Is That Freedom Rock, Man?

Somehow I fell down another retro rabbit hole and have been listening to the Sirius XM Classic Rock Party station over the last few days.  I’m fifteen again and listening to WAAF and WAQY in my messy bedroom, cranking up the 80s stylings of Twisted Sister, Billy Idol and Whitesnake alongside the classic 60s/70s hits of the Stones, Yes, and BROOOCE.

This was the music I grew up with.  I was too young to understand punk and post-punk back in the early 80s (at least not until that fateful evening in early 1986), and as much as I enjoyed the pop of American Top 40 and American Bandstand, it was the music of rock stations that stuck with me most. I was a nerdy, spotty kid that was completely obsessed with music and radio and would be just as happy sitting alone in front of my boombox as I would be outside roaming the neighborhood on my BMX with my buddies.  This was Diver Down and Pyromania playing on my sister’s boombox while we played touch football in the backyard.  This was me completely blown away by 90125 and Synchronicity and So.  This was my growing obsessions with other bands aside from the Beatles.  This was our state capital’s own honored rockers in the forms of Aerosmith, the J Geils Band and Boston.  This was where I learned to appreciate bands before my time like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and The Rolling Stones.

Decades later and here I am, hitting middle age and living on the opposite coast, listening to the still-epic “Born to Run”, still impressed by the guitar solo freakout of the back half of “Freebird”, still feel that “Layla” is a decent song but is about 3 minutes too long.  Living in a city where Janis and Jerry lived, where Steve Miller recorded the sound of the foghorn going past the Marina for the opening of his Sailor album, where the classic Frampton Comes Alive! was recorded just three miles away at a long-departed ballroom in Japantown.  Where Journey the Doobies and the Dead and the Airplane lived and recorded and became local heroes.

The playlist has its moments of amusing embarrassment.  All that LA glam metal of the 80s is still goofy, doofy, simplistic fun, just like I remember it.  All the prog rock of the 70s is still full of nerdy math and fantastical imagery.  All the arena rock bands are still full of that bombast.  Some of it’s kind of corny now, but you can’t help but have fun listening to it.  The playlist is also going to be a lot of the same heavy-rotation classics that you can’t escape, even after all these years.  It may even have its share of “oh, that song!” moments.

Sure, most of it’s a good three or four decades old now, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.

Walk In Silence 1

I’d say the music that I connected to most at the time was classic rock.  I’d grown up listening to it, and started my music collection with the Beatles.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy other genres or station programming…I had a passing interest in the poppier Top 40 sounds, especially from about 1983 onwards, when it updated its sound and included multiple genres.  But thanks mainly to WAQY 102.1 FM out of East Longmeadow and WAAF 107.3, originally out of Worcester, I found myself listening to a lot of classic and AOR rock.

Looking back, I think part of it may be due to the quality of the production and the creativity of the music.  It didn’t necessarily need to be a genius creation, it just had to have something that caught my attention somehow.

That would mean John Bonham’s thunderous drums and John Paul Jones’ synth strings on the epic “Kashmir” — the first rock song to completely blow my mind — or the Beatlesque* sounds of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”.  Or it could be the countrified twang of Eagles.  Even the bubblegum fun of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On the Run” counted, thanks to their catchy guitar riffs and high-pitched harmonies.

 

I often say The Beatles’ 1967-1970 compilation is ‘officially’ the first album I ever owned, but that’s not entirely true.  I will admit that claim actually belongs to Shaun Cassidy’s Born Late, which I’d gotten for Christmas in 1977.  I kind of consider that a trial run, though…in December of 1977 my music collection was pretty much a reflection of what I thought album collecting was about at the time: pop music and buying whatever was popular at the time.  Why did I have my mom buy that Shaun Cassidy album?  Who knows.  I think it was because he was one of the Hardy Boys on TV at the time, and he was all over the covers of teen magazines at the time.  David’s little brother, also a musician and an actor and a heartthrob!  Buy it now!  Hell, I was six years old at the time, I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t even know I was breaking a perceived gender role at the time by liking a young pop star’s music.  My parents may have side-eyed me (more on the quality of the music than the gender role, that is), but I didn’t care.  Even then it was about the music.

All that changed in 1978, when two things happened.

