This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
Is there anybody alive out there?
I just want to hear some rhythm
I just want to hear some rhythm
I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different voices speaking in tongues
–Bruce Springsteen, Radio Nowhere
Part 1 of this series is here.
Why is there a picture of a laptop here? Because I have a spare (I’m a sometimes-traveling consultant) and so it sits there most of the time, fallow. As a backup. And so I thought, why don’t I make use of it if it’s just sitting there? And so I’ve turned it into an all-purpose handy-dandy “music generator.” And unless you’re into vinyl, aren’t you getting most of your music delivered electronically these days?
So it has all my iTunes songs divided up into neat little playlists. And then if you open the browser, it loads up Pandora, YouTube and Sirius. Of course it’s got Spotify. All this plugged into a Jambox Bluetooth speaker. (Plugged in because well, I don’t know about you, but I find anything wireless to be pretty much hit or miss. When I want to listen to music, I don’t want to have to troubleshoot for a half hour first).
And so now, unlike when I was a kid and could only listen to my sister’s record collection (a pretty good one, BTW) and whatever happened to be on the radio I now have access to some 30,000,000 tunes! Extraordinary!
In a previous post in this series I whined about how there wasn’t enough music on TV when I was a kid. And slowly that changed, first with shows like Midnight Special and then eventually MTV. Well today there’s so much music on TV I literally cannot watch it all.
For example, there’s a cable channel called AXS which seems to more or less always be showing the Glastonbury festival or some other such thing. (The Glastonbury festival in England has been going on more or less continuously every year since 1970). I was in a hotel not too long ago watching a Beck concert and currently awaiting my attention on the DVR are a BB King show I recorded months ago as well as a live Who show. For the record:
I AM NOT COMPLAINING. 😀
As far as listening to music, alas, one thing I’ve lost over time is the experience of hearing it on real, good old-fashioned speakers. I have a couple of gigantic speakers in the basement that I swear I’ll plug into my stereo one day. So unfortunately I spend way too much time listening to music through crappy headphones when I’m working out. Even the speaker I have connected to the music generator is no substitute for those big boys.
As to radio, it seems to me to be VERY tightly programmed, much of it aimed at a demographic way younger than me. (The actual state of music – specifically rock – is itself worthy of a post or two down the road I think.) I only listen to FM radio when I absolutely have no choice. They have a very tight playlist and as far as they are concerned you can boil the entire Stones canon down to “Brown Sugar,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” and “Angie.” (Or occasionally, “Gimme Shelter”).
One thing to note: Neil Young has complained loudly and vociferously that MP3’s have squished the dynamic range of music down to something less than it should be (and much less than it was in vinyl). So a few years ago he developed a device called a Pono Player.
Essentially it plays music in a compressed format (like MP3’s) but purports to bring back the dynamic range missing from that format. Or as Neil says on his site, “…and now, with the PonoPlayer, you can finally feel the master in all its glory, in its native resolution, CD quality or higher, the way the artist made it, exactly.”
I have not listened to one but I did read a review on CNet. Their take? A mixed bag: “The PonoPlayer is an inherently likeable portable music player that delivers excellent high-end sound, but its quirky design and lackluster battery life leave us waiting for the second generation — or a price cut.” (It costs almost $400 USD. Plus you have to yet again update all your music to a new format).
So with all that said, what’s the state of radio today? Well, as far as I’m concerned, traditional radio has gone way downhill both in variety of music and creativity. But if you expand the meaning of radio to include all the other sources then it’s in a very good place indeed.
Note – there are still some good college stations around. WERS in Boston for example – the broadcast arm of Emerson College – plays some pretty good stuff if you catch them at the right time. And they have an outstanding a capella show every Saturday and Sunday that I catch whenever I can.
What’s next? Well, I’m not particularly good at prognostication but I predict some sort of metal plate inserted into one’s head that can pick up whatever frequency you choose. 🙂 For now, my favorite method of listening is via Pandora where I can set up channels and then shuffle them, one minute listening to reggae, the next zydeco, the next blues, etc
I find that very enjoyable. And frankly, it’s probably about as close as I’ll ever get to the fervent, fertile days of underground FM radio.
Where, Steely Dan advises us, there is “no static at all.”
Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio
–Elvis Costello, Radio, Radio
I quote both Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello in this post. (They’ve actually known each other for a long time). You say you wish you could hear them play their respective radio songs live? Together? Wish granted. This clip is from an excellent TV show Elvis had just a few years back, Spectacle. Take us out, boys.