Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’ve been listening to the University of California, Berkeley’s radio station, KALX. It’s a listener-sponsored, freeform station, which means it doesn’t have commercials or underwriting (what’s the difference?) and the DJs (who are volunteers) play whatever they want, within FCC regulations.
Here’s a bit of a recent playlist from DJ Marcos Juarez’ show.
The music is all over the genre and geographic map.
3:26 – orquesta tejana (Tex-Mex)
3:12 – Jamaican rocksteady
3:10 – late 60s Brazilian psychedelia
3:07 – Northern soul
3:04 – obscure gospel recording from a recently released compilation put out by the awesome Tompkins Square
More importantly to me, the music is all GOOD.
I like not knowing what’s coming up next when I listen to the radio. To quote Robert Darden: “Hell to me would be a Disneyland type world where everything is perfectly arranged and everything is in the exact perfect 4/4 time with the exact predictable chord patterns.” That pretty much describes Top 40.
But there’s something else I love about this DJ’s set, and that’s the mixing of secular and sacred music. Like so much of what is available as entertainment, radio is compartmentalized. You want classic rock, tune in to this station. Top 40, go here. Easy listening, right over there. Rap, hip hop, that one. Soul and oldies, those presets. Genre-blending exists on the left of the dial, college radio stations with little reach, mostly, and those are dying. (KALX is technically part of U.C. Berkeley, but many of their DJs are not students.) You could probably count on one hand the number of radio stations that give their DJs free reign — the only other station I know that does so is WFMU, and some of their DJs will mix sacred and secular music.
Are the gatekeepers at Clear Channel afraid of offending people? The incessant Christmas music I’m hearing these days tells me this doesn’t concern those who provide the soundtrack of our lives. So why not throw in the mix an amazing song that most people probably haven’t heard before and may just like? You like the Four Tops, the Temptations? Well give a listen to the Mighty Clouds of Joy!
Oh wait, the reason this doesn’t happen has something to do with money, doesn’t it?
I thought so.