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A Radio Rant


I'll admit ... I had given up on radio a long time ago. But after my car's CD player abruptly inhaled a CD and died, I've been forced to seek out music amid our limited airwaves to appease me and "set the mood" while driving. Quite honestly, I was disgusted with my findings.

Did Someone Press The Rewind Button?

I found that perfectly good hits are massaged like play dough, shaped into a mallet, hardened and used to beat us over the head. For example, during four hours of driving in one day, I was subjected to the new Our Lady Peace song {"Where Are You") a total of eight times! Every fifteen minutes this song was coming out of 102.1, 103.3, 97.7, 107.9 or some completely random station with fervid intensity. Let's be honest here ... there's something very likable about a solid homegrown band with authentic talent like Our Lady Peace but thanks to the airwaves, this song is now intolerable.

I worked at my campus radio station years back and I understand how radio works. Certain tracks are picked to define a station's "identity". However, I still find it hard to believe that radio stations are that hard-pressed for new material that they have to rotate the same thirty songs constantly throughout the day, throwing in a random track or a specialty show here and there. I go out several times a week and have heard some of the most compelling songs to be shunned from local rock radio stations. * As a loyal music lover who would like to reap the benefits of free radio, I find myself longing for Alan Cross's insightful "History of Modern Rock", Indie Hour and the Punkorama show. Otherwise, The Edge is the apotheosis of everything I hate about rock radio.

But more generally, I find myself wondering, "What is UP with radio any ways?" Is it really necessary to have five hip-hop / R&B stations and four new rock stations that are all basically clones of each other? Why hasn't the concept of Internet radio expanded to public airwaves, creating a station solely dedicated to Punk, one for Drum N Bass, etc? Oh wait, probably because they're all owned by the same parent company with its convoluted interests! For example, in addition to owning Muchmusic and CityTV, CHUM also owns 30 radio stations, 5 in Ontario alone. In the end these huge corporations and sponsors are defining music, as we know it; creating new mass-appeal genres to rape and pillage (ahem, emo); and affecting our tastes far more than we realize on a conscious level. But I'm skipping ahead of myself. We'll talk more about that later.

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The Golden Age of Radio (In My Lifetime, At Least)

I remember when I used to have faith in radio. I thought 103.3 The Fox based out of Buffalo was the best station ever because my dad and I could both listen to this "rock" station and hear quality selections from old and new rock. Yet there was no confusion - rock was rock for certain undisputable reasons. You were really hard-pressed to hear the same song twice in one day unless a request was made. I knew that I could turn on The Fox and hear great music all day long. Sundays were awesome - dedicated to truly underground talent. Many times I was poised by the radio, blank tape cued, anxiously awaiting my favorite song so I could record it onto my "bootleg radio mix". I listened to the station around the clock in hopes of hearing that song and felt rewarded when it finally came on. I got into bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper, seeing where my metal roots came from, while my dad got into bands like Collective Soul, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, appreciating the newer breed of rock flourishing. But in 1995, they announced the station was switching to 103.3 The Edge, a modern rock format and I didn't know what to think. But after they played R.E.M's "This is the end of the world as we know it" for 24 hours straight to signify the change, I had an inkling that this was the beginning of the end in radio.

Toronto was always such a modern city to me, even back when I was living in NY and attending school near Rochester. As recently as '99 we used to listen avidly to 100.7, psyched that Toronto had an electronic music station to foster the music we partied to. Yet as the adage goes, "all good things must come to an end". Six years later, the electronic music on 100.7 has been reduced to rare specialty programs (Club246), now dominated by multicultural broadcast.

The Cost of Diversity

Part of me yearns for new stations to arise in Toronto - a punk station, a heavy metal station, a breakbeat station, an indie station, focusing on local talent played in moderate amounts. However, launching a new commercial radio station can cost as much as $100,000 to $250,000 in licensing fees alone, not to mention operational costs that can easily exceed $1 million. Over the years, small mom-and-pop radio stations have been gobbled up by media giants, as ownership regulations become more lax.

At a 2004 Federal Communications Commission hearing in the US, musician Ray Benson talked about the Canadian model of radio and their strict requirements for Canadian content. "This has spurred the careers of MANY Canadian artists both by the cross border transmission of music by Canadian stations close to our border, to the creation of a breeding ground for artists who later have success in American markets." He purports that Canadian artists have a better shot at becoming an International success than American artists. He also agrees that there should be incentives for broadcasting local talent.

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"Ultimately such access would enrich the marketplace with a logical path for talent to develop locally, build regional interest and then perhaps break into the mainstream," he says.


It Gets Uglier: The Homogenization of Radio

Remember my dire assertion that the media giants are manipulating us on a subconscious level? After speaking with Klaus Flouride, bassist for Dead Kennedys, I started thinking about this other issue related to radio. "Clear Channel Music damages radio," he mentioned to me. "It's an 'alt rock' station that plays Greenday with Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette and Creed. They're force-feeding Top40 under the guise of Alternative, therefore encouraging the homogenization of a style of music," he concluded.