First, the much maligned movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring the insanely popular Bee Gees (another favorite band, thanks again to an older sister) and Peter Frampton (a huge pull, thanks to the fantastic Frampton Comes Alive album and his mindblowing use of the talkbox guitar effects on “Do You Feel Like We Do”).  I originally went because I liked the singers, but my mom had hinted that I’d enjoy the songs they’d be singing here.  It’s painful to watch now, but at the time it was silly and a lot of fun.

Second, I was made aware of an annual tradition on WLVI, channel 56 (6 on our dial), one of Metro Boston’s independent television stations (decades before it became an affiliate of The CW).  On a summery Sunday afternoon they’d play Yellow Submarine, the 1968 animated Beatles movie.

I knew the Beatles in passing, of course.  In the 70s, who didn’t?  They’d only broken up a few short years before and were enjoying healthy solo careers at that point (especially Paul McCartney).  Their music was still getting heavy rotation on the radio at the time.

[I should probably interrupt here and state that there was a third event that took place in 1978 that changed everything, even though I wasn’t quite aware of it at the time.  That event is the overwhelming change in radio listening habits in the United States.  It was this year when people began listening to music on the FM dial rather than on AM.  There are many and varied reasons for it — the acceptance of rock radio as a valid genre rather than an underground interest, and even the fact that home stereos were becoming more affordable.  By the time 1978 rolled around, we’d had a stereo in my parents’ bedroom that as soon moved to my sisters’ bedroom, where it got much higher use.  I ended up with a cheap hand-me-down kids’ record player where even to this day, I can still remember the loud nasally wrhirrrrrrrr of the motor.  I’d get the old stereo when my sisters upgraded, and finally getting my own sometime around 1983.]

So yes, it was in 1978 when I finally, officially, owned my first record, and also picked up on my first musical obsession.  Over the next four or five years, I searched and found all the Beatles-related records I could find.  Some of the albums I purchased were new (usually bought at Mars Bargainland, the department store outside of town), but many were found used at garage sales, town fairs and elsewhere.  First came the albums, then came the singles.  I believe I got Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road early on, because I was already familiar with most of those songs from the Sgt Pepper movie.  Revolver was another early one, thanks to familiarity with some of its tracks as well.  Imagine an eight-year-old  hearing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the first time — I had no idea what I was listening to, but it certainly was amazing!

 *

I’m explaining all this, even though it has nothing to do with college radio, because this early obsession is a major reason why I latched onto it as closely as I did.

Even as the pop music of the seventies and eighties slowly morphed from one genre or style to another, I found myself irrevocably obsessed over it all.  I knew bands and their discographies almost as well as other kids my age might know who played on what NFL team and for how long.  Their stats were performance ratings and signature moves; my stats were release dates and what labels released them.

 

* – Beatlesque: usually means evoking psychedelic melodies of 1967, dreamlike whimsy, three-part harmony, and often attempting to sound like something from either Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road.

Music for a Busy Day

Oof–nothing like an ongoing heavy workload at the Day Job to keep me from actually getting any real writing done.  I’m of two minds on it:  there are days when I just want to forget my writing for a day, relax and regain my energy…and then there are days (usually the very same ones, an hour or so later) when I call BS on that complaint and force myself to get that writing done out of sheer New England stubbornness.  Unless I’m dead tired by the end of my shift, the latter usually (and thankfully) wins out.

As always, listening to music gets me through the day.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Radio BDC lately, switching over to KSCU or Sirius XM when I need a change of playlist.  Since I work at home, I can get away with something with a little stronger than your okay but spineless Listen At Work station.  It never hurts to stop what you’re doing for The Man and sing along to Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” with wild abandon. 🙂

So what are you listening to today?

On College Radio vs Progressive Radio in Massachusetts in the late 80s

I’ve been thinking about this subject lately, partly due to the way I’ve decided to frame the text of Walk in Silence in book form.  I did not want to write just a memoir, nor did I want to write a simple book about alternative rock. I decided to make it a hybrid of both, and in the process I wanted to do a bit of research on radio history in general.  I not only want to go over some of the highlights of great alternative rock of the time and talk about my favorite songs and albums, but I want to explain the genre itself–how it formed, how it got there, and how it related to other music (and points in history) at that particular time.  It’s not just enough for me to say why “Under the Milky Way” is my all-time favorite song; I wanted to explain that the Church’s Starfish album was make-or-break for them after years of not-quite-success.  There’s also the fact that in the 80s, the lines between pop music, rock, and “new wave” were a hell of a lot more defined then.

