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  OLDIES RADIO MAROONED ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.  
   
   
 

Gilligan has his own radio show -- and the equipment isn't even made from coconuts.

Gilligan, or rather, Bob Denver, the actor famous for playing him, has washed ashore in Princeton, West Virginia, where he hosts an oldies show from the basement of his house with wife, Dreama.

Despite its humble origin, Bob Denver told the Associated Press that "Weekend with Denver and Denver" can reach as many as 100,000 people on the lower registers of the FM dial, stretching from his home in Princeton down into northern

 
 

Virginia. (He can reach millions more over the Internet.) Not bad for something coming out of Princeton, which has 7,000 people. And a fitting setting for a man best known for playing a character that couldn't get off a desert isle for three-and-a-half seasons.

Of course, Denver had roles before First Mate Willy Gilligan -- notably Maynard G. Krebs from "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" -- but "Gilligan's Island" turned Bob Denver from mediocre, semi-famous actor into classic TV star. Sure, Gilligan's was one of the most absurd TV shows in the history of the medium. The plots had more holes than an old pair of

 
   
 

underwear, the sets looked like they sprang from the mind of a gay Pacific islander -- all wicker and palm trees with tiki torches. The rocks look like they are made out of Styrofoam. The show wasn't just kitschy -- it was kitsch incarnate.

Perhaps its fitting the castaways never did make it off the island -- the show ended with them stranded. Welcome to West Virginia, Mr. Denver.

 

Oldies Soldiers Don't Die, They Fade Away.

As you'd expect, "Weekend With Denver and Denver" will not feature contemporary music. There will be no 50 Cent or Ja Rule. Bob's not gonna break off some OutKast or Missy Elliott. Dreama will not be

 
     

doing shout-outs at the top of the hours. The Denvers will focus solely on the oldies, the music of their glory days.

The oldies are not a very popular radio format. But the problem isn't necessarily the music, which stays the same -- the problem is perception.

People view oldies stations as just that: old. And the oldies are played by rapidly aging DJs trying to recapture the glory years of early AM Radio. And every once in a while, some musty old lead singer from a long retired band will come on the show and wax nostalgic about how much fun it was to be on the road with Shep and the Limelights, playing gigs for $25 and a pitcher of beer. And we

 
 

hark back to yesteryear by playing songs that a shrinking segment of the population can appreciate.

To be fair, that kind of station is dying out. In fact, it's difficult to find a station that is proud to call itself an "oldies" station and loudly proclaims such on its airwaves. The oldies station stigma is too hard to overcome. Oldies stations are perceived to have listeners that wheel themselves around, eat dinner before sunset and hoard Viagra and Pepto-Bismol. Instead, oldies stations jockey for additional advertising revenue by classifying themselves as "Jammin' Oldies" or "Motown, Soul and Great Rock 'n Roll"

But the attempt to skew to a younger audience is splitting demographic hairs.

Over the last ten to twenty years, the oldies demographic has grown older. In the 1980s, the oldies format's core listeners were in the 25-54 age group. Today, it's adults 35+ -- the advertising sales equivalent of the proverbial bell tolling. It's a death knell.

"Young people avoid the oldies format as if it were the Black Plague," says Marlena Schmidt, associate broadcast director for Deutsch, a major New York City advertising firm.

Some of the youngins in Denver's hometown aren't so into the oldies. Kelly Hart, Princeton resident, said that even with no other radio option, she probably wouldn't listen. "I'm just not into the oldies," she said, adding that she prefers jam/improvisation bands like Phish and Widespread Panic.

So, Who Is Gonna Listen To Bob Denver?

But Bob Denver might change that.

"For as long as he's on the air, assuming he gets the reach he mentioned, I imagine his audience will extend beyond the standard oldies format listener. Why?" asks Schmidt, rhetorically. "Because he's friggin' Gilligan -- and I'm assuming he'll have cool call-ins with Tina Louise and the Harlem Globetrotters."

That's why Gilligan's show might revive the oldies format, or at least inject some excitement into the genre. Put the oldies radio format together with an iconic television star and the result is a campy, sentimental old coot playing campy, sentimental old tunes. "Weekend with Denver and Denver" defies conventional oldies characterizations for a simple reason: Bob Denver doesn't simply play the oldies.

Bob Denver is the oldies.

He's pink skirt suits and pillbox hats. He's Brylcream, plaid pants and thin ties. He's shag carpeting and the Edsel. He's all of these things rolled into a goofy-looking guy with bad hair. Just like his show, Bob Denver is kitsch. Quite simply, "Weekend with Denver and Denver" will work not in spite of its kitsch, but because of its kitsch.

People in Denver's hometown seem intrigued.

"There's only really country and pop down here so I listen to a lot of pop music," said Chris Gore, who works at the Princeton Public Library and hadn't known Denver had a show. "I'd listen just to check it out. I was a big Gilligan's Island fan growing up."

Others seem to agree. Tarek Angelo, 32, owns and operates Angelo's Pizzeria, a family-owned business in Princeton, and while he likes and enjoys oldies, he doesn't listen to them on a regular basis. "I'd listen to him though. Bob's my neighbor," Angelo said. "He's a nice guy."

 

Out With the Old, In With the New?

In episode 46 of "Gilligan's Island," called "Hi-Fi Gilligan," Gilligan got hit on the head and started broadcasting radio through the fillings in his mouth. Eventually, that radio the professor built out of coconuts broke down and the island's only source of information was Gilligan's piehole. Gilligan (or rather his mouth) warned the island a typhoon was coming, allowing the group of erstwhile tour goers to seek refuge in a nearby cave. Once again, Gilligan's good-natured ineptitude saves the day.

And maybe it could again. Old sitcoms and music are the fertilizer in which pop cultivates. They're safety deposit boxes that any studio executive or contemporary pop star can make tax-free withdrawals. The oldies can be found in every rap song that samples a base line or in every commercial that fashions a little jingle around an old tune. Right now, TBS Superstation is making a reality television show based on Gilligan's Island. The premise? Put a skipper, a millionaire and his wife, a professor, a movie star and someone named Mary Ann on a desert island. (No word yet on whether Bob is signed up to play his signature role.)

Despite its flaws, the oldies will always work in America. They don't die for the same reason that "Gilligan's Island" will air ad infinitum on stations like TV Land. You can laugh at how silly the old sitcoms are. You can sit around with your friends and mock the hackneyed plot lines, do a shot every time someone walks into the room and says a certain phrase or send the room into an uproar by saying something like "I think this is the episode where there's a miscommunication of some kind."

But at the end of the day, you love them. They are part of the cultural history of the nation as a whole. They unite us. We've all seen the episode of "Gilligan's Island" where the Harlem Globetrotters swing by the island.

At least in the short term, this is why Bob Denver's radio station will be successful -- he can even make an ad executive soften.

"I hate oldies, but I would listen to Bob Denver at least once," Schmidt concedes. "Maybe even more than once."