for January 12, 2004
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for today's rant...
[Inscrutable Links: John Peel Says "Hi". FM106.3 Staff List. FM106.3's 1988 playlist.]
Swinging A Pendulum Provocatively
by Sean Carolan
While Altrok tries to draw on a world-wide scene for its globally-available website, there are times when geography and physics demand that we dwell on the purely local.
Physics, in this case, causes our immediate geographic area in central New Jersey to have almost no commercial radio stations of interest. While I can always sit at my computer and tune in to XFM's X-Posure or noncommercial-but-ubiquitous BBC Radio 1's John Peel, the appeal of depending on your computer's tinny speakers for your music wears thin quickly. I've taken steps to change that situation, perhaps more than most would, but I'm a geek and I've learned to live with it. (So has my wife, bless 'er.)
No, the point of radio, in it's potentially infinite but currently highly constricted variety, is that it goes wherever you do; that's a trick that broadband Internet access has yet to accomplish. Your car's tuner could potentially unleash a hundred different high-quality stations, if they all weren't so concerned with sounding like the one with the biggest audience ... which only serves to fragment that audience, and leave the rest of the radio-listening public out in the cold. For instance, in the New York area, there is no longer a radio station that plays Frank Sinatra as anything but a novelty, rather than the lynchpin of a valid format, but I assure you that there is a large (though rapidly aging) segment of the population that would kill for such a station. (And, come to think of it, may have.)
New York also doesn't have a commercial alternative station. It has WXRK (called K-Rock, but having little but a corporate overlord in common with the real K-ROQ in Los Angeles) which is about as commodified as they come. Until recently, it had WLIR, but as of Friday they moved up to a higher frequency and further out onto Long Island. There is no commercial station in New York that would play a band like, say, The Strokes without them already having gotten popular first.
Of course, that would be okay if Philadelphia had a decent station, since we're in central New Jersey, just as available to their antennae's radiation as we are to New Yorks. Unfortunately, Philly's just as bad.
For years, commercial alternative radio in central New Jersey came down to one choice: FM106.3. Then they got sold, and their new owners changed their on-air ID to "G-106.3" and initially tried to convince listeners that they were alternative while playing Sheryl Crow and Dido, pretty much ensuring that die-hard listeners, well, died off.
Those listeners have mostly settled into a routine of listening to college radio (WRSU-FM in New Brunswick, 90.5 The Night at the northern Jersey Shore), satellite radio, or their own collections, so many of them probably didn't notice this weekend when G-106.3's 80's Alternative Weekend dredged up Julian Cope, The Wonder Stuff and The The (not to mention something from the Violent Femmes that wasn't "Blister In The Sun".) Nobody's as surprised as me, folks.
(Actually, the one thing more surprised than me may be the Yes system on their website, which is supposed to display the songs the station plays, ostensibly so that listeners can easily purchase the music they've heard on the radio. It completely failed to recognize about half the songs played this weekend.)
So, it's a shame if you missed it. It's an even bigger shame that the two-decade old archaeology of the cutting edge embodied by the weekend's programming can't be approximated by the station in the here and now. Why not play music as gutsily different as these oldies were considered two decades ago? I mean, Guster and "12:51" by The Strokes are all well and good, but where was the station when New Order and Elvis Costello, played at least once or twice an hour during the 80's weekend, came out with solid albums in 2001 and 2002?
Oh, yeah. Trying to convince us that Sheryl Crow was alternative.
This latest weekend of music was a step up from the standard fare, even though it's set a spotlight on what's wrong with G-106.3's current programming. Let's hope it's an indicator of good things to come. One hint: a great way to play something that's actually alternative would be to look, maybe just once, beyond the major labels...
©2004 Sean Carolan
All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.
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