I am thrilled to be nominated as a top radio personality for the third year in a row in the NUVO Best of Indy awards. That said, as your duly awarded “Cultural Visionary Trailblazer,” (AKA: “The Crystal Hockey Puck for Effort” … also courtesy of NUVO) I am hereby calling for local music fans to unite and urging everyone to throw their votes to my esteemed colleagues/amicable competitors at The DoitIndy Radio Hour to get them a piece of THEIR long-overdue recognition, but most-of-all to get an Internet station ON THE MAP and above the suits in the board room crowd.
Category Archives: Internet Radio
So the next phase in my 12-step plan for world domination commences. On to phase six … wait … Let me think … Start podcast … Get Pluto reclassified as dwarf planetoid… Obtain mannequin … Gain notoriety as a cultural visionary … yeah, phase six …
Okay, so it was an honor, and very cool that they thought of me, and I did apologize in advance for having what was sure to be the rowdiest entourage of any award recipient of the evening. If nothing else, we assured that we would probably never get invited to another NUVO event again, and reinforced their decade-long boycott of us. Picture THIS cocktail reception:
“So, what did you do?”
“Well, I gave my entire crop from the family farm to a homeless shelter and went broke …”
“I turned my home into a shelter for battered Syrian refugee women …”
“I’ve been telling dick and fart jokes in my basement for a decade now!”
Feeling a bit saucy today, so I thought I might stray from my comfort zone of Yorkshire community radio and dive into something a bit different — and less distracting, as I have a hell of a lot of work to get done in the next three days. Decided to take a trip over to Moscow and see what they had going on on their airwaves. Mostly this stirs from an idea I read yesterday in Spooks Digest about noise burst transmissions on a Moscow state radio transmission … believed to actually be Korean signals to their subs, if you go in for these kinds of conspiracy theories. Anyway, got me to wondering what Russian radio must be like if only the trained experts caught the transmission. So, I flipped around a few, and settled on Radio Jazz 89.1. Good music, but slightly disappointing. Most of what they play is standard American fare, with a few surprises (or at least slightly more obscure artists than I’m used to) thrown in. No actual Russian jazz players, as near as I could tell though.
Not sure if I’ve officially put it down here, but I suppose most of you know my handicap system for the standard 10-point female-classification scale. Essentially, one bonus point for red heads, orientals, European accents of some form, musicians, or holding melee weapon. Two bonus points for Slovenian accents, playing a musical instrument well on stage, or being handy with said melee weapon. Yes, this makes Suzanna Hoff something like a 12 when she’s playing … and I don’t even particularly LIKE her music. Kinda the same way with a lot of the particular flavors of Jazz these guys were playing, but when a Russian DJ announces it, it’s just so freakin’ sexy. Well, okay, NOT sexy was the sultry jazz version of “Conjunction Junction.” Not sure if this was a joke, or maybe our eastern block friends do not know the context, but it added a bit too much of the surreal to the morning, so I decided to flip over for some rock-and-roll.
A little history was made this week. Most of you probably didn’t even know about it; others of you probably followed my posts a bit befuddled; the coolest of you joined me in rooting it on. I just figured, since I’m due for a blog post anyway, I might as well recap the week for you. Monday morning I got a Tweet from one of my favorite radio shows asking me to support the “Even Bigger Show” in their attempt to break the world record and stay on the air for 80 consecutive hours. Now, before you ask why a terrestrial radio station needs promotional help from a streaming Internet radio station, I should probably add that the radio station in question is located in Doncaster, England. Before you ask why I would have even put myself on the radar of a local radio station in a foreign country, I should probably add that the show is called “Dave Brock Buttered My Cat.” (Light bulb.) The 5% of you who know who Dave Brock is are with me now; the rest of you are rolling your eyes and just assuming the music nerd side of my brain has found kindred spirits on the other side of the globe. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is bemoaning a major economic power where 95% of the population goes deer-in-the-headlights at a good sci-fi-based prog rock reference. Anyway, challenge in hand, I passed the word on like a good trooper and, just for grins, tuned into Mark Kelly and Simon Saynor once I sat down at my desk. By lunch time, I was completely inspired.
