Fine Tuning: Martin Bandyke says goodbye to his morning radio show and hello to having even more time for music
It always seems like Martin Bandyke is smiling on the radio.
A grin doesn't make a sound, but the way Bandyke enunciates his words and presents them to his audience every morning on 107.1-FM gives listeners the impression he's speaking through a smile.
A recent visit to the WQKL studios near Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor confirmed as much:
He actually is smiling as he speaks.
Whether reading traffic updates or music news, Bandyke projects the sort of positivity people appreciate when they're trapped in their cars during a morning commute or settling in for another day of the 9 to 5.
The DJ's convivial charms have radiated through the radio for 40 years—starting in 1983 on WDET 101.9-FM in Detroit—but on December 22, Bandyke is stepping away from his morning-drive show and entering semi-retirement at age 68. He'll still host his long-running Fine Tuning program every Sunday afternoon on the station, still choosing every song that's played on the show, just as he did during his public radio days.
Bandyke's first stint on the air was in 1983 co-hosting WDET's Monday night show Dimension. He had been trying to get his foot in the door of Detroit radio ever since graduating from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a bachelor of arts degree in radio, television, and film. His on-air opportunity came when he was a music buyer for his hometown Dearborn Music record store. Bandyke, a drummer, and Ralph Valdez, his longtime friend and frequent bandmate, were invited to co-host Dimension, which they did together through 1990. While Valdez continued to host Dimension, which moved to Sunday nights, that year Bandyke was hired full-time as the assistant music director, and in 1991 he took over Judy Adams' on-air shift from 10 am to 1 pm. He later moved to afternoons and in 1995 added music director to his duties at the station.
This is the part of the tale where Bandyke's voice and expansive music tastes entered my life.
Pull up a chair and let grandpa tell you a story.
Before the everything-is-available-to-your-earholes internet, the best way to discover music was the radio—not commercial radio but those stations that were, as The Replacements once sang, "left of the dial," which meant public radio and college radio. (Ignore that WDET is in the middle of the dial; just go with it.)
Bandyke's late-morning/early-afternoon show on WDET was a constant companion for me during the two summers I worked as a "ranger" at a small city park. I put "ranger" in quotes because all I did was sit at the park’s entrance in a wooden crate the size of a phone booth and checked people's entry passes. Once an hour I would hop in a pickup truck and cruise the grounds to make sure nobody was up to no good, then I returned to my booth—and the radio.
Every day I sat in that cramped shanty and was introduced to music I had never heard before, touching on what seemed like all genres, all expertly blended into a cohesive whole by Bandyke's skillful programming and deep knowledge about every artist he played. My park-ranger box didn't feel so tiny during his show because my world was expanding. I didn't feel alone during the dog days of summer when nobody was using the park because I had Martin Bandyke talking to me, introducing me to new sounds, and keeping me company.
Since 2006, when Bandyke took over the morning-drive duties on 107.1, people locked in their cars during the morning commute also had him to keep them company, soundtracking their drives, and offering them audio smiles as they plowed down the highway.
I've been on Bandyke's 107.1-FM show several times in person to talk about Pulp, but the appearances were always rightfully brief and, since March 2020, they’ve been done remotely to keep everyone safe. But with his retirement imminent, and because I love radio, I wanted to sit in the studio for the majority of Bandyke's program to see how he works.
There's not much action in the moment-to-moment flow of his job because the station is programmed tightly, the song selections slotted in by the program director, not the on-air talent. It's more about keeping listeners up to date on the weather, throwing it over to the news team for headlines, and answering the phone for ticket giveaways. Bandyke is more like a top-notch point guard than a high-flying scorer on 107.1-FM, making sure everyone on the team gets to touch the ball. That he can still convey his warm, congenial personality to the audience while working within the constraints of commercial radio is a testament to Bandyke’s professionalism and natural charm.
After announcing his retirement, the station had community leaders record testimonials about how much they love Bandyke and how much they'll miss hearing the "Morning Mayor," as Ann Arbor chief Christopher Taylor dubbed him in a recent proclamation. Bandyke received the honor on December 2 in recognition of his many philanthropic efforts during his tenure on "ann arbor’s 107one" (as the station likes to style it). Eileen Spring, president and CEO of Food Gatherers, presented the proclamation to him and said she doesn't know what she'll do without his morning show.
I asked Bandyke what it’s like to hear such an outpouring of emotions, both in person and in the recorded testimonials: "It's like, who are they talking about? Oh, yeah—me. It's humbling," he said. "I just hope my sincerity about my love of music and the community comes through."
Listeners adore Bandyke because it's obvious that the person you hear on the radio is who he is in real life.
Also, Bandyke is still truly, madly, deeply in love with music, and you can hear that passion when he talks about his favorite songs, bands, and concert memories. He's also a film buff who was a regular visitor to the Toronto film festival for many years, and Bandyke told me that he and his wife, writer-editor Kim Silarski, subscribe to so many music, entertainment, and cultural magazines and newspapers that their accountant thought there was an error in the amount of money they reported spending on publications.
In an article about his retirement, Bandyke told MLive he's excited to have more time on his hands not to relax on a beach or take up a new hobby, but to dive even deeper into what he's done daily for most of his life: immersing himself in the arts.
"As much as I love being on the air and believe me I’m going to miss being on the air five days a week," Bandyke said in the article, "just having the chance to take the foot off the gas a little bit and address the stacks and stacks of books and CDs and albums at home will be great.”
Keeping Fine Tuning will allow Bandyke to share all the new music he's consuming and stay connected to his most ardent fans. He'll also continue to host various cultural events, from concerts to author interviews, and he wants to start writing about music again more regularly, including for Pulp. Bandyke also plans to organize his vast archives, from hours and hours of audio interviews to the many event photographs he's taken over the years. (Perhaps his first cousin, Jack White, will want his Third Man company to publish a collection of Bandyke's musician interviews and concert photos, or reissue some of the music from his late 1970s and 1980s bands The Zooks, Retro, and The Ralph Martin Combo.)
Because his affection for all forms of culture is undiminished despite a lifetime immersion in it, Bandyke's full-time radio retirement isn't an ending but rather a new beginning—a different path for a man who has never grown tired of hearing, seeing, or experiencing something new.
"The discovering thing, I'll never get tired of that," Bandyke told me.
He was smiling when he said it.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.