Beeeautiful, Beautiful Music on the Radio

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My Grammy used to play radios in every room. All of them were tuned to WGAY, whose slogan was simply, “Beautiful Music.”

If one wanted to hear an instrumental of any enduring pop standard, that was the place. She had a preference for show tunes and poetry, but this music satisfied neither of these at first listen. You had to know that the lyrics that were unsung were things like “the shadow of your smile,” and “the windmills of your mind.” Are those from the same song? Probably!! [Actually, NO. “Windmills of Your Mind” has extremely trippy lyrics and deserves to be heard in the experience of 1968.]

Showtunes were not played on WGAY, probably due to strict licensing, so the record player was employed if one wanted to bask in Finian’s Rainbow or Man of La Mancha. I only remember Camelot playing at my house, so the grandparents may have had some beef with Richard Burton. I never asked and now I can’t.

When I hear “If this isn’t nice, what is?” I am transported to my Grammy’s tidy house in springtime with beautiful radio music wafting in every room. It was that nice–the epitome of nice.

Pardon my twisting the dial here–that is a reference to radio, kids. I’m going to hop around with my radio thoughts and you can’t stop me.

The radio was very important to us mid-century youths. The stations you listened to could worry your parents and solidify your relationship with your peers. We would compare notes on the school bus of the latest radio stunts and rude jokes. It created a divide between good kids and everyone else, and really during such times, so many things force one to consider where one falls on the good girl spectrum.

Fart jokes enjoyed by good girls are always a nice surprise. Radio people know this.

I had no idea how fortunate I was to have the other radio station out of Bethesda, WHFS. It might have been more different than WGAY, but I’m not sure how. The programming was done by individual enthusiasts, who really understood what rock music was and what it was not. The place was run by people who imprinted on at least one Beatle. They had seen some music.

Maybe I’m mistaken about all that, but it was a delight I rarely encounter now–to listen to a radio show put together by a person who truly loves the material and the stitching involved in putting songs together in perfect order.

Now, in the time of corporate homogenization, nearly always, one hears loudest the beat of the bottom line. Rolling royalty squabbles aren’t new, and maybe they will be solved someday, but greed is a huge impediment. Artists must be paid, but do we all have to suffer the insufferable to satisfy the greed machine? Probably.

These days, I frequently dial in to WRNR, but only on the internet because their radio signal is so puny you can lose it when you glance at the other side of the barn. The price of admission is hearing the world’s most annoying ad every hour. Honestly, I never thought I would ever hear a thing both so impossibly bad which also corralled my love of radio, gardens, women-owned business and chickens in its twisted horror. They did it!!

Even so, bad radio is worse than bad ads. When I lived in Nevada, the thing that I ached for most was good radio. I could live without green vistas and rusty cars, but I was injured somewhere in my soul every time the radio played another one of the same twelve songs. Not one of the top 100 songs of that year are in my library and I will swerve off course to submerge my ears if necessary to avoid hearing any one of them ever again.

In wondering where people go to hear really new music curated by music lovers, I’ve found that it’s still radio. It used to come through the air for free, and it still does, discounting the bad ads. If you can afford a touch of tech, you can tune in from anywhere.

Living in Towson, and then in my Towson-adjacent town, I have a very strong radio signal for WTMD. They play a lot of old songs, although I swear they heard my worries and have started to play more new stuff lately. Why on Earth would a university radio station play music aimed at 60 year old listeners? Is their listener demographic the professors rather than the students? Are students really still listening to Roxy Music?

Radio is still cool, or at least it can be cool! It’s not just a thing that can sometimes host an emergency signal. It’s the sort of place where a weird kid can hear poetry at midnight and remember they are not actually alone in their crowded block. Nothing is more cool than a thing that does that.

Sure, algorithms are nice. They have given me some interesting playlists with my 58 days worth of music, but they do not surprise. Sooner or later they all play Bohemian Rhapsody because they reached the end of a loop. They will never shrug and put on Root Boy Slim because they remember a drunken misadventure with outrageous sax.

It’s obvious: I do not know anything about how things work. I do know one thing, though, I’ll keep playing beeeautiful music and somewhat less beautiful music. If nothing else, it soothes my rock-n-roll tinnitus.


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