Zigzagging Down the East Coast with The Radiators

From New York City to New Orleans with four states in between, one devoted Fish Head dishes on his history of seeing the recently reunited swamp rock greats

The Radiators 1988 (Collage: Ron Hart)

The Bone Krusher was coming to Chicago. The Krusher, a moniker I’d given him, worked in our group at ABC Network TV Primetime in New York.

He was also President of The National Physique Counsel, a trade group he founded. He taught us all of the power moves–Biceps, Triceps, Forceps and, afterwards, how to grunt. He said that body builders chugged maple syrup to tone up, but not what brand.

While we worked in New York, The Krusher got so screaming mad at a Chicago colleague, that all we heard was: “Ozzie,” and a sonic boom that demanded we leave our desks for our bosses’ office where The Krusher went off.  Surely, he’d flexed on Ozzie for not wanting to go to Quaker Oats, say, to tell them we needed to put them in Our World, a news program we ran against Cosby. But, The Krusher’s outburst left evidence: he’d thrown the phone at the wall so hard that its cradle became indelibly impressed into our bosses’ wall. Not long after that, ABC asked me to leave New York for Chicago and The Krusher to leave ABC.

The Krusher, in Chicago on National Physique Council business, had two tickets for me to see Robert Cray at The Green Mill. I took my cousin, who I’d gone with to see The Dead several times. Cray played a nice set and, when it was over, The Krusher approached us. I told my cousin not to say anything; that he was all rough edges. Before leaving for Chicago, I took The Krusher to NYU’s weight room. After his workout, he voted himself “most awesome” there. My cousin extended his hand despite my warning and, as was his habit, The Krusher punched it. 

But no different than spotting a woman behind the stage dancing at a Springsteen show, after the lights went up when Cray was done, The Green Mill blasted The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. A woman on the dancefloor caught my eye. She was strange as an angel, dancing in the deepest waters, spinning not far from the lakefront just like a dream. She was spinning so intensely that I never saw her face. But upon my arrival in Chicago, I was overwhelmed by a song about dreamers.


VIDEO: The Radiators “Like Dreamers Do”

Whether running on Lincoln Park’s lakefront or at my gym, my Walkman played one song on WXRT constantly. It got nowhere near as much airplay as The Cure, but it gained a piece of my mind despite my never catching its name or that of the band. My new boss in Chicago was so harsh that he preempted my perspicacious pursuit of popular music and, instead, pressed me to know what was on TV harder than any of my previous bosses. But as 1987’s wagon was rolling into 1988, I got tickets to see Syracuse play Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

I met a friend in New Orleans and, after affable games of eight ball with locals, they directed us away from the French Quarter to go uptown to Tipitina’s on New Year’s Eve; that The Radiators were not to be missed. They were 100% right. The man who I would soon learn was Dave Malone, started the show by boasting, “We’re gonna radiate in ’88!” Got that right! I couldn’t say where, maybe the second or third song, but when Ed Volker hit the keys to what I’d call a madrigal introduction, I said, “OMG! THIS IS THEM?” The song, “Like Dreamers Do”, had the crowd in a roar. Their album, Law of the Fish, rocked me endlessly. The night was better than The Clash at Bonds. And better than that, my friend called it a night early on account of his stomach. I worked the room, mostly hitting on Bo, a big Radiators fan but, alas, with the guy beside her. While talking to her, I looked up and saw that my friend on the second tier. He’d rallied. I couldn’t be bothered. I’d fallen for The Radiators and, giving up on Bo, made friends with Tipitina’s coat check woman who, the next day, introduced me to Commander’s Palace. Any chance for anything ended when running into Syracuse people. My brain froze trying to remember her name to introduce her.

