40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Classic Crock: Part 1

We're lucky in that while moving the Shears organization base-of-operations north to the Wilkes Barre-Pittston-Scranton megalopolis, we get to drive through three radio markets -- Philadelphia, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton and Northeast PA. That means that, with some dial spinning, we get to hear the Classic Rock format stations in all three. It doesn't matter the call-signs or frequencies. They're all pretty much the same, right? You know the one in your own market. Spin the FM dial right now and stop at the station playing "More than a Feeling". That's the one.

Yes. They all sound the same. We know that. We still listen. They've all distilled out the top 63 or 64 rock classic tracks and play them over and over, and then they play them some more. One or two top main tunes per artist, on average, and maybe 3-4 for your mega talents like Bowie or the Stones. We all know that and have accepted it.

They don't even go that deep into the greatest hits CDs we've all collected over the years. They've focus-grouped the exact number of songs from the fixed selection created between 1965 and 1976, the exact tunes that will maximize revenue for the mix of advertisers that have joined the format. The same songs, the same sponsors and the same endless, irritating, overheated self-promotion.

Oh they'll do the special countdowns and weekends, play rarer songs, and milk the promotion of them to the hilt, like the one right now that's doing a ridiculous "Raiders of the Lost Classics" weekend. Well hell if these songs are so great, warranting a whole weekend, why not play them the rest of the time? What it comes off as, to this listener anyway, is a weekend-long acknowledgement that they're holding out on us.

But it doesn't put us off. No. It's almost comforting that an entire generation can settle into such media complacency. Yes.

These frequency holders have discovered a way to squeeze value out of the airwaves and so they do. Get a radio station and start your own, you say? Many people think to. The ones that look into it will find that they'd sooner be able to gather the capital to build a suspension bridge. The government regulates these airwaves -- to prevent overlap and interference, they say -- and as with nearly everything a government regulates, a shortage was created. So the owners found themselves in possession of valuable assets. Valuable quite beyond the means of an individual or even a small company of individuals.

I have a love-hate relationship with these commercial engines. And make no mistake that's what they are, no matter how warm and fuzzy the DJ's schtick. The DJs need the gigs, man. Don't blame them. They're just driving the bus. They're the gilt wrapping on the packaged and test-marketed rebellion.

Though there are many of us out there who came of age in the era of so-called underground radio, I sense that this is one of those things that are remembered better than they really were. The frequency holders have tapped into that too. They may not care much about music, but they're not stupid.

Love-hate. To get my dose of the same ol' CCR or Yes or Stones, usually on long car drives, I have to subject myself to, for instance, the overplayed and completely uncool Johnnie Cougar Mellencamp. Listen music directors, you may be trapped in your classic rock playlist focus group bubble, but John Mellencamp is just not cool. Come on and listen, really listen, to the trite derivative lyrics and trite derivative rhythms some time. Can anyone who refers to his own rock classic alienation anthem as a "ditty" ever qualify as cool?

Yes, Eric Clapton is a legend. But have you not noticed that his solo work since Derek and the Dominoes is so incredible dreary and BORING? Has anybody? No. Maybe it's because you fall asleep three bars in.

And Fleetwood Mac? Don't get me started. This is the most relentlessly talent-free and unoriginal combo in pop music history. They qualify as classic rock.

Yet their entire worthless careers have produced good, one moment of mirth for all that schlock. Without them the movie School of Rock would have had to ridicule some other artist in that hilarious scene where Jack Black lures Joan Cusack into his plan by exploiting her weakness for alcohol-induced Stevie Nicks impersonations. Ha.

No if there was no Fleetwood Mac, the makers probably would have had to settle for some lesser cheesy talent, like maybe Johnnie Cougar Mellencamp, or whatever his name is this decade.

Love-Hate. But then it's always good to hear that Joe Walsh song. You know the one. it must be his only song. It's the only one they play. Nope. Sorry. They also play "Rocky Mountain Way". The one I'm thinking.... no wait, I'm not thinking of it, it's playing on the radio right now actually. It's an honest song about his hard life as a rock star, the one where he sings "I lost my license now I don't drive." and "I can't complain but sometimes I still do." Classic lines, really. You know the one. You've heard it a million times.

It's comforting. somehow.

Next: Commercial engines with Earth Shoes


Blogger Scott C. Smith said...

Aren't most radio stationed owned by a few larger corporations? They probably all have the same playlists. I think it's probably true with country, or pop, or any other style of music, that you'll hear the same songs no matter where you are.

Which is kind of sad, really, because America has been reduced to essentially the same suburban communities. I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon called Beaverton. Intel is a major employer here. Intel has a campus in Folsom, CA, outside of Sacramento. My wife used to go on trips to the Folsom campus quite a bit, and on occasion I'd join her. And when I saw Folsom for the first time, what struck me was how it looked exactly like Beaverton. Same stores, same fast food joints, same everything. It was like I hadn't even gone anywhere. Corporations are sucking in communities and spitting out the same strip malls, Wal-Marts, Targets and the Golden Arches.

11:59 PM  

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