An Ode To Radio On World Radio Day
Today is apparently World Radio Day. Now I didn't know this until logging onto Mastodon this morning, but I apprently just innately knew since I chose to wear my KEXP t-shirt today. I don't know if other people out there have clothes that they are more prone to wear on a particular day, but my KEXP shirt is totally a Friday shirt, so the fact I wore it on a Monday must have had some vibes.
Radio has always been a thing in my life. Growing up there was always a radio on in the background. It was probably coming from a supremely 1980s kitchen radio mounted under the cabinets. The radio station would be playing 80s adult contemporary like Rod Stewart, Whitney Houston or Phil Collins. Or on the weekend there'd be oldies from the 50s and 60s. To this day I still want music playing in the background of my life, almost at all times. To this day I can go visit my parents and they will have the TV on in their house playing Stingray Music the vast majority of the time.
Local Radio Can Still Be Vibrant
It's a common perception that radio these days is just a corporate wasteland of algorithmic filler. And to a point, most of the stations you probably see with budgets and advertising behind them are. I went to a talk last year that I won tickets to from the radio that was moderated by Alan Cross called Sticky Lyrics. During that talk he dropped this stat that has just stuck with me, that a commercial radio station typically has a playlist that's about 600 songs. Since a radio station plays roughly 300 songs a day, that is just tiny. And more mainstream pop stations the playlist is even smaller. So many commercial stations program around the concept of playing the least objectionable music for the most people so as to not have them switch to another station. That concept is just gross and wholly explains why so many people dislike modern radio.
But it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to radio. I find there is genuinely a lot of options out there if you're willing to dig around a bit. I mentioned winning tickets, what I listen to on my alarm clock in the morning is CKWR, a community radio station for Waterloo Region that plays 80s, 90s and now. It's got a decent mix of songs and you'll definitely hear some off the beaten path stuff on there from time-to-time. There's CFRU from the University of Guelph. This is one of those truly college radio stations that plays all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. I used to listen to the Morning Soul Shake-Up on my commute to work. It was cool just hearing something different and vibrant. And CBC Music tends to be a staple as well for different music across many different genres. I typically don't dig the classical they play during the day, but the rest of their programming is great. And that's just the stuff that can be listened to through regular FM radio locally.
Putting The Why You Should Care Into Music
One of the biggest things I value about radio in this current day and age is knowing there's some level of human curation to what's being played. While streaming services are good at throwing a bunch of music at you, they are downright terrible at providing context. I've always found knowing a bit more about an artist helps with actually absorbing that music. It's very easy to just listen to music as wallpaper and not even remark who the artist is. That's where quality radio can really can fill a very useful gap.
Possibly the best station in the world for this is KEXP (hence why I'm such a Sustaining Member for their station). The DJs are all enabled to play their own programming and cater it accordingly. For example yesterday Trugoy the Dove of De La Soul passed away, or Burt Bacharach passed away last week and the station was able to deep dive into the influence of the artists and why they were relevant. This station goes the extra mile employing people along with their DJs to update the realtime playlist that offers insights and tidbits about artists. The station is completely listener powered and just shows what actually building a community around a radio station instead of around advertisers can really do.
Listening to radio has just broadened my tastes and scope of music discovery. Ever since the start of the pandemic I've worked to broaden just what I listen to and radio has been a huge part of that. Be it new artists, or artists I just never got around to experiencing, it's been a truly eye opening journey.
Top Radio Picks To Listen To On World Radio Day
Now I've mentioned quite a few stations, but I wanted to put together a more comprehensive list of all the amazing stations I tend to check out online. The majority of these can be scrobbled through Web Scrobbler (but that's a whole other blog post I need to write about). Most of these stations play Indie rock, but also branch out significantly into other genres along the way.
- KEXP - Seattle, WA
- The Current - Minneapolis, MN
- XPN - Philadephia, PA
- BBC Sounds - BBC Sounds
- WFMU - Jersey City, NJ
- WPRB - Princeton, NJ
- Indie88 - Toronto, ON
- QCIndie - Regina, SK
- WYEP - Pittsburgh, PA
- KCRW Eclectic 24 - Los Angeles, CA
- WBRU - Providence, RI
- WEQX - Manchester, VT
- WICB - Ithica, NY