Around the Dial

You know already that I have music playing nearly 24/7 in my life.  While I’m working, while I’m writing, even when we’re in bed reading and falling asleep. My life has a soundtrack and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what do I listen to, anyway?   Good question!   I’m always open to listening to stations from different parts of the globe if they’re available online, and I’ve found some really interesting stations while on vacations.  Here, though, are my usual haunts!

Internet Stations

It depends on what I’m in the mood for.  Lately I’ve been listening to Sirius XM, specifically the 1st Wave (80s alternative), Lithium (90s alternative), XMU (more obscure indie rock) and Alt Nation (current indie) stations.  These channels tend to be a bit more adventurous with their playlist, though they do tend to stick with certain heavy rotation tracks as well.

Or I might listen to RadioBDC, an internet station run by former WFNX deejays and hosted by Boston.com.  They’ve retained the commercial alternative sound that ‘FNX was known for, but they also infuse their playlist with a lot of local sounds.

 

College Stations

Yes, even after all this time, I’m still a college radio listener.  I tend to switch from one to the other to keep things interesting, as some stations are more obscure with their playlist than others.  Sadly my favorite college station of my youth, WAMH, has pretty much become an NPR feed station…but there are numerous other stations I still listen to.

KSCU out of Santa Clara University is my go-to for the local college radio sound.  [Santa Clara, as you probably know from our NFL team’s recent move, is down near San Jose.]  They keep a somewhat thin deejay schedule, but they do have some great shows (the 80s Underground is a great Wednesday afternoon treat, and they post their show as a two-part podcast later that day).  Their ‘robo-deejay’ plays an interesting mix as well when no one’s on the air.

UC Berkeley’s KALX is quite eclectic in its schedule, but there’s always something interesting playing.  Same with Stanford University’s KZSU.  I still connect with Boston College’s WZBC every now and again, for the same reason.

 

Local Sounds

Our commercial stations here in the Bay Area can sometimes be a bit thin on the excitement and thick on the heavy rotation, but that doesn’t keep me from tuning in while driving.  A number of stations have changed over the last decade since we’ve been here, but a lot of them are still fun to listen to.

Radio Alice is our Adult Alternative station, where the playlist is a bit laid back — it’s something you’d probably have playing quietly in the background at work, natch — but it’s just alternative enough that it keeps my interest.  KFOG is a bit more alternapop (and their newest deejay is a recent transplant, one Matt Pinfield) and tends to be our go-to station.  Live 105 is our most commercial alternative station, complete with nutty morning chat (which I can do with or without) but a very cool playlist.

 

Night Music

Since we moved out here, nearly every night we put on the local classical station, KDFC, and listen to a symphony or two as we read and eventually nod off.  The night deejay tends to have a bit of a silly sense of humor, as he’ll often have a theme for his show.  One night he played all string quartets and called it “there’s always room for cello”.  They also do replays of live recordings of our local symphony — sometimes playing events that we’d been at just a few days previous!  And each Christmas they’ll play SF Ballet’s wonderful performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

 

And of course, there’s my mp3 collection, which is still expanding on a somewhat weekly basis.  But that’s another post entirely…

Context

I’d tweeted earlier this week that one of my favorite things about vacationing in London is hearing some of my favorite songs in their original context.  By that, I mean hearing songs that were big and important hits in the UK that may not have been even a blip on the US radar.

A year or so ago we were at a bar near Smithfield Market meeting with a friend of ours when Manic Street Preachers’ “Everything Must Go” popped up on the jukebox.  It was a top-ten hit in the UK and signaled a new direction for the band after the strange disappearance of their former lead singer months previous.

David Bowie was of course a worldwide success, and his title theme for the movie Absolute Beginners was a very minor hit in the US (hitting #55 on the Billboard chart) but hit #2 in the UK.  The movie itself is somewhat based on the British novel of the same name written by Colin MacInnes — a well-loved coming of age novel set in the hip London of the late 50s.  Heard this one in a coffee shop just outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral one rainy morning.

The Divine Comedy is well known in the UK as an ‘orchestral pop’ band in the vein of Scott Walker (another musician quite familiar there but not in the US), and they wrote a song about the oversize tour buses one sees all around London.  This track would pop into my head every time I saw one of them go by.

 

I love doing this kind of thing wherever I go, come to think of it.  It’s partly to get the feel of the local sound, and partly because I’m just a sucker for rock music history.  Whether it’s getting in touch with with Britain’s quirky rock (most of which became alternative rock here in the states), or Boston’s unique mix of collegiate and blue-collar, or San Francisco’s purposely weird sounds, I love being able to not only connect with the music itself, but the context in which it was written and recorded.  It brings me closer to the real lives behind the music…it lets me understand why the song exists.