Mystery Playlist

 by Nikki Knight aka Kathleen Marple Kalb

Sooner or later, every DJ plays “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

Sure, the Meat Loaf teen angst extravaganza is a classic, but that’s not why. Jocks love the fact that it takes more than eight minutes for Mr. Loaf and his friends to mourn their misspent youth.

That’s a restroom break, a cup of coffee, and a call to a friend – or maybe just a chance to stick your head out the window and breathe a little of that cold 3 a.m. air before the next request. 

The song saved me plenty of times when I was a teenager doing overnight shifts on school breaks in my Western Pennsylvania hometown, so I knew it would be on the soundtrack for my Vermont radio mystery, Live, Local, and Dead.

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Image Source Crooked Lane
It’s just part of an eclectic playlist woven into the plot, which follows what happens when New York City DJ Jaye Jordan takes over a small-town station and replaces angry talk with music and local programs…only to have a talk-show host end up dead in a snowman in front of the station. Between sleuthing and the school run, she spends most of her time spinning romantic requests – the running joke is that she’ll only play “You’re the Inspiration” once per night – and the music is almost a character in the story.

When Jaye took over, she cut off the talk show host mid-screed with “Despacito” – in Spanish. Sure, there’s a bit of a political statement there, but it’s mainly intended as a modern riff on the classic scene from WKRP in Cincinnati when the rock-and-rollers throw out the old beautiful music with a scorching heavy-metal guitar solo. 

Most of the time, the only statement Jaye is making is that she’s part of the community, there to provide listeners with the music they need. It’s something we radio people feel very deeply, the sense that our voices coming through the night or the storm may be the only human connection for someone out there. We know how much that matters – and it matters to us, too.

More, Jaye’s community, the tiny town of Simpson, Vermont (inspired by the place where I worked after college), is making a statement of its own. Over the course of the story, Jaye weathers some pushback over the format change and the talk-show host’s death, and every time something bad happens to her, she has more requests than she can handle, sometimes for songs she doesn’t have or wouldn’t play. It’s not that people want to hear random songs — “Achy Breaky Heart,” really? — it’s that they want to show support for their local station.

The music is also good for lots of fun, and colorful commentary from Jaye. One night, she dryly observes that “You wouldn’t believe how many requests for ‘Faithfully’ and ‘Hard to Say I’m Sorry’ I get from people who were neither faithful nor sorry until they found themselves alone.”

Jaye even has the presence of mind for a few wry comments about “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” when she spins it to get eight minutes of comfort from a friend after one of those bad incidents. 

It’s worth mentioning here that there are no real song lyrics in the book. They’re protected by some of the strictest copyright laws – and best lawyers – on earth, so I used song titles, and stuck to recognizable pieces. The end result is pretty much the greatest hits of “love songs at night” radio, with a few surprises.

The surprises come mostly from Jaye’s listeners. She has regulars, including the Marley Dude, a guy with a very heavy Vermont accent and a love of reggae. He’s inspired by the White Rabbit Guy, a more than slightly impaired fellow who used to ask me to spin the Jefferson Airplane song.

I didn’t mind. I liked – and still like – being able to make my listeners happy. 

You’ve probably figured out by now that the book is a love letter to local radio. Yes, it’s a good mystery and a fun ride. Yes, it’s a nice escape to Vermont. And yes, there’s a flatulent moose. But what it’s really about is your hometown radio station – and why you need it.

Too many places don’t have one now, thanks to consolidation, and the rise of cheap satellite talk. And that’s a shame. Small local radio stations keep people connected to their communities, and each other.

I’ll spin a request for that any day.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode goes up next week.  

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Nikki Knight describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. A weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she’s the author of LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane. As Kathleen Marple Kalb, she writes the Ella Shane historical mysteries for Kensington. Her story, “Bad Apples” was an Honorable Mention in the 2021 Black Orchid Novella Award Contest. She, her husband and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.
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