Sharon Tohline, one of Alexandria’s newest residents, pens an open letter to the disc jockeys of Central Louisiana.
By the way, I’d be remiss not to mention that Sharon’s previous post was the 1,000th post on CenLamar, which means this is the 1,001st post.
An open letter to Central Louisiana Radio Stations:
Dear Disc Jockeys,
I want to preface the words I am about to utter by informing you that I’m not a music snob. I spent four years in California, central headquarters of music snobbery. I have seen two grown men come to blows over the relative worth of “noise music” versus “ambient music.” I don’t need obscure music to make me happy. I do like to have a reliable radio station to tune into, though. I am a dedicated but open-minded music lover who considers radio a vital format even in the era of iPods and Sirius. Radio has the power to take the pop cultural pulse of its audience, to form an image of the moods and attitudes of an entire population.
D.J.’s of Cenla, I do not think you are living up to the mission of radio. Your choices confound me. I had always understood radio stations to be something organized by theme. I grant that these themes are generally vague. “Classic rock” stations can get away with playing 70’s cock rock right alongside 80’s hard rock. But they still behave in a fairly predictable manner. They will never throw Madonna into the mix, or anything featuring Sid Vicious. R&B stations do not suddenly break out a Johnny Cash record or something by the Rolling Stones.
Arguments can be made in favor of genre-bending D.J.’s. Someone who normally plays contemporary hip-hop might feature a track by Beck, or maybe something by the Beatles. If they did, this would be an unspeakably cool move. It would seem self-aware and interesting. It might even spark some discussion about the relationship of those artists to a rainbow of genres.
Frankly, Cenla D.J.’s, I don’t think you’re participating in either of these schools of thought. I think, in fact, that most of you are tossing CD’s at random into a disc-changer and hitting “play.” Yesterday on 93.1, a station that seems to play almost exclusively Top 40 hip-hop and rap, I heard a contemporary country song. Last weekend I swear I heard Phil Collins fade in directly after a Guns N Roses tune. Have you no ability to discern your own audience? I cannot think of any single person who listens to both Flo Rida and Trace Adkins. And I cannot even begin to imagine a heavy metal fan’s commentary on “Sussudio.”
As far as I can tell, the radio stations that come through my stereo are divided into three categories: Old Music, New Music, and Religious. Is this the problem? Is it that you’re having trouble competing with the preachers? There are certainly a lot of them, I’ll grant you. Baton Rouge has these stations. Ditto New Orleans. But as far as I know, there are only a couple, and they are most prominent on Sundays. Here you can listen to preaching pretty much any day of the year, from a variety of voices. At some point I’d like to undertake a closer study to discover which denomination dominates the airwaves. (Does congregation B’nai Israel get a station? Or is that too much to ask?)
Sometimes I enjoy the grab bag quality of my radio. Driving home from Wal-Mart one day, worried about my high grocery bill and my relatively low income, I happened upon “Red, Red Wine” by way of UB-40, the UK band who, according to VH1’s Pop-Up Video, are named after the federal form Brits had to fill out to go on unemployment. This seemed like great stage timing. I sang along cheesily as they promised that red, red wine would keep me rocking all of the time, despite my financial woes.
But I’m not always so amused. If random playlists could encourage listeners to broaden their horizons and appreciate new types of music, I would be all in favor of your methods. But I’m just not sure that’s ever going to happen. Music is generally something people are passionate about. When I hear the high-octave piano tinkling in the background of an Arcade Fire song, I want to grab the collar of the nearest person and force them to listen, to feel the energy I feel when I hear “Neighborhood #1”. We deserve the right to love our favorite styles and to pan the ones that just don’t suit us. But when a station isn’t excited or considerate about its own playlists, how can it expect its listeners to grant it any dedication?
The CD player in my car is broken, and the device I purchased to play my iPod through my radio can’t find a clear station to broadcast on. I listen to a lot of radio in my car, and there’s one thing I’ve learned: if a song comes on that doesn’t suit me, I’m likely to just change the station. I don’t need obscure music all the time. I don’t have to have a college radio D.J. droning along in an un-inflected manner. But I do need to know which stations are my enemies and which are my friends. You’re about to drive me to the preachers, Cenla. At least they get excited about their content.