Radio via bird.

Radio sucks here, the way it does everywhere else. We had less than a year of Nirvana after moving here; our public radio station spun those adult-album-alternative platters during the day, broke for NPR news at 4 p.m., went to jazz in the evenings and played various amusing niche shows on the weekends.

That’s no longer the case, alas.

But what of commercial radio, you ask? The usual — right-wing talk, hip-hop, soccer-mom lite rok (it’s not hard enough to deserve a C), bleah. All my life I’ve wanted a car radio with enough presets to accommodate my many moods of musical preferences, and I finally got one in 2003, just in time for there to be no radio stations worth listening to. I think I have four buttons programmed in FM, three in AM, and I mostly listen to NPR, CDs or my own thoughts.

But. There’s one bright spot — WGPR, which at 10 a.m. on Saturday kicks off Old-School Saturday, a full day of you-know-what. I’m usually running errands on Saturday, after which I jump onto iTunes and download all the great tracks I heard that day and thought were lost in the mists of time.

I’m talking, ohhh, Tyrone Davis, “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time.” Bloodstone, “Natural High.” L.T.D., “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again,” which has this great bass hook that sounds sort of like a funky fart. This week I grabbed Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage,” later dismantled and reassembled by Coolio.

Googling around, I see Lakeside was yet another funk band out of Dayton, Ohio. Yes, Dayton. You thought of it as the home of National Cash Register, but it also gave the world the Ohio Players and Heatwave, among others. There’s a pop-culture master’s thesis in regional pop music, I think, and not just the obvious candidates — cajun/zydeco, mariachi. I’m thinking of, oh, Carolina beach music, exemplifed by the Chairmen of the Board. (Note their birthplace: Detroit. Heh.) Also, go-go, known to all in Washington D.C. and not so much elsewhere. Guess what the kick-off track was last week on Old-School Saturday? E.U.’s “Da Butt,” the one and only go-go song I could name.

(In its everlasting quest to be the world’s most authentic urban-procedural TV show, there was a go-go reference in an episode of “The Wire” a couple seasons back. A D.C. gangster tells Stringer Bell he ought to come up to Drama City sometime. Stringer: “I hate that go-go shit.” Gangster: “That’s cuz you never heard it live. I know a club in Oxon Hill? That’ll wreck y’all.” Let me see the hands of all who knew what they were talking about. Yes, I thought so.)

Anyway, what drove regional sounds, regional records? The same forces that keep the regional potato-chip business afloat in the age of Lay’s and Ruffles — freshness, tradition, salt and grease. We saw “Walk the Line” the other night, and I was struck by the lost relic of the Sun Records storefront, where Sam Phillips tells a young Johnny Cash that it costs $4 to cut a record, and he can call the secretary for an appointment. Motown started life as a regional studio, and while it was surely an unstoppable force, it probably didn’t hurt that it was in the same metro area as CKLW, which broke dozens of records with its Bigfoot signal.

It’s at this point that I usually pause, read back what I’ve just read and ask, “What the hell am I talking about, anyway?” The question seems particularly acute at the moment. I think I’m trying to talk myself into getting XM radio. Is it worth the money? Because I’m thinking I need to cut costs, but jeez, radio stinks like week-old fish.

I am streaming an internet go-go channel as I write, however. I bet this stuff is good, live.

So, bloggage:

Charles Madigan wants to know if journalism was really so good back in the day, so he holds a seance. An amusing column that should have ended one paragraph before it did.

The Freep offers a classic of the insecure-city genre, the look-look-at-all-the-stars-who-love-our-local-sports-team story. Among the stars who root for the Tigers: a “Dateline” correspondent, a senator from freakin’ Delaware and my personal favorite, Kevin Saunderson. Who is?

“One of the founding fathers of Detroit techno music.” Ohhh-kay.

And since I’ve just achieved the miracle of semi-closing this half-assed circle, I think I’d better duck out now. A swell day to all.

Posted at 9:53 am in Popculch |

20 responses to “Radio via bird.”

  1. Marcia said on October 3, 2006 at 9:58 am

    CKLW, wow. There’s a blast from the past. It only provided the soundtrack for my entire childhood and teen years.

    My sister had the Ohio Players album with the person covered in honey on the cover. (That was them, wasn’t it?)

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  2. Marcia said on October 3, 2006 at 9:59 am

    Oh, p.s. Thank you so much for using half-assed instead of half-ass.

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  3. Danny said on October 3, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Yeah, Nancy always gives English usage rules the full-assed treatment.

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  4. Dorothy said on October 3, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Now I’m singing “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time” in my head thanks to you! Another oldie I heard recently that always makes me launch into full throttle singing mode is “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Lead singer was Teddy Pendergrass.

    I know nothing of go go music. But I am intrigued. And I love that Marcia thanked you for using half-assed!

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  5. ellent said on October 3, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Love my XM radio. I have a unit that works at home and in my car. It’s like the argument for getting HBO. You could live without the extra $10/month on your cable bill, but there’s at least one program or movie each month that makes it worth the subscription fee. I chose the XM subscription instead of iPod and downloads, because I wasn’t very good at mix tapes back in the day, so I’m sure my shuffle would be pretty lame.

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  6. brian stouder said on October 3, 2006 at 10:29 am

    An amusing column that should have ended one paragraph before it did.

    this description enticed me into clicking the link, and indeed – it exactly encapsulates the column.

