When I talked to esteemed editor and all around paragon of awesome Glenny Brock about doing this blog some months back, it was pitched as a music blog, set to tie in with the work I do for Birmingham Mountain Radio. Looking back over the last few months, I feel like the focus might have drifted a bit. I mean – I’m proud that I’ve managed to at least *listen* to music while I write each one… all the while managing to turn it into a public mid-life crisis.
So, yeah – consider this sort of a public apology to Glenny. And a recognition of my own problem — which, I’ve heard repeatedly at the bar, is the first step to recovery. And, too, a warning that it’s probably not gonna get better without getting worse. Damn kids.
Those of you over the age of about 30: remember when radio was fun to listen to? Remember when the DJs lived nearby, at least within a short drive? You might run in to one of them at a bar, or your local Ruby Tuesday’s, or maybe even went to school with one of their kids?
Do you remember contests where you won by being the seventh caller? THAT — that was fun, knowing that the DJ would start the contest sometime before the top of the hour, and you’d sit with your phone at the ready, waiting for them to fire the proverbial starting pistol. If you’ve already one foot in the grave like me, you might even recall the nightmare of trying to be the seventh caller with a rotary phone.
What about being able to call up just about any time during the day and request a song? It could be a hit that was popular at the moment, or something you hadn’t heard in a year, or — if you had a really good station or DJ — a deep track from a recent album. It didn’t matter — if the jockey was in the right mood, you got to hear your song, often with a shout-out to you personally for requesting it, or maybe your voice tape-recorded intro’ing the track.
But apparently it’s cheaper and easier (and if you believe the brain-washing, more enjoyable for you, the listener) to run computer-driven playlists from a central server somewhere in Kansas, using DJs by region, if you’re lucky. There’s no reference to local events or bands, unless the salespeople dropped in an ad for such. The contests are all done by drawing, probably by a computer or a robotic arm. As far as requests — well, if you could actually talk to someone, maybe then they’d summarily ignore whatever track you’re asking to hear.
Computers don’t care about “likes” and “desires”, you know.
The problem is hardly endemic — name an industry, especially related to entertainment, and it’s all become about hitting the most people for the lowest overhead. Movies, TV, books, even newspapers — it’s harder and harder to find something that’s not aimed at the lowest common denominator, something with a personal, human touch. I love that the Internet has helped foster a global sense of culture, but I hate that the corporate mindset has destroyed any sense of humanity in that culture.
A natural piece of this puzzle is a shift from proactive to reactive. If you want to know that you’re going to make money, you shift away from taking chances and dipping your toe into the unknown, and towards giving people what you know they want. And then you end up, devastatingly, in a spiral where the people feed the media feeding the people feeding the media. Suddenly, the only thing we have is what we’ve somehow convinced ourselves is the only thing we want, without ever considering what we might be missing. Ouroboros maybe a cool concept, but the reality ain’t pretty like you hope.
I would think that the advent of Internet radio would have been a turning point for all this. Here’s some shameless self-promotion: Birmingham Mountain Radio certainly has at least one foot on the right path. I can tell you that all our shows are run by local human beings. Every DJ there is a resident of Birmingham. There’s a show that focuses on local music. Reg’s Coffee House and Lost Child (and the hopefully-soon-to-return-in-a-better-timeslot, hint hint, send your requests to their Facebook page, (The Show With No Name)) play what they want, freed from playlist constraints, offering you some new and different music every week. And maybe most importantly, the entire staff — from the owner and the program director down through the DJs to the sales staff and the guy who runs our Twitter feed — listen, to new music coming out, to music trends, and to the listeners, who tell us what they love and what sucks.
Computers don’t listen. As a computer programmer, I can verify this statement.
But… and there’s always a but, isn’t there? The corporations are on the bandwagon now, and there’s a whole bunch of internet stations out there now. With Music! and DJs! and more of the same old, generic, dehamunized shit that you can find on your terrestrial dial. It took longer than I expected, frankly, but once it happened, it took off like herpes on Gilligan’s Island. Thanks, Ginger.
I’m out of touch. It’s not hard for me to admit, because I’ve never really been *in* touch, in the loop, aware of what’s cool and what’s not. Maybe the kids today are okay with all of this, either because it’s all they know, or because this is the way it was meant to be all along. If so, then I’ll be over here on my front porch, in a wooden rocker with chipped white paint, enjoying a can of beer and watching the sunset, and you can come over any time and put me down like they do with old horses. No country for old men, and all that.
But let’s assume, for the sake of my ego, that I’m not alone in this thinking, that there is a place for humanity and a local touch in our entertainment, that we’re not on our way headlong into the abyss of 24-hour news stations broadcast from somewhere far away and endless radio stations playing the same things and 24-plex theaters with two choices. Find those outlets in your area, whether it’s Weld and Birmingham Mountain Radio or a local theater in Atlanta or a small radio station in Chicago. Find those outlets, and support them, however you can. If you’ve got money, sponsor them. If you’ve got spare time, volunteer. If you’ve got nothing else, drop them kind words through email or Facebook or in person, because sometimes knowing you’ve got support is enough to get you through for another moment.
Or… tell me I’m wrong, and that you’re okay with Skynet forcefeeding you the things you should be enjoying and learning and telling you what to think. I suppose there’s some validity to that thought process. But keep in mind that I’m not going anywhere any time soon, and I’ve got plenty of nostalgic vitriol to spare.