On a more professional note, however, there were two different kinds of stations playing this kind of music at the time as well, and that’s what I want to speak about here.

There was the college radio station: the longtime home to the alternative, the free-form, and the not-quite-professional.  Ratings didn’t matter to college radio, only that they had the funding from wherever it happen to come from, be it fund drives or grants or the listening audience.  For most college stations, especially for colleges where it was more of an extracurricular position rather than part of the curriculum, the student disc jockeys may have at the least been instructed to vary their playlist or play a few core tracks, and at most been given stern reminders of FCC rules and regulations.  Other than that, you could get away with playing whatever you liked.  For the most part, the quality and style depended on whose shift you were listening to.  Some disc jockeys would play hardcore punk or EBM (Electronic body music, a danceable subgenre of industrial rock and championed by many European groups like Front 242), or maybe even that new post-punk influenced rock stuff coming from the UK, like the Smiths and the Cure.

On the other hand–or should I say, up a little higher on the dial–there were the professional radio stations.  Short version: by the early to mid 1980s, there seemed to be a shift in popular radio, and a lot of stations were starting to feel the crunch.  Slightly longer version: considering that popular FM radio was pretty much still in its teens at this time (it sounds weird, but it’s true: popular FM radio as we know it today really didn’t come into wide popularity well until the mid to late 70s), the FM stations that tried to cater to all sounds and styles were beginning to flounder.  Listening habits changed and people wanted to hear more of their favorite styles rather than a wide and often weird mishmash.  The wildly successful pop stations of AM yesteryear were now the wildly successful pop stations of FM now.  The rock stations did well, but they were also splintering, often due to their listenership; some like Worcester’s WAAF 107.3FM with its younger fanbase continued to follow trends to play the latest hard rock, while others like East Longmeadow’s WAQY 102.1FM began to drift with its older fanbase towards classic rock.

Of the latter, a newer subgenre emerged.  Partly inspired by the more adventurous free-form sounds of 70s FM radio, the arrival of Album-Oriented Radio (AOR) in the late 70s and early 80s catered more towards the connoisseur radio listener, the avid music listener who wanted more than just the throwaway pop or the mindless party rock.  True to its name, its playlist prided itself on featuring non-single album tracks, providing the listener with a much wider experience.  As the 80s wore on however, it was found that while AOR had its diehard fans, it was not a moneymaker.  A number of stations reverted back to a rock format, or were sold and completely changed formats.  Those who stayed were often extremely localized, such as Turners Falls’ WRSI 95.3FM (sold in 1996 and moving to Northampton at 93.9) and Peterborough NH’s WMDK 92.1FM, and placed in small but artistic-minded communities.  They may have been small, but they had the upper hand–they were run by music fans who knew their stock in trade, and knew how to sell it locally.

These two local stations never really sold themselves as “AOR” but more as “progressive radio”.  This term may have confused some, considering the word ‘progressive’ often went hand in hand with ‘rock’, and together ‘progressive rock’ often meant twenty-minute hyperbolic workouts from bands like Yes, early Genesis, and ELP.  But by the 80s, ‘progressive radio’ actually meant something different–it was almost a taunt, a term that said ‘we’re better than you–we play music for smart people’, and in its own way it was true.  The passive radio listener just wants background noise, but the active radio listener wants something that will stimulate the brain.  And it just so happened that post-punk sounds coming out of the UK and the collegiate sounds emerging in the US fit the bill at that point in time.  If there were no college radio stations nearby, or none with the wattage strength to reach long distances (especially over hilly central Massachusetts), these progressive stations would offer up the most radio-friendly of it.

