Friday, July 18, 2008

Cruel Summer

Being in Houston for the summer, I am with car. Being with car means I am with radio. And here's what I've noticed:

Houston went through a real bad spell a few years ago of having very few good stations. It seemed whenever we got one that was decent, it would soon turn into a tejano station. That's what happened to Rock 101, at least (the only station I've ever heard play Rush without a request). But in the past year or two, things have really turned around. There's an 80s station, a pop top 40, a classic rock, a modern rock, an easy listening, a few dance/hip-hop/rap, and at least two good country stations. To top it off, Houston recently got Jack FM (formatless, DJ-less, requestless radio), a station called Country Legends (which specializes in George and Dolly), and the oldies station has dropped the 50s doo-wop and moved up in time a decade to cover the classic rock station's butt (sorry if that makes you feel old).

This is good. It means that our Accord's 12 FM presets are locked and loaded and that the CDs can stay in the doohickey between the seats, not causing any accidents.1

However, I can't help but notice one odd thing: with all those stations, I still only hear the same twelve songs over and over. It turns out that "Pour Some Sugar On Me" counts as classic rock, 80s rock, modern rock, pop top 40, and even easy listening. So do all the Boston songs I don't like, and "Electric Avenue" (which I never recall hearing before 2004 but now can identify within 2 bars). Why? Why with all these options, all these stations, can I hear "Tainted Love" or "Land Down Under" at any time of any day?

I did some research, and it turns out that at least three of my most listened to stations are owned by the same company. Would it be so hard to coordinate efforts a little bit so as to prevent the overexposure of the public to REO Speedwagon and Peter Frampton?

I'm not really complaining—I'm sure there's a business model somewhere that explains all this. I'm just curious why, for as long as I can remember, I've never heard more than one Beatles or Michael Jackson song in a week no matter how much time I spend in the car, yet I can hear Lenny Kravitz's pretty-much-terrible cover of "American Woman" any time I like. Why, with 2 full greatest hits albums to choose from (one of which is tied with Thriller as the top selling album of all time), the radio has let me hear "One of These Nights" three times this week but hasn't given me "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "New Kid in Town," or "Tequila Sunrise" once the whole summer?

I don't know anyone with any kind of station loyalty. I don't know anyone who listens through the commercials instead of switching the station. I don't know anyone who listens to exactly one kind of music. I don't know anyone who approves of the way radio is done. (I don't know anyone who likes 3 Doors Down.2)

And I don't know anyone who wants to hear the same 20 songs over and over forever. Even if there was only one radio station, and even if that station played only hits, and even if it only played hits in, say, one genre from, say, one decade, it would have at least 1000 songs to choose from. Fifty minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 4 minutes a song—no song would need to be played more than twice, and the chances of me hearing it both times is slim slim slim.

Classic rock stations boast that they play 3 decades worth of hits, and "rock" is a broad term.

There's one group that I haven't minded (mound?) hearing a little too often, though: Ace of Base.

Good times, E. (I hope I never hear Lifehouse again, no matter how much money a station may be giving away.)

1 I can't figure out why, but no matter how many other stations crowd the buttons, the one farthest left is always, always the classical station. I keep thinking it's my dad, that he prefers to have that station at his fingertips, if only to feel more classy because of it—but it's my mom's car, not his. I'm changing it tomorrow.
2 Don't tell me. It would only harm our relationship.


Jennifer said...

My kids like the same twelve songs over and over:
1 Gnarls Barkley
4 Fergie
2 Gwen Stefani
1 Miley Cyrus
2 Natasha Beddingfield
1 Chris Brown
1 Rascall Flats

Joe said...

Amen to 3 Doors Down, brother. Amen to everything. You have ripped the cover off of this one of our biggest cultural black holes. I'm scandalized!

Club Narwhal said...

When did overexposure to REO become a bad thing? You must not start off every Monday, Wednesday, & Friday with this little gem:

Club Narwhal said...

and yes, that is a nearly full term baby floating in the womb of space. creepy.

Elisa said...

Am I the E you're referencing? Because I hate Ace of Base. Hate. You know what doesn't get enough airtime? Straight Up by Paula Abdul.