On Radio Presenting Music

(part of a discussion on the subject of the importance of radio to music)


Depends, on the time and place, and the communities at large.

The main issue with this state of mind, is that almost all radio these days, in AMERICA, is part of a corporate group of some sort, and they do not feature anyone local, and it seems that anyone that is a part of that local community can have a voice, idea, or different thought, than what you are fed every day in local newspapers, TV and other media, up to and including that ever present tweets and crap chat services out there porn'ifying things even worse!

At the time, I was brought up (born in 1950) I got a chance to hear the huge sound waves and strength of radio (before TV) that helped America come to Europe. It literally blasted the other side of Europe left and right, until it busted them, with Beatles, Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and many others. The youth of many of those nations, wanted more, was our thought, then, and now.

I was lucky in that I was a small part of one show that to me, still is the best EVER done on radio (check out the ProgArchives thread on Space Pirate Radio), and its musical choices and desire to bring us out of a socio-political structure that was getting more and more corporate every day, and fans and folks out there more and more stoned, and caring a lot less about things, than they were about getting bombed by some overly saturated with bad chemicals stuff that went by the term "grass" or "dope" ... and eventually it became sort of like the politician that once said ... let them smoke dope, I will win all the elections ... " kind of thing, knowing that most people would tune the whole thing out.

Today's conglomeration of folks playing "music" that supposedly is "progressive" is a very sad comment on the state of things. The more you listen, the more you hear the same bands, and the same repetition of material supporting their favorite band, and nothing but, to the point that after an hour or two, you have to turn it off ... nothing interesting and different is happening. 

I seriously doubt that our much beloved "progressive music" or "prog rock", can survive and continue gaining attention with the current generation, which has very little appreciation for anything artistic past their top ten. Even I will tell you that Gentle Giant is not my favorite band at all, but listening to 3 or 4 of their early albums, is an incredible breadth of fresh air and amazing musicianship, rarely found in a rock band ... and the deserved affection they have gained over the years, past the incredible number of insults and bad comments during their time, while being played on the air by my friend, including ... how can you call that music?

I may, yet, return and do some air work, on the internet, and none of it will ever be the same as anyone else, and be displayed as the style of hits, and top ten, that most shows seem to be designed around, since it is all they know and are capable of doing.

Freedom and expression are two great gifts ... and the sad state of affairs in radio, is about killing it, in favor of corporate structures, and local folks not realizing they can have a voice, and instead burying their heads in the sand.

Maybe one day, we will wake up fro our slumber ... but I'm not sure we can see the stars for the universe, that is out there for us to find and appreciate! Some day ... who knows?

(More added later)

Looking back 45 years and counting, because Space Pirate Radio lived on until at least 2000 that I know of, there is a lot of truth to what you said Jester, and in many ways, SPR was a show for friends, more than anything else, although it is hard to say how Guy felt about it, since the show for him, was a lot more than just ... a night out with friends ... his show was much more like ... a night out at the Magic Theater, and you never really knew what was going to happen, or what material was going to be there, but you knew that what you were going to hear ... was totally different and way out there ... that no one else ever ... and I mean EVER ... has considered or thought about or will EVER appreciate.

That feeling alone, was one of its greatest draws, because as far as 1974, no one mentioned "progressive" or anything else and Guy even got some raps now and then about not playing anything American during that particular show ... on his other nights he did play some American stuff, and would blind you silly with his knowledge and history (for example) of the LA area music scene, when he would play something like The Fool ... and you go ... wtf is that? Or even a funny version of "Close to You" by a group named The Clams ... only to find years later ... yeah ... that's right!

Stuff like that is priceless, but LA, AT THE TIME even had on KPFK someone named "Captain Midnight" that was also doing weird stuff amidst even more weird stuff and in the middle of it, KPFK's own ... the Firesign Theater that got its start there. His music mixes bordered on the very strange and weird, and out and beyond left field. Guy's show, was basically another universe that also featured some comedy and fun stuff, and he likely wore out the sound effects library from here to the moon and back a few times! This type of creativity is something that radio is not well known for and no one could create something as literate and well done as Guy did ... and not to mention that his list of bands by the end of the first year, was already into the 300's or so or more probably ... and we're not talking "hits" ... we're talking music that was, and still is, meaningful to me, to him, and many others ... I can still love listening to the Edgar Broughton Band ... and Third Ear Band ... and I doubt anyone else has ever played them ... type of thing.

