Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogging FM Radio

Yesterday afternoon, a late-season snowstorm hit New England (I shoveled out about a foot this morning). I left work a little early--when it started to look like it was sticking--but it still took me about an hour to make the trip. Unfortunately, this coincided witn NPR's spring fund drive. (Those drives are oxymoronic: if I paid for the service, I'd expect not to have to listen to their hectoring.) Anyway, that led me to an extra-long session of my twice-yearly excursion through the higher FM bands. Since there's nothing wiser than scribbling minor life observations as dense highway traffic fishtails around you, here's what I got

  • Giving a radio station a first name is to curse it with terminal suckiness. I pictured Frank Effem to be some stoopbacked alcoholic slob waiting out his mother's demise in their dingy Worcester apartment. Every night, Frank dons his mid-eighties vintage clothing and sneaks out of his room and hits unsuccessfully on the fortysomething barflies. His brother, Mike Effem, is a fat, uncoordinated, shaggy-haired doofus who can be found in the underpopulated rock bars, dancing enthusiastically to the same ten tired songs humming along on the house PA, jamming wildly on his air guitar and making devil-horns signs, while the regulars quietly sip beers and ignore him.

  • The River, The Wave, The Rock: these are just as ridiculous, but instead of anthropomorphosis, they go with tactile feeeelings. On the plus side, by moving away from the period and style motifs (hip-hop, classic rock, metal, easy listening) that I'm used to, they've also added half a dozen new songs to the mix tape, and flicking randomly through the airwaves is more likely than it used to be to yield something I may actually want to listen to. At least if I don't make a habit of it.

  • Rock bands used to have simple names. Really just barely enough to encapsulate an object or thought: Pink Floyd, Poison, Queen, Zeppelin, Rush, Metallica (though not all were created equal in talent!). On the way home, I listened to a piece of crap by a band called Killswitch Engaged. What the fuck is that? Way too much to think about, just to name them. In my day, it would have just been Killswitch.

  • Speaking of Queen, I remember how big androgyny was in the day, but I was completely oblivious to the queer part of it. Were they all gay, and if they weren't, why'd they agree to a name like Queen? Was it weird for Freddie to have to sing "I've loved a million women" or "Fat Bottom Girls" (presumably for marketability)? Why didn't this clue me in?

  • Speaking of Pink Floyd, listening to the opening riff of "Money," it occurred to me that the sounds they sampled are all either obsolete or nearly obsolete. Paper reciepts, the chugga-chugga of the paper feed, a register actually going ka-ching. Why not just get the hand-cranked adding machines going, grandpa? (Dark Side of the Moon is as old as I am.)

  • Numbers in a band's name are a pretty good suckometer. U-2: pretty good. Three doors down: tolerable. Matchbox twenty: ugh. Blink 182: head for the hills.

  • Choir effects can be cheap drama, when a song is already thin. I like U-2's "Red Hill Mining Town" pretty well, but the oooh-oohs haven't aged well. On the other hand, using actual choirs is as silly as it is cool. A string section should never be found within a mile of an electric guitar. (After all, what sound does that whining guitar replace?)

  • I have an inexplicable fondness for the sleazy guitar virtuosity of the 80s hair bands. The popular metal that replaced it seems to have lost the musical showiness, but kept its laser focus on the 14-year-old boy demographic. Possibly, I'm just getting old.

  • On the other hand, the pop radio music today--if the crap they play in the gym and on American Idol is any indication--sounds totally indistinguishable from anything I might have heard in 1982 or so. Plus ca change, and all that crap.
Here's hoping the pledge drive ends by Monday. Anything but the morning DJ's!


twiffer said...

this is why i listen to classical music, CDs or phish bootlegs.

Keifus said...

I was thinking on Friday just how badly I wanted an iPod. (This morning too.)

LentenStuffe said...


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