Radio Radio

Well, I'm officially calling the end of a long winter here in Boston. Spring is in the air and everything's blooming and it feels good.  Of course I'm listening to the Red Sox game on WEEI radio as I write this and it's about 50 degrees and raw but that's just what spring is like up here.  When my son Chris was growing up I spent a lot of time coaching and helping out with his Little League games. When I think about those days, my main recollection is freezing my ass off in the early evening as some poor kid walked the bases loaded while we exhorted him to "just throw strikes".  Ah yes, spring in Boston!

Speaking of the radio (an artful pivot if I say so), I just paid for my annual subscription to Sirius/XM radio. I first discovered satellite radio on a family road trip out west a number of years ago. We rented a nice car which came equipped with the magic radio and I was hooked. Nothing like driving around the buttes and mesas of the great American southwest listening to some obscure but cool Led Zeppelin tune on "Deep Tracks".  Plus being able to listen uninterrupted while you drive from Lake Tahoe to LA is pretty amazing. These days I listen mostly to Little Steven's Underground Garage, The Loft, and Outlaw Country.  Deep Tracks also has one hour shows hosted by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan which are fantastic. It's radio the way I like it; eclectic , challenging, interesting and with knowledgeable and entertaining DJ's. 

I also LOVE WFUV-FM in New York City. It's a public radio station broadcast out of Fordham University. Boston has a plethora of great college radio stations; WMBR, WERS and WHRB out of MIT, Emerson College and Harvard respectively are my favorites. But I reserve a special place for WFUV which I listen to regularly on line.  The playlist skews toward indie rock and singer song writers with a fair amount of older rock and soul but not the usual fare. The DJ's are all great; they spin their own tunes and know their stuff.  One of my favorites is Dennis Elsas who was on perhaps the original and maybe the greatest FM rock station ever WNEW-FM. Dennis still sounds great and he brings such a breadth of rock music history along with an appreciation of the best of what's out there now.

Saturdays at our house means sleeping in and having waffles for breakfast. It also means listening to WMBR; specifically The Lost Highway with Doug Gesler and Backwoods with the inimitable John Funke.  Sometimes I will switch to Hillbilly at Harvard on WHRB which I daresay would hold up against any country station in the land. It's a weekend dilemma but there's no bad choice.  John Funke is one of the great characters in Boston media and he plays very obscure and sometimes humorous tunes from the very early years of rock and soul. His shtick is pure camp and his use of silly and deliberately corny sound effects along with copious punning wrapped in a droll delivery is how I rock and roll on Saturday mornings. I've been listening for a long time and I can't imagine waking up without him. John also DJ's at Zuzu in Central Square and The Independent in Somerville and spins a more danceable selection of the same tunes to an enthusiastic audience of mostly 20-somethings which is a pleasure to see.

While I have over a thousand songs on my ITunes account and listen to my faves on my Ipod Nano (an older version shaped like a thin BIC lighter - perfect size), I have to have my radio on a daily basis. I was a precocious kid in many ways and I remember listening on my transistor radio with the single earplug to some of the great old AM stations in NY like WABC and WMCA in the very early 1960's. As I became a young teen, I was entranced by the aforementioned WNEW-FM in NYC. I don't know the history but I believe that was one of the first FM rock stations in the country. I remember when it literally first came on the air. There were no DJs; just continuous freeform music of all the great rock of that time. Eventually the DJs came into the picture and they were some of the great ones: Johnathan Schwartz, Scott Muni, Rosko, Alison Steele (the Nightbird!). There was also a local TV personality named Zacherle who did a sort of comical monster show dressed up like Dracula. He had his own shift on the early NEW-FM I believe. I remember listening at night in my bed with real headphones by that time and the only light in the room being the FM dial to bands like The Nice, King Crimson, Humble Pie, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, the Dead and on and on. It was called "progressive rock" and I breathed it in like pure oxygen.

FM in the mid to late 60's featured strictly classical music. Some of the best rock stations morphed from those. WBCN in Boston is an example. "BCN" stood for "Boston Classical Network" (or maybe "concert network", not sure) in its previous incarnation.  I loved BCN in the late 70s and throughout the 80s when I came to Boston. At one point they had Charles Laquidara followed by Matt Siegel followed by Mark Parenteau; what a great lineup!

These days AM radio has become a virtual wasteland. Other than talk and the all news and traffic of WBZ, there's not much there but that's been the case for a while. Talk radio saved AM from oblivion; specifically Rush Limbaugh whose unprecedented success pretty much keeps AM radio viable. FM commercial radio has really gone down the tubes in the past 10 years or so.  Most of the stations are cookie cutter formats run by corporate conglomerates that pretty much play the same songs in every market throughout the country. The songs are chosen through focus groups and computer programs and many of the stations don't even have live DJs anymore and the ones that do are there to play the pre-programmed selections. The last commercial station I listened to in Boston was WFNX.  Since they've gone, all I listen to is college radio and, as mentioned, we're fortunate to have some of the best around here in Boston.

Internet radio is OK. Pandora can be cool. I haven't tried Spotify but I know that many people like it. I find satellite to be the closest thing to the golden age of radio still going. It's not a surprise that the DJs who are still around from that era are mostly now on satellite. I highly recommend spending the $15 a month to subscribe if you're a radio lover like me. The music business depends on radio and I can say that some of my biggest thrills have been hearing my songs played on the radio. Airplay legitimizes you in a way that few other things do and I've been fortunate to have had some over the years. I hope to hear my latest tunes on some station in the near future along with lots of other new and interesting music.  Play on!

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