And for a good couple of years, probably from around 1984 or 1985 up to 1988, these stations could get away with playing the not-quite-commercial rock.  These bands weren’t being played anywhere else except on college and progressive radio stations.
While college radio was much more open-minded and adventurous in its available playlist, it had its own shortcomings as well.  Part of the whole alternative music scene in parts of the US was its exclusiveness–it was music for the nerds and the geeks and the people on the fringes of society who didn’t belong in the popular cliques.  Morrissey may have sung and the music that they constantly play / it says nothing to me about my life / hang the blessed DJ in response to a UK radio personality who tastelessly followed up coverage of the Chernobyl disaster with Wham!’s “I’m Your Man”, but in the US it took on a slightly different meaning.  For those of us here in the States, it was simply a rebellion against the tired, creatively vacant mainstream.

But what was mainstream, anyway? Especially in the last few years of the decade when more ‘modern rock’ songs were showing up on the Top 40 charts? What was there to rebel against when the keys to our rebellion were now becoming mainstream?  By the early 90s, many college radio stations were refusing to play anything by the Cure or Morrissey or Depeche Mode or REM, simply because they were being played on commercial radio.  They would need to start looking elsewhere for their alternative fix.

On the other hand, progressive radio could still get away with it.  Perhaps it was that, as professional stations, they had to constantly keep an eye on shifting tastes.  Progressive radio is where I first started hearing Britpop, back in 1989 with Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, well before a lot of other stations played it.  They also kept an eye on other subgenres of rock that fit into their playlist, like the folk rock sound of Tracy Chapman, Tanita Tikaram and Indigo Girls, the blues rock of Jeff Healey, or the new funk of Lenny Kravitz.  They were able to balance the commercial with the alternative, and that kept their stations alive much longer.  It also kept the alternative sound in the spotlight, making way for newer “adult alternative rock” stations such as WXRV (The River) 92.5FM in Haverhill.  It also helped usher in more “new alternative” sounds–bands that may lean towards the mainstream, but are decidedly not intellectually vacant pop.

 *

Over two decades later, I’ve been noticing a slow but significant return to departmentalizing the different genres of rock on FM radio.  It’s partly due to the advent of the internet, and it’s also due, as it always has been, to the shifting tastes of its listeners.  For a brief time in the 90s, alternative rock became so polarizing that on the one hand we had all-commercial rock radio on one end and very anti-commercial rock radio on the other.  Now, however, we’re starting to see specific subgenres again, and they’re being played on both college radio and on indie rock stations, sometimes within the same hour.  We’ll hear the bizarro tUnE-yArDs alongside the catchy pop of Capital Cities alongside the folk rock anthems of Frank Turner.  Listeners can access the sounds not just on FM radio but on satellite stations, online-only stations, streaming sites and even playing their mp3 library set to “random”.  But thanks to these same things, we can set our listening preferences so we’re only listening to weird left-field rock or synthpop or folk rock.  We’re not just bound to the FM dial anymore, but we can bound ourselves to just how wide or how narrow we want our music to be.  Radio may continually shift in its never-ending search for new sounds and higher earnings, but as always, it comes around and settles in new and more interesting ways for us to listen.

Radio BDC: The new Westinghouse model?

This past Monday, four former WFNX deejays returned to the airwaves (so to speak), premiering Radio BDC: an online-only station created by and featured on the website Boston.com. For many WFNX fans, myself included, it was like a rebirth: our favorite deejays from the late and venerated Boston area alternative rock station were back on the air and playing the new and old indie rock we know and love so much. At noon Eastern Time (I heard it at 9am out here on the west coast), they counted down to go time and celebrated with Julie Kramer’s excited “Guess what…we’re on the air!”. Champagne was served, cheers were given, and the listeners rocked. The first song, “I Want My City Back” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (chosen by listener poll and a very apt choice, given its lyrics) was prefaced by Dicky Barrett of the Bosstones giving the station his blessing.

It’s certainly exciting to hear Julie Kramer, Henry Santoro, Adam 12, and Paul Driscoll back on the air–I knew these four via WFNX for years, and the demise of that station hit me pretty hard. Sure, it’s just a radio station, and all radio stations come and go (and a lot go the way of buyout or sale, but that’s another post entirely), but I’d discovered that station my freshman year at Emerson College, and a goodly portion of my music collection was informed and influenced by what they played. The new station is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the old one; the same alternative rock is being played, old and new, and the deejays are well informed and lovers of the genre. They play this stuff because they’re obsessed with it, they love the fanbase, and they’re having a hell of a lot of fun. There’s no better reason for this station to exist than that. And as a fan, I’ve been listening for hours on end while working at home. I haven’t listened to a radio station, terrestrial or digital, for this long in quite some time.

