Uh oh, here’s what I heard on a local radio station, Dec. 3rd, 2009. [Uncomely Reviews of Radio Stations or Static // Part 1: 97.5, WZOK, Rockford, IL]
by Andy Whorehall
In the cold, dark morning of my kitchen waiting for coffee to brew and approving of my dog’s bowel movement from the frosted over back door, I turned around, flipped on my kitchen boom-box radio cassette playa’ and accidently bumped the scan button. It ended up on static. Let the dog inside, figure out what happened, get radio back to normal, find a clean cup and pour coffee. Somehow between figuring out what happened and trying to find normal I decided that 12.03.2009 would mark the beginning of a new outlook focusing on local radio stations I could find in the morning for positive, if not ironic, moments to ponder on and about.
Radio stations are everywhere in every a’Merican town playing in the background and they’re bad, real bad, tasteless, infectious ear numbing fast food for the brain with vacuum like soul sucking powers. It can be worse than ‘white’ noise and for my money, local radio is worse than the buzz of a fridge waking me up at 4am. It’s impossible to beat them, if it weren’t for bad radio stations playing awful music and DJs sharing awful insight— anyone’s appreciation for listening to anything but what the radio plays would be different, yes?
It’s good to occasionally keep an ear on what the rest of a’Merica is listening to- the popular stuff. Most of it is garbage, is an easy assumption however being surprised by a good ol’ fashioned pop song is where it’s at sometimes for stressless moments. So I did it, On December 3rd, 2009, I listened for the first time in a long time to local Rockford area radio with intent to enjoy and took notes. Not only for self-torture or a personal waste of time but for laughs in need of an a**hole’s opinion or defense. I believe in the theory you can’t complain about something if you don’t do it or try it out for yourself. I’ve sat through many Hanson X-Mas Record listenings to say outright, It’s pretty good… for a Christmas record and for a pop group. Those boys have some soulful killer harmonies, they do.
The DJs and commercials are another story when listening to any local radio station anywhere in the world. If they have the power to persuade thousands of people with mindless banter, I believe it’s a fair tradeoff to share written, mindless banter about it. Now then.
You know, the radio used to be important, it did, for some of us it meant sitting making mix tapes from songs we heard as a child on any random station and then doing our own mindless banter in between. Calling in and pranking the DJs with jokes n’ stuff or requesting odd songs that even then, may get a shot of being played on the radio if a copy is lying around the station. I can still recall the amount of times I called in I’ll Be You off of ‘Don’t Tell a Soul’ by The Replacements to defeat Rick Astley in the nightly top 10 countdown at 10, 1989? Had to be.
Once the grunge movement occurred (while everyone else assumes downloading killed the music industry) radio went bye bye as the way to hear new music. Nirvana, grunge, the greatest Doors cover band ever — Pearl Jam – and bands alike (Crudd, Nucklebutt) that sounded just like the first one mentioned took over playlists… and soon playlists were being purchased in bulk to repeat, replay, cram into peoples brains by greedy corporations on the spending loose. Pay to play was already in effect for decades, not like the 90s though. Today’s playlists are 5000xs worse because they’re polluted by American Idol rejects and a few winners. I hear cats crooning in the alley that sound just as good to me as an American Idol winner. The only way to hear a decent song get some airplay is on a TV commercial sometimes.
Backtrack a bit, the 80s weren’t so bad now that we’re all so removed to observe such. One of the reasons for turning off the radio sometime around the mid to late 90s was that every song on the radio started to sound constipated and trapped right outta’ a high school dance playlist. Oasis in the early 90s, still (to me at least) was like a breath of fresh recycled air to hear on American radio partially because most people didn’t get Oasis- or still don’t. To quote Noel Gallagher in an interview with John Norris from MTV about the 90s and pop stars, grunge, etc.:
I hate pop stars who go on whinin’ about the price of fame and this that and the other. Let me just tell you that being famous is great. I love it, man. I think it’s the best when you get stopped walking down the street for an autograph, that’s the best feeling in the world. Then you get people like Eddie Vedder, you know what I mean? It’s like, what’s the point? Why is he in a band if he’s so pissed off, you know what I mean? Why don’t you just work in a car wash you know what I mean? Or like McDonald’s or something.
That’s the truth, no one really got Oasis being on American radio because they weren’t singing about depressed American boys named ‘Jeremy’ or whatever, depressing stuff. Life’s already depressing enough as it is, listening to Oasis felt good and meant nothing everytime Don’t Look Back In Anger squeaked through the speakers. Feeling good about nothing is the sign of a great, great pop band or song. Rarely do I hear a pop song that makes me feel nothing and happy all in one sitting. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. Yeah. 1987, where’d ya go too?
