You better listen to the radio.
– Elvis Costello
While it’s true I have taken the preceding lyric out of context, there’s still truth in the sentiment – there’s wisdom to be found on the radio.
I grew up listening to the radio and it, more than anything, formed my opinions about culture generally and music more specifically.
The first songs I learned to love – Yellow Submarine, Puff the Magic Dragon and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, were songs I heard on the radio. Later, my tastes were defined not only by what I heard but also the way things were presented.
A track championed by a favorite DJ – when such things were still encouraged and allowed – became part of my personal soundtrack. As a child, this meant an early affection for Kool and the Gang and later, as I transitioned into my teens and a later weekend bedtime, the designated hits presented by my Chronicle compatriot and wonderfully weird tastemaker Ed Turner on his Mad Music Asylum.
Radio is where I learned the language of rock and the songs that made me want to roll. And although it’s difficult to understand for the generations that came later, radio was the best and most convenient way to develop those tastes and opinions for generations of fans.
I bring this up because finding that sort of radio-bred inspiration, that song or artist capable of inspiring and engaging the very particular tastes of the discerning fan, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Radio today is an industry, a bottom line-driven endeavor dictated by playlists and an ever-smaller window for introducing new music. That’s not a knock on contemporary radio – it’s an easy explanation of a medium that must be run as a business. Radio doesn’t operate in a vacuum and commerce, by necessity, dictates the way it is run. If that means programming playlists designed to appeal to the greatest common denominator, well, so be it.
Still, it’s encouraging to see – or hear, as the case may be – an occasion where radio can operate the way it once did.
While 95 Rock, for the most part, plays a radio-ready list of songs popular on modern rock charts, it does, on occasion, devolve into a model where the personality of the DJ – not stats, demographics and chart position – dictates what will be played.
Radar Radio, the latest evolution of a popular Sunday evening show, is an excellent example of this.
So is the nearly ill-fated Psychotronic Radio Show.
For a time, it appeared as though Michael Wheldon’s Psychotronic show, hosted and programmed by the owner of the downtown Augusta vinyl emporium of the same name, would be a short-lived experiment in retro-programming. Although the show, which features a heady mix of garage, punk, classic and psych-rock, has steady fans, finding a way to quantify its popularity and, more importantly for a commercial venture, fiscal worth, proved difficult.
There was talk, for a short time, of shutting the show down mere months after putting it on the air. While I’m still unsure as to what proved to be the saving grace, a compelling argument for its continued survival was clearly made.
That does not, however, mean the show is safe. It’s up to fans – and I count myself among them – to continue supporting the show, Wheldon and the idea that radio can still inspire, impress and convince us to give the odd and unusual a fighting chance.
The Psychotronic Radio Show airs on WCHZ 95 Rock between 10 p.m. and midnight every Friday. Tune in.
We are accepting submissions for AMPED: The Augusta Chronicle Music Contest until July 5. Enter your original song for the chance to win a place among the AMPED immortals. Find the rules at augustachronicle.com/amped.