It wasn’t until yesterday that it occured to me–this station is being hosted by a website originally created as the online presence for the Boston Globe newspaper. Though the Globe now has its own dedicated website, it still runs Boston.com as a regional free site for news, entertainment, and other Bay State information. Radio BDC is essentially a broadcast extension of the site. [CAVEAT: I haven’t done any serious homework on this, so I don’t know if Radio BDC is actually owned by Boston.com or if they’re merely hosting the station; that, and I’m not familiar with the current broadcasting rules for websites and/or companies owning stations. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter; all I care about is that they got the permits and went live as quickly as they did.] So it occurs to me that this is just like the old radio stations of yore–I’m talking the birth of radio as we know it, close to a hundred years ago. Specifically, it made me think of those stations that were the broadcasting division of major manufacturing companies, such as Westinghouse. Unlike today, where stations are often owned by conglomerates and media companies (and are usually one of a number of same-genre stations in a collective), back in the day pretty much anyone with money, room for a broadcast tower, and a good business plan could start up a radio station. A number of businessmen actually came to the conclusion that having a broadcast arm of their business a great idea, especially if they were selling or manufacturing radios and radio parts. Pretty soon stations were popping up at hotels and department stores, where people could come to watch live broadcasts of orchestras, plays, and shows. This would be the norm for quite a few decades, with the addition of politicians and celebrities making the occasional visit to the station, and the birth of broadcast advertising. Even the advent of FM radio pretty much followed the same route, until it evolved and mutated into the radio field we know today.

So this got me thinking…will Radio BDC, and other online-only stations take the same route as the old Westinghouse stations? Well, probably not the exact same route, obviously. They share the same building as the Boston Globe out on Morrissey Boulevard, and they’ve had a few sports reporters popping in to talk about the Red Sox, but other than that, you wouldn’t know that this was a station connected to the Globe at all. In fact, the station is a broadcast extension of Boston.com, and that’s pretty much it. But I’ve been seeing this a lot over the past five to ten years…stations leaving terrestrial radio and going purely online. Part of it is the funding–running a radio station is expensive, and it’s not a high-revenue business. Considering that a majority of the revenue is from advertising, sometimes it’s easier and cheaper to go digital–this way your advertising can be visual pop-ups on the player and click-throughs on the website rather than intrusive thirty-second soundbites. You don’t need an expensive broadcast tower or an assigned frequency, either–you have routers and servers. There are even apps that listeners can download to their phones so they can listen in. As long as you follow the basic broadcasting rules, you’re golden. WBCN went digital-only because it was cheaper; WFNX was sold to Clear Channel for much the same reason. The stations as we once knew them are dead; their online footprint, often under new management and/or ownership, is now the norm. Le WFNX est mort, Vive le Radio BDC.

It makes me wonder if, sometime in the future, we’ll see more websites extending into the radio field like Westinghouse did so many years ago. I’m not talking about the streaming “stations”–the websites like Spotify which are generally just a giant mp3 server on a genre-defined shuffle–I’m talking about actual stations like Radio BDC…radio stations in the real sense of the term, with actual deejays, live events and the occasional commercial break. It also makes me think of regulation, but that’s another post entirely. For now, I’m curious to see if, how, and when these new versions of old radio stations might come into being via the websites that are hosting them.

It’s beginning to and back again

One of the pleasant and unexpected side effects of working on the Walk in Silence project is being able to see the cyclical nature of things.  Well, let me rephrase that–I did expect to see certain patterns emerging here and there, but I’ve been amused and entertained by how they emerge…how new things are often mutations of the original, and others are similar or reverential to its inspiration.  I see it most clearly through the indie music that we’ve been listening to on the Sirius stations as of late…I now make it a game to find similarities between the songs being released nowadays and those of the 80’s–the “[current band] sounds like [80’s band]” meme.  Some of them are more obvious: Beach House’s “Myth” certainly picks up where Cocteau Twins’ “Crushed” left off, for instance; others are more of a nod to the past, such as M83’s “Midnight City” being a perfect fit on a John Hughes soundtrack.

