Monday, July 1, 2013

Austin's Radio Stations, Old and Quasi-New

This isn't about how rock 'n roll is (almost certainly) dying, nor how automated radio stations (sans DJs) are ruining things. Nor how XM Radio is pretty good. This is just about the Austin, Texas, radio stations, circa 2013.

First, let me talk about Comedy 102.7 (RIP). I listen to the radio about three times a day, probably 30 minutes total: commuting to work, and lunch, and finally back home. It was actually funny. Everyone who rode around with me also loved it (and actually laughed at the censored stand-up comedian tirades). And then, after a short go... BAM! !Latino estacion explosivo!

WHAT HAPPENED? I found this article ("The Day the Laughter Died"). How can an automated radio station that plays pre-recorded live stand-up not be profitable? I understand DJs ("the talent") are the most expensive part of a station's operating costs. Has that changed? Were the comedians charging too much for their art?

Anyway, that station is kaput. So, it's June, and I'm searching for something new. I'm scanning the FM band for something, anything. I find the college station, but it's playing yodeling muzak. And then I spring upon iHeart Radio Austin... 103.1. "Celebrating the live music capital of the world", it states at each commercial break. And there are DJs! (Are they paid?)

It turns out that the station is really (for lack of a better word) hipster.... where one can hear stuff that's rarely received radio play (outside of an ironic college dorm or someone's private earbuds). Probably the first for-profit station that broadcast LCD Soundsystem on the airwaves! I've actually heard two LCDSS songs on there. But this revelation has another aspect... another side of the coin. There is music on iHeart Austin that is unfit for radio. Lounge music, elevator music, nightmarish pop, folk-retro-psychadelic chamber music, pseudorap, etc etc.

This comes at a time where that local "alternative" station (101X) is playing tripe like Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men (do I capitalize the "of"). Notice the "X" in 101X. And... I understand this business decision. I understand the "why". People don't seem to realize that Capital Cities's "Safe and Sound" is awful, and not alternative in any way. I thought it was Empire of the Sun for a really long time. It's totally catering to the female daytime radio listeners who sit at their desk and have the privilege of listening to radio. Somehow, they don't have the privilege to pick their choice of music, or are oblivious to what's out there.

I'm a huge steward of cutting edge (new) music, but radio is mainly throwback nostalgia music I'm hearing. It's not original or innovative. I know "new" and "unfamiliar" are dangerous ideas for the public to grasp. FM 103.1 will most likely fail. I will still be able to hear the music, albeit limited, with UT Radio AM.


I use Spotify at work (and at home, and at the gym), and that little application has changed me in ways that Napster, KaZaA, and Pandora never could. I got on board when Trent Reznor invited fans to try it in 2011. It makes Pandora look like dog shit. My dad uses it, and all my coworkers do too. It's got a massive catalog. 99% of the music I want is there. I've never had that access before. It's thrilling, and makes me listen to music more (and be more ADHD about it).

The only reason I don't use Spotify in my car (unless I'm on a long cross-country trip) is that it does not integrate with my car so easily. This is not Spotify's fault (or my mobile phone's fault). It's my car's inconvenient interface. I'm not worried... it will get better when I purchase a new car.

I still purchase CDs (if I really like the songs I hear on Spotify), but my MP3 file collection is collecting dust. It will come in handy when my network goes out... but that's about it. I mean, there are some rare tracks I own that I sometimes play, but it's really a novelty now. I now only use Winamp for podcasts.

I understand change. I didn't think my habits would change so easily, but they have. I held on to, and constantly cataloged my intact MP3 collection since high school... now it's an antiquated way of listening.

I look forward to the time when Austin is declared un-hip by the world. Then, we'll get our culture back.

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