Monday, June 29, 2009

On the radio.

I can remember being a kid sitting by the window in my room, radio on, finger poised on the duo record/play button on my cassette recorder, waiting for one of my many favorite songs to come on so I could record them, capture lightning in a boom box, and play it back whenever I wanted. I could never quite get the whole song. My method was flawed, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the task. I spent the majority of one summer (I think between 5th and 6th grades) honing my skills before ultimately settling on simply recording the end of every song and station break ready for what might be next.
I spent a lot of baby sitting money on blank tapes. So much that I probably could have just bought the majority of music I wanted, but that idea never occurred to me. Don't know whether I'm dense or just naturally thrifty. I lean toward density because despite the amount of recording I did and the number of songs I captured (Chaka...Chaka Khan...) I rarely, if ever, played back anything I taped.
Frankly, I think I just loved the radio. I loved the serendipity of it, the singular joy it brought when one of my favorite songs was played at the very moment I happened to be listening; when you had no choice, but to stop what you were doing, turn up the sound and sing really loudly because who knew when you were going to hear it again?
I still love the radio. I love NPR because I'm in my 30's and I'm supposed to, but for music, despite the proliferation of ipods and satellite and on-line on-demand music services, nothing beats a good radio station.
And good radio is really hard to find. Most radio stations gave up the love of music so necessary to ceaselessly put it on 24-hours-a-day in favor of airing a jangled auditory gee-gaw of gossip, traffic, sports and doofishness (trademark!). Nearly all radio is "talk" radio whether they embrace the moniker or not. What used to be bastions of local identity, culture, music and flair are now mostly all the products of marketeering and playlists generated based not on what people genuinely adore, but on what corporate record companies (teamed with whatever other merchandising/product tie-in/tatertot making groups) want us to buy. And well, that's just messed up.
When I was in middle school, the coolest DJ at the coolest radio station in town was my BFF's dad. He played what we liked. And I know that there were plenty of shenanigans going on (in the radio business. Would never dream of besmirching the rep of the awesome Wayne Fanning), but it was at least a bit more organic, more local, more about the listener, more human.
Satellite radio, although still made by people at some point, just seems to sterile for me to get into. When we had satellite television, we also got satellite radio by proxy. Even though I couldn't find a good radio station to save my life, I couldn't fall in love with radio on the TV. Very surgical and precise, neatly packaged in specific increment, I would never be surprised by a pea in my carrots. So specific were the genres, it would be nearly impossible to be surprised by anything beamed to my ears from on-high. And I'm the kind of girl that likes the random weed that pops up in the garden. That's where I find inspiration and why I've got wood sorrel in a pot on my porch. I'm willing to wager more imaginations are being dulled by satellite radio at this very moment than Nickelodeon.
Why aren't we willing to take any kinds of risks anymore? Why are so many of us so complacent, eating the same Lean Cuisine we could find in Terra Haute, Toronto, Texarkanna, or Taiwan, listening to the same songs we could hear broadcast in the same way worldwide as well?
There's so much to hear out there. Shouldn't we all begin by listening to as much as possible?
The good news is that some people out there are thinking and doing, not just bitching and grousing like me. In my neck of the woods, you can get local, excellent radio via WNRN. You can also listen on-line if you don't live in range. It's community supported, meaning that the listeners donate money (about that, it's coming, I swear, I'm just so poor right now, dude, for real...)to keep the station afloat, and while there are businesses that underwrite programming who get plugs every now and again, there are no commercials.
The best part of WNRN though isn't the lack of commercials or the wicked fund raiser t-shirts, it's the true love for music - all music - that pours right through the speakers and out the rolled-down windows of the car. Though primarily a modern rock station, you can hear pretty much anything a pretty much anytime. If you want a dedicated hour of bluegrass, you can hear just that at the appointed hour, but you're just as likely to hear an Old Crow Medicine Show song smushed between old-school Depeche Mode and something so new you never even heard anything like it ever before.
And the best part of all about WNRN is the responsiveness of the on-air crew. Hear something you like, but miss the station break, just give them a call. They'll tell you what it was, the album it came off of, give you a personal critique of the rest of it and wish you a heartfelt "good day!" all in about 17 seconds. And best of the best of all, if you're hearing just a little bit too much of something, say Aimee Mann whinging endlessly on about your having a lot of money, but not being able to afford the freeway, you can give them a call explaining that you will have to go find a puppy with cancer to kick if you happen to hear it one more time in a given day, and they'll take a wee break from playing it. Just for you. And just because you asked them to.
Not that I would ever have done such a thing. I personally love Aimee Mann. Really. Can't you tell? No irony there. At. All. Uh-uh. 'Til Tuesday was boss. Oh, shush. Keep it down now. Voices carry...even that shower-curtain-hook earring, dating an asshole at the opera video was right on. Who hasn't lived through that? Dude, if I could sing one to three notes max without ever moving my jaw, I'd *be* Aimee Mann myself...and gladly.
Life is bigger with real radio. Life is better, too. Why would we accept anything less? Even if we don't always like what we're hearing, it still gives us something, even if it's just the motivation to cross the room to turn it off for give or take three-and-a-half minutes. Come and join me in the magnificent joy of hearing the best song ever at 1:13 pm on a random afternoon when the mundanity of everyday tasks had gotten overwhelming and for a brief moment, the Universe turns her shining face to you, and you just have to stop what you're doing, turn up the radio and dance. Because who knows when it will come around again.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Jennifer! That was lovely. And besides the compliments, what I enjoyed most was your description of recording songs off the radio as a kid, exactly as I did. We're happy to have listeners like you on our side!

Ronda Chollock
Music Director

Shana said...

OMG, WNRN is my favorite station anywhere, ever. I couldn't even find a station as good when I lived in New York.

Derrick Mayhew said...

I used to do the exact same thing--and perhaps during the same summer--with the tape recorder on pause, anxiously awaiting the beginning notes of the next song to decide whether to record or not. I made some great mixed tapes that way, and sometimes got radio/release versions of songs which were different from the album versions. Things are indeed a little too easy now, with instant digital gratification the norm.

You knew Wayne Fanning? I liked him; he's the only local DJ I remember by name. I remember he switched stations a couple of times...K92, U102. WNRN is indeed a great station; I enjoy listening to it during my drives between Charlottesville & Lynchburg. Unfortunately the signal fades at some point north of Charlottesville. I enjoy listening to Jazz Tupelo, who has the COOLEST name ever for a DJ!!

Jennifer said...

I did know Wayne Fanning, but only as some friend of his daughter's. I doubt he took much notice of me.
He was the coolest DJ around though. I think he is still working...just not in these parts. Florida? Texas? Get your googlefu on Derrick and send him a fan letter.

David said...

On the radio- I was right there with you- "Sweet Dreams are made of this"- "King of Pain"- I had 'em all. Good stuff girl keep it coming!