Since this is a blog focusing on depression, I’d like to write about something today that really depresses me – listening to music on the radio.

I’m not talking about satellite radio or Spotify or Pandora or anything like that. You can pretty much choose what you hear on those formats. No, I am talking about good old free terrestrial radio, the kind you can dial up without a subscription or an internet connection. It’s the kind of radio I grew up with, although what I hear today bears little resemblance to what I heard over the airwaves as a kid.

Music, I feel, is destroying itself by becoming more and more segregated. Just take a quick look at how many charts are out there these days. Everything is divided by genres and sub-genres, and radio is following suit. There are adult contemporary stations, dance and R&B stations, hard rock stations, and alternative stations. These formats stubbornly refuse to unite with each other.

That’s not the radio I grew up with.

When I was in high school, I was majorly into hair metal bands. I owned every album Van Halen ever made at one point. Poison, Winger, Cinderella, Bon Jovi… You name it, I probably had it. But I also had music from Bobby Brown and Lionel Richie and Prince. And I could turn on my radio and hear them all together. At least, that’s my memory of how things used to be. Maybe I’m making it more idyllic than it really was.

However great the accuracy of my memories may be, I do know that I was exposed to a wide variety of music during my formative years, and I don’t believe that experience is available to radio listeners today. I’m sure there are still some Jack radio stations out there that are mixing genres, but for the most part the stations in my listening area are retreating into their own boxes. This type of segregation makes me sad. I can hear a greater variety of music walking around the mall than I can from turning on my radio.

I wonder what this type of radio formatting is doing to the next generation of musicians. I recently read a piece from The Washington Post titled “While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Slow Secret Death of the Six-String Electric. And Why You Should Care.” The article basically described how the lack of guitar heroes today is causing a decline in business for electric guitar manufacturers and sellers. The electric guitar is becoming more and more absent in mainstream music, and nowhere is that absence more noticeable than on the radio. I don’t say that to mean music is getting worse; I say it to point out yet another way variety in music is fading away.

Composition in music seems to be suffering. There are fewer song sections and movements in what I hear today than there used to be, and taking a solo of any kind seems to be a cardinal sin. Having this type of music pumped into the mainstream discourages creativity and stifles musical growth. There are definitely places to go for music that stretches the boundaries of creativity, but these options usually require a fee or an internet connection. It’s almost as if music has been dumbed down for the masses that simply listen to radio that is free for all.

I used to be the music director for a pair of Christian radio stations. I was told one day by someone that I programmed music too much like a fan of music and not enough like someone trying to build a popular radio station. In my mind, though, I was simply designing the type of station I would like to hear. Apparently, the masses do not flock to variety. Needless to say, those were frustrating times for me.

When I get in my car these days, I almost exclusively listen to my iPod. I have everything on there from Shinedown to Willie Nelson to Boyz II Men, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Genres of music should inform each other, inspire each other, and challenge each other. Remember when Edward Van Halen played the solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”? I wonder if a collaboration like that could even happen today. As a lover of all types of music, I’ve had to construct my own musical world on my iPod. I don’t know what I would do if it ever stops working.

The late Freddie Mercury sang in Queen’s “Radio Gaga,” “Let’s hope you never leave, old friend/Like all good things, on you we depend.” I would state that radio is already halfway out the door.

Come back, old friend. We need you.

Leave a Reply