By way of history, I discovered radio as a kid living in various small college towns back in the 70’s. This was a magic era for radio. AM was waning, but still pretty popular. FM was still finding its legs, and thus largely experimental. Most importantly, and probably the most difficult part for anyone under the age of 30 to understand, the Feds had not yet deregulated ownership of radio stations, so the “Great Satans” like Clearchannel and Infinity with their mantras of “less talk; more commercials” did not exist. It was an amazing time when every radio station was different, and they were all competing for your ear. This was the era when it was all about crazy personalities called (finger quotes) “disk jockeys” doing crazy publicity stunts to get the town talking about them and tuning into their station to see what was going to happen next. I know this is a foreign concept to you youngsters who have only known three types of pre-formatted radio stations and radio personalities who are spit out of machines in four prepackaged, completely predictable, flavors. Mark and Simon, however, were spontaneous, genuine, and knew their shit when it came to music … of any genre (any they played just about all of them). I spent the afternoon feeling like I was nine years old again.
For three and a half days I wandered around with my earbuds in, refusing to go anywhere where I couldn’t be close to an electrical outlet for recharging or free WiFi to keep the battery from draining too quickly. People were getting annoyed with having only half my attention … especially my bosses. Sheesh, come on, radio history is being made here — either that or one of these dudes is going to snap and strangle the other live on the air. Either way, I ain’t missin’ any of it. Meanwhile, the guys were giving sporadic shout outs to everyone who was texting, Tweeting, or Facebooking in. I got a chuckle every time I heard the name of an Indianapolis musician in the middle of the mix. (Converts!) At one point, after a shout out from Jack Barkley, they apparently went out to YouTube and played a track from Whoa!Tiger, unsolicited, on the air. I mean, seriously, did you ever hear that happen here? Okay, maybe during the “specially designated” time every week when the corporate overlords allow their little trained minions to have a “local hour” … which is really 36 minutes after commercials.
By the last night, you could tell 65 hours of sleeplessness was taking its toll. Fortunately, what was 2AM over there was barely the start of the weekly open mic over here. Once now “International Superstar Jack Barkley” and I got the gang caught up as to what was going on, we pulled the SineFM webcam up on an iPad and spent the evening passing it around the bar, taking pictures of it, and Tweeting them across the pond one every few songs — just so good ol’ Mark and Simon knew people actually were awake and rooting for them. We even videoed a song-dedication and posted it to Facebook for the guys, though that got butchered and finally showed up three hours later with the sound out of synch. We did get a little sporadic banter going, but obviously the guys were kinda busy over there, and 140 characters is hardly a conversation medium. In the end, we cleared up a few misconceptions about things, like “cockles” versus “clams.” For example: in landlocked Indiana, clams are for sauces, chowder, or deep frying. Over there, clams are ubiquitous snacks that apparently get pickled, served with vinegar, or made into ice cream.
In the end, they guys reclaimed their world record after 80 sleepless hours on the air. My faith was restored that there were still real personalities on the airwaves that can unite a community, fire the imagination, and inspire some of us to try to out-crazy them. Best of all, and it may sound corny, I loved that a group of people got pulled into a shared experience that was focused around music and radio. That’s the kind of thing that, in my humble opinion, made the medium great back in its heyday, has been largely forgotten by corporate radio today, and is a completely foreign concept to a younger audience who seek out perfect playlists, computerized music recommendations, and the isolation of earbuds. To them I say, “Shut down the Pandora and do a little exploring on Tunein. Let a human introduce you to new music for a change.” I know I’ll never go back.
Hats off to Mark and Simon! Thanks for the ride!
As I mentioned in part one of this series, I am quite fond of terrestrial radio, particularly terrestrial radio from parts of the world where I’ve never been and where the iron fist of Clear Channel has not put a stranglehold on personality and individuality. There is one thing that you can’t get from conventional radio stations, however, and that is genre programming – unless of course your genre of choice is popular, of which very few of mine are. Obviously listener or advertiser-supported stations have to appeal to some sort of common denominator in general population, so I can’t fault them for that, but sometimes, you just don’t want the light banter. Sometimes, you’re in the mood for something very specific, or maybe even completely new. That’s where Internet radio comes in. Like podcasting, I see this largely as true music fans creating exactly the kind of content they want to hear, but are sorely lacking because some suit can’t figure out how to make money off of niche audiences. Truly there is something for everyone here, and I am constantly amazed by the niches I have never heard of before, much less explored to their potential. What follows is a run-down of the Internet stations that I listen to most often, broken down by mood/style.
