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By Zachary D. Roberts
The Idiots came from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Some came alone; others arrived with spouses and children. Many brought musical instruments; many more brought food. Agewise, they spanned generations from early Boomer to late Gen Xer. They gathered at New Jersey's Tourne Park to partake in IDD BBQ 4, the Fourth Annual Idiot's Delight Digest Barbecue.
What makes an Idiot an Idiot? Basically, it comes down to this: the ability to experience an endorphic surge in response to Idiot's Delight, the eclectic blend of talk and music presented by radio host Vin Scelsa over WNEW-FM from Sunday evenings into the wee, small hours of Monday mornings. Scelsa's career, rooted in the glory days of free-form commercial radio (coincidentally, the early years of ARPANET), has been built on denying the conventional wisdom that broadcast radio is a mass medium.
"I'm doing the show for one listener that listener's probably me," Scelsa is fond of saying. "But when I envision the listeners, I envision people alone in a room." Hence the announcement that summons Idiots to each overnight show: "Attention artists, cabdrivers, and melancholy waitresses: the following program is being brought to you as a public service. . . ."
Yet cyberspace has enabled Idiots to do what they somehow never managed to during years of sequestered Scelsa worship and participation in one-shot "listener events": communicate among themselves on an ongoing basis, building a vital online/offline community in the process.
The Idiot Internet revolution began in February 1995, after Scott Perschke, a Scelsa listener since the early '70s, asked the grok jock for permission to start the listserv now known as the IDD. Scelsa, then on WXRK, put Perschke on the air to announce the launch.
"At that point," Perschke remembers, "I had not really met anybody that shared my passion for this, even though I knew they must be out there." He was right: the list acquired 70 subscribers overnight. Today, the Idiots have increased tenfold, with the majority residing within WNEW's broadcast range. (Because Idiot's Delight is neither syndicated nor available on the Internet, outlying Idiots use snail-mail 'tape trees" to get their Scelsa fix.)
Most of the Idiots at IDD BBQ 4 belonged to the active hub of the IDD subculture the people who post the most, who frequent Idiot chat rooms, who join other Idiots at lunches, parties, hikes, clubs, concerts, festivals, and other events year-round. They share Idiot lore: tales of how plans for a September 1995 "virtual barbecue" morphed into the first real-space IDD BBQ, how a subsequent New York reunion inspired the Idiot song "We Stood Before the Fillmore," how the Idiot family bonded after WXRK's reformatting deleted Scelsa's program in January 1996.
"That's when everything came together," says Perschke, "because he was able to communicate with the listeners. It wasn't like 'One of our DJs is missing where did he go?' We knew where he was."
Scelsa appreciated the cybersupport. "The Digest was very instrumental in getting me through a difficult time," he recalls. After finding a new home at WNEW, he celebrated with hundreds of subscribers at a kind of Idiot rave in Hoboken that became known as the Hobobash.
But Scelsa found that IDD interaction cramped his style: "When I was reading the Digest daily, I was almost influenced to do or not do things on the show depending upon what was going on." The specter of this influence, compounded by sensitivity to finding criticism of Idiot's Delight on the Internet, led Scelsa to unsubscribe.
These days, Scelsa maintains a respectful distance from the IDD community, preserving the sensibility that attracted his listeners in the first place: "The main listener is somebody not online, not connected . . . but who's just out there listening to the show, alone in a room somewhere, alone in a car somewhere. . . ." But perhaps, as online audio improves, Scelsa's signals will find their way into other, more far-flung, rooms to delight another bunch of Idiots.
One of five articles in our Cyber feature.