The 100 hours that made Glen Jones famous started and ended with a dream. To be precise, they started with “Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha and ended with a wistful ballad, Tom Waits’ “Innocent When You Dream.”
In between, Jones, who hosts a weekly show on WFMU in Jersey City, N.J., weathered extreme fatigue and, if his feat is verified, broke the Guinness world’s record for most continuous hours of deejaying. Actually, “broke” is not strong enough — he spun records and interviewed guests for a whole extra day longer than the former record of 73 hours and 33 minutes, set last September by a British deejay. [The publishers of The Guinness Book of World Records verified the record later in the year, according to WFMU.]
His marathon featured a comprehensive mix of American pop music, everything from classic rock to big band to show tunes. Between tunes, he interviewed famous guests, including Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, Penn Gillette (the bigger and louder half of the comedy-magic duo Penn & Teller), indie-rockers Yo La Tengo, and New York freeform radio pioneer Vin Scelsa, who dropped by to give Jones a shoulder rub and keep him barreling through sleeplessness to the finish line.
Jones, 39, says the experience reflected — and strengthened — his deep love for noncommercial radio. “In so much of commercial radio, there’s no room for things to happen on the air, for a person to really touch an audience,” he says, noting the stream of e-mails and calls from well-wishers he received throughout the marathon. “It made me feel that the whole community of radio — one guy on the air talking and somehow managing to touch individuals — is somehow a great thing.”
“We’re very proud of him, and we’re proud of ourselves,” says WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman. “It pulled the listening community together like nothing we’ve ever done before, and it was a great radio show — it had drama, humor, emotion. It was great.”
Jones, who has hosted at WFMU for 15 years, is one of the station’s more outrageous deejays, and that’s saying a lot for a station known for musical eclecticism, live performances and on-air antics (motto: “All the amateurism of college radio without the basketball games”). The New York resident and Court TV producer loves old-time radio stunts of the ’50s and ’60s, and for years he’s found his own way to pay tribute to radio’s golden age, with a little bit of Andy Kaufman mixed in.
He has been lowered from the roof of a Howard Johnson’s in a live remote. He once set his hands on fire with alcohol during a fundraiser (“I don’t know why I did something like that,” he says, “but it sure made the phones light up”). And, as an avid pro wrestling fan, he has allowed listeners to whack him over the head with metal chairs. The listeners got six-packs of beer for their trouble. Jones got a black eye and a concussion.
These stunts pale next to the marathon that took place over Memorial Day weekend, drawing attention from international media as well as from fans who pitched tents outside the station. The idea was hatched when Freedman e-mailed Jones a copy of a wire story about a Malaysian deejay trying to break the Guinness record. Freedman added a note: “Start training.”
“I never thought he was actually going to do it, nor did I really want him to,” Freedman says. But, “He immediately took it extremely seriously.”
“I was just obsessed with the idea,” says Jones. At first, Freedman feared for Jones’ health, but a WFMU listener and sleep researcher told them that there was nothing to worry about.
“Once we did the research, we found out that as long as you do it without stimulants, the only thing that will happen is that eventually he’d go to sleep,” Freedman says. “Sleeplessness causes sleep.”
They also learned that they had to follow a strict set of rules created by the Guinness Book that would force Jones to work hard for his fame. Mostly, they were designed to prevent him from coasting to victory. His songs could not be shorter than two minutes, or longer than six minutes, and could not be repeated in a three-hour period of time. Guests could not talk for longer than a minute at a time. And though deejays on commercial stations would get breaks at commercials and newscasts, WFMU had neither, meaning that Jones could pause only once every eight hours.
If he needed to pee, well, too bad.
Jones gave up beer and coffee the week before the marathon — he had read that Dan Rather shunned coffee to prepare for his marathon New Years’ broadcasts — but did not have to stop smoking. WFMU waived its usual rules and let him smoke in the studio, so he brought along a carton of Marlboros. (Ironically, Freedman once suspended Jones for a month for a number of reasons, one of which was that the deejay had repeatedly been caught smoking.)
Jones slept only two hours the night before he started the marathon, which made him tired from the start. But he managed to ride a torrent of adrenaline all the way through, under constant observation, with WFMU staff spoon-feeding him high-protein, low-carb meals. He survived slumps of extreme weariness, and reached the hundred-hour mark only after navigating a six-hour stretch of delirium that echoed the film classic The Manchurian Candidate.
At that point Tuesday morning, Jones no longer knew where he was or why he was on the air — an effect also observed in a 17-year-old student who once stayed awake for 11 days straight.
“I was completely disoriented at the end,” says Jones, who thought at the time that the reporters were actors and that the WFMU staff had staged an elaborate joke on him. “I saw all the press staring at me, and I didn’t know why they were there. . . . I kept muttering the words ‘Manchurian candidate’ — there’s the whole thing where they actually do something like that to the main character — and I really lost my mind. I really thought that I had gone nuts and was never coming back.”
During this time, Freedman had to walk Jones through each step of his deejaying duties, telling him which buttons to press, faders to move, records to cue, and what to say. Stepping in and doing any of these things for Jones would have broken the Guinness Book rules and mooted the whole marathon.
But Jones came back to his senses once he got off the air and WFMU staff helped him out of his fog, and even stayed up another few hours to go back on the air and celebrate.
If you’d like a little piece of the historic event, hurry up and get to the online auction site eBay, where bidding closes today on an autographed copy of the Waits CD that Jones played for his last song. As of last week, it was up to $127.
Copyright 2001 American University