Work / Writing
The most-intensive brainpower-wise part of my job is going to meetings and writing big-assed documents, therefore you need something atmospheric to set a mood. It’s also vitally important that there not be words (or at least none in a language you understand), otherwise song lyrics could tend to start to creep into your technical documentation either by accident … or on purpose. That is to say, it’s very unprofessional when your requirements document states “The final output of the reporting sub-system shall take you where you want to go and give you all you need to know.” ( Actually the rhyme was rather nice and it proved that nobody really reads anything I write anyway.) For better choices of music, check out:
- SomaFM: Mission Control – I dislike the moniker “New Age Music,” mostly because it’s dim sum of music — it all looks the same on the packaging, and you never know if you’re getting steamed lobster or urine-soaked rams bladder until you bite into it. While most of it seems to be some guy on his back porch with a tape recorder cutting the National Geographic Presents the Sound of Crickets and Farting Squirrels boxed set, there is one little branch known as “Space Music” that relies heavily on multi-layered synthesizers and heavily structured, usually rhythmless chords. I eat that stuff up. Throw in actual audio recordings of historic NASA missions, or (back when we had a shuttle program) live audio from the current shuttle mission, and I’m sold.
- SomaFM: Suburbs of GOA – Never sell the “Shake” feature of the TuneIn app short. After about half a dozen or so, you end up in some very strange neighborhoods (musically speaking) where you wouldn’t dream of going on your own. That’s how I found this station. Wasn’t sure what a Goa was, or what the difference between Desi music and North Indian music was, but thankfully there is Wikipedia, so I now know more about the history of the Indian subcontinent that is really necessary to appreciate this station. It’s hard to describe the music, except to say that if Alan Wilder were to write music for Indian takeout restaurants, it would probably sound a lot like this. It’s definitely rhythmic, with some nice synthetic and vocal atmospheres, but lacking the crass “Unnnn-Tsss” that normally makes me grind my teeth in annoyance.
- DCSoundstream – Like New Age, Jazz is another of those generic labels where a lot of instrumental music gets filed. The only difference is, when a jazz musician uses wind-chimes in a song, there is a plan involved, or at least a damned good reason. This particular station generally focuses on current fusion jazz, which is one of my favorite forms. I’ve found a lot of music here that I didn’t know about like Joe Zawinul and Alex Machacek, along with old favorites like Alan Holdsworth and Al DiMeola.
- Coffee and the Muse – Everything from light jazz, to new age, to light classical. The station is actually funded by the sale of fresh coffee beans you can order of their website, when you download your daily crossword puzzle. Absolutely brilliant marketing, and great music. It’s almost like a virtual coffee shop in this regard, only without the hot soccer moms and pretentious art student chicks in cats-eye glasses and knit caps trying to read you poems about the first guy that ever tried to feel them up.
Work / Programming
There’s a definite mindset you need to be in for programming, and music is critical to getting a rhythm down. Let’s face it, you’ll go postal (or at best destroy a couple of keyboards and/or monitors) trying to find that one elusive bug or logic error if you don’t have something feeding your happiness quotient. I often find myself shaking my fist and muttering gibberish at the ceiling like a neglected SIM if I try to program for too long without appropriate tunage playing. Lyrics are okay, but familiar songs generally lead me to playing air keyboard or singing along when I should be working, which really annoys the rest of the engineering bay. Therefore, I tend to gravitate more towards the progressive rock or metal genres, as there is always new, unexplored material to be had here.
- Morow.FM – Europe, particularly the Scandinavian nations are light years ahead of us musically (and sexually … but that’s a different blog post). I’m sure this is Obama’s fault and directly related to cutting the funding for NPR and other things cultural. This station, out of France no less, focuses mainly on the more modern end of the prog spectrum (Dream Theater et al) and the European prog metal (why don’t we have more prog metal in the states?), but they do occasionally dip back into the well. So far, this is my favorite of all of the prog stations.
- Aural Moon – Leans more towards the classical end of the prog rock spectrum. Not that there’s anything wrong with that music, but one can only take about three hours of Marillion’s endless wailing and Jethro Tull’s 16th century brand of rock music without really craving just one good power chord. A lot of what they play is like being at a renaissance fair, only without hot chicks in corsets serving beer and stew, in which case, what’s the point.
