Community Spotlight 001: “Strike the Box!” with Chris Major | by Avery Haas-Goldberg |
When it comes to the world of freeform radio, Chris Major is an avid participant. A Boston native who moved to Somerville in 1987 after serving in the navy, Chris developed a deep appreciation for sharing and listening to music starting early in his life. As the youngest of 6 siblings, Chris had a wide variety of vinyl to listen to while growing up to influence his musical taste, even if it was at the cost of wearing down his sisters’ record collection.
Radio has always been an important part of Chris’ life. Chris has fond memories of tuning into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ Dale Dorman on WRKO and listening to other Boston stations like WBCN and WZLX as he got older. However, it wasn’t until his time studying for the fire department lieutenant’s exam in 1998 that college radio caught his eye. As Chris puts it, “commercial radio started to get stale… you just heard the same things over and over and over and over.” That’s when stations like MIT’s WMBR, Boston University’s WTBU and of course, Tufts’ WMFO, came onto his radar.
Chris’ part time job doing fire alarms bought from Firelink Direct, eventually led him to Tufts University and into the clutches of WMFO. While testing alarms on campus, a coworker told him about the radio station and how it had a vast and expansive catalogue of records. This revelation piqued Chris’ interest and during the start of the Summer of 2001, Chris reached out to community DJ Leslie Lombino who eventually offered to show him around the station. Leslie taught him how to queue up records, use the CD player and generally familiarized him with the equipment. Then, in June 2001, Chris’ very own show “Strike the Box!” was born.
But why “Strike the Box!”? For Chris, it was important to incorporate his background with the Fire Department into the title of his show. Enter the firefighter lingo “strike the box”. The phrase goes back to the days when there were fire pull boxes located across cities. Each box had a unique number and when pulled would send a signal to the fire station. The signal would be relayed via fire bells transmitting a pattern corresponding to the box number and thus striking the box alarm. The terminology has lived on and was a perfect fit for Chris’ radio show. Suffice to say with the history of fire at Curtis Hall, WMFO is very lucky to have the Assistant Fire Chief of the Somerville Fire Department keeping watch.
If you ask Chris what his show is all about, he will emphatically reply with one word: Freeform. Chris likes to say that “Strike the Box!” is “a place that plays anything and everything” and that idea has translated into his content. With a repertoire ranging from the occasional 1930s song to some of the hottest releases, Chris is not afraid to explore the world of music. Additionally, Chris loves to take listener requests and stands by the motto “if I can find it, I’ll play it”.
His outlook on music has especially evolved over the last few years. From the show’s inception, Chris would play a variety of older commercial music that wasn’t getting a lot of playtime on many mainstream stations. However, more recently Boston labels like Rum Bar Records and Red on Red Records began to send in newer music that Chris started to play on air. He also developed a friendship with Bill Kelly, the host of Teenage Wasteland on the New Jersey freeform station WFMU. Bill would send over new music which inspired Chris to share with his own listeners his newfound appreciation for newer releases.
In terms of show structure, Strike the Box! maintains a spontaneous flow curated by Chris. He chooses music from an assortment of CDs, records, and mp3s without any set order. Instead, Chris uses the music as a guide; he draws inspiration from a beat, a rhythm, or the lyrics of the currently playing song and then queues up something next. During this process, Chris is always moving around, grooving to the beat, and standing. That’s right. Chris finds the DJ experience to be much more enjoyable by spending his entire 2 hour show up on his feet and out of the chair.
Like almost everything else in the world, Chris’ show has not been spared by the Pandemic. With WMFO moving to completely remote until recently, Chris would spend hours upon hours preparing a pre-recorded show. While he was very appreciative to keep his show going during an international crisis, Chris missed the spontaneity, interactiveness, and even the mistakes that came with live radio. He also missed out on his favorite aspect of being a DJ: phone calls. Now that he’s back in the studio Chris is overwhelmed with joy to be hearing from his listeners again.
During the pandemic Chris started a feature called “Guest DJ” which brought in some new voices to the show. He recruits individuals to take over and play their own 5 song segment then give an explanation about the set. So far there have been a good variety of guests, from DJs on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage to local Boston musicians and radio hosts. Chris has been both surprised and grateful to have landed some big names in the radio industry.
If there is one thing Chris would like to leave you with, it’s to keep supporting the station. Chris recognizes the great value of the music archives at WMFO and hopes that people will cherish them. He treasures the diversity of personalities at the station and is very hopeful that Tufts University will continue to support the place where he can truly express himself through music.
You can experience all Chris has to offer by listening to Strike the Box!, Thursdays at Noon on 91.5 FM WMFO in Medford.