By Bill Haduch, The Rutgers Focus, May 27, 2009

| Back to Main Page | Back to Reviews and Press Page |

Photo by Daniel Kuitems

The current lineup of The Professors includes, from left:
Peter VanEmburg; Meg, Gary, and Marie Radford; and Nick Romanenko.

On a rainy May night, the Rutgers Gardens were drenched with the sound of a five-piece rock band cranking out 100 or so decibels of Spooky Tooth’s classic “Better by You, Better than Me.”

It was the end-of-the-year party of the Library and Information Science Students Association at the Log Cabin Alumni Pavilion. Greetings had been traded, the buffet had been raided, and about 50 revelers had just reached the point where heads were beginning to bob and toes were beginning to tap.

Suddenly, an invisible line was crossed, sensed by a woman taking photos of the band. She whirled around, aimed her camera at the crowd and announced to no one in particular, “They’re dancing!”

Of course the students, faculty, and staff were dancing. No one can resist the vibe of The Professors, the Rutgers-connected band of academics and friends who have been performing, composing, and recording in and out of Central Jersey since 1995. Tonight The Professors were spanning the ages with tunes ranging from Cream’s 40-year-old “White Room,” to “Could I Be,” newly composed by a first-year student at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The students association event was a long way – and yet not so far – from The Professors’ debut in Highland Park 14 years ago at a high school graduation party. Nick Belkin, professor, School of Communication, Infomation and Library Studies, brought together three Rutgers academics and musicians for the gig. He had no idea what he was starting.

The original three projected a real professorial and multinational flavor. Rhythm guitarist Gary Radford from England had completed his doctorate at the School of Communication, Information and Library Science (SCILS). The lead guitarist was T-ski of Poland, a Rutgers computer science professor. Drummer Bob Kubey was the lone American, and one of Radford’s professors at SCILS.

“It was just the three of us, with no singer and no bass player, doing Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn riffs – the kids loved us,” said Gary Radford, now a communication studies professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the only original member still active in the band. He is the keeper of The Professors’ extensive website that lists every gig, every member, and every detail of the band’s long, strange trip through the world of “academically influenced” rock, blues, and heavy metal.

Over the years, 15 singers and musicians joined The Professors at various times, 10 of them with Rutgers connections. Venues have included clubs, museums, parties, benefit concerts, and academic conferences in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Chicago. The band is even versatile enough to play posh events like last October’s SCILS 25th anniversary celebration at the Heldrich Hotel.

A comment made at a communications conference in Chicago sums up much of the band’s appeal. A graduate student from Stanford University, quoted on The Professors’ website, said the band’s performance “was good for my soul. It showed me that professors can rock out and we don't have to be nerds all the time.”

Well, not all the time … but in 2002 band members did publish a scholarly article in American Communication Journal: Collaborative Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. In the paper, members describe the creative process and analyze the groove or flow that occurs when playing.

They also used the guise of professorial nerdiness to get around restrictions on unauthorized bands playing at one particular conference. The Professors simply listed their gig as an academic session: “Communication and the Blues: An Experienced-based Interactive Experimental Simulation of Democratic Popular Culture Processes.”

“How cool was that?” Gary Radford asked. “It was the only way we could get it past them. It’s so pretentious, it’s beautiful.”

Today, the heart of the band is the Radford family: Gary Radford on guitar and vocals, his wife Marie Radford on keyboards, and daughter Meg Radford on guitar and vocals. Gary and Marie met in 1986 when they were doctoral students at SCILS. Today Marie Radford is a library and information science professor at the school. She has played with The Professors since 2004. Both are SCILS Legacy Alumni Association executive board members and past presidents of the SCILS Alumni Association.

Meg Radford is a first-year animal science student who wrote and sings “Could I Be,” mentioned above and other songs for the band. With years of church- and school-choir experience under her belt, Meg first appeared with The Professors in 2004 at age 13. Now she is a full-fledged member and also performs solo in the coffeehouse in the Perry Dorm on the Cook Campus.

The band’s rhythm section consists of bassist Nick Romanenko, university photographer, who joined in 1998, and drummer Peter VanEmburg, a software engineer with Lockheed Martin who joined in 2005. VanEmburg calls himself “the fake professor” because he’s not from academia. “But I suppose being an engineer at least qualifies me as a nerd,” he said.

At the Alumni Pavilion, Gary Radford seemed very much the classic British rock star, with his Pink Floyd t-shirt, longish hair, 1979 silverburst Les Paul guitar, and stage patter delivered in a Nottinghamshire-bred accent. During breaks, he enjoyed catching up with his SCILS friends, including Joan Chabrak, administrative assistant of the school’s Ph.D. program, who he called his New Jersey mom.

“Marie and I got married in England, but we had a reception here for Marie’s New Jersey relatives. Joan stood in for my mother during the mother-son dance,” Gary Radford said.

The Radfords are thrilled to have daughter Meg in the band. “She’s brought in some contemporary music and added originality to The Professors,” Marie Radford said. “The band has evolved many times over the years, and we’ll keep evolving.”

The Rutgers Connections of The Professors

  • Current line-up:

Gary Radford – SCILS PhD alum, teaches summer classes at SCILS

Marie Radford – SCILS PhD alum, associate professor, Library and Information Science

Meg Radford – first year student at SEBS

Nick Romanenko – university photographer

  • Prior members:

Robert Kubey – professor, journalism and media, drums, 1995-2000

T-ski – professor, computer science, guitar, 1995-1997

J – SCILS PhD alum, vocals, 1995-1998

Steve Cooper – SCILS PhD alum, bass, 1995-1997

John Barrows – MCIS alum (SCILS), vocals/guitar, harmonica, 1998-2005

Chris Caldiero – SCILS PhD alum, vocals, 2006-2008

  • Group founder:

Nick Belkin – professor, Library and Information Science

The Professors’ Take on Academic Life

You might expect creative academics to write and perform songs specifically about life in the ivory tower.  Here are a few academically influenced originals by The Professors:

Peer Review

The Untenured Blues

A Geek’s Life

A more complete list of original samples including new songs by Meg Radford can be found by clicking here.

This page last updated October 23, 2009 by Gary Radford.
Many thanks to Kurt Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.