Tired tunes make radio unappealing

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Mr. McKee notes in his piece about National Public Radio (NPR) that on other stations, “the run-of-the-mill DJ simply plays music and talks every so often.” I applaud Mr. McKee for making this strong point about radio. Sadly, on the music-only stations I tune to, the poor state of affairs goes far beyond the quality of DJs.

I’m not just tired of what I hear on the radio, I’m disgusted. I’m not talking about violent or sexual themes in songs; what I’m disgusted by is the fact that I walk around humming “What’s Your Fantasy” even though that song is over five years old and I’m completely tired of it. It’s not just Luda’ who’s got me bummed, it’s every song I hear on the radio. I’m sick, sick, sick of it all.

The radio is the last way I can get scot-free music in my car. I’m sorry, techies, I’m not paying for Sirius. And no, I don’t own an iPod or any of its manifestations. I have no CD player in my car. The radio is all I have to calm my road rage when I’ve been cut off or when I’ve nearly wrapped my Subaru around a pole. But the radio offers me no comfort. Because no matter where I turn that dial, I know all the songs.

There are three stations that play classic rock on Pittsburgh radio for at least a portion of their broadcast. Recently, 96.9 became “Bob Radio,” which is supposed to mean it plays a broader range of music. It does. But it’s the same crap I’ve heard a hundred times. Bob Radio is merely a combination of classic rock favorites, oldies favorites, and more recent alternative favorites. The trouble is… they’re favorites. It’s not just Bob, it’s all the stations. No B-side tracks. Rarely any indie music. Even the older, more popular bands have a predictable playlist. I’m an enormous Pink Floyd fan, but have I ever heard any of their songs from Animals? The Division Bell? Atom Heart Mother? Not one.

If stations are wondering why listeners are quickly abandoning them, the answer might not be the “coolness” of technological tools like the iPod. It may be because we are becoming music aficionados. We know what we want, and we’re not going to take their crap anymore.

Why don’t more radio stations actually play what listeners want? Obviously, we can see from the success of portable music that individuals want to be able to listen to their own music on the go. If stations just broadened their horizons beyond the same bland, boring tracks that they repeat ceaselessly, they could attract people like me who don’t have the money for the new-fangled crap that allows me to listen to obscure tunes like “Crazy Claws” by Tricky. Instead, the stations play the same songs again and again. I begin to hate even the most infectious tunes out there. The playlist of popular local station 96.1, KISS, has a few older songs and a few uncommon tracks, but only a few. So I have become accustomed to even the more unusual songs because they are always the same three or four tunes.

Popular stations need to catch the clue that high-profile names like 50 Cent, Nickelback, and Mariah Carey aren’t the only artists out there. And stations that play older tunes have to stop rehashing the same hits from the same bands of whatever era they are targeting. Even playing a few lesser-known tracks from the more popular artists would be better than what we have now. What we have now makes it seem like there are about 15 artists worth listening to, and that only about five songs from each artist are any good. KISS links to a few lesser-known bands on its website, but from what I’ve heard it never plays the music from these “fringe” artists.

The state of expression in America is not just in danger when we hinder free speech or cut funding for arts programs. The business model of radio stations, which are the last bastions of free music in America (unless you count illegal downloading), creates a world where we are exposed to only the Golden Children of music.

I’m sick of what I hear on the radio. I want new music and different music. But with the current state of radio, my only choice is to turn to some other way to get what I want. I shouldn’t have to turn off the radio and turn on an iPod just to hear something new.