CrowBiz

…funk for the old soul…

Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 2

Posted by crowbiz on May 12, 2009

Today’s recommendation:  AM radio stations that play musicRock-n-roll Radio

The enormous warning that I’ll throw up front is that I do NOT mean any stations doing talk radio.  Talk radio should properly induce dry heaves in any sentient being.  Furthermore, those programs are common and I regard them as I do so many tattoos on so many college students, since they share many of the same properties;  they are enjoyed by the less independently thinking masses, are almost never original, are typically not well-executed, often reflect amateurish taste, and do not age well.

Back to the music.

Who actually listens to the radio at all?  In this age of extremely portable and convenient music technology and highly idiosyncratic musical preferences, radio listenership should by all estimates be dead by tomorrow afternoon. Sure, we can find a few reasons you might run into radio now and then:  the workplace where everyone must agree on a common auditory denominator, or the retail location that is too cheap to buy into a demographically specialized playlist for its clientele.  House painters and roofing crews usually employ one.  But otherwise, why the hell would anyone tune in to hear songs programmed by someone else interspliced with what must be the world’s most annoying form of advertising?

Serendipity.  Control can be overrated.  Don’t you get sick of being master of your universe every moment?   It’s exhausting.  You spend 12 minutes dictating the exact specifications of your morning coffee to the barista-du-jour, agonize over paint swatches, choose from 84 varieties of deodorant (good god, what if you make the wrong choice?), and organize your iPod into dozens of moment-specific playlists (“Dinner with Close Friends Mix” versus “Dinner with People We’ve Known For Less Than a Year Mix” versus “Driving Home from Work on Thursday Mix” versus “Ball-Scratching Beer Blast Mix”…  OK, so a little separation is alright…)  Can’t you %&*#  loosen the grip here and there?   Give it up, turn on the AM – if you can find a radio – and see what happens.

Note that I mean only AM radio, because it’s the last hold-out of any independence on the air.  The FM band is almost entirely corporately-owned by a few media giants.  Dismiss it and move on.  Some AM stations are still locally owned and produced, which makes them the airwave equivalent of local cable access television stations.  Saying they are not slick is laughably unnecessary, and that lack of sophistication is a perfect antidote to a culture that has made irony a religion.  The advertisements that are produced in-house are paragons of earnesty.  A recent one I’ve heard is an announcer-narrated recitation of a local restaurant’s sub and take-out menu, peppered with stock phrases like “truly satisfying” and “great value.”  Behind the narration is the instrumental part of the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song.  It made me want to eat there.

Another joy of AM is that you can discover ethnic programs, sometimes in the native language.  Polonia hour, the Native American beat, the Portuguese program…. dial around and explore, my friend.  Adding to the effect is the tinny, unpredictable quality of AM transmission, particularly for the smaller, independent stations.  Having to shift your radio around to get better reception shows your commitment.

As far as the music you may find, well, that’s best left for you to discover.  Below is a sample of what recently transpired over the course of an hour cobbled from a couple stations I visit now and then.  These are in no particular order, which is the point:

“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra

“Muleskinner Blues” by The Fendermen

“Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick

“Bongo Rock” by Preston Epps

“At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)” by the El Dorados

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“When The Red, Red Robin Comes a-Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” by Al Jolson

“Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Chuck Berry

Rather than view this as an embarrassing indictment of my musical tastes, I see it as a showcase of the possible.  You could spend hours scouring your digital trove and not come up with that mix, though it’s extremely unlikely you’d have any of the raw material in the first place.  It’s a gamble – you’re not supposed to know if you’re going to like what’s coming.  If you can’t give that a go, then you deserve to waste hours of your life making espresso decisions.

A few AM stations available in the Western New York region to check out:

1400 Solid Gold Soul (does not stream – link is just to the website)

1440 WJJL (does not stream; priceless, and perhaps the last of its breed anywhere)

AM740 (streams; out of Toronto; was good before being taken over by corporate interests, but what the heck; has some good specialty programs such as the 40+ year running “A Little Breath of Scotland”… come on!  Beware – lots of mattress and hearing aid ads) 

Toronto has many specialty and ethnic stations, but they are difficult to pull in, so best wishes.

If you have any other suggestions, add them in comments.  The world needs more AM.

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2 Responses to “Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things: Part 2”

  1. dr_wisz said

    Nice piece Carol.

    I listen to the radio all the time myself and I am a control freak DJ myself. You are right, there are tons of cool ethnic and obscure things out there for those willing to manually scan the dial. Plus they have hockey games on the radio- which I really like.

  2. crowbiz said

    And baseball. Though I really dislike baseball, something about the *sound* of it on AM radio is classic and comforting.

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