Radio Radio: Surviving My Local Radio Scene

RadioA few months ago the CD player in my car stopped working. I put a disc in, it shoots it back out.

Yes? No! Yes? No! Yes? No!

It is like arguing with a two-year old and losing each and every freaking time.

Now, I’m not a car dude. I’m one of those kind of people that don’t see a vehicle as some kind of a mark of success, it is a tool, and, if given the option, I would drive a car until the last wheel fell off.  Honestly, I just don’t care. I think the only time I have ever drooled over an automobile was when I saw an ad for the new Honda Odyssey. Not because it looked smart. No, I liked it because it came with a vacuum cleaner. With two little kids that sounded awesome! Goodbye to all those fruit snacks! I could vacuum anytime I wanted!

Every day I need to drive my son to his school, which is about a 25-minute drive. And while I would love to just listen to NPR the entire way there and back, I can’t. My six-year old hears everything and there is a lot on that I just don’t want to explain to him. For example, yesterday while getting out of the car he said, “Boy, there are a lot of wars going on, isn’t there?”

Ah… yeah… there certainly are… damn…

So, for those moments when NPR goes a little “bleak,” I’ve begun exploring the dial, switching to the local music stations. What I’ve discovered though is something akin to a time capsule.

Yes, these stations are glimpses of some other time, but where exactly those other times took place, I can’t say.

…playing songs bringing tears to me eyes…

Let me get this out of the way first: smooth jazz is not jazz.

Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, The Marsalis family, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane are jazz.

It almost feels sacrilegious to use the world “Jazz” to describe what people on this station call jazz. It was such a sad day when I Googled local jazz stations and found our only “jazz” station. I quickly turned to it that night in the car and, in only a few seconds, my heart sunk from my chest down to my shoes and onto the floor near the old fruit snacks.

If any of those supposed “jazz” artists ever attempted a jam session with classic or current jazz greats, they would be laughed off the stage. They are the ending no one wants for the Ken Burns documentary.

Skipping the country stations (being once a music major has made it almost impossible for me to consider enjoying country music) and the Christian rock stations (which I am always surprised is so bad, you think with the big guy supporting them they would be better; at least better than the work of the devil), there are only four other options for me.

One is a chain station, it rarely has DJs. It claims that it has no genres and plays anything and everything, but I beg to differ. Yet, they proclaim this lie all the time in their advertising! So here is my response: “Dear chain rock station, you have a genre and it is called ‘stadium rock/quirky one-hit wonders with an emphasis on 80’s and 90’s top hits.’”

The funny thing is that for two of the other stations, even though they claim to be different (classic rock and light rock), they pretty much follow something close to the same selection; and no one really plays new music. You would imagine that the 80’s were the best time for music ever and The Beatles have nothing on Men at Work

It’s was only after listening a few days that I began to realize that each station seems to cycle through the same thirty songs, almost like clockwork. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have correctly guessed the next song that they will play. And I’ve even had the experience of hearing Dexys Midnight Runners while flipping between two stations at the same time.

Actually, that happened twice! The first time it happened I laughed, the second time I didn’t.

Safety DanceThe funny thing is, being someone who grew up during the 80’s and 90’s, the selections that they have chosen from that “classic” period in music I would hardly consider the best. I’ve heard “The Safety Dance” more times than I care to mention over the last few months. I never choose to dance, and I never leave my friends behind.

And, might I also add, I don’t wear my sunglasses at night. Because that is just not safe.

Honestly, I would be going musically crazy if it wasn’t for that brief magical window when I am driving nearby my local big college and I can pick up the college’s alternative rock station. It is never a strong signal and usually seems to be missing the bass completely, but it is like a message in a bottle: “Hello, Scott, there are others out there like you. Do you want to hear some Ben Folds Five? How about Belle and Sebastian?”

A musical miracle!

…They’re saying things that I can hardly believe…

Between you and me, I don’t think the DJs that co-host the morning show on the light rock station like each other.