- RadioIO Progressive – I was initially disappointed, having selected much of my listening habits by geographic region, that this station does not, in fact, broadcast from one of the moons of Jupiter, but still, it makes for good listening. Mostly 60’s and 70’s prog once again. Similar to Aural Moon, but with a slightly more diverse playlist that plays around in the fringes of mainstream music from the era as well.
- Prog Rock and Metal Radio (PRM) – Will Mangold puts this one out, the station is similar to Morow, but features more of the straight up heavier prog with a large selection of stuff I’ve never heard of, and this is my sweet spot for music, so if you can get a few past me, you’re doing pretty good and I tip my proverbial cap to you.
Around the House
If I’m not cooking or feeding the baby, “around the house” for me, these days anyway, is putting up walls, spackling, or painting down in Studio B. You know, sweaty, manual labor stuff. Therefore the order of the day is good old rock and roll, preferably stuff that I’ve never heard and isn’t already in my MP3 collection (which is, shall we say, extensive). Therefore these stations offer a more unconventional mix of great rock that you are either not familiar with, or haven’t heard in a while.
- The Legacy – Love these guys. The station features classic rock, but the deep cuts, or album rock for those of you who were around in the early days of FM. Usually the kind of stuff I am notorious for liking better than the so-called “hit singles,” much to the annoyance of my musician friends who often, but not always, regard the tracks as the “leftover fluff” they threw on just to take up space. Sure you’ve heard of Kansas, and you know the hits, but how many of you are familiar with “End of the Age” from the Drastic Measures album. That’s what we’re talking about here.
- PEARadio – Not sure if it’s “Pea” radio or “Pear” adio, or what fruits and vegetables have to do with music, but I’ll just go with the marketing flow on this one and assume they had a vision and a reason for the name. The station bills itself as “eclectic.” Also not sure what that means, exactly, but you get a huge mix of music covering about 80 years and spanning blues, rock, folk, country, and everything in between covering both the hits and the more obscure stuff. It’s great if you don’t know what you want to listen to, but the biggest selling point is that you can listen to this station for days without hearing a repeat.
- 1FM: 80’s Euro – Okay, back in the 80’s I was all about hair metal, blues, and towards the end of the decade, jazz fusion. I wrote off a lot of this stuff as cheap pop back then (even though I was an under-utilized synth player in a couple of bands), plus considering the circles I ran in in high school, admitting you really liked the Fixx would probably get you beaten up and thrown in a locker by your friends (instead of by the cheerleader squad). Lately, however, I have relented lately and admitting that a lot of it is really good. This is the Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears stuff that was huge, along with stuff that was bigger over in Europe, but maybe not as popular in the states, like the upbeat part of Spandau Ballet’s catalog.
Party Time / Any Time
These stations represent the best of good ol’ rock and roll and go well in just about any situation.
- Third Rock Radio – Another of my favorite stations. NASA really knows how to throw a party, it turns out. The station features mostly upbeat rock and powerpop and is equally divided between hits and indie stuff you’ve never heard before. Absolutely perfect if you’re throwing a party or cookout for a group for friends who include both mundanes and music snobs. Plus, for every four hours you listen, you get about 5% smarter.
- Planet Rock – Straight up hard rock stuff from London covered on both terrestrial and satellite over there. Pretty conventional with a few deeper cuts thrown in. Best part of this station are the array of veteran performers turned disc jockey they feature. I’ve heard everyone from Alice Cooper, to Rick Wakeman, to Tony Iommi, to Joe Elliot, to Fish manning the boards at one time or another.
- Leeds Indie Radio – For those of you who crave new music, this is an excellent station that is sure to fill your needs. The station is completely dedicated to unsigned artists in the northern metropolitan area of England, and features a lot of blue-collar punk-influenced powerpop, but usually very high-energy stuff. You know, someone needs to do this for Indianapolis.
Music from the softer side, perfect for sitting around in a kid-free environment, maybe drinking some wine with your main squeeze … I’ll leave the rest up to your imaginations.
