11/17/2005

Scrambled.

Paralyzed by options lately. Well, that and lack of motivation and inspiration--a constant problem for me, especially in these late fall and winter months when everything starts to feel like a herculean effort. Seasonal affective disorder or something like that, I don't know. It's not important. What is important is that the slightest bit of difficulty in jumpstarting the brain will keep me from writing for days and weeks at a time. Sorry about that.

Right now, I have no idea what I even want to talk about. There are always so many new albums flowing down the broadband pipe and onto my computer, some of which get lots of listens and some of which sit there for months before I ever hear more than 30 seconds. That's not to mention the steady stream of burns from friends, cheap used stuff from the record store, and rediscoveries of old albums I haven't played in years. I cart around a 32-slot CD book that's always full, and in general have at least half a dozen more CDs still in their cases, plus about the same amount of cassettes, shoved into my backpack. It's always way heavier than it needs to be. And picking just one of those things to write about is sometimes a nigh-impossible task. Lately, I've had brief ideas about such scattered albums as Hellbender's "Con Limon", The Boo Radleys' "Everything's Alright Forever", Klimt 1918's "Dopaguerra", Swordplay's "Tilt EP", and at least a few others. I'll get to them all in time.

Today, I want to talk about the radio. Radio sucks, that's a good starting point. I hate it when I have to listen to it. If I come into my work and my boss has a station on, it's invariably the lite-rock station, and though I don't work at the right time to encounter the noxiousness of the Delilah show, it's bad enough any time of the day. The best I can hope for is a Sarah MacLachlan song to ease the pain of The Doobie Brothers and Lonestar and all that other crap. And there are always a million advertisements, which are more distracting than even the worst of the songs that or any other station plays.

The other stations are no better, either. We used to have two classic-rock stations in Richmond, but one of them switched to a "new rock" (which is what they're calling what they used to call "alternative", now that it's become obvious to everyone that there's nothing left for it to be an alternative to) format, to go head-to-head with the non-Clear Channel station playing that style of music. The non-Clear Channel station is better, with a slightly more varied selection, but it's still not that great. One in every half-dozen songs is decent. Maybe. As for the classic-rock station that remains, it quickly jumped on the "Richmond's only classic-rock station!!!" soapbox, and continued to ram the same 100 songs that we've been hearing every day for 20 years down our throats. See, even the non-Clear Channel stations have a very limited playlist, because even the non-Clear Channel stations are owned by some conglomerate, Radio One or Cox or whatever. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 did massive deregulation work to the laws governing radio station ownership, and ten years later radio has been so ground-under-heel that there's barely anything left.

What inspired me to talk about all of this, though, is a new phenomenon in radio. Apparently, the big conglomerates have figured out that everyone hates radio now, that the only people who listen other than those forced to at their job or the fast-food places where they buy their lunch are kids under 15 and all the right-wing conspiracy nutjobs listening to G. Gordon Liddy on the AM band. It didn't take them too long to come up with a way to sell that disaffection back to us, either. Have you heard about this new format called "Jack"? Apparently it was named after some DJ who had an online radio show where he varied the playlist far more than a standard radio station would. He had a lot more songs on hand that he was willing to play than most radio stations do, and he was far less restrictive with genre content, making wild, unexpected transitions between, say, early 90s alt-rock and Motown soul, then following it all up with a famous disco track and a mid-80s new wave chestnut. People thought it was amazing, or so the articles I've read in the "Rock N' Roll" (aka "Industry Bullshit") section of "Rolling Stone" magazine tell me. Then the format started showing up in random large-market towns, with a different name every time (usually some generic person's name, like "Lisa" or "Bobby". Or maybe other names completely; I pulled those out of my ass). It worked well in those towns, scored high ratings, etc. Now it's starting to spread a lot more.

We have one of those stations in Richmond. Calling themselves "Liberty", they proclaim loudly that they "play anything!" on all their station breaks. And they're catching on like wildfire here, just like they did everywhere else; at least that's the case if how often I hear this less than half-year old station in fast-food places is any indication. I've heard more of that station than any other in recent weeks.

Make no mistake, I'm not all that into it. It is cool to hear songs I haven't heard on the radio in a long time, and some of them are even decent. More than the usual amount. It's cool to be reminded about the discordant violin sawing in U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday", the way it makes the entire song. It's cool to be reminded that Duran Duran had some legitimately great songs on their first couple of albums. But it sure does suck to be reminded all over again how much I hate Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", a song I thought I'd left behind when I quit going to gay clubs and fraternity parties (believe it or not, that was the same period of my life when I was going to both). And while I am hearing a lot of songs I haven't heard on the radio in a long time, there's also still plenty of the same old bullshit mixed in there. It's just... get this; they're mixing up all these radio chestnuts from two dozen different formats and throwing them all together into one big hodgepodge. So what ends up happening is that 80% of the time, the song you're hearing is an overplayed tiny-playlist format victim, but you only notice a fraction of those times, because most of the time it's not a song that's overplayed on your format of choice. Selling the same old bullshit to a new group of consumers: whatever program director it was who came up with this idea probably got a big bonus. The playlist is way bigger too, deflecting criticism on another level. It's kind of depressing to see it happen, but in the end it's almost funny. And at least it makes radio interesting, if only because of the unanticipated transitions between mediocre songs of different genres.

Whatever though; in the end, there's still nothing worthwhile on the radio, unless you have a university station or a volunteer-run low power station in your area. We've actually got both here, but one comes in through a haze of static if it comes in at all, and the other has such a strange schedule that when I remember to tune in, I usually find it playing news programs. For now, I'm pretty much sticking to CDs.

5 Comments:

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12:56 PM  
Blogger Nope said...

Andrew,
We have Jack up here in NY, with those cornball "we play what we want" ads on the sides of busses. I saw a commercial for it, and it was a real disappointment. You're right, they do play what they want - a variety of bulshit as opposed to a narrow sliver of bullshit.
Do you know anything about internet radio? I get the idea that's the new thing, at least according to my coworker who calls me to his desk to listen when the Stereo MCs come on.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Nope said...

Andrew,
We have Jack up here in NY, with those cornball "we play what we want" ads on the sides of busses. I saw a commercial for it, and it was a real disappointment. You're right, they do play what they want - a variety of bulshit as opposed to a narrow sliver of bullshit.
Do you know anything about internet radio? I get the idea that's the new thing, at least according to my coworker who calls me to his desk to listen when the Stereo MCs come on.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your can accomplish the same shit by flipping through the stations.

10:16 AM  
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2:27 AM  

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