    (can’t really decide whether it should have ended a paragraph sooner, or whether the ending was just a disappointment [surely a sharper point could have been made?]….so the unassailable wisdom in NN’s get-it-done copy editor perspective prevails, as always)

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  7. nancy said on October 3, 2006 at 10:37 am

    The ending is the equivalent of a guy stepping out from the wings after a morality play and saying, “And so the lesson we learn is…” Trust your audience/readers — if they got that far, they KNOW what you’re talking about. (In this case, it’s not like he packed the meaning under layers of tissue paper, anyway.)

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  8. John said on October 3, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Did anyone hear Terry Gross yesterday? She interviewed a guy whose name escapes me … something Bell? … who wrote and arranged a lot of the Philly sound stuff, like the Spinners. Great interview. Then she played “I’ll Be Around.” Great stuff.

    as for XM radio … I’ll give you an incomplete review. We have it in one car and Mary, the wife, swears by it. She’s the primary user. I’m a big fan as well, though not quite as much. I’ve noticed an odd tendency. The stations are very specialized, which means they can play some great and obscure stuff. But it also means they don’t wander much. If they do, it spills into another station’s stuff. If that makes sense.

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  9. ashley said on October 3, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I’m so happy to have WWOZ available via FM. Me, I’d just go for a radio with a jack for my iPod, and I’ll listen to radio at home.

    That’s wwoz, y’all.

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  10. nancy said on October 3, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Terry Gross is never better than when she explains some odd corner of pop music for her listeners, anything from Sinatra to hip-hop. I still fondly recall the one she did with John Barry, composer for the James Bond movie scores. His anecdote about the writing and recording of “Thunderball” is worth the price of admission alone.

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  11. Emma said on October 3, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Nancy, I went to see “Strangers With Candy” last weekend and in one of the scenes, you can hear “Float On” by the Floaters playing in the background. (I know it’s one of your favorites.)

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  12. mary said on October 3, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    A friend made a mix tape for me about six years ago including three John Barry themes. There’s nothing like running to John Barry music. I actually wore that tape out, and it was an amazin mix: Dusty Springfield, Miles Davis, John Barry, Bjork, The Band and Manic Street Preachers.

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  13. John said on October 3, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    to address Ashley’s concern about switching from regular radio to XM, it was one of my negatives as well. Then we got one and I found out that you can get regular radio too. I like listening to local radio, especially on long road trips. Nothing beats taking the edge off a long straight line stretching out in front of you with a little “radio swap meet” broadcasting from somewhere in the middle of nowhere. (“I’ve got a set of TV tables that I’d like to get $10 for…”)

    … also, I heard the John Barry interview, and the Thunderball story. Outstanding.

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  14. Adrianne said on October 3, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    It’s not only those insecure second-tier cities that are writing about celeb fans of baseball teams … the New York Post had full story today on Yanks celeb fans and Mets celeb fans. Yanks have the edge, although most of the NYC area comics – Seinfeld, Ray Ramano, Chris Rock – swear by the Amazins’. But most of the commentary came from Rapper Fat Joe, who I have never heard of. Takers, anyone?

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  15. nancy said on October 3, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    In my six months of copy-editin’, I would listen to different things on the radio coming in at 4:45 a.m. One was “Coast to Coast” and the other was the hip-hop station, really really loud. Fat Joe had a hit at the time — “Lean Back.” Wikipedia informs me Fat Joe was BFF with the late rapper (and fellow super-size guy) Big Pun, which reminds me of another great radio moment: Noah Adams, host of “All Things Considered,” muddling through an interview with some editor at The Source after the death of Big Pun. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, Adams’ refined voice and manner attempting to ask questions about the cultural impact of Big Pun, a guy he’d probably never heard of 20 minutes previous. If radio could carry subtitles, they would have read, “There must be a better way to reach the youth demographic than this.”

    P.S. In “Lean Back,” Fat Joe raps, “Big Pun forever!”
    P.P.S. Pun is short for “punisher.” I learned that from Noah Adams.

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  16. ashley said on October 3, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    Nance, I still remember you working the early morning hours, complaining about endless sets of vibraphone music.

    The Noah Adams story reminded me of when Harry Caray was doing a Cubs game, and Don Cornelius walked into the booth. Harry was effusive with praise for Soul Train, how he never missed the show, and how he loved the music.

    Of course, I think that this was the second game of a doubleheader, so Harry was probably sauced to the gills.

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  17. basset said on October 4, 2006 at 8:17 am


    and there’s a CKLW reference on an old Bob Seger LP that never made it to CD… “Rosalie” is about the station PD, who apparently had a a lot to do with breaking a whole bunch of hits.

    the record is “Back in ’72,” the original version of “Turn the Page” is on there too…

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  18. brian stouder said on October 4, 2006 at 9:52 am

    I’m guessing bff = best friends forever (as opposed to Ben Folds Five or best foot forward or Born Free Foundation or binary file format or Boston Film Festival)

    thanks to

    and now, I shall place myself onto the nn.c suspension list for stupidly failing to close a tag and endangering a thread – a thread about proper posting procedures!

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  19. Ricardo said on October 4, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I vote for XM radio. I love it! All bluegrass station, oldies records cleaned up for digital broadcast, all MLB baseball games, old radio shows. Last time I visited Detroit, I found the EMU station to be entertaining, NPR plus blues, roots rock and roll, jazz, etc.

    The worst for me was driving in the top of the mitten with one station available. They were advertising used toilets during the farm report.

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  20. hb said on October 4, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    SIRIUS is the way to go

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