Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I was going to post something about the much ballyhooed switch of DC's WHFS to Latin contemporary last week, but work is kicking my ass right now. So here are a few disconnected thoughts a week later, now that no one cares any more:

- WHFS never meant anything to me personally, but it is a good thing to see it put to sleep after years of slow decay. Stumbling onto the later incarnation of HFS on the radio dial was kind of like flipping channels and seeing that ER is still on the air: a "WTF, this is still on?" reaction combined with vague embarrassment for all involved.

- Longing for the old, diverse HFS is a pipe dream. People who value music and want to hear a variety of things are already being served by iPods and/or satellite radio, so commercial radio will most likely become even more tightly formatted as it tries to appeal to the 12-CD owner who wants to hear the same general songs during their workday. And freeform radio sounds great in theory, but in practice almost no one listens to it and it's commercial anathema. (Even WRNR, which many former HFS listeners tout as some sort of alternative, is a. programmed to an extent and b. apparently devoted to an ongoing experiment to see how many different times Jack Johnson can be played in an hour.)

- Rock radio is in a death spiral of confusion and irrelevance right now. Rap-metal seems to be sputtering out (praise be to Odin), the Killers/Franz Ferdinand school of slicked up dance post-punk is doing OK saleswise but isn't really a commercial juggernaut, and there's nothing else really filling the gap. Hip-hop radio has displaced rock for the most part, with a dwindling number of fading classic rock stations and confused-sounding "modern" rock stations raging against the dying of the light. I'm not a "rock is dead" guy; a majority of my favorite musical stuff right now could probably be filed under "rock," but Animal Collective or the Fiery Furnaces or Destroyer isn't the kind of stuff that fits comfortably beside beer ads or inspires 17 year old kids to blare out of the windows of their parents' station wagons. The era of rock dominating everything is long gone (for the best, I'd say), but I worry that complete and total disengagement from the rest of the culture will just create an artform of museum pieces endlessly recreating the same moments in time. Clearly, what is needed is rock protectionism! Subsidies to our hard-working (and -rocking!) bands! Tariffs on hip-hop CDs! Dick Gephardt smashing crates of Lil Jon CDs to the cheers of a bemulleted crowd in Des Moines!

- The alternative rock station of my youth (which, in retrospect, kinda sucked but was a revelation to 14 year old me on Maryland's Eastern Shore) switched formats all the way back in 1997 to fucking sports talk radio, which was even more appalling (although, again in retrospect, this occurred at almost the exact same time that mainstream alternative rock radio went from "kinda sucks" to "completely sucks goat balls"). For once, the Eastern Shore was on the vanguard of culture! But maybe not; amusingly, x107 has apparently come full circle and is now playing bad modern rock again! Maybe there's hope that rap-metal will rise again on WHFS! As Karl Marx (who had the 2-6 slot on Seattle's famed KJET during the mid-80s) once said, "History repeats itself twice, first as retro, then as ironic mocking of retro."

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