spirit of radio


now playing: joe walsh, “turn to stone”

i’ve had the absolute worst winamp playlist ever on for two days now, and i finally killed it and loaded something else. it was adventurous, i’ll give it that – but it also pointed out to me how many incomplete and corrupted files i have in my mp3 database…there must’ve been twenty or so in a list that only contained eighty or so songs.

musicus interruptus bad.

i’m finding lately that i’m having a lot of conversations similar in spirit to conversations i had with people about computers in the mid nineties…except the subject of the conversations haven’t been about PC’s, but about XM satellite radio.

in 1994 and 1995, i remember that during a very short period of time, i went from knowing three, maybe four people who had computers in their homes and were avid computer users where i worked….to a point when – all of a sudden – that number doubled, then tripled, then soared.

a few months ago, the only person i knew who had any kind of satellite radio was my buddy jon rosenbaum. now, not much later, i’m finding that it’s cropping up more and more in conversations. the other night, i went out for a few beers with the guys from shame after one of their shows, and mike noecker tells me he has XM now, and that he’s a big fan of The Loft channel, he heard “kind woman” the other day and it made his afternoon, so on and so forth…then charlie degenhart tells me that he was listening to his Sirius satellite radio all the way home from nashville last night….it’s definitely in the seed stages of an epidemic.

so, then…what’s the deal?

are we about to enter the dawn of pay-radio service? are there enough people who are willing to broaden their horizons out here to make XM and/or Sirius household names like HBO and Cinemax? is music important enough to the huddled masses in the year 2005 for them to pay for something like this, or would they rather sit in front of their television?

right now, for instance, i have comcast digital cable. in addition to having the whole “on demand” feature, which has tons of music features (including guitar lessons, even), they also have a solid double handful of digital music channels available, in a shitload of flavors…and the fact is, i never really take advantage of it.

so i tend to wonder – would things be different if i had XM radio?

well, here’s the one thing i think i’d certainly take advantage of – the car.

one of the reasons i’ve been thinking about this is that i’ve literally gone nuts burning compilation CD’s of late (now that i have a vehicle that has a CD player in it)…and i find myself lamenting the potential element of surprise, the way i always did to some extent with mix tapes. you know what’s on the tape, and you know what song is going to be next, and there’s nothing unpredictable about that. when i worked in radio, back in high school, i used to pride myself in digging up things that were within the format, but that i knew the other jocks weren’t playing. i’d go out and buy k-tel albums with old one-hit wonders on them that i knew weren’t in the stations’ library and play them…just to be somewhat different from everyone else. sure, nice to be with you by gallery fits the format, but no one else played it…i did because i had a copy of it.

i still have a ton of vinyl, and i’ll never get rid of it…and that’s compounded by quite a bit of recorded music in other formats. but i miss being able to turn on the radio and hear something that i didn’t specifically pick out and stick on a compilation of some sort. but then again, the element of surprise has been missing from radio for a long, long time.

last night, dylan made the remark that he’d like to own his own radio station and be able to play whatever he wanted to – and jayda’s commentary on the subject was that it’d be “boring”.

i guess if i needed any further indication that she and i will never see eye to eye musically, i got it.

i told dylan, though, that when i did it, being bored never crossed my mind – besides doing the job (digging through records and picking out what i wanted to play, running the program log, pulling news feeds, etc.), the phone was almost always ringing…even during my late shifts. and when it wasn’t, there was always the music.

being bored or lonely never even crossed my mind. i had what i thought was the greatest job in the world. i was getting paid to listen to music! in my teenage mind, i could only think of two things that could possibly be cooler than that – getting paid to actually play music, or getting paid to have sex (keep in mind, i was sixteen at the time…and the idea of prostitution being a lowly, degrading occupation just doesn’t settle into the hormone-laden psyche of a sixteen year old boy…especially if said sixteen year old boy is a music geek).

i wasn’t even out of high school yet, and i had the third place job on my top five, all time job list.

but radio has changed a wee bit since then. jocks don’t really get to pick what they play anymore, and it’s all analyzed and formula’ed to death…to the extent that i just can’t listen to it anymore. you can hear in their voices that they’re not really enjoying what they do, no matter how “up” they try to be. they’re putting on a brave face for the world, while they do something that they really don’t enjoy, even though it’s something they’d love if they could do it on their terms.

which, now that i think of it, is probably the dictionary definition of prostitution…

and – being older now – the real definition of prostitution is much more apparent to me than during the day when “male prostitute” was still on my top five, all-time job list.

now, though, there’s a ray of hope shining into the void in the form of satellite radio…we have our high-profile endorsers of the concept (howard stern, among others), and we have people who genuinely know and love music who are playing music on one of a hundred channels that you’ll never….NEVER….hear on other stations.

it feels like it may once again be possible to go back to an era when i used to be able to turn on WKIR in jackson and hear pure prairie league going into robin trower…then maybe something from yes, and a little bit of little feat or perhaps some triumph or something else completely unrelated, from a format standpoint…but because they drew from every corner of the genre pool, it all seemed to fit.

in today’s environment, you’d never hear a station like the WKIR of old on commercial radio.

so, i guess if XM or Sirius is going to catch on, it had better be sooner than later…before the only generation who remembers what radio is truly capable of perishes from the earth and there’s no one left to care.

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