Moving Picture: Mr. Al gets his groove on Harper radio
If you're scanning the FM radio dial on a Tuesday night and you suddenly feel relaxed, you might be listening to Mr. Al.
"Turn it up and cool it down," says the disc jockey in a voice oozing with mellow tones, "Mr. Al's Lounge, every Tuesday at 7 p.m., on WHCM FM 88.3, and streaming live at WHCMFM.com. Lounge Lives!"
And so begins another installment of Mr. Al's Lounge, a delightfully quirky radio program, containing a smorgasbord of smooth jazz, blues, rat pack, soulful ballads, New Orleans music and other niche genres, broadcast from a second-floor studio in the middle of the student lounge at Harper College in Palatine.
Mr. Al, aka 54-year-old Alan Leinonen of Arlington Heights, was pleased to learn that a continuing education student could also be a disc jockey at the Harper College student radio station.
"I always wanted to be a DJ at a radio station, and this is my chance," Leinonen said. "To have a weekly opportunity to do a whole show from top to bottom, it's a one-man operation, its really, really exciting.
"There's definitely elements of humor in (lounge music), it's a genre in retrospect," Leinonen said. "At the time there was no lounge genre."
So what exactly is lounge music you ask? Think something between easy listening and elevator music, Wayne Newton in Las Vegas, Jackie Gleason, mix in some mambo and The Lettermen covering "Hello I Love You" by The Doors and, well, you get the idea.
Leinonen credits well-known AM disc jockeys like Larry Lujack, John "Records" Landecker and Steve Dahl as his biggest influences while growing up listening to WLS and WCFL, with his transistor radio underneath his pillow.
And what were his musical influences?
"Early on it was the The Jackson 5 when I was a little kid," Leinonen said. "The first rock band I enjoyed was Aerosmith and then later on ZZ Top. Then I shifted gears. Instead of listening to music for stimulation, I wanted to calm down, and that's when I got into smooth jazz. Really what I play now is oddly a combination between two really divergent inspirations."
Leinonen brings along his own personal stash of wacky CDs to fuel his three-hour radio show every Tuesday night from 7 to 10 p.m. Programming is pretty loose, and you never know what you'll hear next. Sometimes, neither does Leinonen.
As was the case on a recent night shift.
"Lounge Lives," Leinonen speaks smoothly into the microphone, "And by request, play Misty (by Johnny Mathis) for me, a request I should not refuse."