Insert Song Title That References Radio

Posted by: Jon Fine on February 28, 2008

I square my own complicated feelings about radio with the on-the-ground realities (in-the-air realities? on-the-airwaves realities?) in this week’s column.

I remain convinced, as I said in the piece, that more songs have been written about radio than any other medium.

I’m also convinced that bands write songs about radio waaaaay less frequently than they used to, even if some pals elsewhere helpfully pointed out some recent examples. There is still validation at having your song played on the radio—it’s still an important marker of having “made it,” if only for three minutes—and, I'm sure, songs still get written about that. But I think almost anyone writing such songs today are writes them with some kind of wistfulness, or at least with an (ironic!) eyebrow cocked.

I could be totally wrong on that point. (And tell me if I am.) But you don't grow up today listening to radio the way those from another generation did . . . wait, is this in any way a new notion? No, not at all, aside from the degree to which radio's cultural importance continues to recede. You can take the shrinking tally of songs-about-radio as evidence of that.

Because, yes, the Buggles were getting all arch about it in this over-referenced cultural moment, but then Queen got very somber about in this elegiac number--which dates back to 1984, for chrissakes.

Silver Lining For Radio Department: I don't think anyone's writing songs about what's happening to newspapers, either. (They have TV shows for that.)

Reader Comments

Don

February 29, 2008 10:49 AM

Needless to say Jon, as someone who went to college with the serious intent of being a radio dj or executive and possessing a "face for radio," I have watched this with both I-Told-You-So conceit and sadness.

My earliest radio memory was being forced to sleep in my parents’ basement when cousins stayed over and my mother putting the radio on so we wouldn’t get scared. Not only did I hear the very strange tempo of the Righteous Brother’s "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," but I also remember the New York accents of the spoken word intro to “Leader of the Pack” and sat there in the dark, wondering who those tough women were and how scary their lives were. 30 years later I passed that story on to Mary Weiss from the Shangri-Las and the circle was completed.

Another classic radio moment for me was playing outside while a teenage neighbor and his girlfriend washed his custom van while listening, I believe, to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” no later than Summer 1975. Not only a classic radio moment for me, but one of the few truly archetypal mid-70s moments I witnessed live.

I don't ever think I'll forget those nights in 1977-78 listening to Uncle Johnny (WKRP soundalike) and Sandy Weaver (Think “Miss Midnight”) on local Top-40er Q107, sharing the “Top 5 at 10” with the other safety patrols in the morning and how by the end of 6th grade I found the same station willfully out of touch. I could go on about listening to DJ Mitch Parker’s “punk rock show” on WHFS around 1982. I could talk about All-Comedy WJOK and their massive blocks of Watergate comedy circa 1980 which did more to teach history than 12 years of school. I could talk about listening to Dr Demento play Black Flag’s version of “Louie Louie” or the Beastie Boys “Cookie Puss” in the early 80s. I could talk about watching the tubes heat up and glow on my mother’s 1960s audiophile cabinet stereo when all we wanted to know were school closings or hanging a radio shack $0.99 radio on my stingray bike because it made me look cool. Everyone has radio stories. I found Bob Dylan’s story of listening to the radio in Minnesota and imagining/misrepresenting what the south was like as one of the most critical radio fan contributions to American society.

Radio was a window to the world that limited access to culture didn’t let you see- suburban kids looked for something gritty and urban kids looked for something smooth and classy. It was a push medium so if you didn’t know what you liked, then radio might give you a sample of it. That need for any kind of push media is over. Through the internet and being tethered to computers, we have the ultimate in pull media experience. The mystery and the need for radio is over. I have a roku for listening to internet radio on the “big” stereo and listen to online podcasts and radio via the computer. There were years in the 1990s when I eschewed these experiences as being inferior to vinyl records, cds, and listening to radio in my car. Who wanted to listen to horrible-quality MP3s on a device that only held 200 songs? Now a $1000 2 terrabyte server would hold the 20,000 songs I own in WAV quality. The limits of music technology over the internet have been breached. There is literally nothing stopping HDTV transmissions over the web, so mere broadcast quality radio online has been long met.

It’s safe to say that Clear Channel and other radio conglomerates forced radio into early obsolescence by removing the personality that made people listen. Like farming businesses that make tasteless tomatoes that travel well, these companies focused on all the wrong things while ignoring what drives the audience to radio in the first place. Blogs provide more direct community interactions than radio does now, and possibly more than radio could have had it not been infected by Clear Channels truly terrible business plan. Music is more available now than at any time in history. The most extreme culture has been laid bare on the web and opened by google. Within our lifetime the radio spectrum will be auctioned off for another use like the TV Broadcast spectrum has been.

Around 1970, American International Pictures released a post-Apocalyptic Hippy fable called "Gas-s-s." One scene of this film features a young Cindy Williams running around a store, talking about all the access she has to "the sounds of the sixties" as our crumbled, pos-apocalyptic world sits in front of her. That's what happened to radio- we got access to the music and didn't need them any more for that.

Don

February 29, 2008 10:52 AM

As an aside, 20 years ago a successful rock and roll manager told me something. He said that if I wanted my friend's band to succeed, they had to:

1. Write a song about a day of the week, virtually guaranteeing 2-3 years of extra airplay for the LP when DJs would program that song.
2. Write a song about a local city landmark, so that city's DJs would play it forever and give the band a base where they could always play.
3. Write a song about radio because DJs would always play a song about themselves.

Hal Davis

February 29, 2008 7:32 PM

"Turn Your Radio On"
"On the Radio"

Many more, I'm sure.

MediaDavid

March 3, 2008 7:37 AM

The best sort of recent song about radio...
AM Radio by Everclear from 2000
mainly because it tracks so closely to my personal experience with radio

I have to take a bit of issue with one of my fellow commentors....i don't think the big radio groups tried to take personality out of radio. I think they took any local flavor out of radio.
When was the last time a local programmer "broke" a local band they liked? When was the last time they allowed their jocks to pull a song from rotation if they thought it was crap? When was the last time a "personality" based AM show focused on their local community rather than getting the same national satellite tour interviews as every other station?

Stuart

March 3, 2008 9:47 AM

I enjoyed the vision of Jon doing the
3-6a shift on a college radio station in rural Ohio.
It brought back fond memories of my own
start doing the 5-6a "Dawn Patrol" program on my college station in rural
New England.
With college students today downloading music onto their computers and iPods,
I wonder whether any undergraduates listen to radio stations operated and programmed by their fellow students?

Jim

March 6, 2008 4:38 PM

Jon, keep playing the "good" music on radio. I enjoyed all of the "Big Band" music of the early 40's and 50's when I was in college and now it is dificult to find an AM radio station with a DJ that knows, or understands, what good music is. Keep playing the old stuff, I only wish I could tune in on your station in TEXAS.

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