Bland Leading the Bland

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 at 12:00 AM

“Music is the soundtrack to your life,” is a quote attributed to Dick Clark. I have heard the phrase distilled and reproduced by friends, professors, and random sages. There is no evidence to be offered to the contrary.

A song can take you back to an exact moment in your life and refill your heart with every emotion as if it were happening for the first time.

Music is important. It is social. As social creatures we need to find points of reference to share with each other and musical taste is an automatic qualifier to friendship.

As members of a society we should have access to great music to bind us closer and share a sense of community through song.

The most utilitarian method for the dissemination of song is the radio. Radio is a most powerful tool for the connection of people. The ability of radio to transmit emotion through the stratosphere and into your very soul is a grand accomplishment indeed. Sharing music of love and loss reminds us all of our shared humanity.

Being able to share a great song with thousands of people through the airwaves is magic discovered through science.

Science costs money to make magic, or so I am told. Therefore we have commercial radio. But it is worth it to be able to hear a voice coming through a speaker telling you to give yourself over to the next four minutes and this song will make your day better. 

Except when it isn’t.

Erie’s commercial radio stations have traded in on local trust for national dollars. The ability to make money is all well and fine, but not at the cost of music. Not at the cost of fracturing the social fabric.

If it is true that music brings us closer together, and radio can deliver music to the masses, not playing great music harms society.

Erie’s commercial rock stations have had the same base playlist for 30 years. Not just the same bands, but the same songs.

If all you did was listen to commercial rock stations in this town you would think Bob Dylan is a one hit wonder and the Beatles only put out one album. When artists put out a body of work whose influence is still rippling through the music 50 years on it might behoove a radio station to play more than three tracks by an artist.

It is a tad bothersome when Lady GaGa has more songs in rotation than Dylan and Lennon.

Radio is a great point of entry for music but should not be so limited. Playing a great track from The Flying Burrito Brothers should be just as profitable and enjoyable as listen to Rush, again and again.

I’m not a fan of Rush. I think they are great individual musicians, but they just don’t work as a band. That’s a personal opinion. But they do have 19 studio albums. Nineteen. One would think they might have more than four songs in that catalog Erie would enjoy on an afternoon commute. If for no other reason than to not hear “Tom Sawyer” coming out of three cars at a red light, again.

Local radio should be a reflection of the community, not a cudgel to beat the same listening patterns into every generation.

People in Erie love music. Adore music. There are so many great record collections in this town. The umpteenth revival of the local music scene is a tribute to how much people in Erie appreciate music.

Radio should provide that exposure. Deep cuts on albums are only that because they don’t get played on the radio. Free the music.

The Rolling Stones have so many better songs that don’t get played on the radio. Playing the same songs ad nauseam removes the magic. It’s the song you move boxes to at work. It’s the song that comes on every three days at 2:52 p.m. reminding you it’s not yet five o’clock.

Music is not about marketing. It is the truest freest expression of thought and wonder. There should be a visceral response to each line and note.

Trying to be all things to all people leaves you spread thin and your audience wanting. Even worse is not trying. Simply popping in a cartridge or “pre-approved hits for the masses” is lazy, almost un-American.

It is a loss of localism. A belief that people here are the same as people everywhere. There is no exceptionalism in ideas of this nature.

Radio should reflect the soul of the community. It should offer more than just what is tolerable.

If radio is about the bottom line, pleasing your audience should drive revenue. This would not happen over night of course. It would have to be given time to build and mature. This city loves music, but we are also fickle and resistant to change. But only at first. Plus the exposure to risk reaps great reward.

Music isn’t like a housing bubble with inflated prices and sub-prime mortgages

No one gets excited about buying a pile of wood. You’re buying a home.

Radio should be our home. It should reflect our tastes and fascinations. Having great radio stations would bring us all closer together, truly engendering community spirit.

Failing that, could we hear some decent Bowie? Something off Aladdin Sane that’s not “Jean Genie”…


Michael Bennett is a bitter, hypocritical disc jockey on a non-commercial station. He can be chastised for his thoughts at

Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 22
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