Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
Today we have achieved the ultimate segmentation and compartmentalization of music. Sirius/XM radio and services such as Pandora and Amazon Prime have taken radio to new levels of classifications offering hundreds of stations each specializing in a specific type of music. You can even build your own station by providing the name of a song or artist you like and they will provide you with streaming music the computers deem similar to what you like.
I subscribe to Sirius/XM, but mostly to listen to television stations simulcast over the air waves such as Fox News, CNN, and CNBC. When I do listen to music on Sirius/XM, I listen to Sirius/XM 32 better known as The Bridge, which plays a lot of singer/songwriter/soft-rocky stuff. It is the ultimate canned rotation station that has been recycling the same music for the past ten years. It never changes.
I also listen to Siriusly Sinatra which is actually a little better. Somebody puts some effort into that rotation. I like American standards. I have heard some outstanding off beat versions of American Songbook tunes by unexpected or lesser known artists which I end up downloading into my personal playlists. They have to search out some of these versions…or maybe computers do it for them.
My favorite broadcast music station is WISH 99.7 out of Pittsburgh. I know its canned music, but it actually mixes up rotations depending on the time of day throwing in some talk just for interest. And I am a Delilah fan!!!
The merging and computerization of radio has changed the American landscape. Local commonality is now gone. There are next to no radio personalities. It’s not fun anymore. I miss driving down the road at midnight with the windows down when an unexpected song is played evoking memories and long forgotten feelings. The big corporations now determine what music you will listen to. Small recording companies are becoming scarce. Would Elvis even make it today? Computers actually write some of the music now based on algorithms of what people like. Pretty awful and sanitized.
I play my transistor radio from time to time…just to remember what it was like. If I'm really waxing nostalgic I will watch Hollywood Knights to see how Hollywood thinks were should remember those days.
Maybe I remember things better than they actually were. "Back in the Day" also had its downside. But somehow streaming music from the Amazon Cloud into my car radio through Bluetooth just isn’t the same.
“It's Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime...summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime…summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime. It’s SUMMERT-I-I-I-IME.”
Mark G. Mangie
Have you noticed how difficult it has become to listen to music over the past few years? Yes...I understand that the digital age has actually made it easier! But...last week I talked to a group of high school students about the dangers of the digital age. I brought my transistor radio with me from when I was in high school. It still works! An AM/FM marvel of 1960's genius. When I held it up, only one student knew what it was. Most didn’t know what a transistor was. I described it to the as an old person’s microchip, which actually is an accurate description. The transistors along with the radios were cheap and made in Japan.
I listened to my transistor radio all the time. I, and just about everybody else I knew, took them to the pool. We took them with us when we rode our bikes. We listened to them while washing our parents’ car. We listened to the AM band. FM was for elevator and classical music. Most of the radios didn’t offer FM as an option anyway unless you were ready to spend some big bucks.
All of the local stations actually had humans playing the records. The disc jockeys were local celebrities. They made appearances at high school record hops or dances at places like Idora Park, the Cove, or other sundry hangouts. Locally we had the likes of Johnny Kay, Boots Bell and Dan Ryan (who played elevator music on WBBW AM before he became a talk show dude).
Back in the day AM gave you two choices: Country Music and everything else…generically known as Top 40. There weren’t any “oldies” because the “oldies” were them. Music wasn’t done by computerized playlists. The DJ’s picked the records. If a new recording artist wanted to get his record on the radio, it was as easy as showing up at the station, slipping the DJ some “iron” and your tune was playing on the radio. That practice came under Federal investigation and was terminated!!! Even back then the Feds were spoiling our fun!!
In the Mahoning Valley, teenagers typically listened to WHOT, which played “rock”. The young adult stations were probably WBBW and WKBN pre-talk days. And the old folks station was WFMJ. The country stations were outliers, typically low wattage, although I believe WKBN went country for a while. Even today, try driving to New York City or Washington DC at night listening to AM! Lots and lots of country. Unlike today there were limited choices. Almost every station had enough cross-over that you were able to hear all sorts of music from different artists. On a regular Top 40 station you would hear the Beatles and Stones, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor, Chicago, Ramsey Lewis, the Temptations and the Supremes, and the Lettermen…all mixed up together.
As we reached the late 60’s and early 70’s stations became more and more segmented with the advent of heavy metal. Heavy metal doesn’t mix with anything except heavy metal. Then came the explosion of FM radio. Pop music began its migration from AM to FM mostly because of sound quality. And the stations became even more music specific as canned playlists became the norm instead of the exception. We caught on right away to the 1 ½ hour rotation. It came with built in slots to allow for some local color, so to speak. Radio mega-companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus hastened the process.
Turning on the Radio!!