By Bill Zaferos   Published Jan 26, 2007 at 10:39 AM

For two hours last night, Milwaukee radio was transformed into something worth listening to. Musically, at least.

Ironically, it was the result of Bob Reitman’s return to the airwaves after his “retirement” from his long-time post on WKTI, a place where the talk and pop music format must have been soul crushing for a guy who, in his heart, is a Bob Dylan devotee.

Reitman, for those of you who don’t remember, was once the king of “underground” radio on the old WZMF radio -- a station which signed off forever with Hendrix’s Woodstock version of the “Star Spangled Banner” -- and later on the old WQFM. In those days he played Edgar Winter and Dylan and Frank Zappa and the whole '60s and early '70s thing.

He was a bit of a pioneer in these parts. Then things changed when he joined WKTI. More talk, less music.

Reitman’s new show, “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Music,” aired for the first time Thursday night and is scheduled to run Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. and repeat on Saturdays on  WUWM-FM. It could be the one island of good music in the polluted sea of stale playlists and horrible pop of Milwaukee radio. Next to “World Café,” that is. And WMSE.

The show was almost all music. It would take 10 or even 15 minutes at a time before Reitman would cut in with a brief break and identify the songs -- just like the old days.

Reitman opened with a few comments, thanking the management at WUWM and WKTI, confessed that he was prone to playing a lot of Dylan but promising to retrain himself and said there would be some dead air in the broadcast. He sounded more like a next-door neighbor with a great record collection than a guy who has become an icon twice over in Milwaukee radio.

After his opening remarks, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” which he called “the rock and roll national anthem” cut the night airwaves followed by Patti Smith’s eerie “Land” and then Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.” From that point on it was clear that anything could happen in Reitman’s newest incarnation.

It’s one thing to hear Patti Smith on the radio, but when was the last time the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” played in these parts? Probably the last time Reitman played it at ZMF or QFM. But there it was in its full glory Thursday night for anyone to crank on their car stereo. Radio on, indeed.

In fact, it was a good 45 minutes into the show before Dylan made any appearance at all, and that was in the form of a band he identified as “an Italian rap band” sampling Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Finally, he played Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” and you knew it really was the old Reitman.

The rest of the evening played like a house party. Just about anything would pop up: Laurie Anderson, John Prine, Neil Young, Bright Eyes, Primitive Radio Gods, even Sammy Hagar. Not only that, he played Mary Gauthier’s brilliant “Mercy Now,” a relatively obscure gem.

He thanked his younger brother for turning him on to “this guy” before he introduced Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”, encouraged people to email him with lists of bands or songs he should play, and, with assistance from his engineer, plucked the “bad words” from Reed’s “Street Hassle” for airing.

Reitman played interesting and eclectic sets with the enthusiasm of someone who has been paroled after a long sentence. It was good to have him back.