Death of The DJ

For as long as I can remember, I never really liked radio. I would listen to it solely because it was there, not because it was good. It became cliche to say “radio sucks” and then get in your car and tune it in.

A few years ago, my radio broke in my car, and I had to live for about 3 months without it. At first I felt like I was “information detoxing”. I would think, “Sit in silence and do nothing!! Are you serious!” But somewhere around the two week mark something changed. I still missed being able to listen to music, but I no longer wished I was “jacked in” to the public airwaves. Because even though the DJ’s were crap, crappy DJ’s seemed to be better than no DJ.

When my radio was fixed, that was the end of listening to the music DJ in my car. I would either listen to a CD, sit in silence, and more recently listen to some talk radio. The idea of tuning in to mass-crap-radio was something I could no longer stand.

Although I would continue to hear my friends complain on the state of radio in my area, they would continue to listen to it. I chalked it up that maybe I was maybe missing something. Maybe I was the one with the problem.

About a year went by, and my brother-in-law told me about KEXP based out of Seattle, Washington. In particular, to listen to John in the Morning. Although a lot of the music wasn’t really my taste, I started to like it more and more as the days passed. I was happy to have somebody to listen to even if it wasn’t perfect. More precisely, I liked John. He seemed like a good guy that loved music.

Then this month, I read Wired’s article: The Resurrection of Indie Radio. In it, it profiles the 103.1 Indie station here in Los Angeles – of which I had never heard of. I started listening to the day I read it. Postal Service, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, then some bands I had never heard of. It blew my mind. My radio hasn’t moved since. I listen to it on the computer, and while I drive in the car. Jonesy’s Jukebox from noon to 2 is fantastic, Rob Zombie and Danny Masterson make it personal and different.

Finding these couple stations made me realize why I had always hated radio: There was No DJ. Sure there is someone employed with a “DJ” badge and you hear them speak between and during commercials, but they are the business equivalent of a pencil pusher. They are button mashers with deep voices. They don’t choose the music they play anymore than a state employee chooses what time they show up to work. And with DJ’s not able to choose their music, they found other ways to try to entertain. They talk in “crazy” voices and bastardize songs by talking over their lead in’s and endings. They try to identify with our youth by talking about drugs and sex. Then they put all the calls they get praising these actions on air to prove how well they are doing.

When you don’t give DJ’s a choice of what to play, all it becomes is the top 50 songs they found 100 people liked the most, shuffled with the top 5 songs played 5 times more than the others, all the while having to listen to commercials 1/4 of the time. And the executives at Clear Channel are wondering why their company is imploding? Do they not see WHY their bottom line is inversely proportional to MP3 player sales?

Where is the art of the DJ choosing music like my parents had? Is it as fictional as the “Wolfman” from American Graffiti?

John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity said,

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway… I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.”

Although I purchase all my music through iTunes now-a-days, I never buy single songs. I believe that the band not only put together the art in each song, but also the order of the songs. I love how one song leads into the next, and I love how the first song kicks in anew when the CD ends. I never even listen to a CD on shuffle.

Have you ever made a compilation tape for someone? It takes a lot of time, and it is just beautiful when it is finished. Each song works with the others to create a complete communication. You are creating a complete album, in a perfect order, in order to communicate an ethereal emotion.

That is what is missing from radio. That is what I never had but always yearned for.

I want a DJ that cares so much that he hand picks each song. He creates a mood for a show. He cares about the order of the songs. He relates stories about the bands he plays because he loves them not because a marketing conglomerate paid him to. He is your best friend you never met because he creates art each day he mic’s in.

Although these radio stations I listen to now are not perfect, they have got me to see the true morass that I was surrounded with. And I can see a time when I find a DJ that puts his heart and soul into it like John Richards or Steve Jones, but with more of the music I like to listen to.

If Clear Channel wants to halt its thorny slide into middle earth, it has to stop its short sighted power hungry thinking and push power down to its DJ’s. It is only the DJ that has the direct communication with their clients. And now that Clear Channel has competition in the name of MP3 and Satellite, it can’t afford not to. Only the truly lazy or poverty stricken will listen to radio that plays 1/1000th of their iPod mixed in with ads.

Will public radio turn around? Will my kids grow up listening only to their own playlists?

One thought on “Death of The DJ”

  1. Do you ever listen to KCRW? It’s the best destination for music lovers in Los Angeles. Standard NPR chatter during the day, but lots of great “hand-picked” songs from super savvy-DJs at night (and 9 AM-noon, actually). You can listen online at KCRW.org.

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