Notes: Towards A Deconstruction Of American Commercial Radio

"Ridin' A Wave, In The Wake Of An Old Sedan".

rudy carrillo
3 min read
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So what I did was this: I sat down one evening and listened to the FM radio and repeated the process several times during the subsequent week. This was not a new activity. It was something I had done as an adolescent and young adult but had lately let fall away as I communed with various advances in technology. These advances had allowed me to control and disseminate what I heard at my convenience. Free from the interruption of musical selections outside my range of taste and free from distractions like long-winded disc jockeys and three to five minute commercial breaks; I had mostly given up on radio. There had been rare encounters, though. Positive interactions with the electromagnetic ether had included a late evening in October 2000, hearing the ghostly and troubling piano in Clyde McPhatter's recording of “Lover Please” followed by the immanent Brian Wilson song “In my Room”. There was another side, of course. One summer I dated a girl that liked to listen to the local hip-hop stations; one hopes that she'll never know that this predilection caused me to never take her seriously. Viz: for some reason, she always sang along to songs by Shaggy.

I was jumping from channel to channel to channel. I was looking for something that would interest me, something that would disprove my overreaching and too lofty theories on the appropriation and manipulation of the medium by the avatars of average. After some listening and much turning of the dial on the old Sharp ST-1144 stereo receiver, I decided to narrow my focus to the music I understood the most, the music that I had a cultural stake in: rock and roll.

The rock music available on the FM dial (how's that for a twentieth century-ism) in Albuquerque is ostensibly varied, but upon closer examination overlaps from station to station. It also ignores quite a bit of interesting new music. Yes, dear reader, these are limpid and perhaps even mundane facts, but here is an example, sifted through my peculiar realm of experience.

More often than not, when listening, I would hear a song by the Pink Floyd. Sometimes there would be Pink Floyd playing on three of the five stations I was listening in on. Alas, all this supposed Floydishness seems, in retrospect, limited in scope and controlling in nature. Listeners are only exposed to a few of myriad compositions. Though you may hear “Time” four or five times per day, on different stations, you rarely (if ever) hear “The Great Gig in the Sky”. Though the rock radio stations (classic and hard) are fond of “One of These Days”, they never seem to get around to playing “San Tropez”. Forget about hearing anything written by Syd Barrett on these stations. This phenomenon begs the questions of intent and of revisionism. I am sure that it is easy to follow this line of reasoning (for the vast communications corporations, anyway), regarding intent and revisionism: listeners who are exposed only to what they know and are comfortable with are less likely to tune out what is familiar because it is familiar. This sort of fuzzy comfort does not require focus and leaves the listener's mind ready to absorb the advertising that follows, to the ultimate benefit of the corporation that controls the musical choices and doles out the comfort in instantly recognizable, repeated doses. Corporate radio has, by this same process, reduced the historically avant-garde to a shadow of its former self, lacking context and motive beyond securing a listener's attention through the next commercial break.

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