Tuesday, June 07, 2005
The only commercial radio station in New York City that I found to be even vaguely tolerable, longtime oldies outlet WCBS-FM, changed its format on Friday to some heinous "mix" of train-wreck segues and songs nobody wants to hear. First song I heard on the new 101.1: "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks.
If the new station were truly free-form, or had any type of artistic or creative intent behind it, there would at least be that to recommend it, but there isn't. And even if there was, it still wouldn't matter. The station "went oldies" the same year I was born, making it pretty much the only FM radio station I've known under the same format at the same frequency for my entire life (I didn't discover NPR until my twenties). Even though I hadn't listened consistently the last couple years other than for a few minutes in the morning, there was a great comfort in knowing that CBS was there.
For most of my adult life—with occasional stretches on NPR stations WNYC and WFUV, just to break things up—the Realistic brand clock radio my grandparents gave me for Christmas in 1986 has been tuned to 101.1. More often than not, my morning began with a good song. If I was lucky, I'd wake up with a "Beatles Breakfast" block; short of that, it might be "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" or "My Cherie Amour." Harry Harrison, whose utterance "Every brand new day should be unwrapped like a precious gift" was the closest I came to experiencing religion in the course of most days, was the avuncular a.m. host until 2003, when the 8,473-year-old Morning Mayor was relegated to the Saturday morning radio ghetto. Monkee Micky Dolenz took over the weekday morning chair some months ago and was exceedingly listenable. Just last week, I got a groggy kick out of his rap about Deep Throat, and how now the only mystery left in the world was who is the subject of "You're So Vain," a comment that naturally led into said song. Micky, Harry, Cousin Brucie, Bill Brown, and Bob Shannon all got shafted in this format switch; none got to say farewell on the air.
In the past couple years, the programmers had eliminated doo wop and pretty much all pre-Beatles music from the rotation. I was happy to not have to endure The Penguins in order to get to The Beatles and Motown, but taking out Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard was just wrong. I thought it was a big hoot that the two biggest '80s synth pop hits in the U.S., "Don't You Want Me" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," had made the cut and were now officially oldies. (If anyone's keeping track, and I guess I was, the most recent songs I ever heard in regular rotation on the station, and therefore the two newest songs to be considered oldies, were two 1988 hits: Steve Winwood's "Roll With It" and Rod Stewart's "Forever Young.") Though not as adventurous as oldies stations in other markets, and not without some staple clunkers and bizarro segues of its own, WCBS was infinitely cool for playing classic pop like "More Today Than Yesterday," "Do You Believe In Magic?," and "Sugar, Sugar," along with a Beatles song every hour or so. Another station probably will come along to pick up the slack, but it won't be at that cool 101.1 frequency.
On another musical note (pun obviously acknowledged, if not premeditated), the sage Glenn McDonald's first new installment of The War Against Silence since last August is an eloquent if justifiably cranky commentary on why he, one of the last musical obsessives to resist the temptation to download music outside of officially licensed channels, finally gave in and began doing it.