Can you remember the last time you were driving in your car, listening to terrestrial FM radio and heard something that made you (in Bob Lefsetz-style all-caps) TURN IT UP?
I can, because it happened to me this morning. I know, I’m as shocked as you.
I listen to the radio in the car because I drive a battle-scarred 2000 Corolla that doesn’t have an iPod input. We’ve got one of those “find a blank station” adapters, but they frankly suck.
I’ve thought about getting satellite radio but the offerings have gotten shittier since the Sirius/XM merger. I’m also hoping not to be driving a 2000 Corolla forever (c’mon Detroit fire sale!), so it’s not really worth the install expense.
Now for a little history. Us oldsters (35 and up) can remember a time when FM radio still carried vestiges of its hairy, free form past. The days when stoner DJs with names like Johnny Fever spun entire Jethro Tull sides while they rolled another jay on the mixing console. The forces of corporatization were definitely on the march throughout the ’70 and ’80s, but right up through the early ’90s, there were still a few stations where the local program director or star DJ made the playlist decisions.
Then came the big bad 1996 Telecommunications Act, which removed the caps on how many stations a single entity could own in a given market. Suddenly, corporations like Clear Channel went on massive station buying sprees, all the while spewing disinformation about “market efficiencies” and “streamlining.” What it really meant was the death of localism and regionalism in mainstream radio. (It’s also why you won’t hear any of top-twenty indie acts like Spoon, Arcade Fire or Andew Bird on the commercial dial.)
Even before I worked in the music biz, I could’ve told you with great accuracy when radio started sucking. I actually remember working for a telephone research firm shortly before the Telecom Act was passed. One of the surveys we conducted was on behalf of a major station group that was trying to determine exactly what pap would be most palatable to the broadest possible demographic for the benefit of selling more national ads. According to these geniuses, people really did need to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” two dozen times a day in order to buy more Colgate products.
Fast forward to the present, when nobody with a fucking pulse listens to terrestrial radio, and the consolidators can’t find buyers for their failing stations because their stock is worth pennies on the dollar. Some respectable radiofolk who were forced out of the business make it a regular point to say “I told you so.”
But back to my story. As I was saying, this morning I was driving to work and flipping through the dial — NPR, C-SPAN Radio, “alternative” station, classic rock. You see, even in the nation’s capital — home to Go Go, Duke Ellington, Bad Brains and Dischord Records — music radio blows.
I landed on one of our two classic rock stations, 94.7. When I first moved here, it was called “The Globe,” and spun crappy modern lite-rock alongside generic Eric Clapton cuts. I guess this format didn’t go over too well, so they switched to playing “Sweet Home Alabama” two dozen times a day (along with those three Pink Floyd tunes, four Aerosmith songs and five Stones cuts). But what I heard this morning was different: the Pat Travers‘ live cover of “Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights.”
Now, this isn’t a great song per se, but I hadn’t heard it on the radio since I was seven years old. Weird. After that tune was done, the jock talked about how he used to spin that cut at the roller rink back in the day. Then he introduced a ditty that “always brought the girls out of the bathroom and on to the rink” — Pat Benatar‘s “Promises in the Dark,” which is not one of the two songs by her they play (those would be “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Heartbreaker”). In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard “Promises” since around the time it came out. Again, not a great cut, but definitely off the well-beaten, post-consolidation path.
I was still trying to wrap my mind around the situation when I was slammed by the start-stop riffage of Led Zeppelin‘s “The Wanton Song” — an incredibly deep cut from Physical Graffiti. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this on the air outside a midnight “Zepset.” So naturally, I rolled the windows down and CRANKED the motherfucker.
This was followed by a live version of Rush‘s “Closer to the Heart.” OK, classic rock stations do play this one, but not the concert version. (I rolled up the windows, because there were chicks on the street.) After that, it was “Holy Diver” by Dio. That’s right — they played Holy Fucking Diver during a.m. drive-time. The windows went right back down, and the devil horns went straight up.
By that time, I’d decided to do the right thing and go to the station’s website as soon as I got to the office and send them a message about what an incredible breath of fresh air their approach to classic rock was. Who cares if I didn’t love every song — at least they weren’t the same songs. At my desk, I hastily flipped open the laptop, pointed the browser to Classic Rock 94.7, and. . .
. . . was greeted by a horribly-designed landing page announcing the imminent arrival of 94.7 “Fresh” FM. A cheesy video flash player with Jason Mraz, Corinne Bailey-Rae and Gwen Stefani popped up. The format flips with zero fanfare on April 6. It was like finding out you have a terminal illness, then having the doctor call you to say they’d made a mistake, and you’re actually fine, only to call you back later to say that they’d read the wrong charts, and yes you really are gonna die. OK. Maybe not exactly like that. But disappointing, nonetheless.
And that, my precious little ones, is why radio fucking blows diseased fucking goat penis.