One of the other ways I see this is in the evolution of indie rock (as it’s called nowadays).  Since I’ve done quite a bit of homework on the subject (well, at least coming up with a theory on how it evolved from punk to New Wave and post-punk to “college rock” and so on, at any rate), I’ve come to the conclusion that the genre is now at the point where it’s back to where it started: mostly aural and closer to its origin.

To elaborate:  by “mostly aural” I mean that this music is mainly listened to on streaming websites or online radio stations now, rather than visual, considering that the video outlets of yore (MTV, VH1, etc.) have moved past the music video as its main programming.  Videos are relegated to YouTube and Vimeo and elsewhere, where we can check them out whenever we want.  The video has always been a four-minute jolt of caffeine to the music lover, a visual layer to add to the aural layer–the icing on the cake.  Back in the 80’s, us kids used to watch MTV for hours on end, gorging ourselves on these things.  We couldn’t get enough, partly because it played so many things we never heard elsewhere.  That, of course, changed years ago.

By “closer to its origin”, I mean that indie music has always, at least in theory, been about the tight link between the band, its output, and its fans.  It’s no secret that the big labels have always latched onto the Next Big Thing, colluded with the radio stations and the video channels to get as much airplay as possible, leaving the less commercial music to fall by the wayside.  Agreed, a lot of the less commercial stuff you can take or leave, but the subgenre of indie rock has always been different–it’s the weird cousin that you’re never quite sure about, who seems to be in a completely different movie altogether.  I say “closer to its origin” because a lot of the early indie music, the DIY punk and the small-label creations, embraced the musicians rather than using them for a profit.  When the Big Label consolidation started in 1998 with Universal and Polygram, and later Sony and BMG in 2008, a lot of otherwise creative bands either flew the coop or were unceremoniously dropped (or worse, ended up dissolving).  Even despite some independent labels’ short lifespans, many labels at least tried to keep the focus on the band and its output.  And thanks to the power of the internet, computer software and sites like Bandcamp, a lot of bands are foregoing even signing to a label, choosing instead to record and mix their music on their PC, convert it to high-bitrate file formats, and sell it themselves, reaping much of the profit in the process.  And because of that, a lot of the creation is purely of the band, with no outside influence from the labels or radio.  It’s all about what the band laid down.

Ultimately, at least for me anyway, this marks the return of music listening as a purely solitary event.  Indie rock has gone through quite a lot of changes since the 80’s.  It slowly started infiltrating the commercial side sometime around 1986-87–John Hughes’ soundtracks, and REM’s Document are but two major points off the top of my head–eventually finding its own chart in Billboard in 1988 (under “Modern Tracks”), and finally becoming hip and mainstream in 1991, thanks to Nirvana’s Nevermind and other albums of the time.  The 90s iteration of indie rock was an interesting shift: it became the mainstream due to the drying up of the old guard, hair metal and hard rock.  But in the process, the radio stations that had prided itself on being truly alternative–namely, the college radio stations–were at a crossroads.  Should they play the same alternative rock song being played on a commercial station, and should they even entertain the thought and risk being seen as a sellout?  And thus indie rock evolved again–the commercial alt.rock becoming the normal rock, and the more leftfield indie taking on different influences, from rap to world to jam and everything in between.  I could go on, but this would take awhile, and I’ll be covering it in WiS anyway.  Point being–come 2012, indie rock is about as prevalent as hip-hop, bubbly pop, dance, and every other genre under the sun, thanks to the power of the internet.  We have infinitely more ways to listen to music than we ever did in the past.

Which brings me back around to the beginning:  listening as a purely solitary event.  Ultimately, we’re no longer listening to the boring and harmless “listen at work stations” (as I call them), prevalent as they may be, because we don’t have to.  Unless I’m stuck in a supermarket or in an office, I can:

–listen to multiple websites streaming new releases so I can see if I like them before buying them.

–listen to multiple online radio stations.

–listen to one of the multiple Sirius music channels on our TV.

–listen to the stations that I used to listen to on the east coast, while living on the west coast–including the college stations that influenced and inspired me years ago.

–go to the band’s official site and listen to their new and as-yet-unreleased album, and even order it directly from them.

–simply start up Media Monkey on my PC, or turn on my mp3 player, and listen to any one of the thousands of songs in my collection.

