50-year-long campus radio show returns after pandemic hiatus

Doug Harwood’s show was halted by the university’s no-visitors policy, but it is back to celebrate half a century on air.


Doug Harwood has stayed in Lexington since he graduated from Washington and Lee. His radio show has kept him busy outside of writing and editing his monthly paper, The Rockbridge Advocate. Photo courtesy of The Columns.

Grace Mamon

Doug Harwood’s campus radio show is back on the air for its 50th anniversary, after a year-long  hiatus  due  to  Washington and Lee University’s pandemic policies.

Harwood’s  show,  “The  Anti-Headache  Machine,” began in 1971 when he was a sophomore at Washington and  Lee.  It ran for most of the next 49 years.

But the pandemic halted his show in March 2020 and last year’s no-visitors policy prevented anyone who was not a member of the Washington and Lee community from entering campus buildings.

Harwood told the Phi in an interview last year that he had never felt like a visitor on campus when doing the show. 

The COVID-19 committee “finally relented” in June, said Harwood, right after students had left campus for the summer.

“It took me a while to get back in the groove of  things,” Harwood said. “I had this whole routine of getting the show ready on Saturdays. And it took me a while to get back into that way of thinking.”

Fortunately, fans didn’t seem to notice.

Amy Fricano, a regular listener from Buffalo, New York, has been listening to “The Anti-Headache Machine” for the past five years. The show, which airs on Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight, is part of her weekly routine, she said.

Fricano said her favorite thing about the show is how it blends songs together seamlessly.

“It’s just magic,” she said. “The  range  of genres of music is incredible.”

These songs are part of Harwood’s personal collection. He brings CDs and records into the studio, unlike most  students who participate in WLUR by playing music from their phones.

“All that physical stuff is part of the fun for me,” he said. “Having to queue things up and find things and think about the timing, things like crossfading where one song fades out and another song fades in…which you can’t really do well with a phone.”

Harwood said he sometimes has as many as five things playing at once. For example, two pieces of music and three other sounds, like the ocean, some whales and a train, all faded in and out. And when it’s done well, the listener doesn’t notice – they just know it sounds good.

He said he doesn’t plan the songs ahead of time, and he always brings much more music than he needs.

“The fun is putting it all together,” he said. “The best shows are the ones that weave a tapestry,  and sort of take listeners on a nice little voyage.”

The show celebrated its 50th anniversary two weeks ago. Harwood said he was nervous for the   anniversary show, but it ended up being one of his favorites.

Other than the show itself on Oct. 10, there “hasn’t been much hoopla” about the anniversary, Harwood said.

“I never thought I’d live to be 50, nevermind do a radio show that’s 50,” Harwood said.

The neatest part about radio, Harwood said, is that it’s the only mass medium that feels like it’s speaking to the audience individually.

“When I’m riding down the road and I hear a certain song that just sort of catches me,  I don’t think somebody’s playing this for 2 million people,” he said. “I think it’s just for me.”

His fans seem to feel the same way. Fricano said sometimes the song transitions and choices are funny, and she’s been listening for long enough to pick up the humor.

“People told me how important it would’ve been for them to hear this thing that they were familiar with [during the pandemic],”  Harwood  said.  “Here was this time when everything was turned on its head, and we were all looking for anything that was normally a part of our lives to hang on to.”

He said he received calls and notes from listeners, some of whom he didn’t even know, saying  the show could have helped them get through the pandemic.

“It certainly could’ve helped me get through it,” he said. “It drove me nuts not being able to do it. It’s become part of who I am.”

When the show was halted due to the pandemic, Fricano said it felt like there was a hole in her routine.

“Last year was terrible,” she said. “I suffered every Saturday. I’m thrilled it’s back on.”

The no-visitors policy was one of many changes to campus life last year. This applied to Harwood even though he is vaccinated, and said he rarely saw anyone in Elrod Commons, where  the WLUR studio is located, before, during or after the show.

In an email to the Phi last spring, the chair of the  COVID-19  Committee, Paul Youngman, responded to questions about Harwood’s situation.

“Operating during a pandemic has required the university to make many, many difficult decisions. On a campus that is typically overflowing with visitors…limiting visitors has been  among the most difficult of [the  committee’s]  decisions,” Youngman wrote.  “We are disappointed to have had to pause ‘The Anti-Headache  Machine,’ along with other programming.”

But Harwood said there is no lingering resentment toward the COVID-19 Committee; he’s just glad to be back on air.

“When they kicked it off the air for COVID, it struck me as, to be diplomatic, a little heavy handed,” he said. “But people do what they do for whatever reason, and I tried to not take it personally.”