Monday, October 8, 2012

#595: Lowest Common Denominator

OK, so I sat down earlier this aft 2 write this long, ranting post about the suckiness of Seattle-area radio, a post that named names & blamed blames, a post that marveled about how -- with 2 million people living in the Greater Puget Sound metropolitan area -- we can't seemta get enuf decent radio 2 keep every kinda listener happy. Or even me.
So I bashed this up, added some completely unscientific song-counting data compiled over this past weekend when I was stuck at work with nothing BUT the radio 4 a music source ... read thru it, proofread it, it was even ALMOST in English, quite an accomplishment 4 me, sent it off, & ...
The Internet ATE it. 2 Fucking Hours of work. GONE! I couldn't recover it. Obviously a conspiracy by our local Clear Channel- and Cumulus-owned radio stations 2 keep you from reading The Truth.
I haven't lost a whole post in 3-1/2 years, so I was kinda bummed.
(OK, here's the short version: "Classic Rock" KZOK's playlist hasn't changed since 1982. KJR plays the same oldies every nite, practically at the same time -- a friend of mine sez autistic people LOVE KJR because it's so predictable. KISW is great if you can take the Scorpions & Krokus 24/7. KMTT "The Mountain" usedta have the widest variety of music locally, now they just sound like a 2nd-rate KZOK. & it's been a LONG time since Q104.5 played any oldies as unexpected as Small Faces' "Lazy Sunday.")
Looking at my local radio stations as an Xample, is it NE wonder no1 listens 2 radio anymore? Is it any wonder so many people download music off the Internet? Why bother wasting yer time with some1 else's wretched musical taste -- or their opinion of what's "popular" -- when you can assemble yer own dream playlist 4 yer iPod?
It wasn't all garbage that I heard over the radio this past weekend, there were occasional suprises, but most of it was The Same Old Stuff, formats that haven't changed since 1979, playlists that haven't had much "new" stuff added 2 them since about 1982.
When we COULD have anything. There is so much more out there....
In my dreams, a good radio station would B 1 with a playlist open enuf 4 everything from old Buck Owens & Johnny Cash hits from the '60s 2 Coldplay or Coheed and Cambria -- from '50s rock&roll classics 2 Green Day's "Holiday" -- from Eminem's comedy stuff 2 gushy love ballads like Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last."
From Motown hits 2 classic Atlantic Records R&B 2 singer-songwriters 2 synthesizer noise, from Broadway showtunes like CAMELOT's hilarious "Fie On Goodness" 2 Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" -- or even ELP's! From the Beatles' "There's a Place" 2 the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." AC/DC & Motorhead 2 Nick Drake & Pat Metheny. Rare Earth to Miles Davis, Grand Funk to John Coltrane -- no limits, no formats, as long as it's GOOD.
Back in the '60s, they used to call this "pop." It was broadcasting, instead of narrowcasting. Everything got in.
Such an open format, which could potentially attract a wide audience, couldn't fail 2 B successful. And I'll bet listeners would B a lot happier than they R right now. They might even be suprised, delighted.
Everybody seems 2 agree that radio sucks.
So ... why not?


R S Crabb said...

Well Tad, sorry to hear you lost most of your rant about those crappy CCC stations you got up there. Cumulus owns most of the stations here and they all suck. KRNA, KDAT KHAK, all Cumulus pieces of shit Corporate crap. The only indpendent owned station KMRY tries but relies too much on the same old same old.

At least in Arizona they have KCDX that blew my mind with their off the wall music from the likes of Tonio K and Flash.

I don't forsee any changes unless there's a act of congress repealing that Tele Comm Act of 1996 and force Clear Channel or Cumulus to give up their stations. But Corporations love that money coming in. Good radio is basically a thing of the past seems to me.

rastronomicals said...

I'd say that I feel ya, Tad--but I don't.

What I hear coming from you (and from Mr. Crabbe as well I think) is a disappointment that radio, which used to move you and stir your soul, has descended so deeply into schlock and repetition and schlock and repetition and sentimental crap.

What I think--I'm not sure, but I think--is that you expect more from radio, because you once heard it when it was great.

But with one notable non-commercial exception, I've never heard great radio. I've never been excited by the form, because by the time I was a teenager (and really even before) radio had already begun its path toward safe homogeneity.

Mr. Crabbe talks about that 1996 act that allowed these monolithic corporations to monopolize the airwaves, but really, that's only a question of degree if I can namedrop a Wire tune: radio had started to suck long before then.

I've read about freeform radio from the sixties that could do the kind of thing you propose, at least adjusted for its era: Paul Butterfield and Miles Davis and Vanilla Fudge and James Brown and Nancy Sinatra and Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker and The Nice, etc., etc. But 1) that kind of stuff never went on in Miami and 2) it was gone by 1975 anyway. The hippies got co-opted, Jerry Rubin became an entrepreneur and radio became big business.

So by 1978 or '79 when I started listening, it was already gone (to namecheck a song that's part of the problem). Sure, for a year or two, the repetitive playlists *seemed* exciting, simply because I'd never heard "Whole Lotta Love" before.

By the time I was 16, I was ready to move on. Instead of hearing "White Room" one more time, I wanted to hear deeper cuts from Cream, or from West Bruce & Laing, or from Jack Bruce's Songs for a Tailor. And maybe I loved "Starship Trooper," but "Lark's Tongues in Aspic"--each fucking part--excited me just as much.

And there was no way radio was playing this stuff. I stopped very quickly thinking of radio as a place to hear good, exciting music.

And so when I got into punk rock and hardcore and extreme metal, it didn't even seem wrong to me that radio wouldn't touch the stuff. It was in fact sort of a badge of honor: I listen to stuff radio would never play.

Radio couldn't disappoint me as I knew viscerally it was crap from the getgo. Its steepening descent
towards the lowest common denominator had made me a cynic.

I recognize that this is probably unfortunate. I hear a song like "Roadrunner" by the Modern Lovers without even being able to comprehend the joy that Richman could take from a simple transistor radio. But even there, I never had it, so I don't miss it.

By this point, radio is the very LAST place a music lover will go for his fix. The only people who listen to radio are those who don't care about music. That's why Clear Channel goes with these pre-packaged rigid playlists. No-one knows the difference. "Tush" or "Crazy on You" or "Staying Alive" isn't music to this company, or its listeners, it's something safe and familiar and non-threatening.

rastronomicals said...

And we all know what happens when (most) people (present company excepted of course) are confronted by something new or strange or weird: they turn that dial, the one thing you cannot allow them to do if you want to sell them hamburgers and air conditioning repair services.

And that's also why they have these obscene and idiotic morning shows. I know for a fact the one that our market's rock station has doesn't even PLAY music. It's just an endless stream of immature sexual innuendo from 6 - 10 each morning.

And it ain't much better during drive time.

So, in a way I can sympathize, and I guess I can say sorry for your loss, but you're barking up the wrong tree. Even repealing the Tele-com Act won't help. either. All it would mean is that there would be 20 companies doing playing their insipid marketing shuffle, not just three.

What with the iPod and the rest of it, it still hasn't reached rock bottom, it WILL get worse, as unbelievable and as depressing as that may sound.

TAD said...

R: I think you're right, sad as it is. But it COULD be so much better, & at no potential loss of $$$, I don't think. & at little danger of shocking anyone's delicate musical tastes....
A bigger problem could be my boredom with almost all the music I've got in the house right now -- either time 2 clean out the vinyl closet or go on another binge....
Thanks for your usual thoughtful commentary....