Radio, Radio

Of course this was inevitable, but it's still disheartening. Radio, like so many other things, has long since abandoned its quirky, single-market roots, where an interesting, music-loving DJ could play the records he or she liked and function as a kind of tastemaker for listeners willing to strap themselves in for the ride. Once playlists became things that were programmed nationwide by the marketing departments of a few large companies, it was only a matter of time before the DJ was disposed of altogether.

And in some ways it's a relief, really. Who wants to listen to the inane drive-time banter of the Daily Morning Zoo or Kookie Karl's Crazytorium? Not me. But I can still remember a time when local radio was cool, when I could tune to my favorite station and leave it there all day. A time when driving across a few states meant the chance to find out what people in other markets were listening to and maybe luck into a station that filled its early-morning hours with bootlegged Grateful Dead shows or small-time local bands or weird disco/polka formats.

Now, driving from Washington, D.C. to Washington state just means an endless loop of the same songs. I feel sorry for anyone making a cross-country trip without a CD player or an ipod these days, because your only hope for a break from the oppressive sameness of corporate radio will be catching some gospel or bluegrass on a public station, or maybe picking up the weak signal of a college station for a few miles.

A while back, we interviewed John Richards, who in many ways is the Last DJ Standing in the radio wars, and let me again give a shameless plug to his station, an outfit out of Seattle, Wash., that started as a small-time college operation and now streams online to listeners around the globe. It's great to see KEXP have so much success, but at the same time if commercial radio were even marginally palatable, I can't help but think the station would still be just a small blip on the landscape. A cool blip, definitely, and one that Seattleites would gladly rock out to, but probably not the worldwide empire it seems to be growing into.

Just as people twenty years ago would have laughed in your face if you'd suggested they should pay for the chance to hear decent radio programming over a satellite system.


Pete said...

Actually, were it not for Paul Allen's billions, KEXP would probably just be another Zoo Crew or "alternative" station.

TMC said...

I don't know, Mike. I, for one, haven't heard quite enough from The Game, Gorillaz, the Ying-Yang Twins, Missy Elliot, Fatman Scoop, Pretty Ricky, Bow Wow, 3 Doors down, Green Day, Mike Jones, and Simple Plan.

I wish there were more stations where I could find them.

Mike said...

Well, Paul Allen's money definitely helped them, particularly in that it allowed them to invest in the technology to have a really good online stream, and tie-ins with the Experience Music Project. And helped them pay the per-play licensing fees that knocked a lot of college stations off the internet. But the almost cult-like following of Richards from people all over the country seems to speak to the dearth of choices for people who don't want to listen to the same top-40/adult alternative offerings in every radio market.

Kistulentz said...

Speaking of Morning Zoos, I just want to post a shout-out in honor of the late David Haines, who did the news in DC, first on the old WAVA-FM (when it played rock and had the Morning Zoo with Don and Mike) and then for about 14 years on WPGC with Donnie Simpson.

Haines was a radio old-schooler, think Les Nessman crossed with Paul Harvey--and he was funny as shit. Which in the news we could use more of. In honor of him, I will now tell you that the burnt toast and coffee time here in Tallahassee in 9:25 pm.