Radio, and specially in Guy's case (on a commercial radio station, too !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), is not really what radio's history was about ... and what the internet has created is indeed a sort of bar where we can all meet and share a brew or a cup of tea ... but it is, by comparison, a very minor take/side of what radio could be. Too many of these shows are still ruled (even subconsciously) by a top ten format, like, you play one or two unknown things, and immediately have to play one well known piece so you do not "lose" your audience ... and with Guy's show, the "lose" the audience, only happened on his regular nights, not on his special night, which eventually also started getting carded and watched for listening patterns, to see if the bigger stations around LA were getting an audience and the locals were not (just 85 miles out!). There were no ratings for midnight to 6AM at that time ... but it tells you how much more of an idea there was about that particular show, and its appeal, however different and unusual it tended to be. But no one, even on his regular nights, did as much as he did ... like when Genesis' The Lamb came out ... and no one at the station knew which song to play, so Guy goes on at midnight and played the whole 4 sides back to back ... and then because of demand and calls, he did it again in its entirety ... and you just do not know how something like that affects your listenership, but it did ... folks were tuned in because they knew that someone like Guy would play this stuff that no one else did, other than adding hits to their listing.

I suppose that I wish that something like Guy's show could come around, but it is impossible, because what he did was personal and an expression of who he was as a person, actor and artist. It wasn't just all the music and the artistry ... the show itself was an art, and this is not something that we think about when we listen to these shows.

From 1999 to 2001 I did run a show called "The Space" and it was more about the artist than anything else, and of the 140 or 150 hours I did, only 3 shows (about 6 hours) had single cuts from various artists, and one of them was all ECM stuff ... and here is another complaint ... show me a "progressive/experimental" show on radio/internet that is not afraid to mix/match ECM stuff into their choices ... and that just goes to show you, how difficult it is to hear different things ... and the Tube kinda helps ... but it would be nice to catch them in the other form, and I will likely have to do this to make sure that other music can be heard. I am not sure I can do the sound effect mantras and mind melts (my word) that Guy had which were truly inspirational, but at least, you got to hear different things that otherwise would never get played anywhere else.

There are a couple of fine things on the net ... but sadly, all of the ones I have heard, have to return to familiar ground by the 5th cut ... or you can even time it ... within 15 minutes ... which tells you that the show is not about the music ... it's about someone's favorites!

(More added later)

Trying to add to this, since the two large postings I had, might have a tendency to suggest that radio has already been done, and no one else can do anything any more, that might be of interest as a sort of history of the art form itself.

While I am not a historian of radio, there are some things that I have heard and enjoyed over the years and they go back to ... yep ... Orson Welles, and then many folks after him, and how they changed what radio was about, and could be, and set the course for many years, of radio stories and programs that had drama, music sound effects, and in fact was a television for YOUR MIND ... which, unfortunately, is not something that is quite appreciated in the 21st century, when we only listen to the things that we KNOW, and not go check out a show, because we do not know what it is about, or where it will take us, and this was one of the biggest and most important parts of the history of radio.

In the 1950's and 1960's in America, it all became "commercial", until the mid 1960's when FM radio kinda developed more (now in Stereo unlike the AM band!), and with it came newer music, and this is where a lot of jazz and rock made its name, although the history of black jazz music was already ten years old by that time, shamefully left behind and buried and not released as albums, because they would not "sell", to the numbers that the studios/record companies would want and require ... see Tom Dowd's very important and special document on this for more.

Thus, what folks do today, as "radio" is the only thing they know ... play their favorites, which is to counter the top ten thing a lot, however, when the same thing comes up next hour, the flavor of the show, now is lost for the most part, since the originality and design of the show, is now just a bunch of known pieces, and not anything original to take you somewhere else, which is what some of the history of radio has to offer.

Guy Guden's Space Pirate Radio, in many ways, was more like the radio history ... in general, he did not tell you what the song or group was, and everything was played - including albums in their whole side - and the only time he told you the albums included was at the end of the show, although at the beginning of the show he might specify some of the newer things he had, but in general how they were mixed and matched, was a different story, since a whole album might be played across the whole night, or all of it in the first hour, and much of this was never really clarified or specified, and I am not sure that it has to. Some things, you just let them play out on their own, because its appreciation is related to its continuity ... not a specific song. A great example of this is Peter Hammill and how different he was in all of his solo albums, and simply playing one piece as a part of a sequence of 6 or 7 songs, is not the way to present Peter at all, and it ends up making it sound weird and different, and is not given the time and space that he deserves for people to catch on to his expression, which is so different than many others. This is but one example.

Now, I will never sit here and say that radio has no future, or ability. I will say, that it has become a commercial venture, and that if anyone wants to make a difference, they need to look at themselves and what they want to do and like to do, rather than just play songs.

The minute that you are no longer playing "songs", the whole attitude and atmosphere of what you are presenting changes ... and you will start following a flow that you have come up with, or specifically designed, and it is not related to any thing that you have heard before.

The only part of this, which is the difference, is how you estimate "your audience" ... and this is the part that you have to let go. You can not think about "your audience" ... you think about the PAINTING that you are putting together with the music you have. You think about the book you are writing with the music you have.

And then, you have something of great value and beauty ... and different. But, simply wanting to hear the same band every hour? Or something that sounds just like it? Gimme a break! And calling it radio?







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