September 17, 2002

Kenneth-- What's the Frequency?

Scene, 12:30pm this afternoon at the Times Square subway station:

Me, stepping onto the 7 train platform, iced coffee in hand, messenger bag slung across my back, en route to The Car (final destination: Boston) -- this being the ill-timed moment when I remembered the need for some actual compact discs to play in the portable CD player (plus car tape-deck adapter) that I'd placed in said bag just before heading out. Doh! It goes without saying that I hadn't remembered to pack any cassettes, either.

So after grooving with my iPod on the 7, it was just me and my car radio for the next 3 hours, 15 minutes (zoom!). When stuck with just the radio, I'll usually cop out and listen to the news or NPR, alternating with silence when I'm sick of hearing about the backup on the Bruckner Expressway for about the three hundredth time. But this time I decided to actually try to listen to music for most of the ride, hoping to find something, anything that wouldn't make me feel like yanking out the ignition key and jabbing it into my eye.

First was a cursory run-through of all the frequencies on the FM dial while crossing the Throgs Neck bridge. Discouraging. Classical, jazz, overplayed seventies rock, talk radio, emo-riffic boy rock, schmaltzy eighties pop, nu-metal, and commericals, commercials, commercials punctuated by all too many static silences. Then I remembered a conversation I'd had with Douglas awhile back where he was singing the praises of this or that hip-hop/urban radio hit while I kind of looked at him skeptically, confessing my ignorance of all current popular music. Okay... what the hell... I tuned my radio to Hot 97 and let the beats fly (or something).

About two minutes in, a song came on that caught my attention, chorus sounds familiar -- Oh! This was one of the songs that Douglas was telling me about, specifically the lyrics. Whoa yeah, dirty lyrics. Really catchy, but not public sing-along material (at least not for me!). Er, should I be admitting that I kind of like this?

The next two songs were kind of blah, though, so I lost patience and went back to punching the tuner button. Before I break into a few verses of "Radio, Radio," my notes from the field:

  • Judging by the amount of collective airplay, Talking Heads, R.E.M. and U2 are truly the new "classic rock." Not that I mind listening to "Burning Down the House" yet again.
  • On the other hand: coming across "In Your Eyes" three times in the span of an hour? Jesus. Sure, I remember being sixteen and going to see Say Anything... and sniffling as John Cusack held up his boom box to Ione Skye's window, but... enough! Play "Games Without Frontiers" or "Solsbury Hill" or something. Peter Gabriel did write some other good songs, fer chrissakes.
  • Weirdest transition: from Interpol's "Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down" to some reggae/dub thing that was soon obscured by static as I drove out of range. God, I love college radio.
  • Very few stations came through clearly, leading me to believe that either my car antenna sucks, or there are simply too few small radio stations out there capable of sustaining a signal within a greater-than-five-mile radius. Also, what genius car engineer decided to get rid of the stereo/mono button? I remember, as a kid, being able to press the button on my mom's car stereo to "mono" whenever I needed to remedy a staticky stereo reception.
  • Even the new Sheryl Crow single doesn't sound half-bad when you're stuck listening to the radio in the middle of a weekday. Too late for Breakfast of Champions, too early for Record Hospital. < sigh >

Tomorrow I am going to the Apple Store in Cambridge to see if I can pick up one of those car adapter kits for my iPod. It's either that, or put the new Wire EP I'll be buying at the show tomorrow on repeat for the 3+ hours it will take for me to drive back to New York.

Posted by nstop at September 17, 2002 01:55 AM


Judging by the amount of collective airplay, Talking Heads, R.E.M. and U2 are truly the new "classic rock."

True enough. Odd side development. I was listening to the local "oldies" station today. Now oldies to me, means Elvis and Motown and doo-wop and stuff like that, tonight the played "After Midnight" and "All Right Now" which I figured was classic rock.

We're in the midst of some kind of upheaval here. Although I must admit one of the things I miss most about NYC is the worlds best oldies station. Horribly unhip, I realize but I was raised on this stuff and it's partly responsible for my present record geekdom.

Posted by: jonmc on September 17, 2002 10:48 PM

I had a car for all of a month in the four years I lived in nyc, but since moving here, I've had to rejoin car culture.

my fantastically inexpensive '89 honda accord came complete with an am/fm stereo. that's right, not even a cassette player. vanderbilt's college station can be terrific at times, but after so much time spent listening to the only decent station here (which claims to be "the best of blues, classic and alternative rock but is really just a cleverly-disguised "adult alternative" station that sometimes plays jimi) I have to say that I'd rather hear "in your eyes" a million times than have to sit through mr. gabriel's new single. you'd think in the amount of time he took off, he'd have something amazing to show for it.

fer chrissakes.

hip hop shares something with indie rock... the best stuff isn't on the radio. and that's not just because of dirty lyrics.

Posted by: martin on September 18, 2002 08:11 PM

Caught wire here in toronto last sunday. how wonderful was that show?

Posted by: Andy on September 19, 2002 09:16 PM

I only have a problem with "oldies" as a radio format, since the same tired old songs keep getting played over and over. Wish there was something like WMBR's Lost and Found program on in the NY area. The program description sez it all: 1960s and early '70s music no longer heard (or never heard) on "classic rock" and "oldies" stations, played without regard to baby-boomer demographic marketing potential.

No car tape player? My previous car ('87 Accord) had one, but I guess that's cuz it was the LXi model (I think).

Wire shows Tuesday (Boston) and Wednesday (New York) were both excellent. Will be writing about it soon.

Finally: I did buy the iPod tape deck adapter on Tuesday and it was money well-spent, seeing I was able to dial-up the songs I needed to keep myself awake on the drive back to NY after the show.

Posted by: nstop on September 20, 2002 01:16 PM

From the weird coincidences dept.: a recent thread on ILM about that Peter Gabriel song. I was amused.

Posted by: nstop on September 26, 2002 08:39 PM

Buy this it is a wonderful addition to anyones home entertainment system.

Posted by: directv on May 27, 2004 10:19 PM

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