Now-a-days Pearl Jam and their sound alikes have been replaced by the Kings of Leon and… and…? The boys in Kings of Leon sound backed up, as if they haven’t dropped a load off in weeks. Is it them though? Or is it the way the song was mixed to be played on bad radio stations in multiple droppings? Most of the pop songs sound as if they are being sung from inside an empty pop can or from a toilet bowl. The radio formula. Whatever it is, it’s pretty bad. Who is to blame for this; Sean Combs? John Shanks? Will.I.Am? Butch Walker? The Matrix? Mark Ronson? Or are the major labels in conglomeration with corporate radio to mass produce horribly mixed music for mass digital consumption? Yes. That’s a separate article. Enough and moving on to the recession research listening experiment.
Listening Ratings: I devised a ratings system for my local radio experiment. Hi-5: Surprised, amused, learned something, heard an impressive string of songs. The DJ didn’t talk or when he did he actually told me (the listener) what the f*ck was being played and the actual name of the song without having to guess what he really mumbled through above Radio Station Call Letter and sh*tty tagline narrative. Yawn: Tolerable, head scratching, almost unlistenable but like bad TV, can’t seem to turn it off so ‘ok.’ Garbage: Can I get a refund on my time or will someone be returning my brain cells back to their rightful place?
Here we go, let’s try this out. On 12.03.2009 I tested my local FM radio listening skills with a pen and a notebook.
ZOK, 97.5 FM Today’s BEST Music. / Rockford, IL / 9am-10am+ estimated.
The first part of the hour was spent listening to an engaging conversation between DJ Steve and some guy named Bob Greene on the phone. Bob apparently was Oprah’s best ‘woman’ like friend in her wedding— or she was his ‘best woman’? I couldn’t tell by the vocal inflections both men were sharing live on-air as Bob was obviously talking from a phone. DJ Steve was asking him about a book he wrote about a diet for treating diabetes. I wanted to know more but this is not the math and science hour I learned. It’s about Oprah, not important subject matters. The conversation was mainly spent talking about Oprah’s weight and how Bob was just contacted by his friend to help get her back into shape for 2010. I learned many things in this conversation I was unaware of:
1. Oprah is quitting her show?! What planet have I been on? Yawn?
2. She is starting her own TV Network?! Where have I been again? Yawn.
3. The DJ said, Oprah has been such a force in all of our lives… A reoccurring problem, why do I feel nothing?
That’s where I forget why I’m listening to Rockford radio. Has she been a force?
I can remember one time in 36 years of being on this planet I’ve sat and watched an episode of Oprah and the most memorable thing about it was my grandfather sitting in his chair taking a post-yard work nap, 3-4-5 in the afternoon, the summer of 198_? My grandmother came upstairs to sit in her ‘wait for a client’ chair and says, Oh good you have Ofrah on, I like Ofrah, did your grandfather feed you. (Note: My grandma ran a beauty salon shop and business out of my grandparents house in their South Rockford, IL basement for over 40 years and this is why the TV was always on in the sun porch/client waiting area. It’s not like Grandpa and I had a choice after we were done workin in the yard.)
My memories of Oprah are not that of being a force but of my grandma butchering her name over and over for years. Ofrah. Forcefully, I remember my grandmother enjoying her while waiting for clients to show up and then when she got sick and left this cruel world for a far much better place. I know when my grandpa took care of her, she couldn’t miss Oprah. Magically my mom started doing the same thing. Screwing up names was and still is their/ my mom’s specialty. I love them for that phonetic gift greatly.
All right, where were we? That’s right, 97ZOK, DJ Steve, Bob Greene and Oprah stories. I learned nothing from this conversation on the radio that morning outside of the fact Oprah is ending her show. That’s news for some people? How many I’m not sure. I know she helps sell books so that’s cool in some way because people should listen to Oprah if she even comes close to mentioning this word to millions of a’Mericans who don’t, read.
DJ Steve, that Bob guy or Oprah has diabetes was the other thing I learned, someone has the diabetes I learned. I wanted to know more about diabetes and the diet book but not Oprah or her weight. It would have been appreciated by this listener to have known more about a diabetic’s diet instead of Oprah Winfrey’s future and past. Something’s going to get all of us one day and that particular day, 12.03.2009, WZOK got me. Here’s a conservative non-liberal thought I notated with manic scribbles in that notebook while listening to the ZOK, Thank God for NPR. Thank Dog for NPR. Thank Gob for NPR. Thank Bob? Thank Bob.