- Smooth Jazz Tampa Bay – Started by a guy from Tampa Bay who, apparently, had way too big of a collection of contemporary Jazz music. Mostly the fare you would expect, George Benson, Braxton Brothers, Diana Krall. Sometimes they surprise you though by throwing in a Peter Gabriel track, however. I’m not a huge fan of “smooth jazz,” and along with electronica/club music, there’s way too much of it in Internet radio, but this is pretty smart stuff.
- Mostly Bop – Bebop is like a good, cheap white wine that goes with everything or does just fine on its own. There are a number of stations covering the genre, but for some reason they keep disappearing, so I don’t feel good about recommending them. These guys mix up traditional bebop with more modern “hard bop” and “cool jazz.” If you can’t tell the difference, don’t worry, the lines are pretty blurry, and it’s all good.
Going to sleep is usually something of a challenge for me. I have one of those brains that runs about 200 miles per hour as soon as the lights go out, usually scheming, planning, designing, or other random nonsense. Therefore, I like the soothing, picturesque stuff as I drift off to nevernever land, as it were.
- Online Chinese Classical – This isn’t the pseudo whiny pop stuff you are used to hearing in Chinese restaurants, it’s the old koto and flute stuff you get in old Chinese movies. You’d be surprised. It also makes for great dinner atmosphere (well, unless you’re serving Italian or something) and is very atmospheric stuff for just sitting around, since there’s no toe-tapping or humming required.
- Sky.FM: Movie Soundtracks – Always good, unless you’ve seen the movie and recognize the music. Then you’ve got that stuck in your head. Fortunately they play a lot of the more obscure stuff as well. Living proof that Bernard Hermann is better than John Williams, though it is important that you turn the sleep timer off, since you don’t really want the shower scene from Psycho to play as background music to your otherwise pleasant dream.
Sure, I’ve logged my fair share of hours in front of the ol’ boob tube, at least until I gave it up several years back in favor of pastimes that lend themselves towards tangible creative output. Before I bought that first black and white set with the money I got for my tenth birthday, however, it was all about the radio. That love began back around age seven or eight listening to WCIL out of Carbondale, Illinois. WCIL, at the time anyway, was a great little radio station in a college market that offered, beyond the obvious top 40 stuff (… and yes, Disco was king back then … and yes, I liked it when I was that young and impressionable), an interesting array of non-musical programming, such as Johnny King and “The Breakfast Serial,” a nostalgia show that introduced me to the wonders of the golden age of radio back in the 30’s and 40’s, and Kenny Everett’s “Kremmen of the Star Corps” which was the contemporary counterpart. In fact, a favorite pastime of mine in those days was, along with some friends in neighborhood, grabbing our cassette recorders and recording our own “radio broadcasts,” usually just mimicking what we’d heard on WCIL the week before.
Then, of course, Clear Channel came along and ruined everything for me in the 1990s by turning all radio stations into cookie-cutters of each other, even down to the same disc jockeys. Really? Aren’t you just a forty-song iPod on shuffle with six commercial breaks per hour without an on-air personality? A friendly voice? A companion unobtrusive? (Sorry, I’ll stop.) For you kids who grew up in the post Clear Channel world, imagine there are no iPods or iPhones and watch a couple episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, you’ll pretty much get my childhood then.
Having set the scene for what I like in my radio, and my history of why I like it, let’s finally get back to the original point of this series of posts, which is to give fellow music fans who crave new acoustic experiences, a starting point for where I think they should be listening. We’ll start with community radio, which I discovered about ten years ago thanks to the Internet. Recently, I’ve paired down my radio listening habits almost exclusively to UK community radio, which is the closest thing I’ve found to the the aforementioned nostalgia of my youth, as far as variety of programming and individual “flavors” of stations and personalities. These stations, usually advertiser supported, are run mostly by volunteers, so while the polish is a bit rough around the edges compared to their mainstream predecessors, the passion level and musical knowledge are off the charts compared to what you’re probably used to hearing. The coolest thing about these stations, and one thing I think modern commercial stations here in the US have completely missed, is the level of interaction that can be achieved by combining broadcasting with social media. Jocks on these stations are constantly in dialog with their audience via text, email, Facebook, and Twitter, meaning that I have had more conversations and developed a greater rapport with radio personalities halfway around the world than I have with the ones in my own home town. After all, our top-rated jocks here are Bob and Tom (who barely even acknowledge they’re broadcasting from Indiana) and Alice Cooper (whose programming is all pre-recorded). For those wishing to check out a few of these stations, here is a list of my favorites:
- WFMU – East Orange, New Jersey – I found this station back around 2000-2001. I honestly can’t remember what led me here or why I latched on to it. It may have just been a simple search engine for independent/underground radio or something generic like that. The music they played however was so left-field that I quickly fell in love with them.
