WNEW-FM was New York’s landmark progressive rock station in the 1970s, so it’s appropriate that DJ Dennis Elsas brings his nostalgic multimedia show to Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington Saturday night. These days, Elsas is still airing albums — for SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl Channel 26 from 6 p.m. to midnight on weekends and, since 2000, on WFUV/90.7 weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m.
We recently chatted with the rock historian, who built that reputation on WNEW/102.7 from 1971 to 1998.
What will your show at the Landmark be like?
It’s not just a collection of “Oh, here’s my conversation with John Lennon, here’s my conversation with Elton John, and here’s my conversation with Jerry Garcia and Pete Townshend” — they’re all part of the show, but it also is how I came to talk to those people, and how those images and clips still resonate today. So it’s more than just a trip down memory lane. I try to bring it into the present, too, because I’m lucky enough to still be doing what I’ve always loved.
What demographic attends your stage shows?
It’s a whole new audience. The beauty of having worked for WNEW-FM and WFUV and SiriusXM is it’s a big audience. There are those people who grew up listening to me, and they are going to certainly love it, because it’s going to ring a lot of nostalgic bells. But then there’s a whole new audience — the folks who are just listening to WFUV, so they come to it with a different approach.
What was your most memorable interview?
Has to be John Lennon. Just the fact that he was there for two hours, and it has grown through the years. I had invited John up to the radio station initially to promote his “Walls and Bridges” album [in 1974]. . . . I didn’t realize how open he would be to discuss The Beatles. So there was all this new Beatles history that emerged, and I didn’t realize how open he would be to discuss the immigration issues that he was fighting. And also he was very candid with me because I asked would The Beatles ever get back together. . . . It became a fairly historic interview and has been used in various films and Beatles anthologies and documentaries, and I’m very proud of it.
How did Lennon respond about The Beatles reuniting?
He said they were on good terms and did not discount the idea that they might record together again one day and even joked about waiting a few years till the royalty rate changed, but was not interested in touring.
Who are your favorite soloists?
The folks that I love and admire solo, some of them are part of groups — for example, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I’ve always loved the music of all four of them, and especially Neil Young as a performer because he’s so unexpected and totally marches to the beat of his own drum, and he just keeps evolving and changing. . . . In terms of lyricists through the years, certainly Jackson Browne, and Springsteen, of course. Of all of the live shows I’ve ever seen, and I’m really looking forward to seeing a new one, there’s nothing like a Springsteen show. But I think what appeals to me about these different performers is different elements.
And your favorite group is . . . ?
Well, that’s The Beatles, only because that music arrives in my life at a very pivotal point as a young man growing up and listening to their music on the radio, listening to the way the disc jockeys are presenting the music, that is so formative. I mean I’m old enough to have loved the late ’50s rock and roll, so it’s not like I came to rock and roll just through The Beatles. But The Beatles are the defining point for me. I’ve done several award-winning documentaries about them, and I’ve been lucky enough to introduce three out of the four. I interviewed John, Paul and Ringo separately but never got to meet George. And I do a feature now on WFUV on Fridays at 4 called “Beatles Fab Foursome.”
Who was your favorite DJ of all time?
They were guys at the time, because there were really no women on the AM radio dial that I was listening to growing up. But growing up and listening to Scott Muni and then being hired by him all those years later, and Dan Ingram, who was the master of it all. And a very controversial character named Murray the K, who many people have looked upon with less than pleasant memories, but he did figure out a way to become for a small period of time “the fifth Beatle.” And the list goes on and on. There are some more unsung heroes — Bob Lewis, who a lot of people wouldn’t remember today, or B. Mitchel Reed. Dan Daniel, even Bruce Morrow, they’re all part of the foundation. I was listening to all these people, and somehow was creating my own style.
Is there a difference between being a DJ on FM and satellite?
WFUV is a live and local broadcast whereas SiriusXM is a very specific format that’s classic vinyl. It’s a channel that’s aimed at people who love classic rock, and specifically the first generation of rock.
Do you need to stay current on satellite?
I’m on a station with classic vinyl, which is basically dealing with older artists. I’ll also know where the Doobie Brothers are playing, where Billy Joel is playing. Certainly we’ll talk about the Stones in Cuba, and there’s luckily still enough old artists’ new stuff going on, so you have to stay on top of that.