Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 18 — A song that you wish you heard on the radio

Since I don't listen to much radio music, I don't use up many calories pining for songs to hear on it, but I distinctly recall the early days of Portland's "alternative" radio, KNRK, when radio guy Gustav would accept song requests by fax. I think it was a lunch hour thing, or a "3 at 3" idea, or something, but I consistently caught it from my radio at work.

Many times -- not every day, but frequently enough -- I faxed in requests to play "Country Death Song" by Violent Femmes, "Mary-Christ" and/or "Tunic (Song for Karen)" by Sonic Youth, and something from Jesus and Mary Chain's Darklands -- say, "Down on Me" -- or something from the Pixies, such as "Bone Machine."

These requests were never fulfilled. I was under the mistaken impression -- naive in hindsight -- that the word alternative signified something akin to its dictionary meaning, implying an approach to radio programming that was willing to depart from tired formulas and formats (3-minute pop songs, America-the-band/Steve Winwood song cycles, yokels a-yearning -- back then I had zero patience for country music). I soon realized "alternative" radio was just there to try to scare up a paying audience for increasingly embarrassing Nirvana knock-offs -- Stone Temple Pilots, Goo Goo Dolls, Silverchair, Bush, Nickelback, on down the line.

I'm not sure what KNRK and "alternative" radio is there for now; overall, I would say it's a little less ridiculous and a little more settled in its canons, which while not exactly adventurous, are at least reasonably broad. They even now dare to say they are giving attention and airtime to local and little-known acts, and maybe so.

That said, I don't like KNRK's between song segue-ways when it hearkens back to, say, 1983 or 1977 and declares that "[world event] happened" or "[product] only cost [smaller amount]" and "... this was playing on the radio," followed by something that was emphatically not playing on the radio at the time (I do not count 150-watt college radio setups or avant garde pirate radio outfits in London, LA, and New York): early R.E.M., Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, early U2, non-idiotic David Bowie songs, and so on.

For whatever reason, "alternative" radio seems to be trying (in part) to gin up an "alternative" history of radio music in which to fit itself. No. "Alternative" radio was a departure from what radio had become by the late 1980's-early 1990s, a needed one even if an imperfect one. May it continue to wax alternative-er, while preserving the best of what it has grown up on.

This is part of the 30-Day Music Meme.

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