- Radio Teesdale – Broadcasting from Barnard Castle in the northeast of England, was probably the first of the UK stations I picked up on, quickly leading to an obsession with that part of the world. The station features everything from new club music to classic soul to metal, and even a program dedicated to “test card music of the 1960’s” which I thoroughly enjoyed for the novelty if nothing else (test cards where what ran on the BBC when there was no programming, like our “test patterns” back in the days before 24-hour television and all-night infomercials). Best times to listen are Monday afternoons (2 PM EST) for Chippy’s “Metal Gods Rock Show” (I usually catch the replay on Sunday so as not to miss “View from the Clocktower” … see below) and Thursday afternoons (2 PM EST) for the “Band Wagon” with James Hamilton-Trewhitt. I also find the lunchtime show (which is at 7 AM here) and the drive time Show (which is lunch time here) have a great variety of music and chatter worth sinking your ears into.
- Sine FM – This station out of Doncaster features probably the best selection of music in this list, but really the one time you simply must listen is Monday afternoons (3 PM EST) for “Dave Brock Buttered My Cat.” I’ll admit I initially tuned in because I thought it was going to be hosted by the guitarist from Hawkwind, but quickly grew fond of Dean and Mark, as they are possibly the two most musically-informed jocks I’ve ever heard. Believe me, it’s hard to put on a radio program dedicated to progressive rock and classic metal (two of my top three forms of music) and not only surprise me with your selections, but also have a substantial portion of your show consist of stuff that’s completely new to me. Stick around for “Cosmos Made Conscious” afterwards for an off-the-wall mix of blues, reggae, psychadelia, and electronica. I imagine this is best listened to late at night (as it is broadcast over there) instead of drive time (5 PM EST). Fortunately, most of SineFM’s programming is also available in podcast form, which I really need to start pulling down to increase my musical knowledge in my off-time.
- Drystone Radio – Broadcasts from North Yorkshire, where many of my ancestors hail from, which is what drew me to this one. Yeah, I can just see great, great grandpa Wilkie over at the mill rocking out to T-Rex … the band … not the dinosaur. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have dinosaurs there in the 19th century. Variety is king here, so the programming is often hit or miss with me, and local community announcements from parts of the world you’ve never been to are only fascinating the first couple times you hear them. I regularly tune in for “View from the Clocktower” on Thursday afternoons (4 PM EST), however.
Also worth a listen:
- Pennistone FM — I still haven’t figured out why you find the best Motown and American soul music on stations in the UK, but whatever. I latched on to this one while doing some drywall and paint work in Podcast Studio B. Turns out, you can’t really listen to hard rock when doing delicate work. You tend to splash paint everywhere doing an air guitar with your paintbrush, or sand holes in the drywall during the drum solos. Basically I was just in the mood when I found them, I guess.
- Gloss FM — Mostly I listen to these stations with the TuneIn app on my Android, which sports a really neat feature. If you shake the phone while a station is playing, it will randomly select a different station, similar to the one you’re currently listening to. You can imagine this comes in handy on those mornings where I’m feeling picky, and can’t find anything that particularly strikes my fancy. It does not come in handy when I inadvertently shake the phone, picking it up to head to the gents’ room. Anyone, on one particular morning, I was shaking every two minutes or so, when suddenly I landed on this station and heard, “Up Next: The Vinyl Vault Show.” You can imagine me squealing with glee at this random find.
Next up, I’ll give you some picks for fine Internet-only radio stations you should be listening to.
So, happened to be listening to one of my favorite radio shows, “Dave Brock Buttered My Cat,” this morning (obviously the name should indicate the level of deep musical geekery in play here), and just happened to beat out the entire country of England in answering a pop quiz in music. This now puts me on course to become a World Champion of worthless musical trivia.
Take that all you high school teachers who said I’d never amount to anything!
