Traditional radio is something that I gave up on in high school. Sure, there’s an occasion when I’m in a car that doesn’t have an axillary port or a CD player or the option to use blue tooth when I’m forced to listen to the radio, but often that’s XM radio or some sort of news. The truth of the matter is that I have hated the radio in the Houston area since I was pretty young. There was a time when I would lay up half the night listening to the radio or waiting up late on Saturday to hear the club mixes played out at the Roxy. I thought, “This is what I’m supposed to do, right? I’m supposed to like this stuff and keep up with it”.
I knew every song that came on and I downloaded a fair number of them too, it took a lot longer back then and it was kind of a testament to how much you loved anything if you bothered to wait for it to download.
I think I started to dislike radio when they started to focus more on being shocking or controversial than they did on playing songs. But one of the things I remember that helped to spark it was an episode my brother had with a radio station. He called about some song, I don’t even remember which, that had a little rap part in it. It wasn’t vulgar or anything, but when he asked why they cut it out and left the instrumental in there the answer he was given was “our listeners don’t want to hear rap”.
Which is funny, because that song was one of the biggest songs in the nation. It was one of the biggest with the rap in there. My brother telling me that story kind of opened my eyes and I didn’t stop listening immediately, but I started to pay attention. Like, have you ever heard that Foster the People song “Pumped Up Kicks”? A lot of people have, but a lot of people haven’t really heard it. It’s about a kid shooting other kids in a school. The song clearly says the words gun and bullet; they’re not edited out. Now, how many times have you heard a rapper mention the word gun only to hear it distorted or beeped over. How many times have you heard the word bitch used in one song and then used in another to be beeped out. Or heard something cut out of a song, not because of time constraints, but because “we don’t want our listeners hearing that kind of content”.
The radio was trying to tell me how to listen to songs and filtering the kinds of songs I should be listening to. If I were dependent on radio I would have never heard Chvrches or Brand New. There’s a lot of other amazing artists that could be radio friendly that I’ve never heard fired up on the radio. Houston was especially bad because when I would go on vacation as a child the top ten or top forty or top twenty every where else would sync up. It was a diverse list of songs. Here it was familiar, but the diversity would be scraped out. CDs and downloads and hunting around for what was “new” out there helped a lot. I hit that premium age in high school just as file sharing really took off and I know this sounds like something contradictory to say, but I would have never developed the musical tastes and bought the things I bought if I hadn’t downloaded the things I downloaded back then. I outgrew the radio early not because of a need to hear vulgarity or dirty words, but because I didn’t like the box I had been forced into by it or the tastes I was told to have or the parts of the message I was told to understand and who to understand it from.