But I was hooked on The Radiators and, when I got back to Chicago, went to see them at a smaller venue on Clark Street. I was surprised at the lack of promotion. One friend worked for a record company and I figured, since they’d gotten so much Chicago airplay that there would have been a bigger to do. Nonetheless, I met up with friends I watched Giants’ football with and had a blast. After not touching base with them for a moment, they thought I ran off to be a full time Fish Head, the Radiators version of Dead Heads. But I was so caught up with their making it big that I asked our audience research department to get Nielsen’s ratings for The Dead’s New Year’s Eve midnight shows on USA Network. I was disappointed to see how paltry they were. The Dead probably were, too. But I thought that, given their Cajun personalities, The Radiators couldn’t play live on ABC during late night–like on its old In Concert series–they’d make a clever animated series. Upon that suggestion, I was told to cool my radiator and do my job. 

The next time I saw The Radiators was after I’d moved back to New York. I was visiting cousins in Miami and saw that The Radiators were playing Woody’s. I went. It must have been a school night because they wouldn’t let the kids come with me. It wasn’t like we hadn’t gone out to a late show of Godfather III, but that was on a Saturday night. But The Radiators continued radiating me in South Beach. All I remember was needing food after the show–albeit not like The Donger–and not wanting to raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night and wake my cousins. up. More important for those keeping score, Woody’s was the third time I’d seen The Radiators. And it was the third state.

When the older of my Miami cousins got into Princeton, she came up to New York prepared, wearing a red do-rag, for my fourth show. She shocked me, dragging me on Studio 54’s (rebranded The Ritz a downtown concert hall from years gone by) dancefloor to the beat of the opening song, Love Grows On You. I enjoy the song, but didn’t see it as an opening jam to get the crowd going. But we were far from alone out there dancing. But soon they amped it up like the rest of their shows. But this show became super juiced when they played Red Dress as an encore. The jam went on forever; which was fine with us.

My fifth time seeing them was in Hoboken, New Jersey. Five shows in five states. That’s a lot of electoral votes. It was a city festival, open to the public. The Radiators were the entertainment. My friend had the T-Shirt concession and gave me the head’s up. I saw an old client bellied up to the stage. My friend, however, thought The Radiators sucked. I straightened him out, pointing to the entire old shipping terminal drunken and dancing. My friend had been a boxing writer who changed careers because covering the fights hampered his social life. He got married, but I doubt they ever went to see live music. Mike Katz, the boxing Hall of Famer, thought my friend was nuts to leave the fight game. He told me with a stern face, “Nothing matches the excitement of a heavyweight championship fight. Nothing!” 

The Radiators Law of the Fish, Epic 1987

After 9/11, I rented a small apartment Newport, Rhode Island to get away. It was also a good base for my historical research. I played a lot of tennis and got to see Tony Bennett. But after that I saw a newspaper ad: The Radiators would be playing in Providence. If I went to see them, I’d be six for six. I’d already driven to Brown twice on research trips. (It looked like Williamsburg, Brooklyn.) But those were day trips. The Radiators were playing at night. I’d have 40-mile trips back and forth alone after realizing there was no one I wanted to go with. I didn’t want to look for an unknown venue and worried about its set up. Had they played at UPAC in Kingston or somewhere The Krusher could get me in as a V.I.P., I’d have felt differently.

But hopefully, if The Radiators play Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania or Delaware, I can see them with friends, Covid permitting. After all, just because it will be a long halitus, my score card will still read that I saw The Radiators six times in six states. 


VIDEO: The Radiators 2021 Reunion at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, January 15-17, 2021




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Billy Sternberg

Billy Sternberg graduated from Syracuse University's Newhouse School. He bought national TV commercial ad time for American Home Products. Their brands ranged from Anacin to Chef Boyardee to Black Flag Roach Motel. After that, he bought national TV time at Ogilvy & Mather for American Express, Kimberly Clark and Owens Corning Fiberglas. Because of this he was gifted many tickets to many events.

2 thoughts on “Zigzagging Down the East Coast with The Radiators

  • July 21, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Nice article, Billy. “Like Dreamers Do” is a catchy little ditty that definitely clicks. I like Ed Volker’s riff. It really makes the tune catchy and a great opening number. Six times in six states? Boy, you really are a fan of that “Swamp Rock” group!

  • July 22, 2022 at 9:03 am

    Billy you will have to come visit us in New Orleans if you want to see the Rads again. They don’t travel out of state anymore.


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