I had a slightly jarring experience on my way back from lunch today which provides a perfect introduction to something I had already planned on writing. I absent-mindedly tuned my car radio to a station that until this week had been an English-language rock station and was briefly surprised to hear a commercial in Spanish. I then tuned to a Spanish-language rock station, and was surprised to hear a song in English. (It was by Shakira, who usually sings in Spanish – and IMO, her Spanish work has been considerably better than the English songs she’s released so far.)
This week’s passing of Cool 94.3 marks the fourth time in just three years that I’ve lost a station from my radio presets. It’s becoming harder and harder to turn on the radio and hear music I like without sitting through too much that I don’t.
Musically I’m down to Star 98.7, which suffers from the binge-and-purge method of playlist scheduling (play the hell out of a song until the audience is sick of it) and an increasing shift toward personalities over music. I can’t hear any music during my morning commute because they run the extremely annoying Jamie and Danny show, and during my evening commute Ryan Seacrest spends more time talking than playing music. To make matters worse, they’re owned by Clear Channel, the broadcasting and concert behemoth known for bullying tactics and centralized scheduling. While I believe Star actually is run out of Burbank, and not piped in from elsewhere, a lot of their smaller stations are largely automated, the DJs pre-recording their bits in central offices to be spliced together to make them sound local. Supposedly on 9/11/01, it took some of their smaller stations hours to figure out how to stop the automated programming and start carrying news.
Clear Channel was also responsible for the demise of Channel 103.1. This station, essentially a re-creation of the former KSCA, called its format “world class rock,” but covered a wide range of material. Their playlist wasn’t just a few dozen songs, but whatever they came across in the Rock, Pop or Blues sections of the record store. It was not uncommon for them to start playing an artist months before the same songs exploded through the more mainstream stations. They followed up KSCA’s “Live from the Music Hall” acoustic CD series with just one offering in the year or two before Clear Channel gobbled up too many LA-area stations and was ordered by the FCC to sell some off. Like KSCA before it, 103.1 was replaced with a Spanish-language station [archive.org].
94.3 had its problems. About a year ago they modified their format from one which was pretty much all stuff I liked (I believe they called it “adult contemporary alternative” or something like that) to one which focused more heavily on local bands. Unfortunately there were valid reasons some of these bands weren’t getting played anywhere else, but most of them were better than listening to Britney Spears or N*Sync. They also dropped their policy of no repeats between 9 AM and 5 PM, which had been very appealing.
94.3′s prior format had been rather similar to that of Mix 95.9, which died shortly before 94.3′s debut, replaced with an “inspirational” (translation: religious (translation: Christian)) music station. One of the great characteristics of 95.9 was that they would play more than just the latest single from an album. They would play other songs, or the album version (if the single was substantially different). Again, 95.9 died as the result of Clear Channel becoming too big.
To be fair, in both cases Clear Channel had put the stations on the air in the first place, but if they hadn’t been so keen to buy up more, they wouldn’t have had to sell them off.
One of the lost stations actually managed to make its way back onto my preset list. The modern rock station Y-107 also went Spanish-language, but eventually I discovered that, unlike the sea of mariachi and banda-type stations, they played rock en español. Alas, my morning commute is timed right in the middle of the period when the DJs get into conversations and take phone calls, and while I could probably read a transcript, I can’t puzzle it out at full speed.
Over the last few months I’ve started listening to NPR news. I’m running out of music.