Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shit on the radio.

I recently made the long trip home over spring break. I was incredibly excited to get away from school for a bit, and when I got there, I was in a great mood. I had some time off, I was home, the weather was beautiful, I was about to see family and friends. Sitting in my car at a red light not too far from my parents' house, I thought that it was the perfect moment to put on my favorite radio station. I turned off my iPod, popped the adapter out of the cassette player and set the tuner to 92.3. That's right: my station is K-Rock, "New York's Only Alternative" (not to be confused with K-ROQ FM from Los Angeles....), and has been since I was 12.

I was in for an unhappy surprise though. I put on 92.3 and the song I found confused me. It sounded like the tail end of "Womanizer" by Britney Spears. Definitely not a song that would be on K-Rock's regular playlist, I thought to myself This must be a joke or something. But when "Womanizer" ended, Lady Gaga came on next, and I was forced to accept that this wasn't a prank: it was that dreaded beast, the Format Change. My station is now 92.3 NOW FM.

This isn't the first time 92.3 has changed formats; for awhile a few years ago it was a talk radio station. Before that, it was the greater New York area's quintessential 'alternative' station. My best friend from summer camp, Jen, who shared my love of Nirvana and Soundgarden, got me into tons of great bands when we were kids, because she convinced me to switch from Z100 (the station the popular kids listened to) to K-Rock. I vividly recall listening to the radio with Jen, and getting excited over hearing Green Day, Garbage, Veruca Salt, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless other great late '90s bands.

I will admit that the new K-Rock really sucked. The new K-Rock didn't play anything cool or edgy, it just played rap rock and lame doucherock like Nickleback and Seether. Occasionally they threw in some alt-classics, and some classic rock. It was totally normal to hear a new Metallica song, something from Nevermind, and, say, Black Sabbath all in the same twenty minutes on K-Rock.

But it was worth sitting through bad songs to have that one moment where I would hear a great song that reminds me of my youth, something like "Interstate Love Song" or "Tonight, Tonight", and reminisce. Because things were different back then. Back then, you heard girl's voices on the radio. I remember listening to Veruca Salt, Garbage, No Doubt, and even Hole on the original K-Rock.

Back then, the guy bands were different too though. There were always more guys on the radio, and sexism was always there, but the masculinity in 'alternative rock' never felt threatening. Dave Grohl and Chris Cornell and Billy Corgan might have sung their angsty love songs, but they never wished a cheating girlfriend would die in a watery plane wreck the way Jesse Lacey does on Brand New's first radio hit. (Note: I can say that without malice because Brand New is one of my favorite bands.)

One of my classmates is doing research on sexism and mainstream radio, though her focus is on hip hop and rap music and stations. She attributes this new, more blatant sexism to the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated radio stations, and made it possible for corporations like Clearchannel to hold monopolies in communications companies. My classmate reports that because of the act, a lot of smaller, non-white, non-male radio station owners got squeezed out, and that radio in general became more homogenized.

It comforts me slightly to have that classmate's argument and to be able to blame the deplorable and non-inclusive state of radio on our government, and on ridiculous Reaganomic-type economic policies. But it doesn't assuage this gnawing "be careful what you wish for" feeling I've got in the pit of my stomach. Before this last format change, I heard one, that's right, one female-fronted new band on 92.3: two summers ago, I heard part of "Misery Business" by Paramore. And I remember wishing that I could hear more ladies' voices on my favorite station. There are tons of women artists in pop and dance music, and surely 92.3 Now will have tons of girly voices coming over its airwaves. Too bad Britney, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and their ilk aren't the girls I want.

This post is officially dedicated to Jen, my best friend from summer camp. I don't know where I would be if I hadn't taken her advice on what radio station to listen to, or if I hadn't found another girl with decent taste in music.

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