Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Back to AM

Remember in Monty Python and the Holy Grail the little cartoon segment that summarizes part of the quest where, intermittently, there was "great rejoicing" marked by a less than enthusiastic "yay"? Well, that's me these days when it comes to radio. There is great rejoicing, but it's definitely rates just a lowercase, no exclamation point yay. Here's why...

I've was trapped in our mommy van lately with the new sprout, as mom did some past due shopping, as she has been laid up with the pregnancy until now. We have to stay close so mom can nurse upon demand, and babeh is still only 3 weeks old and can't go into public places yet. So there I sat.

Silence in a car is as alien to me as a paisley sky (note to those who care: I have always avoided hallucinogens as reality is interesting enough already), so I turned on the radio and began to hunt for something out there.

The hunt across the FM dial was as futile as ever. Denver radio sucks so badly, there's a web site dedicated to it. Clear Channel has decimated our airwaves to the extent that the little FM radio station located in my teeny hometown in the middle of nowhere that's primarily a big honkin tape made somewhere else (you can drive by the building and see the huge reel-to-reel cranking along) is way better than anything in the huge Denver market, which makes absolutely no business sense. We do have one of the nationally known stations - that being KBCO, home of the mellow yet occasionally rocking set list; I believe this is where "Adult Oriented Radio" was born. However, Clear Channel owns them, too, and if the jangly-guitar-centric sound doesn't bore ya, the over 25 minutes of commercials and blabber in each hour will. C'est la vie.

We have a comically reverent (the DJs speak in hushed, PBS tones as if they were sneaking up on a sleeping Yeti) "classic rock" station called "The Mountain" which refers, again, to the commercial content one has to scale to hear an oldie moldy you own anyway. We also have "Jack" (whose name is possibly trying to evoke the hipness of Jack Nicholson), which is probably one of those national stations that broadcasts the same main programming in many major cities with locally tailored station identification, which plays a slightly different set list of "classic rock" than "The Mountain", but with even more commercials and blather.

I kid you not, you can sit in front of your receiver and surf Denver FM from station to station hunting for songs, and maybe you'll find maybe 17.5 minutes worth of music you'd actually want to hear in an hour.

So with a weary sigh for the world of radio my new babeh been born into, I flipped over to AM to find something, because at least there's an old, established WAY oldies station there (I'm talking pre-40s oldies) that is interesting if not evocative.

We also have a new station which plays "Americana" which translates to bluegrass-tinged country rock and hardcore blues and, inexplicably, Tom Waits. Like most men, I had a blues phase, but I've passed out of it as most of us do when the 213th stroll through those 8-bar blues just, well, gives you the blues. Bluegrass has always vaguely annoyed me, maybe because I've never been a fan of tunes comprised solely of 16th and 32nd notes, primarily constructed to show off how fleet of finger the picker is. (I like the Edges (U2) of the world more that I do the Eddie Van Halens.) (And to be fair, this station has in the last couple weeks updated its format a little bit, and it plays some decent mainstream rock and pop, now, too.)

After briefly visiting those two tiny oasis (oasi?), there it was, an AM station playing eclectic - and imagine this! - GOOD rock and pop. I thought perhaps I'd used too much oxygen from the confined environment of the mommy van and was hearing things, so in order to protect the babeh and myself, I rolled down the window, until a car alarm three cars over began its futile attempt to alert the owner deep in the bowels of the store, who was affixed to a cell phone anyway, and wouldn't have heard her own cat getting run over by a steamroller. But, lo and behold, after the oxygen levels had been restored, the radio station was still good, and the DJ came on only to identify songs, give the temp/time, perhaps roll a commercial or two, and then back to music! When it's been a while since you've had a particular kind of endorphin rush, it can be as mesmerizing as a boa constrictor who's singled you out as a snack.

Today, on an errand, between those three AM stations, I was able to hear damn good music - and new music - for the entire run. That hasn't happened in years. Literally. I nearly wept.

There's also a nostalgia component to listing to buzzy, fuzzy old mono AM. As with nearly everyone who grew up in the vast Midwest, my sole connection to new rock and pop growing up was KOMA in Oklahoma, which turned up the wattage at night and supposedly could be heard all the way into the hinterlands of Canada. So it's kinda like being back in my big old boat of a gas guzzler car with my buddies, cruising around looking for chicks and/or something to do. I am 17 again in the AM zone.

For those of you in the Denver area, here are the station settings:

- Great eclectic new rock/pop: 1150 KNRC? (no web site yet)
- Americana: 1510 KCUV
- Way oldies: 1430 KEZW

Put those three on the presets, and you'll be crusin'.

TLD: Whilst researching for this post, I came upon this little item:

The Grammy Awards may have been a critical hit, but they got their worst ratings in a decade; the show's estimated 18.8 million viewers constitutes a 28 percent drop from the 2004 Grammys. (Associated Press)

Could it be that perhaps NO ONE who likes music can find any to listen to on the radio anymore? And therefore doesn't give a flying star-spangled flip about who might win an award, because they don't know who the hell they are anyway? Me thinks so.

I keep wondering how long it's gonna take the conglomerates to figure out how much they've screwed up.

Heck, the only reason I knew to look on the AM dial in the first place was because my town is blessed to have an old fashioned record store still in operation, and the owner clued me into 1510 KCUV. (Thanks Steve!) So, think about that, we have one institution that's nearly gone - the mom and pop music store - recommending another, an AM STATION, so I can find decent music. In this day and age. Sweet screaming Judas on a Vespa, mang.


Joel said...

Holy cow, your comments system is working. Better jump on it quick . . . .

I agree that modern radio sucks. I seem to remember it being immeasurable better when I was a teenager: better tunes, brighter DJ's, less commercials. Of course my memories may be colored by the fact that I was much cooler then, also.

I haven't even tried the AM dial, I suppose I should try it before I just give up and shell out for one of the satellite radio systems.

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