As I surfed through other stations, I found this to be entirely true. Greenday's soft new ballad "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was found on every station from The Edge to 97.3 (easy rock radio!). Their song "Holiday" found itself on Buffalo's Kiss 98.5, alongside Backstreet Boys, 50 Cent, Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey. Don't weep for Greenday, though... Weezer and Coldplay found themselves on Kiss 98.5's weekly playlist too. In similar fashion, Eminem and The Black-Eyed Peas find themselves situated on hip-hop, pop and rock stations.

Some might argue that this subversive blending of styles exposes listeners to another type of music and facilitates open-mindedness. Giving listeners variety keeps them happy and boosts ratings, they'd add. People have different tastes and it's not uncommon for someone to enjoy reggae, 80s, alternative and rap.

Yet my opinion is that, in the end, it's done far more harm than good. People are wracked with confusion as fuzzy lines between genres blur. Kids argue in school about "what real punk is" or "what real rap is", resulting in factions between those deemed "genuine" and those deemed "posers". Mainstream music shifts every decade, completely out of our control. Cookie cutter bands find themselves whisked into glory status but lose all credibility within five years when the genre tides have shifted. My finger is ready to fall off as the uncomfortable unpredictability of the radio shifts me into a bad mood.

In addition, perfectly decent artists get shunned based on their alignment with a different genre. Back when 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk first came out, Greenday was edgy, repulsive music your parents couldn't stand. They looked punk, they acted punk and to many adolescents they epitomized punk. Today most "real punks" will turn their noses up at Greenday, dismissing them as the dreaded "pop-punk". How does a reputable band fall into the trenches of trendy pop-punk status? I'm suggesting that it's by overexposure on mainstream radio (and television, as well). In addition, I will suggest that Greenday only became "pop-punk" shortly after the "pop-punk" label was created by corporate entities to describe a new mainstream breed they were developing to take teens and pre-teens by storm. Once bands like Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Sum 41 erupted, wearing this new label and citing Greenday as an influence, Greenday's reputation was tarnished. Once these giants get the ball rolling it's hard to convince anyone otherwise. It's like if someone brands you as a "liar", then someone else calls you a "liar" as well, then pretty soon people you don't even know are assuming you're a "liar"... good luck trying to come across honest. You will most likely have to take a few hits, then reinvent yourself.

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Decisions, Decisions

As mentioned earlier, there are some things I enjoy about radio. While I typically shun predictability, I find that having reliable radio around is paramount. I want something to put me at ease while I drive or while I work, without having to listen to something as mundane as Muzak. (Hurry, get the barf bag!)

I like some of the live broadcasts from nightclubs, where I'm rest assured all the music played during those two hours will be 100% rockin'. I even like News radio on occasion and those old radio shows featuring dramatic stories acted out for momentary amusement. The Classical station has never misled me. I like history blended with rock like Alan Cross's show. I dig specialty shows, when I'm fortunate enough to catch them. I've always been a big fan of Internet radio and podcasts. I have a feeling this is where radio will be shifting. Perhaps in the next twenty years, radio will witness a major overhaul as demanding audiences require more options to suit their specialized tastes.

As it stands, the most realistic solution for my ranting would be to run to Sirius.com and say goodbye to free radio, cashing in on the new satellite phenomenon. I'll surely get to tune into breakbeat stations, punk rock stations, and heavy metal stations now!

However, my stomach sinks as I read the description for their Faction station. "Rock, punk, hip-hop and more, especially for action sports fans. Artists Include: Snoop Dogg, System of a Down, NOFX, Bad Religion, Sublime and many more". Snoop Dogg and NOFX should NEVER be on the same radio station, just as Tim from Baroque has said many times, "the words pop and punk should never be used in the same sentence".

Also, their definition of "new/indie/college rock" consists of Radiohead, Modest Mouse, The White Stripes and The Pixies. College rock, maybe... but I'm pretty sure all these artists have been signed, are far from your local starving artist and pretty much have graduated to alternative rock status.

So am I ready to spend $142/year on this kind of homogenization? I think I'll spend that money to get my CD player fixed and continue searching for new music on myspace, purevolume and shoutcast. Beware of the radio. Don't play into their games. They are NOT your friends.

Most Annoyingly Overplayed Songs
1. Greenday - Wake Me Up When September Ends
2. Greenday - Holiday
3. Our Lady Peace - Where Are You
4. Weezer - Beverly Hills
5. Coldplay - The Speed Of Sound
6. System Of A Down - BYOB

Overplayed Songs That Are Too Good To Fall Prey Radio Bombardment

1. K-OS - Crucial
2. Foo Fighters - Best Of You
3. Seether - Remedy
4. Weezer - We're All On Drugs
5. NIN - The Hand That Feeds

*Kudos to the Unsigned station on XM Satellite Radio for their indie alignment.


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