Will radio eventually go the way of the newspaper? Does the new generation of music fans even listen to so-called terrestrial radio any more? Will they have those attachments to stations and DJs like we did?
Radio, to some extent, seems to be on better footing than newspaper, if for no other reason than cars still come equipped with radios. When Microsoft came out with their Zune mp3 player I almost got one, specifically because it included a radio. But the Zune didn’t really make it, and it may very well have been in part to the inclusion of features, like radio, that people didn’t care about any more (and, of course, iPod’s dominant position in the market didn’t help…).
The one thing radio has done right is to add online streaming to it’s medium. Not only does it ensure that local listeners can get their stations wherever they are on their always-present phones, they’ve also opened up to a wider audience. In Seattle an indie station like KEXP finds itself with listeners not just all over the country, but all over the world. And their model of being listener supported eliminates commercials – something today’s listeners (and TV viewers in the age of improved home recording) simply won’t sit through. Eliminate the commercials and you reduce one driver that contributes to people changing the station.
I, however, am of a generation that was all about the radio. Because, well, it was almost the only way you were going to discover new music. Basically there was the radio, MTV (which was still pretty new), and your friends’ brothers’ record collections. I spent countless hours not just listening to the radio (and my friends’ brothers’ record collections), but even taping both songs and bits back in that era of wacky DJs. I had a number of “best of” cassettes that were nothing but comedy radio bits. I was hooked. And my radio drug of choice was Seattle’s 99.9 FM, KISW.
KISW is where I learned about the roots of classic rock – Led Zeppelin, The Who, Deep Purple… it’s where I heard new releases from AC/DC and Judas Priest and The Firm… it’s where I first heard Alice in Chains and Godsmack. I can probably still run through the entire lineup the station had at that time (though they did move people around a bit) – Robin & Maynard in the morning, Dan Wilke from 10-2, Crow & West on drive time, Slaton from 6-10, the Late Kathy Faulkner from 10PM to 2AM, then Baby Bo Roberts… then rinse and repeat. I had that station on all the time. In the car, in my room, on my walkman. I wore the station t-shirts. And every year I waited for them to release their printed list of the listener voted Top 1,000 rock songs so I could circle all the ones I had in my music collection and try to figure out which ones I wanted add. I lived it and breathed it.
Flipping through the vinyl at Seattle’s Georgetown Records the other day I ran across this vinyl comp of sorts that KISW put out back in 1981, just a few years before I started listening. It’s a mix of radio bits and live songs, and I just had to buy it. Even though I didn’t know all the DJs involved, it’s a little piece of KISWs past, and that nostalgia trip probably contributed to me also buying a copy of The Fixx’s Reach The Beach, even though KISW would never play anything by The Fixx… too new wave.
Epic Rock KISW – FM 100 has comedy and show bits from Langan & West, as well as Crow & Hovanes – by time I was listening, Langan and Havanes were gone and Crow & West had their own show, complete with the tagline, “Crow and West, they’re bitchin’!” (my 12-year old mind couldn’t believe you could say “bitchin'” on the radio). The live tracks are an interesting mix. Cheap Trick covers the Beatles with “Day Tripper,” you’ve got some southern-fried rock from Molly Hatchet (“Beatin’ the Odds”), some REO Speedwagon (“157 Riverside Avenue”), plus a couple of seemingly odd choices – Gary Myrick doing “She Talks in Stereo” and Angel City with “No Secrets”. We’re not given any information about where these were recorded, which is a bummer. Were they from Seattle shows? I have no idea. The recording quality of each is good, though, regardless of where they originated. The best segment is definitely that of Steve Slaton, doing one of his somewhat infrequent but always entertaining on-air disco destructions, this time inflicting his wrath on a Bee Gees record as part of his goal of “ridding the world of disco forever”. A noble cause, though in retrospect it wasn’t perhaps so much disco music as disco culture that was the problem.
Over the years I drifted away from KISW and bounced around the Seattle radio dial a bit, going to KXRX when the mass migration of KISW talent formed that station, and later to KZOK. But eventually it all came full circle, and I’ve been back with “Seattle’s Best Rock” for a dozen or so years now. And just like before, it’s a combination of both the music and the on-air talent that keep me coming back day after day.