Why won't anybody on the radio talk to me anymore?
When I was a kid, the disc jockeys on WINX and WDON were spinning the hits just for me. They played the Beatles and the Supremes and Roger Miller, and I'd sit in front of the big old Emerson cabinet radio in the basement turning the dial, looking for something new. Both of those stations are gone now.
When I was in college, Weasel talked to me. He had the all-night show on WHFS and at the top of every show--before he played Jimi Hendrix and the Dead--he'd do a monologue that sometimes lasted 15 or 20 minutes. I can't remember a thing he said, but he was saying it to me. Now he's playing slacker rock, two-chord anthems of misery by tattooed children.
When I got a little older, Felix Grant talked to me. In the evenings on WMAL, he played jazz and pop and bossa nova, and between tunes he'd talk about the music and the musicians. If I close my eyes, I can still hear his voice--which is the only way I can hear it now that Felix has gone to that big studio in the sky.
These days, I flip aimlessly from station to station in the car or on the Walkman, and everybody's talking to somebody else. Rush Limbaugh isn't talking to me; he's talking to some goober who thinks immigrants are going to take his job away. Country station deejays aren't talking to me; they're talking to women who want to hear songs about feelings and relationships sung by faux cowboys in tight jeans. The shock jocks aren't talking to me; I knew guys like that in high school and I didn't like them then, either. A thousand voices crowd the radio, and none of them is saying anything I want to hear.
The problem, I realize, is demographic--specifically, my demographic. I'm in my forties; I grew up on the Beatles and the Stones and the Who. So the so-called classic rock stations play the Beatles and the Stones and the Who for guys my age between ads for products guys my age are supposed to buy--cars, cell phones, beer. But they do what all the other formats do; they play the same three songs by the same old bands day after day. They must figure that if I wanted to hear "Baba O'Riley" in 1971, I still want to hear "Baba O'Riley" in 1999. They're not talking to me.
Maybe the station moguls think I'm outgrowing rock-and-roll. In New York, radio station WNEW just dropped its rock-and-roll format of the last 32 years in favor of something called "Talk You Can't Ignore." According to the Associated Press, WNEW's "new talk format is geared to men ages 25 to 49. It [offers] commentators and talk-show personalities whose main themes include relationships, money, health and other aspects of 'everyday life of the '90s.' " The anchor program in afternoon drive time features the duo of Opie and Anthony, who have promised "hot chicks galore" and other excitement.
Hot chicks galore. Is Opie talking to me? No.
Phooey. I don't even know what I'd want them to say if they did want to talk to me. I know what I don't want, though. I don't want them to reassure me every 18 minutes that they're playing all my soft favorites. I don't want a morning team that cackles about the sex lives of Hollywood stars. I don't want to hear the same thing I heard yesterday.
I want them to play some music I never hear any more on the radio. I want a talk show with nobody griping about their in-laws or complaining about the government interfering with their lives. I want somebody to read me the news without the stories about dumb criminals who get themselves arrested when they leave their wallets behind.
The folks on public radio talk to me now and then. They speak in paragraphs rather than sound bites. But once they start rattling on about campaign finance reform and arms control policy, my eyes glaze over and I realize they're talking to the guy in the next lane, the one with his briefcase open on the seat next to him and a memo on the steering wheel.
One day a few weeks ago, I actually thought I'd found it. I was in the car, heading up the AM dial 10 kilohertz at a time, searching for something new. I stopped at 1260; the next voice I heard was that of Dionne Warwick, finding her way to San Jose. So far so good. The song ended, and next it was Sinatra, the Sinatra of the '60s, swingingest man on the planet. All right, I thought. Where has this station been all my life?
Frank finished and the station went to a commercial. It was an ad for a funeral home; the subject was my "pre-decease planning needs."
Maybe I'll go buy some CDs.
Charlie Bryant scans the radio dial in Gaithersburg.