Thursday, January 24, 2008

Riding the Radiowaves

I managed to embark on my trip without forgetting anything. Almost. Less than a mile from home I realized I forgot to bring along several CDs for those long stretches of highway where the airwaves are filled with religion, top 40 country and top 40 rock. Being a Taurus with a stern mindset, I was not about to turn around to go fetch something so inconsequential. I would just have to deal with it.

Things were not so bad in Waco with a station referred to as "the Bear" at 102.5 on the dial. It was listenable and at times enjoyable. And once that signal faded, I was in range of most Dallas stations. Dallas has not been one of my top radio markets for at least two--maybe three--decades. Media consolidation has basically destroyed any decent variety and diversity from the airwaves in all but a few cities. It's about the almighty dollar, not the music.

That being said, I did find a rather pleasant surprise in Dallas with "Lone Star 92.5" which seems to be trying to carve a niche with a playlist that sounds like Texas -- whatever Texas is supposed to sound like, even though many of the artists played were not Texans. For at least 100 miles coming into and leaving Dallas I listened to this station on Sunday and I did not recall hearing one commercial other than their own station promos. This is a technique used by some new stations --- or stations with major format changes --- to lure in listeners and establish some decent ratings prior to selling ad time.

I thoroughly enjoyed their format which is hard to categorize. It was definitely rock. It was definitely not your typical "adult album alternative" which is my favorite category. I think I would call it early 70s progressive (in the Texas sense) album rock for old accidental hippies who faintly smell of motor oil and still pop the occasional qualude. I'm not sure if that is going to be a successful niche even in a metro area of more than 5 million people, but it certainly entertained me.

And while their playlist is diverse and features artists like Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Susan Tedeschi, the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and even Melissa Etheridge, they seem to frequently select less-played songs from the bands, all of which have a common gritty feel like a west Texas dust storm. I found it refreshing despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of bands like Molly Hatchet and Grand Funk Railroad which obviously don't get much airplay these days.

Unfortunately, this station is owned by Clear Channel. While they are based in Texas, we'll see just how fond they are of this sounds-like-Texas format if the station doesn't meet their expectations.

By the way, as I was returning through Dallas on Wednesday, there were a few commercial interruptions and more DJ involvement than I recalled on Sunday, but it was far less abrasive than the norm and I did notice that much off the advertising was read by the DJ and seamlessly incorporated into the schtick rather than the typical 2 or 3 minute breakaway into annoying jingleland crap. I really hope they successfully make this work.

Little Rock is in a lackluster phase at the moment without any clear standouts on the radio dial. I found myself preferring silence over the all-too-common top 40, oldies and worn-out classic rock formats featuring songs which have literally been played to death. Honestly, who really wants to Stairway to Heaven or Kashmir just one more time?

Faced with those format choices and an alternative rock format I'll typically go with the latter. In Little Rock that happens to be 100.3 the Edge. It has an edge and boy, does it tend to grate after awhile! Granted, it is an improvement over the format which was found at that frequency back in the 70s when my dad considered it his favorite station. And while I do actually enjoy alternative rock as long as it is good, I found the playlist to be so narrowly focused on bands which all sound similar it quickly lost my interest.

Either I am getting old or my ear hasn't kept up to date on the subtle nuances of today's thrashing grunge. There's more to alternative than the sinister bass-laden sounds of dark metal. And while they do have some songs and artists I enjoy on their playlist, it wasn't worth the effort for the few and far between appearances of them.

And there's something rather distasteful about a station whose web site features a tab called "Red Light District" with photo galleries featuring "dirty chix," a "Babe of the Day," a "Thong of the Day," and "Wet on the Net."

Hmmm, music used to be about... music. What happened? It didn't take me long to figure out their demographic and thankfully I don't fit it.

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