Maybe I am reading into their conversations and analyzing their characters more than I should be, but they just don’t seem to talk to each other. They talk at each other is a better way of explaining it, and they always seem surprised by the other’s opinion, even though I could easily guess the response (and lame joke) coming after only a week of listening. The commercials claim that they are fun together and we should be laughing, but I have yet to do so. They just aren’t that funny.

The main feeling I feel listening to them is sadness for both of them (certain in my heart that both are counting down the days until they can retire and never see their co-host again).

Oh, I have also felt anger before because of them. During the holidays this light rock station also was our only local holiday music station (not including the Christian stations, which are pretty much always Christmas stations, right?). Christmas music is always a safe bet for kids in the car. Anyway, on one snowy day they had played a Kenny G Christmas song (Isn’t he Jewish? I thought he was Jewish.), and to my horror they began debating what instrument Kenny G plays.

One thought it was a special golden clarinet. Another thought it was an oboe. Yes, I wrote oboe. As an old soprano saxophonist from back in my college days, I would have been banging my head against my steering wheel if I wasn’t driving.

…They say you better listen to the voice of reason

But they don’t give you any choice…

Now the personality I can’t put my finger on exactly is the morning DJ for the classic rock station. He attempts to be a morning host in the vein of a Rush Limbaugh, but I’m not exactly sure how true that it is.

See, he claims not to believe in climate change, and he has even attempted to argue that President Obama is weak, but he said both with so little conviction that I wondered if I was hearing a prepared speech. And when you consider that many of his guests are Democrats (local politicians) and a news editor who is homosexual and liberal, he is not exactly walking the conservative line…. And I have also heard him call Tea Party members “whackos.” Isn’t that against a rule someplace?

There are times listening to him that I have wondered if he calls himself conservative still because he has to, stuck in a performance he started a long time ago. Maybe a better equivalent is an old sports fan forced to continue cheering on a team that he doesn’t really believe in anymore, wishing he could switch teams without betraying his friends.

In many ways this host is just as much a time capsule to a lost world as the music. He seems to be living still in the 80’s, making references to Andrew Dice Clay and other celebrities no one remembers anymore. Much of his jokes are also very dated just like those references.  You hear this a lot when he speaks to the news editor, each week going through a series of questionable gay stereotypes that you don’t see even in bad sitcoms anymore. It can’t help but make a listener squirm. No one talks like that anymore! It’s almost like someone decided to give that father from Married With Children his own radio show.

Wait, there is another 80s reference! What is wrong with my local radio world???

Ever since I started listening to local radio, I haven’t stopped asking the white elephant question in the room:

Who else is listening?

I have yet to go into a business and hear one of my local stations on the speakers (usually they use streaming services). There is nothing really cool about them, and if anyone else heard me listening to a local station, I would be very embarrassed, probably frantically trying to explain the science experiment of it all.

For me, these stations are a last resort,  always a last resort, and I am almost a little afraid I am warping my children’s music appreciation, erasing all of the work I’ve done in their early years with classic jazz, R.E.M., Elliott Smith and British alternative rock.

If anything, they are probably thinking songs don’t have beginnings and endings, since I am always in the process of changing the station, grunting as each song comes up.

Now, I am not arrogant enough to think everyone out there has the same music taste I do, but I live in a city with a major university in it and a great music department. I just expect better, demand better. So maybe these FM stations are the musical equivalent of a tree falling in the forest and no one being around to hear it? An old business model slowly, slowly falling down while humming Pat Benator.

Here is the thing though… Even though I am always silently complaining during those car rides, it is very morbidly fascinating for me. I’m not joking! Comparing it almost to that feeling of walking through a wing of a hospital and wondering what everyone is suffering from.

This one is suffering from too much Pink Floyd. This one was diagnosed with Bryan Adams, he doesn’t have long to live. And this one is suffering from Celine Dion. Be careful she is very contagious!

Wear a mask… or earplugs.

…Marvelous radio

Radio, radio…

(Thanks Elvis Costello! You are on my iPod, not on the radio.)

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream,  Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.

Rebecca T. Dickson, Editor

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