. Those were lots of fun and made a lot of noise in the market. I remember being in the car driving in Bethesda—I had just gotten off the air—and there was a carload of kids next to me. Our late-night person, Sandy Weaver, was doing the Top 5 at 10. They had on my “Cars” parody, “Bars,” and they’re laughing and yelling. I’m like, this is pretty heady stuff! I was watching it work right in front of my eyes. I was like, wow!

What was it like being a well-known DJ in DC at the time? Were you out on the town constantly?

Oh, I lived on the town. We were always out doing something at night. I’d get off at 10 and usually by 10:15, 10:20 I was at a place in Georgetown or there was a place called Club Soda. My gosh, there were so many clubs in Georgetown. If I tried to remember the names of all the clubs…. There was the Depot, there was a place called Annie Oakley’s—there were a bunch of clubs.

What was that scene like?

Lots of live bands, lots of club music. Every Friday night we would do a party in a different club. I was on from 6 to 10, so we were basically the warm-up act for the night’s activities. The place was packed by 7, 8 o’clock, and we would have a line out the door down the street. It was just me doing my show in clubs. And if we weren’t doing that in the clubs, we were at Merriweather Post Pavillion for concerts. We had a booth that used to be a hot dog stand, and we commandeered it and started doing our shows from there. We would always interview the acts in the booth—they’d come up in a little golf cart. We’d be sitting there and here comes Debbie Harry, you know?

I remember one night I was going down M Street and I had just come out of one place that we had finished a party at, and there was a doorman across the street at another club and he’s yelling at me, “Hey come on over!” So I crossed the street and went to another party. It was just a good time, especially if you were an outgoing young fellow such as myself. [Laughs]

I was at a couple of those Q107 block parties on 19th and M. What do you remember about those?

Those were great. We decided to do this thing downtown. Nineteenth and M—great location. But we had to convince the city to let us do it. It’s like, “You want to do what?” “Well, we want to close off 19th and M and have a band play.” “What, a local band?” “No, we’re going to get Huey Lewis and the News.” [Laughs] “You’re gonna what?”

I can remember we’re downtown, we got the thing going, and they had food—all the restaurants decided to get in on this and set up booths. You could also grab a cocktail on their property. Cocktails always sounded like a good idea to me. When I heard I could get a cocktail, I said, “I’ll go over here and grab a taco and a cocktail.” So I’m standing there with my cocktail and taco and I’m talking to a cop about this thing, and I said, “Well it’s a block party, right?” And he says, “This ain’t no block party. A block party is when you have the neighborhood. This is a fricking concert.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah. It’s a successful block party!” It was a fun day.

How do you react when I say the letters “WAVA” to you?

Great radio station, and it too is a religious station now. [Laughs]

So there wasn’t a rivalry back then that got under your skin?

Oh, I think we got under each others’ skin. That was the whole idea. It got a little nasty and underhanded. I remember comments that were made. Let’s not go into that stuff, but there were some negative things said about our people and we certainly said some negative things about their people.

It was so long ago now, surely you can give us a bit of a taste of it.

It was so long ago, I’m hazy on the details. I plead father time. But yeah, isn’t it ironic that they would both end up doing what I used to call “God squad” radio? It’s amazing to me that the same fate met them. It’s just wild. I’m sure people from both stations are just amazed at the way this has gone down.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Politics and Culture Editor

A DC native, Rob Brunner moved back to the city in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.