Music of the Week: Independent Radio

Ah, the wonders of modern radio…

If you work eight plus hours a day in a place that generously allows you to listen to music, you have likely experienced the woes of mainstream radio or worse, retail muzak. Katy Perry, Nickelback, KeSha and the like on a seemingly endless loop. At best, you may have a classic rock station nearby that plays the same songs every day, in varying order. I love Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but hearing the same tunes every day can quickly ruin your favorites.

Enter streaming radio. Sure, there’s Pandora (which I just got rid of when I found out many artists receive less than half a penny per play), Slacker, and a plethora of other streaming services in which you enter a favorite artist or song into the search query and you can listen to recommendations and similar music for hours on end. Ultimately though, it’s computers running a bunch of logarithms that chose the music for you.

I recently started a job that allows me to listen to music on my earbuds, or on my cool old-school-looking Crosley radio, all day long. This is a first for me. Given a lack of good radio stations in this area, with the exception of NPR, and not wanting to get written up for playing with my phone trying to find good music all day, I was on the lookout for a music source that I could listen to for nine hours straight, without feeling the need to turn it off. My trusty Zune with 80gb worth of greatness on it – I liked to call it my own personal radio station – broke right before I took the job, so I’m out of luck there.

Doing some searching online, I first discovered WFMU (previously mentioned here, they did meet their goal by the way), specifically their specialty station Rock & Soul Ichiban. This treasure plays obscure ’50s tunes all day long. Rock ‘N’ Roll, Blues, MoTown, Soul, you name it. Even occasional local business commercials from the ’50s just for fun. This is one genre-dedicated station that I could – and have – cranked all day. WFMU’s main station plays all kinds of sounds that you truly will not find together anywhere else. Some of their collection is hard to classify as music. WFMU also created and runs The Free Music Archive, a collection of pre-cleared (legal) free tunes, downloadable for free use by podcasters, film-makers, or plain music nuts like me. The idea that there is an entirely listener-supported radio station out there that plays only what they want and what the listeners want, is wonderful to me.

Two stations I recently discovered that are somewhat similar in nature are KDHX out of St. Louis, Missouri and KOOP, out of nearby Austin, Texas. Both of these stations run a weekly schedule, meaning each show plays once a week, with each show playing different genres. On a given day listening to one of these stations, you may start the morning off with a couple hours of blues, enjoy a rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly show over lunch, and end the afternoon on a punk note. Throw in some jazz, indie rock, and some country, and you’ve got more variety than any CBS or Clearchannel station. KOOP also broadcasts talk/new shows dedicated to Austin arts and culture. The greatness of all this is that you could listen to one of these stations nine hours a day for a week straight, and likely not here any song more than once. Given that a DJ on one of these networks has only two or three hours a week to play music, there is little likelihood of repetition for extended periods of time. Better yet, some of these DJs actually are spinning records. KDHX has a Friday show called Bob’s Scratchy Records, during which, you guessed it, Bob brings in a box of vinyl and plays his favorites on-air (anything from Son House to The Hives to Porter Wagoner).

So, if you’re like me and you have an eclectic taste for music that doesn’t include anyone on the current Billboard charts, and your musical mood varies day-to-day, I highly recommend listener supported radio. No annoying “shock jock” morning shows, no McDonald’s commercials every 15 minutes, and you won’t hear the same song three times in an eight-hour stretch. (Side note: This is no exaggeration. A coworker who works at the bench next to mine listens to a local country station whose motto is “playing the young guns and legends,” however they literally play the same top 20 or so pop country songs on rotation with a Merle Haggard tune or two thrown in once in awhile. This results in hearing the same songs a minimum of three times in a nine-hour stretch.)

If you like listening to disc jockeys who truly have a passion for good music that you would often only find on the original records, do like I did and search out independent radio stations. Check out this cool article from Paste Magazine for a good start. All three stations I mentioned here are available for online streaming from your browser or on your mobile gadget, via the TuneIn app, for free. If you like what you hear, do the station and your fellow listeners a favor and pitch in a few bucks. They might even send you some cool stuff. Nobody knows when the internet and subscription services will finally kill radio, but for now these independent stations are all we true music lovers have left.

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