In the end, this is what listening to music has been all about, at least for me:  listening to music on my own terms.  It lets me enjoy it as a purely aural treat and as a personal soundtrack.  It inspires moods and writing sessions.  College rock was my genre of choice back in 1986 because it was so unique and catered to my teenage geek years.  Indie rock is still my genre of choice now because, despite its evolution, at its core it’s still all about originality, creativity, and recording something true to yourself.  Despite all these new outlets and thousands of new bands, genres and subgenres, it’s still all about my own personal enjoyment with a song or an album or a band, and maybe discovering something new in the process.

And in this day and age, it’s blessedly easier to achieve that personal nirvana.

 

RTS Repost: ‘This is the end of the broadcast day…’

[RTS, or ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’ from the Ben Folds song, is the occasional music-related series of posts I’ve been writing on my Live Journal of the same name for the last few years.  I’ve decided to repost some of them here for your enjoyment. — JC]

“This is the end of the broadcast day…”

That’s a phrase you don’t hear much anymore, do you?

With the large number of terrestrial stations picking up satellite feeds or having overnight shows (pre-recorded or otherwise), and all the internet and satellite stations (at least the ones not run out of someone’s basement) running twenty-four seven, it’s kind of strange in this day and age to hear a station read out the end-of-day legal sign-off.  You know, the one that says the above phrase, followed by the technical jargon of where the station is broadcast from, where their tower is, and what frequency they’re at.

Even rarer nowadays is hearing the station go off the air, followed by the hiss of static.

I’ve been listening via internet to WAMH, Amherst College’s radio station and the one I’ve been listening to since 1987, especially on the weekends with their Potted Plant countdown.  I could be listening to any other station here in the Bay Area, or even Save Alternative (which in my opinion is doing a great job of resurrecting the freeform radio format), but you all know my love for college radio, so I try to listen to it as much as I can while it’s on the air.  Since WAMH usually goes off the air about 10 or 11pm Eastern time, I get to hear the sign-off at 8pm out here on the west coast.

The funny thing is that I remember as a kid hearing the sign-off all the time, and for a brief stretch I knew WCAT’s by heart when I worked there in 1987-88 and again in 1995-96.  I was hired for weekends back in the 80s (I thank my friend Chris for that position), back when it was only an AM station that went off the air at sundown.  I had to play a prerecorded cart of the owner reading off the same legal sign-off, played exactly fifteen seconds before shutting down, so that I could power down right on time.  I had to do the same thing as well at my college radio station, when I had a late night show on WECB, and again at the other college station when I had the alternative show on WERS.  By the time I returned back to WCAT in my last radio gig, that station was broadcasting on both AM and FM frequencies, but I only had to play it for the AM station.

There’s something melancholic about hearing a radio station sign-off, at least for me.  When I was a kid–and even as a teenager–radio was my link to the real outside world, past my family and past the small town I lived in.  I think that, more than anything else, was what pulled me towards radio in the first place, even more so than the idea of playing all my favorite songs and sharing them with other listeners.  I liked the community aspect to it, a sort of etheric connection that kept everyone informed and entertained.  Of course, the internet is a hyped-up, jacked-in, overloaded version of that idea, but somehow it isn’t the same…where the internet is aural and visual, terrestrial radio is only aural and therefore more personal–the deejay is talking to you, informing you, playing you music for your enjoyment.  The internet, while it can also do that, sadly also has the effect of turning you into a five year-old with a sweet tooth let loose in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory–if you have no self-control, you end up overindulging.

Hearing that sign-off always leaves me with a sense of sadness, that I’ve reached the end of a performance, leaving me to make my way back to the real world again.  I’ve been entertained by the deejays and the music, I may have even learned a few things, but their job is over for the day.  Hearing it today reminded me that the school year is almost over, and this station will soon be off the air for the summer, leaving me to my own devices.  It also reminded me that today is Sunday, and my relaxing weekend is almost over.  This time, instead of needing to go back to school the next day, I have to go to work.

Still…I’m glad radio is still out there, whether it’s online or terrestrial.  Even if it is a fleeting entertainment, it’s a sound salvation (as Elvis Costello sang), and still my favorite way of relaxing.  Even when it’s the end of the broadcast day.