Moving on. There were a few songs dropped on my ears after the failed Bob Greene infomercial hosted by DJ Steve.
Tunes I heard or could remember in this hour on ZOK’s Morning Show:
1. Some girl singing about something with an auto-tune mixing filter applied so that she appeared to be singing from inside an empty soup can. The sound was unlistenable, no mention of her name, the song name, had a nice beat that sounded like it was made on a 1982 casio and she was singing about being pretty, I think? Yawn.
2. Beyonce: Good song! Holy sh*t, I actually heard a good song on FM radio?! She was all sexy and preaching to single ladies to put a ring on it? Like a ring on the finger for getting married? Or a condom on a man’s 3rd leg? Either way, good song, I unloaded my diswasher thinking, maybe modern radio is getting better…
3. Lady Gahgah: The DJ announced this lady’s name. This was a first experience hearing the pop star I see everywhere in photos. I don’t have a proper opinion outside of the fact the song DJ Steve played was boring. I ended up trying to find my winter hat during that song.
4. Some guy who was hurting and sounded like he was singing I’m so sorry over and over? He was really in pain. Again, no name, no song title mentioned by the DJ. I can’t even compare him to anything I’ve heard the past decade having not had local radio on at all. It resembled something I heard in 1994 by a band named Seven Mary Three. Seven Mary Three is not the good 90s. Teenage Fanclub is the good 90s. This guy singing was really hurting or hungry, somethin. He was growlin and it made me miss hearing something honest from the completely underrated, 38 Special.
5. Right Said Fred: Really? ‘I’m So Sexy as if it were an ok thing being played in the morning. It’s never ok to play this song unless you’re p*ssed drunk looking to upset a group of friends by ending the party early followed by any God awful Pearl Jam song, repeated, two songs repeated till they all get the message to leave.
Songs played Summary: 1/5 songs actually caught my attention. Beyonce, thank you for making memorable marketable music that a local DJ could count on playing this morning. However 20% of my time based on that fractional result is a failing grade. Math does not lie. // Commercials: Too many, a complete distraction. Stuff about diamond deals at Zavius and go git yerself some good insurance at Farmer’s Insurance. There were many more. I suggest anyone who second doubts anything and everyone, including; newspapers, advertisements, this article— should train the ears to drown out white people radio commercial narrations whether they’re on the radio, TV or in Wal-Marts and Road Rangers.
NOTE: At 10:23am, from the kitchen, according to my notes that day— WZOK was still playing while I started this article and like any offensive joke told to friends with perfect timing, my favorite late 2000s punch-line came on. Clockwork, the awful Kings of Leon singing that song, Someone like me, where he swoons and sounds so constipated. Last summer I realized you may hear this 6Xs a day spewing out of strangers mouths and cars, anywhere, not just Rockford, IL.
Thanks for that day’s laughs ZOK. I’m assuming there’s many more Kings of Leon repeats coming everyone’s way in the this new decade. How will they be able to keep up with new haircuts to match new hits?
No surprise as assumed but I tried to find the positive in all of it. One song by Beyonce and good memories triggered by the DJ and Bob Greene on Ofrah are about it. Let’s face it, anything that takes 3 months to write about an hour spent with WZOK in the morning should only equal a garbage rating on anyone’s aural scale based on the ‘3 months to write’ factor. I fear this monologue may be garbage as well having focused on aural litter. It was terrible. The sound still lingers from my kitchen boombox radio and my insides, to this day, coil with time lost and regrettable effort made for an opposite result.
I learned another great local lesson that day too. Most numbers on the dial above 89.5 in the morning or anytime should be feared in large. Beware. It may be awhile before sitting through an hour on the other local radio stations for creative kicks and recession like research. Having said that, I can’t wait to see if an hour spent with WXRX in Rockford, IL features that awesome song, Jeremy, by Pearl Jam. Oh, yeah, uh huh, what a dream it may be to hear Aerosmith singing, Sweet Emotion, like it was the first time I heard them. To quote those horny, b*stard, Boston city boys’, Some sweat hog mama with a face like a gent / Said my get up and go musta got up and went. Kings of Leon have a lot to learn about writing a gettin’ sum radio pop song. They should begin with learning how to write minus a ghost writer first. Till then.
AW | andywhorehall.com