Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On standing apart in St. Louis

So I put in the CD, and that was it, my car CD became a black hole. OOoommmph.

It would spit the CD back out, after a little juju from me, but put the disc back in and, lights out, the CD deck is suddenly silent blank dashboard.

So, I am down to radio now, when I am in the car. In St. Louis, I knew, that was totally cool. We have KDHX here - my favorite radio station in the universe. I'd have thought that KDHX would be my sole, varied and sustainable musical diet.

Here is the super big surprise. It's actually not the only station I listen to in my CD-void car. KDHX is probably not even getting a pure majority of my ear time. It's getting a plurality of my plays, and it's still my favorite radio station in the universe (competing with BBC Radio 3 and KUSC in Los Angeles), but there is way more out there on the dial in St. Louis.

I'd always dismissed Classic 99 as schmaltzy and Romantic. I was an idiot. It is an edgy, essential, often profoundly strange, and thrilling venue for classical music. Some days I start out on Classic 99 and visit several hundred worlds on the way to work without ever moving the dial.

But, it has commercials - which pay the bills, I know - but it's hard to take your medicine. Jazz is a lateral move from classical, and KDHX has very little jazz, so often I light over on to WSIE - a station I had associated with soft jazz and derivative bop, again proving my idiocy. WSIE is often adventurous and almost never dull, full of surprises and quirky jazz.

With those three stations, KDHX and Classic 99 and WSIE, I could live only on the FM dial in St. Louis, but for the large glut of blues music on FM 88.1, so often scheduled during drive time. I am mostly for the scratchy and trance country blues, and I don't get much of that on KDHX blues shows, so I switch it on over to AM.

And that is where lurks 1430 AM, which is absolutely off the hook, insanely great and varied, an encyclopedic oldies - in many, many months of listening, now, I have only heard one song twice, a song by the Beach Boys, and only one band I don't need to ever hear again: the Beach Boys.

Thom and Stefene Fletcher Russell sing songs of praise to 770 AM, so I have added that station to my arsenal; and holy gamole, the Mexican pop music just hops and pops and sparkles.

Weird thing for me, just as I am making these discoveries, learning how varied is our local dial in St. Louis, the mighty KDHX is dramatically streamlining its self-presentation. Not the music, mind you, just the package.

"Independent music plays here," we are told, or the producers are made to tell us. That assertion of independence is the most forced, repetitious and robotic thing I am told anywhere on the edges of my St. Louis dial.

As an assertion, it is true, and not true, which makes it not worth asserting. Is Bob Dylan independent? Only in a spiritual sense of independence that is beside the point. Is Springsteen independent? Stevie Wonder? KDHX plays so much beautiful music that is coopted by the industry and mass-produced, and that is fine by me; I wish more beautiful music could be successfully coopted by the industry and mass-produced.

Also, I wonder, is "independent" synonymous with good? Not to me. I love symphonic music and opera, and they are always elaborately institutionalized. These musical forms are simply too expensive to produce without a strong institutional basis. Dependent music plays on Classic 99 - and, in St. Louis afternoon drive time, that dependent music is kicking the ass of any independent music on the dial.

KDHX's new didactic formatting is also telling me that the station "stands apart". Yaaaaawwwn. That is true in only one sense. On a St. Louis dial full of stations that really do stand apart, KDHX is the only one puffing up and telling me it is doing so.


Photograph by Thom Fletcher


Tony Renner said...

KFUO 99.1 FM's programming has been getting more and more adventerous over the past year or so. Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin's of the Field aren't nearly as omnipresent as they once were.

Way back when, Kevin Martin wrote a piece for the Riverfront Times explaining why KFUO played so many recordings by Neville Mariner. Sad to say, I've long since forgotten that reason.

WSIE 88.7 FM could use an influx of local hosts -- the canned programming is alright but I miss hearing djs talking about the weather, upcoming concerts, and such whatnot.

Rakehell said...

Thanks very much for this analysis - as a free-thinking "independent" programmer on KDHX, I have lately felt insulted and uncertain about what the station hopes to achieve with this campaign.

Tim Rakel
host of Mystery Train
KDHX Mondays, 10AM-Noon

marc chechik said...

Chris, let me preface by saying that I wrote the line "Independent music plays here". A bit of history: the station is simply articulating something that's been long known by loyal listeners, in an effort to garner more listeners to help sustain it. This is the first time the station has undertaken a fairly sizable media effort to "get the word out" to potential listeners outside the South City corridor. More listeners means more supporters. The line was simply a way to express the station's mindset, which may be intriguing for some of the West County disenfranchised whose tastes extend beyond, say, Nickelback.

Point being, yeah, you have a point. When you say you're cool, generally you're not. But it's a little different situation here. "Independent" is a focused word that attracts. It's empowering. It's actually defining for people who may have never heard the station. It plants a flag and says "We play what we want and we're passionate about it."

It's the one case where the station can actually back up what it's saying so proudly.

To Tim: Try not to feel insulted. Feel celebrated. In an utterly faceless sea of shitty, corporate crap stations that exist, what you and every programmer represent is a voice of choice. The genuine article. Real music played by people who truly do give a shit. Isn't that, in essence, what the word "independent" defines?

Good thoughts, Chris. Just wanted to clarify my point on it.

Confluence City said...

Thanks for the comments. Long live rock and roll, and the other musics.