Baseball has a pretty standard soundtrack. You’ve got “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and, here in Baltimore, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the seventh-inning stretch. But during recent trips to Camden Yards, we’ve heard some cuts more up our alley—a wide range of seminal alternative bands from the ’80s.
Bob “Woody” Popik, who has served as the Orioles’ in-house DJ for 14 years, is the one delightfully sprinkling Morrissey, New Order, and the Jesus and Mary Chain in among the standard Top 40 and classic-rock fare. On the night before a key series with the Red Sox, we talked to Popik about how he managed to sneak these gems in for baseball crowds of up to 45,000 people. (Brandon Weigel)
City Paper: It seems to be just over the last couple years that we’ve been hearing alternative bands at Camden Yards. Can you rattle off a list of some of the ones? I’m thinking the Pixies, the Cure, the Smiths.
Bob Popik: Most certainly. The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Smiths, Depeche Mode. Actually, it’s funny, the only radio station I really listen to for music is WTMD. A friend was listening one day and they said, “They just mentioned you on the air.” One of the DJs—Janet, I guess—was there at the game and heard Translator, “Everywhere That I’m Not,” so she mentioned me on the air, which is kind of nice. I’ve gotten away with playing Bauhaus—the first two minutes of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” are basically all instrumental, so I play that sometimes during a ceremony or something like that because I absolutely love the beat of that song.
It’s [taken] a long time to kind of introduce that stuff. The Orioles give me a pretty wide berth, which is nice. No one at the Orioles has ever said, “Hey, you can’t play this or that.”
CP: Do you remember a moment where you said, “Hey, I’m going to try this”? Whatever the first song was that you were like, I’m going to veer into more alternative territory.
BP: I played “London Calling.” I remember that was one light-bulb moment where I was, “Hey, I’m getting away with playing ‘London Calling.’” There’s a song called “Cerulean” by the Ocean Blue that talks about blue skies, so on a sunny Sunday, I throw that in.
I remember I used to play this song by Morrissey called “Boxers.” The [opening] lyric is something like “Losing in your hometown.” Well, that song went great when we lost. But the song was too honest, almost, with the lyric. I played that maybe for a year and then I started playing it the next year—and I can’t remember when I started playing it, maybe around 2003, 2004—and the grounds crew was like, “Come on man, you gotta cut [it out].”
CP: There are a lot of people there sitting in the stands, like families or people who just aren’t as into music, who have probably never heard these songs before. How do you try to find a way to catch their ear?
BP: If you’re a lover of music, it doesn’t matter where the source is coming from as long as you understand, “Wow, this is great.” There are apps on phones now where people can hold it up and find the name of the song. And I hope people are doing that. That would warm my heart.
What I’m thinking about is our core group. When you think about families coming to the games, the parents are basically 35 to maybe 45, 50, with children. Most of the people may or may not have heard of the Smiths. They may have heard “How Soon Is Now?,” but they don’t know some of the tracks I’m playing. Maybe I’m trying to play to our fan base, the parents, and then, in turn, turn the kids on to that stuff.
I think the stadium should be a broad array of music and not just sticking to Michael Jackson and the simple, mindless dance stuff I do have to play. And I know my words diminish those kinds of songs, but they have their place. I play Vengaboys “We Like to Party,” and people are going nuts and they’re clapping along with the song and they love it. It’s not one of my personal favorites, but it serves a purpose.
CP: When you’re going through the course of a game, how many songs do you get to pick?
BP: I probably play somewhere around 19 songs with inning breaks. Every inning has a half-inning. Sometimes we may do a feature that has its own music to it. That’s another thing that gives me freedom. They’re made by our editors and they put [on] songs that are very up-to-date, and they’re dance-y. So they’re taking care of that end with the popular stuff. If I can throw in maybe 30 seconds of the Jesus and Mary Chain before the inning starts back up, I’m happy.
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m some ’80s alternative champion where “my ’80s have to be heard.” I’m looking at it like an old-time radio station, where I’m rotating genres and music.
CP: You talked about blending, sort of making it seamless. What’s the trick to do that?
BP: The main trick, I guess, is to try and play songs by the bands that I like that aren’t overtly unrecognizable. I can get away with playing Depeche Mode, I can play “Enjoy the Silence.” Well, I think pretty much everybody has heard “Enjoy the Silence.” I definitely wouldn’t play something like “Blasphemous Rumors” or “Shake the Disease.”
CP: But do they have a certain pop sensibility that makes it something you can play in front of 40,000 people.
BP: No one’s overtly come up and said, “I think what you’re doing is a little too off the middle-of-the-road here.” And it goes back to that respect and that responsibility that I have to the organization to try to—even though I’m veering off the road at times—to kind of stay at least one tire or two wheels on the road.