In a fit of insomnia last night, I decided to fiddle around with finding something new to listen to. I’ve had the itch to do a bit of musical exploration lately, expand my horizons as it were, but I’m not quite sure what my next “phase” should be. Neo-classical? Electronica? Lounge? Sure, I could go through the MP3 collection — which totals something like 240 days worth of music at last count — but there seems to be precious little in there to surprise me anymore. Well, I guess I did recently discover that I purchased and downloaded the Twisted Sister Christmas Album five years ago, which apparently was so forgettable that I filed it away without ever listening to it. In general, however, the process of picking out, locating, and choosing what I’m going to listen to takes longer than actually playing it. Let’s face it, this country can elect a President (including primaries and caucuses) faster than I can decide what music I want to hear for the fifteen minutes it takes me to do the dishes. This is exactly why I like chaos and surprise — and why I continually find inspiration in the random and unexpected.
So, that pretty much leaves me with radio. No, not that pre-programmed, corporate-serving, stuck on the same half-dozen artists for the past 25 years crap that passes for radio around here — that’s literally about as random as the card that magician makes you pick that he will later get pull out of his rabbit’s lower intestines. And, no, not independent/public radio either. They’re having their bi-weekly pledge drive/grovel for money marathon. You know, that one where they take the regular hosts off their mood stabilizers and throw them in a pit with all of these rich lawyers who, in between plugging their practices on the air, will threaten to eat a puppy unless 20 people call the station and donate $1500 in the next hour (which is irrelevant, because lawyers love to eat puppies, and nobody really gives money during those pledge drives — I know, I’ve worked phones at them). Yeah, radio has been dead to me ever since WKLU found Russ, and Russ found God … like two thirds of the other station owners in this town.
No, instead, I decided to get saucy and explore the world of UK community radio, which as near as I can gather, is similar to our public radio — only with less grovelling and cooler music, because they actually let the volunteers of the community run the station and pick the format. Fortunately, as in America, nobody in England was interested in hearing the Boston Pops play the music of Kenny G over the weekend. Quite the contrary, in fact, a lot of the stations I discovered are what I would call good old classic radio — or at least something very similar to the type of radio that was popular back when I was a kid. You know, stations that have a distinct personality to them, jocks that seem to be talking to and interacting with the audience — even (*GASP*) talking over song intros and “hitting the post” with that last wisecrack. Even the playlists seem to be thumbing their nose at modern convention as they are pulled completely out of thin air on the fly with no real regard for any demographic, genre, or style. Incredibly enough, I heard classic 50’s bubblegum, 70’s hard rock, and modern house and trance numbers being played back to back on some of these stations — well, I said wanted random, didn’t I? Who in their right mind would listen to this? Well, in my mind anyway, I’m picturing an entire town where everybody, young and old, listens to the same station, and you can go from car to store to house to pub all through town without missing a minute of what’s going on — like it’s the soundtrack for the community. The Clearchannel programming department must pull their hair out when they hear about stuff like this, because really it’s the sort of fun, event programming that they’ve been determined to suck out of radio for the past 20 years.
As you know, however, I’m nothing if not annoyingly cerebral and meticulously all-encompassing when it comes to music. Heck, I not only have to get out and hear every band in town, I have to take them out for drinks and interview them as well. So, as you would expect, while I listened to a dozen or so of these small town UK radio stations, I started researching the communities themselves, thanks to Wikipedia. I took virtual drives around the towns, courtesy of Google Street View. (You at least have to find and look at the buildings the stations were broadcast from, right?) When available, I even peeped in on the latest gossip from some of the local residents, via Facebook. At one point I got so wrapped up in the whole “virtual tourist” concept, I even dropped a quick line to one of the disc jockeys with the answer to his demented little “name that tune” challenge — he was having trouble finding people at 4:00 AM to join in anyway. Of course I got it right, but more importantly, I actually got a shout out on radio for it. That hasn’t happened to me since I was 13 years old and won a coupon for free Chicken McNuggets on WKOR. Okay, maybe this one lacked the magic tingles I got when hearing “Marty with the Party” praising my phone dialing skills at being caller #9 back in 1982, but the fact that this time it was coming from a guy halfway around the planet — and no doubt earning me respect and admiration of the people of Barnard Castle, Teesdale, UK — it still had a bit of that “connected to the world by the dim glow of a radio dial in a darkened room” feel to it that I used to relish as a kid. Wonder if I’ll make the morning edition of The Mercury.