this thing on? Hair Man.
days a week, mad-scientist WRPI volunteer DJ Harmando
is there to take you through
the record comes to an end, Hair Man scrambles. He dashes
to the corner, snatches up his acoustic guitar and lands
back in his seat at the operating console in time to punch
the microphone on. Theres a sticker covering the
red On Air light, so when the radio DJ starts
his monologue, the light reads On Drugs. Any
listener just tuning in would have guessed as much.
yeah, man. I dont want to hear about it, man. Im
just not in the mood, he rambles over an improvised
guitar part. Youre listening to nifty 91-fitty,
WRPI, Troy. The Upstate Underground . . . that sounds
stops abruptly to shift the capo up the neck, then resumes
his ponderous finger-picking. Ah, well, I was just
talking to a gentleman on the phone about a car part.
Big shout-out to Steveand all the automotive people
who keep us on the road. I dont like that position;
lets change that position. He shifts up again.
Hey, so, you know, if youve got a friend that
doesnt know what theyre doingthey have
no idea, well. Hair Man, just get the public service
announcement out of the way, he says in a
high, pleading voice, then in a low stentorian,
Hair Man, you better tell em, well, its
their choice but. Then back to his
original voice: Oh, I remember now. If youve
got a friend thats getting into a car and theyve
been drinking, theyve been smoking, or whatever
theyre imbibing, tell em its no time
to be playing with cars, trucks or automobiles. Actually
its no time to be doing anything at all, ha ha ha.
Public service brought to you by . . . And with
a flick of his wrist, he cues up Sun Ras Live at
Montreux on the turntable.
dont know what Im doing, he laughs,
putting the guitar down. When I say that, I really
mean that. Im amazed they even let me do this.
63-year-old smiles out from a stringy white beard and
mane of hair held back by a bandana and befitting his
pseudonym Harmando (pronounced Hair Man Doo).
Its the name his friends, listeners and the cadre
of WRPI student DJs know him by, so hes reluctant
to spoil the enigma. And its just as well; Harmando
isnt some kind of calculated alter ego, a zany character
assumed while the microphones on and later discarded.
Barefoot, with long Nike shorts and a Grateful Dead hoodie
on, Hair Man does what he does because he clearly loves
what he does. Broadcasting six days a week, the volunteer
DJ virtually lives in the basement of Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institutes Darrin Communications Center, among the
endless stacks of vinyl. Tune in anytime when a student
isnt manning the board, and youre likely to
hear the Hair Man holding court, improvising public service
announcements about drunk driving and forest-fire prevention,
and spinning the widest, weirdest range of music youre
likely to hear on the radio.
dont plan anything, Hair Man says. With the
music playing, he bolts out of the booth, dashes down
the studios poster- and sticker-spangled hallway,
and into the vinyl library to dig. I play a lot
of basketball and I dont see this as that different
from basketball because you have to kind of make it up
on the fly.
through album covers, he tries to explain the way the
music library is organized, the orientation of the sheathes
indicating how recently something has been played, but
finally just breaks into laughter. I love this system.
I hope nobody ever straightens it up. When RPI built
the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, WRPI
was invited to move into the
multimillion-dollar facility, an offer they ultimately
declined because there wouldnt be space for the
stations extensive vinyl collection. For now, the
station continues to operate on a student-run basis from
the communications center basement, where its been
since the 70s, broadcasting from an analog transmitter
in East Greenbush.
isnt bullshit, Hair Man says, suddenly serious.
I talk about this on the air, and it still happens.
When I first started doing this on my own, albums would
literally fall off the shelf. I know it sounds insane,
but I believe in magic. An album would fall on me, and
Id say, Maybe I should take a look at this.
Id put it on and the phone would start ringing off
the hook. I think I needed much more help from whatever
it wasthe universewhen I first started out.
similarly serendipitous moment comes when Hair Man gambles
on an album called Electronic Music From the Outside In
by Priscilla McLean, a musique concrète tutorial
so inspiring that he stops mid-sentence to hop on the
faders and live-edit bits of an early-90s hip-hop
beat into the track of tennis balls striking piano strings.
dont have a clue what Im doing, he says,
Man has been experimenting with radio since he was 7 years
old and his brother brought home a half-watt AM transmitter.
Growing up in New Jersey, hed stay up late at night
listening to Cousin Brucie play rock & roll on WABC,
and spend his days broadcasting to the neighborhood from
a wire antenna attached to a tree. I never try to
emulate Cousin Brucie, he says. People call
me up and tell me about crazy DJs, but I end up doing
the same thing I was doing as a kid in the basement, just
making it up. I dont copy anybody, but I copy everybody.
Man first got involved with WRPI in the mid-80s,
after receiving a graduate degree in humanities from Harvard.
He started playing water polo on an RPI club team while
working locally for the Department of Child and Family
Services. Any club run through the RPI Student Activities
Department is open to the community, including WRPI, and
it was only a matter of time before he got involved with
the station. When he retired in 2004, he got involved
with the show HomoRadio and eventually got his own Sunday
I kind of got addicted to it, he admits. That
summer there was a lot of gray space on the schedule and
I said, this sucks, and started coming in. Now hes
a fixture. Hair Man records every one of his shows on
CD and listens back to almost all of them. Everyday
I come in, Im learning, he says, confessing
that the student DJs and callers are constantly turning
him on to new music and helping him make the show better.
He has countless analogies to describe his intuitive,
free-form style: Its like making a painting
or driving down the road, avoiding traffic.
He even considers his radio show to be an extension of
his spiritual practice of Reiki. This may sound
weird, he says, but, in a small way, its
an attempt to promote health, happiness and well-being.
someone calls in to inquire about the McLean record and
request he play more, Harmando is glad to oblige. Big
love, he tells the caller, and turns to cue up another