The road that brought me to this point has been a strange one, alas one where radio stations are roadkill. And it's not the first time I've ended up listening to a lame-duck radio station. The sound is familiar to me, one where much of the day is tunes being spun by a radio automation system, with no voices to be heard other than canned ads. It's a lonely sound.
Want to know how ClearChannel (well, realistically, a smaller local group they bought after it was consolidated into larger groups a handful of times) did this to me before, and at about the same time pretty much wiped out the chance for Pittsburgh to have alternative radio?
When I was in college, my musical tastes were different, somewhat softer and a lot older. After one of the many format changes of 96.9 in Pittsburgh, one that saw it become a hard rock station, left me behind, I discovered a radio station broadcasting from Beaver Falls, WWKS. Branding themselves as Kiss 107 (and later Kiss 106.7 after a slight format tweak), they spun adult contemporary, perhaps some of it overplayed, but I remember Crowded House butting up against Lindsay Buckingham's first solo album, some Led Zeppelin, a lot of Beatles... Once I got a single room at Carnegie Mellon, the radio was "on", always, just like the computer (and, due to being above the boiler room, the fan, even on the coldest day of the year). Even if I put the TV on, the radio still played, the soundtrack to my life.
November 17, 1993, though, I left for class, returning to hear "Rock rock til you drop" by Def Leppard. And again. And again.
All but 2 of the DJs were let go (stunt man Bill Cameron, and morning show guy Carl Anderson) and the station went satellite-fed hard rock. And so closed that chapter of my life.
If getting a Beaver Falls station in Oakland was a challenge, getting one from Greensburg was impossible. But moving on to WSSZ meant I did just that. With the moniker "Classic Hits", the station was programmed and mostly staffed by veterans of fallen new wave rocker WYDD. Some attention had been paid it in the years before I started listening, but it was clearly a low-budget operation, with some staffing shared with the co-located WHJB-AM. Notable local morning show guy John Garry ended up doing a stint there for a bit after losing his last gig with usual partner Larry O'Brien at WMXP, only to leave WSSZ to rejoin him at WTAE-AM. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall.
Living, and later working, at Carnegie Mellon, I started to explore the idea of using the internet to get music from first my parents home, then my own, to my office. However, the first "real time" MP3 encoder only just made its debut, and I was in no position to pull this off at the time.
Around the same time, alternative radio had finally gotten to the big time in Pittsburgh. Not simply relegated to the upper end of the AM dial, the hard-rocker then on WWKS 106.7, by then owned by Pittsburgh Radio Partners, moved toward alternative and became "The X" (WXDX) as it was purchased by Secret Communications in September 1995; Just a few weeks later, WNRQ appeared on Entercom's 104.7 as "The Revolution", replacing a country format. While The X kept its hard rock sound, the Revolution had a more new-wave feel, and better ratings.
Of course, none of this was to last, as when 1996 rolled around, Secret first struck by arranging a frequency-swap for urban station WAMO's 105.9 frequency, giving them 106.7 and a pile of cash. This gave WXDX a better signal than WNRQ.
As May rolled around, I got the birthday surprise I didn't want. Flush with new wealth but a signal that didn't hit much of its audience, WAMO turned around and put in a bid for WSSZ. My station was suddenly living on borrowed time. I learned what I could about objecting to the sale (and failed), wrote down what was played, and got a tour of the station. I also taped about 48 hours worth of programming.
In a parallel development, Secret Communications' ploy paid off, and Entercom gave up. Secret purchased WNRQ, and at the end of May squelched the Revolution. WSSZ lasted until September 6, signing off at midnight.
I then wandered the desert, musically, until 2005, when I first discovered WWCD, CD101, while in Columbus. By this time, internet broadcasting was well within the realm of available, but I quickly realized that with the right phone, I could stream via internet in the car as well. And so life was good right up until June 2011, when suddenly the stream went dead.
Cast adrift, cut off from new music, I surveyed my options. Independent alternative is a dying breed. Having not been to Boston in several years, WFNX wasn't on my radar, but I quickly discovered it, and found my niche. An historic alternative station with a seemingly healthy music scene around it, operated by a player who also had regional indie papers. What could go wrong?
Well, you know the answer. So here I am, back in 1996. Radio automation systems are lonely; Coldly spinning tunes is no substitute for a DJ engaging the audience and having fun with the music. Just as Z107 had Jim deCesare til the end, Paul Driscoll is doing his thing at WFNX now, and I'll appreciate the ride the remains. But I am spoiled, and with potential options nearing exhaustion, I shudder at the idea of a potentially hopeless musical journey from this point on.
What I want:
-Old and new alternative. The great new stuff coming out is great, but hearing that old Television goes nicely with Interpol. M.I.A. sampling the Clash is better when I'm also hearing the Clash.
-One station. Set it and forget it. Satellite radio has a bunch of choices all of which are probably fine for what they are, but if I have to hunt around, it means either I'm managing my own experience (which is time-consuming) or I'm missing out on some things (which, well, see above).
-DJs. An automation system isn't going to interact, select things outside my comfort zone, and while a service might be able to guess what new things I'd like, there may well be things it wouldn't.
-A station in a city. *my* city would be ideal, but the best chance at that died with Secret Communications in 1996, and their purchase by SFX led down the ClearChannel path we ended up at here (and WFNX ended at now). So, *some* city. I want to hear about local events, concerts, and hear some local bands! You can tell by my music collection that I was exposed to Columbus alternative bands. If I hadn't listened to CD101, I probably wouldn't have been. The sad thing is almost everywhere has local music that's interesting but just hasn't gotten national exposure.
-...In my timezone. Well, not necessary, and this is pretty far down, but having the morning show in *my* morning, and the afternoon drive in *my* afternoon would be nice.
-Features. Have some shows, maybe a local music show, a new music show...
Can I have it? (Probably not)
Where? (Not here)
How long can I have it? (Not long enough)
So yeah. Back to the desert, I'm guessing. Enjoying it while I can.